Colossians 1:21-23 by Robert Dean
How do we “continue in the faith”, and what does that mean? Paul reminds us that reconciliation gives us hope. But what is the Biblical view of hope? It is a conviction of reality, an expectation of our destiny.

In this lesson we again are reminded that as believers we are “future oriented”, living for the future.

Jesus Christ Is All Sufficient: Living In Light of the Future. Colossians 1:21-23


Hope is not just some sort of wishful optimism. The hope that is spoken of in the Bible is a concept of something that brings and has as part of it a conviction of reality. It is something that is certain, something that we can count on. We know of a certainty that something is going to take place at some time in the future. We have a phrase that shows up in the Scripture that is related to hope: "the hope of the gospel." The hope of the gospel is that there is a certain future destiny. So as part of this concept of hope there is a sense of assurance, of certainty, of confidence in our salvation. But this concept of hope that we have in the Scripture isn't limited to assurance. It has to do with an expectation of our destiny in heaven, what will transpire following the judgment seat of Christ on into the time when we will rule and reign with the Lord Jesus Christ in the messianic kingdom, as well as on into eternity. This has been part of Paul's message to the Colossians and it is at the center of understanding these three verses that we will look at. It focuses on living today in light of eternity; making decisions today in light of the future. 

Colossians 1:21 NASB "And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, {engaged} in evil deeds, [22] yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach— [23] if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister."

As we look at those three verses there are several key ideas that need to be explained and understood to catch the sense of what Paul is saying. He restates what he has talked about in the previous verses 18 and 19 related to reconciliation. There is an allusion to the judgment seat of Christ which is in the future, and that is related to the phrase "hope of the gospel." We have concepts in verse 22 such as holiness and blameless and above reproach. What exactly does that mean? As part of understanding this passage we also have to understand the distinctions that Scripture makes between our works and the work of Christ on the cross. And we have to understand this concept that these three verses drive toward and that is continuing in the faith. What does it mean in verse 23 when he says, "if indeed you continue in the faith"?

Colossians 1:21 NASB "And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, {engaged} in evil deeds." Paul begins with the phrase "And you." In the Greek this is placed at the very beginning of the sentence which puts it in a place of emphasis. But the word "you" is interesting here because in English we would suspect that it is in the subject position. We would suspect it would be directed at the "you" of his audience. The reality is that in the Greek this isn't in the nominative case, which would make it the subject; it is in the accusative case, which means it is the object of some kind of a verb. The only verb that it can be an object of is the verb to present, found in verse 22—that they are to be presented holy. So he says, "And you," and then there is a digression in this relative clause that covers the rest of that verse and the first part of verse 22—"And you, to present you holy." He has to repeat the "you" because of his diversion, but he goes back and picks up in the relative clause here the idea of reconciliation because it is important to understand what he will say subsequently. So the emphasis is to "You, to present you." The focal point here is presenting the believers in Colosse—but that would also include by extension and application every believer—to present us holy and blameless and above reproach.

In understanding the "you" he wants us to not forget what he has just said in verses 18 and 19 on reconciliation and so he goes back to that. He goes back to that and says "You." Remember who you are, remember your background, remember what has been accomplished for you by Jesus Christ: "you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds… now He has reconciled." The word "alienated" is the Greek apallotrioo [a)pallotriow], a participle, and the grammar is this is a perfect passive participle. The perfect tense is really important in a number of different places in Scripture because the perfect tense always describes an action that is completed. It is not an action that is still going on, not an action that is in the future; it is an action that was completed in the past and continues on into the present. It says, "Once you were alienated," so that is talking about a completed past state. "and hostile," echthros [e)xqroj], a noun. This took place in their minds. This idea of being alienated and enemies is parallel to what has said in passages such as Ephesians 2:12 NASB "{remember} that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world," and Ephesians 4:18 NASB "being darkened in their understanding, excluded [alienated] from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart"—again, this was a perfect participle. The significance of that participle is that it emphasizes a state that is completed in the past, the state in which we were born which is spiritually dead, Ephesians 2:1.

