Colossians 1:21–23 (ESV): 21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
Paul was writing a church that was struggling with certain influential people who were trying to draw them away from following Christ and the pure gospel. Therefore, Paul emphasized the preeminence of Christ first and then tied that to reminder of the grace of God had changed the people from being lost in sin to having a magnificent purpose in God’s plan for the world, providing that they lived faithfully for Christ.
21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,
Paul first described the unbeliever’s past. Before we accept Christ as Lord and Savior, we are alienated from God. The bridge illustration is useful in depicting this reality. The unbeliever stands on one side of a chasm; God is on the other. There is no way for us to cross the gulf to reach God. All our righteous deeds and other acts fall short of bridging the gap.
While we might not like to recognize this, in sin we are also hostile in mind to God. Our sin is a terrible affront to God. The sinner, in his self-righteous refusal to believe God and admit his sin, opposes God. Yes, in a sense, the sinner is the victim of sin and Satan, trapped by guilt. Yet in a very real sense, the sinner is also an agent – a solider – for sin and Satan, warring against God and His Church.
Thirdly, the sinner is busy doing evil deeds. We must not sugar-coat this reality. The sinner does wickedness. Unbelief is sin. Sin is sin. Even our attempts to be good, apart from God’s grace and power, are unclean. Isaiah 64:6 says (ESV): 6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
Truly, we were in need of a Savior!
22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, There is an important truth here that we could overlook. The reconciliation that Christ undertook for us is glorious. But how has Christ reconciled us? In the body of his flesh. The intent of Paul’s statement seems to be more than an emphasis on Christ’s humanity, although that was surely intended. Rather, Christ’s reconciliation of sinners was accomplished in his body of flesh. Typically, the flesh is regarded as evil; we struggle often with our flesh to do what is right. But Christ shows us as the God-man that our physical bodies are not evil; the problem is our carnal nature. Consider then the great triumph of Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, who accomplished our reconciliation to God in his body, by living a holy, sinless life and then offering his body – his life – as the only sacrifice acceptable to take away the sins of the world!
Having described our past as unbelievers, Paul then wrote about our purpose as God’s people. 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, God has reconciled us to himself through His Son’s death so that He might present us to himself holy. This scripture echoes Ephesians 5:25–27 (ESV): 25 … Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
Holy… blameless… above reproach. These three words are synonyms, and looking at the original Greek words of the text find little difference between their meanings.
The Greek rendered into “holy” is hagios and means, according to Strong’s: “sacred (physically pure, morally blameless or religious, ceremonially consecrated).”
The Greek behind “blameless” is amomos. Strong’s definition is: “unblemished (literally or figuratively): – without blame (blemish, fault, spot), faultless, unblameable.”
The Greek for “above reproach” is anegkletos. Strong’s says: “unaccused, that is, (by implication) irreproachable: – blameless.”
Hagios is used 229 times in the New Testament. It is the word for “holy” with which we are most familiar. This word seems to describe the character or nature of that which is holy, for example, the Holy Spirit, or saints (holy ones). Therefore, Paul was writing that Christ’s reconciliation in his body by his death is to make our nature – our character – holy.
Amomos is used 7 times in the New Testament and seems to refer more to our actual condition – that we might be without blemish morally, ethically, etc. before God.
For example, in Ephesians 5:26–27 (ESV) we read: 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. The words “without blemish” are amomos.
Also, in Hebrews 9:14 (ESV) we read of Christ’s sacrifice: 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Again, “without blemish” is amomos.
Therefore, the intention of Paul in Colossians 1:22 was to say that Christ’s purpose is to present us to himself without flaw. Wow!
Such a thought is amazing… and intimidating. It is one thing to be declared holy, even made holy. When we are “saved” – regenerated, redeemed, and adopted into God’s family, there is an initial sanctification that God performs in us. We are declared righteous – made holy in God’s sight.
However, while we are forgiven and cleansed of sin as new Christians, our carnal nature – the bent toward sinning – remains. We need a deeper, second work of grace called entire sanctification, in which we recognize our bent toward sinning remains, consecrate ourselves fully to God, and experience our own Pentecost in which we receive cleansing of inbred sin and are filled fully with the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:8-9).
A great example of this need for entire sanctification was the Church of Corinth. Paul addressed this problem church as … 1 Corinthians 1:2 (ESV): 2 … the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints… . Yet he also charged these saints as carnal. 1 Corinthians 3:1–3 (ESV): 3 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. Despite all the wonderful spiritual gifts these believers had received and practiced, they needed to be entirely sanctified, for they had forgotten that love is the greatest gift of all from God.
John Wesley described the sanctified life as one of “perfect love.” In saying this, he did not intend to suggest that the sanctified Christian experienced absolute perfection. Rather, one’s heart is purified and therefore the intentions are holy, even though one’s actions may still not always be perfect and require God’s continuing grace.