Paul then goes on to say [v.22] "yet He has now reconciled." The word for reconciliation is apokatallasso [a)pokatallassw]—a completed, total reconciliation. As we have seen previously, reconciliation is the work of God for man. He does something to change man's position. Mankind under the curse of Adam's sin is in a position of hostility and enmity, but at the cross God changes that. There is a legal orientation that changes. Reconciliation is the work of God for man in which God undertakes to transform man's position of hostility to peace in order to make possible and actual eternal fellowship with a righteous and just God.

There are two ways in which reconciliation was accomplished. The first was forensically or legally at the cross where for all mankind the sin penalty was paid so that mankind's relationship to God has been changed by what happened at the cross. The second way in which reconciliation is used is when an individual trusts in Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:19 NASB "…God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word [message] of reconciliation." That includes all unbelievers, everyone in the inhabited world. It tells us that the sin penalty objectively, legally, is paid for. This tells us that sin isn't the issue anymore. The issue is faith in Christ, acceptance of the solution. That objective payment was accomplished when we were in a state of hostility to God.   

"yet now He has reconciled," and that took place where? When did that reconciliation take place? Most people say it was when they trusted in Christ. Wrong! That is not what it says—v.22, "yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death." When did that happen? He died in AD 33.

The purpose is "to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach in His sight." There are various ways we could understand this particular statement. Is this talking about experiential holiness? Is it talking about a positional holiness? Or does it talk about the ultimate purpose that God has in saving us? Holiness is the idea of being set apart for the service of God. That means that the sin problem has to be dealt with both positionally and experientially. Sometimes holiness in the New Testament talks about our position, being in Christ, and therefore we are all positionally set apart for God's service forever, or we are experientially set apart, in fellowship with Him. The word can have either dimension to it.

We also see blamelessness in this passage, the word amomos [a)mwmoj] which has to do with that which is unblemished or blameless. It is the word used by Peter to refer to Jesus Christ as the Lamb who was without spot. This word is used in a number of passages with different meanings. In Ephesians 1:4; 5:27; Jude 24; Revelation 14:5 it relates to the end result. Ephesians 1:4 NASB "just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him." The idea there is that this is the end game. God saves us here in time but it is for the ultimate purpose of being holy and blameless. It is not focusing on our experience in this life, it is focusing on the ultimate end game when we are in heaven. Hebrews 9:14 applies it to our position in Christ; we are blameless NASB "how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" In Philippians 2:15 it is talking about the fact that we are to become blameless NASB "so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world." There it is talking about our experience of spiritual growth. So just because we see this word we can't just say it is A,B,C or D, we have to look at the context and other words to find out what we are talking about here.

A third word that is used is "above reproach," which is the word anegkletos [a)negklhtoj]. It is sometimes translated "blameless" or it means irreproachable. It is really used of someone against whom no legal charge can be brought. It has an experiential dimension to it because there are verses that talk about the fact that we should be above reproach. It doesn't mean sinless or perfect. And it is also used in a positional sense.

1 Corinthians 1:8 NASB "who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ." We are blameless positionally because we are in Christ, but this isn't talking about our position in Christ, it is talking about our presentation at the judgment seat of Christ. It has to do with rewards and blessing at the judgment seat of Christ. So that gives us a clue. Maybe that is what Paul is talking about in Colossians 1:22. Is there another word in the passage that would indicate that for us? Yes, there is. It is the word translated "present." It is the Greek word paristemi [paristhmi] which is used in various places to describe our presentation before the Lord Jesus Christ at the judgment seat of Christ. We see this in Romans 14:10 NASB "But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand [paristemi] before the judgment seat of God." It should be literally translated, "we shall be presented to, or set before, the judgment seat of Christ." So we have this word paristemi in Colossians 1:22 plus other terms that indicate that this is talking about being presented to the Lord Jesus Christ as having grown and matured spiritually or experientially in this life. Passages that support this are found in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and Jude 24. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 NASB "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely [experiential sanctification/spiritual growth]; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." So it is focusing on our experiential sanctification in terms of our presentation to Christ at His coming [Rapture]. Jude 24 NASB "Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand [paristemi] in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy." Colossians 1:22—"before Him," i.e. at the judgment seat of Christ.

Colossians 1:23 has to do with our spiritual growth, and not gaining spiritual life. NASB "if indeed you continue in the faith…" It seems to be saying we will be presented blameless if we continue in the faith. That would mean that being holy and blameless and above reproach would be dependent upon continuing in the faith. That is only true if we take verse 22 as experiential growth. The "if" is a first class condition which presents it as a most likely scenario, and the real idea comes through when we look at the main verb, "if you continue and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel." Being moved away from the hope of the gospel implies something. If I leave my house, what does that tell you? I had to be there in the first place. So to be moved away from the hope of the gospel means that they would already have to be in a position of having understood the hope of the gospel. So there is an implication there that they are already assumed to be saved, and this is a warning against distraction and being moved away from a position they already hold. So that first phrase "if indeed" indicates that Paul is assuming they will continue to be steadfast, and he goes on to say "if you continue in the faith." This is another big clue as to what he is talking about here because that word translated "continue" is the Greek word meno [menw], a word that is used in John 15 where Jesus said we are to abide in Him. We are to remain in Him or continue in Him. That is the word meno. That word is always related to fellowship, not justification. It has to do with the ongoing relationship of the believer to Jesus Christ, not entering into that relationship through justification. So what Paul is talking about here isn't entering into justification but abiding in Christ, remaining in fellowship. So he says if you continue in the faith, and by this he is talking about not becoming a believer but if you are continuing to grow. How do we grow? We grow by means of faith, by trusting in God. So this is the faith-rest drill, the believer's orientation to God on the basis of faith. 

Then we have the phrase "firmly established and steadfast." The word "established" means to have a foundation. The Greek word is themelioo [qemeliow], perfect passive participle. So what Paul is saying is, "if indeed you abide in the faith, having already had a foundation established." That establishment of the foundation is justification salvation. That already occurred and that is the emphasis of the perfect participle.  "… and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard." This is the same idea as Ephesians 3:17 NASB "so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; {and} that you, being rooted [laid a foundation] and grounded in love"—past completed action. The word "steadfast" is also used in the context of spiritual growth in 1 Corinthians 15:58 NASB "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not {in} vain in the Lord."

We as believers who are in Christ are not supposed to be influenced by the culture around us. Why? Because of our orientation to our destiny, i.e. the hope of the gospel. The hope of the gospel focuses on that future destiny that God has for us in Christ. It always focuses on where God is taking us and it is not some sort of wishful optimism. In Colossians 1:4 Paul said, "since we heard of your faith in Christ." That is their salvation—justification when they believed in Christ. And second, "and the love which you have for all the saints. That's a result of their spiritual growth and application of the Word. Then those two things are said to be based on "the hope laid up for you in heaven," v. 5. So their understanding of their future destiny impacted their present reality and their present decision-making. This is where Paul is going in 1:23 and the significance is that we are not to be distracted from the hope of the gospel, from being influenced by our future destiny; understanding that we live today in light of eternity.

Then he concludes by saying that it is this message of a future, certain destiny that is the one that "was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister." This is the focal point. The gospel isn't just this message that, Okay now I know that when I die I am not going to go to the lake of fire, I'm going to go to heaven; it provides us with a future life and destiny and reality in terms of how we are going to serve God in the future that is to shape the decisions that we make today. Because we know where we are headed we know that we have to do certain things today, otherwise that future destiny will become somewhat tarnished and maybe obliterated in some way in that we may lose something at the judgment seat of Christ. So it is to motivate us that we should continue steadfast living today in light of eternity.