Some are afraid to believe that such an experience of grace is possible. Yet, why would God’s will and plan be to present us blameless – without flaw, if he did not have the ability to do so?
Continuing on, anegkletos is used five times in the New Testament; three of those instances are found in 1 Timothy 3:10, Titus 1:6 and Titus 1:7. 1 Timothy 3:10 regards the qualifications for deacons; Titus 1:6-7 talks about qualifications for elders (pastors).
The use of the word anegkletos is italicized in the verses following.
1 Timothy 3:10 (ESV): 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless.
Titus 1:5–6 (ESV): 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.
Titus 1:7 (ESV): 7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain,
“Blameless” as anegkletos describes a person as seen by others. We are blameless, above reproach, in the eyes of others.
In our litigious, quick-to-find-fault world in which we live, it might seem impossible to live blameless before the eyes of others. It would seem that someone will find fault with anyone. Living above reproach does not mean one will escape the gossip and slander of everyone around them. Even righteous Daniel was accused by jealous peers in government. Rather, Paul is saying that Christ enables us to live in such a way that we do not wrongly offend others. Peter described such a life in his first epistle:
1 Peter 3:15–16 (ESV): 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
Living a blameless life that is above reproach does not exclude slander and gossip, but proves such hateful speech to be a lie to those who are honest, equitable, and investigate the matter carefully.
Thirdly, Paul wrote about the believer’s position in Christ. There is a condition to our salvation and the holiness God provides for us.
Colossians 1:23 (ESV): 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
The Greek for stable is themelioō, meaning to be “to lay a basis for, that is, (literally) erect, or (figuratively) consolidate: – (lay the) found (-ation), ground, settle.”
The Greek for steadfast is hedraios, with a similar meaning: “(to sit); sedentary, that is, (by implication) immovable: – settled, stedfast.”
The Greek for not shifting is composed of a negative for “not” and metakineō, “to stir to a place elsewhere, that is, remove (figuratively): – move away.“
The picture I get in my mind here is of an established oak tree with huge, strong roots that cannot be easily moved away. Its leaves may swirl in the wind, but that tree is stable, steadfast, and does not shift with the winds and storms of life.
We must tackle, however, the condition Paul gives the believer in verse 23. if indeed you continue in the faith This condition does not suggest that God’s saving powers are imperfect, nor does it mean that one’s salvation is suspect, easily lost, untrustworthy.
Rather, these words mean what they clearly say: we have a responsibility to live in the grace Christ has provided us. If we refuse to walk in Christ’s light, if we intentionally stray by neglect, by sin, by disobedience and rebellion, then obviously we no longer are continuing in the faith. Then, we are not living a stable, steadfast life for God. We have shifted from the hope of the gospel.
But if we continue to live in obedience to God and His word, if we avail ourselves of His grace, we can know God will continue his work of purifying and molding us in holiness as we live faithfully for Christ.
It is important for us to remember our past before Christ, but not to wallow in guilt for sins covered by the blood of Jesus, nor to glorify a life lived without Christ. Rather, it is important to remember our life before Christ in order that we might never take his grace for granted, but redouble our efforts to live in his holiness.
In this vein of thought, we should also recognize Christ’s purpose for our lives. He has redeemed and sanctified us of sin so that we might live holy before him. As the wonderful hymn says…
“Called unto holiness,” Church of our God,
Purchase of Jesus, redeemed by His blood,
Called from the world and its idols to flee,
Called from the bondage of sin to be free.
“Holiness unto the Lord” is our watchword and song;
“Holiness unto the Lord” as we’re marching along.
Sing it, shout it, loud and long:
“Holiness unto the Lord” now and forever.
He makes us holy, cleansing us of committed sin and purifying us of inbred sin, but we also bear a great responsibility: to live in his holiness pure of willful sin so that there is no basis behind the reproaches of a scoffing, jealous, insincere world.
Therefore, the conditional aspect of our salvation again takes center stage. While we need not fear that our salvation may slip away, we must stay grounded in God and His Word so that we might remain stable and steadfast in the grace of Jesus.
The first readers of this letter were being challenged by false teachers to leave… or to add on… to the gospel of Jesus. The specifics and angles of attack may differ from then to what we experience today, but the essence of the temptations we face is the same: to abandon the grace of God for something “more shiny”.
Our challenge is continue in the faith.
Heavenly Father, thank you for your amazing grace that saved a wretch like me. Thank you for changing my life so dramatically. Thank you for holiness; continue your work of making me more like Christ. I desire to reflect Jesus more purely and completely in every aspect of my life. Help me, then, to live faithfully for you, for in you only is the stability and security we need in this world roiling from the consequences of sin. In Jesus’ name, Amen.