Colossians 1:21-23 by Robert Dean
The word "hope" means different things to different people. Can it be defined as wishful optimism? Or trust and reliance? Or assurance of a future reality? Or confident expectation? All of these are recognized meanings of "hope", yet some come from a secular worldview and others come from a Biblical worldview.

As we continue in our study of the Doctrine of Hope, we learn that hope is the Christian's calling. We learn that we are to be "reconciled to God" and live in a way that is set apart and distinct from the world around us.
Series:Colossians (2011)
Duration:42 mins 42 secs

Jesus Christ Is All Sufficient: Hope. Colossians 1:21-23


The focal point of verse 23 is hope. To understand what Paul is getting at here we must understand this wo0rd "hope." It is a word that is often misunderstood, often misapplied in day-to-day language, and yet in the Word of God it is a word that has a tremendous significance.

Colossians 1:21-23 NASB "And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, {engaged} in evil deeds, 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—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 verse 23 it looks at the surface as if this is not talking about a grace salvation but a works salvation. It looks as if the apostle is saying: Yes you can be saved if you continue in the faith, if you are grounded and steadfast, if you don't move away from the hope of the gospel. But that isn't really what he is saying. To understand it we have to understand some things that are going on in the Greek text and also how certain words are used throughout Scripture, and especially within the context of what we have here in this epistle to the Colossians.

Expanded translation: "You all though, at one time were in a state of alienation and hostile in your thinking, producing evil works, yet now He has reconciled in [or, by] the body of His flesh [emphasizing His physical death], to present you as set apart to God, blameless and above reproach [not talking about position but about experiential sanctification]—if indeed you abide [fellowship] in the faith [not faith for justification but faith for spiritual growth] because you have already been grounded and steadfast, and are not distracted from the confident expectation [focus on our destiny] derived from the gospel which you heard, which was proclaimed to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister."

We need to remember that reconciliation has two aspects. There is the objective aspect that took place at the cross when Jesus died. There was something that happened there that changed the orientation of the fallen creature, mankind, to a righteous and just God. Part of what happened was directed toward God and His righteousness and justice. His righteous standard had to be satisfied so that His justice would be free to bless. That is referred to in the New Testament as propitiation, or satisfaction. The righteousness of God had to be satisfied so that His justice would be free to bless. But there is another word that is used in the New Testament—not used in the Old Testament because it could not be used until the sins had actually been paid for—and that is the word "reconciliation." It is reconciliation applied to man; it is man who is reconciled to God. It is man who originally moved; it is the human race that is sinful, and it is that sinful legal status—referred to as hostility alienation or enmity in the Scripture—that gets changed in some way when Jesus died on the cross, not when we believed. Its application to an individual in terms of their own orientation to God is the subjective side, the personal side of reconciliation. Paul said that God reconciled the world [all of humanity] to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19), not imputing their trespasses to them. The "them" refers to the world. The sin is actually paid for by Christ on the cross and that refers to those universal aspects of Christ's atonement, that God is propitiated not only for us but the whole world (1 John 2:2)—reconciliation, redemption for all mankind. What we see in this verse is that God performs the action and the world receives that action, and the issue is the fact that sin is not imputed, meaning that sins are actually paid for. People are not sent to the lake of fire because of sin, that is paid for at the cross. What we have rather is that people are sent to the lake of fire because they are still spiritually dead and they have refused to accept Christ's righteousness. Because they don't have the kind of righteousness that can get them into heaven and because they are still spiritually dead then they are under condemnation and the eternal penalty is the lake of fire.

The Scripture teaches that it is in the state of hostility or enmity that Christ died for us. Romans 5:6, 8 NASB "For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly….But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Ephesians 2:15 gives us another look at this. NASB "by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, {which is} the Law of commandments {contained} in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, {thus} establishing peace." When did this take place? It took place at the time of His death on the cross. We also know from Ephesians 2:12 where Paul was speaking to the Gentile Ephesians, says 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." There are two aspects of alienation there, one is in the relationship between Jew and Gentile and the other is in the relationship between all mankind, Jew or Gentile, and God the Father. They had no hope and were without God in the world. Reconciliation, the objective aspect, is something that took place in AD 33 when Christ died for our sins. There is a legal change in that relationship between the human race and God. Colossians 1:22 reinforces this. That can't be when we believed, is has to be when He died. So sin is no longer the barrier between man and God, the sin penalty is paid for and man has been reconciled to God by virtue of that payment. That doesn't mean all are saved, it just means the status has changed and makes it possible for those who are under condemnation to believe the message of reconciliation which is "be reconciled to God." So there are two aspects: God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, and the message "be reconciled to God."

One purpose of the cross is to provide a basis where we can grow to spiritual maturity. The focal point is on not just continuing or abiding in the faith, i.e. spiritual growth, but not being distracted, not being moved away from the hope of the gospel. It is clear in Paul's mind that those to whom he is writing have been justified, that they are all saved. When he says "if indeed" in Colossians 1:23 he is not thinking maybe they were not saved, he has made it very clear that they are. He calls them saints and faithful brethren in 1:2, they had a reputation for faith and love in 1:4, their faith was bearing fruit in 1:6, they have heard and understood the gospel of grace in 1:6, they were redeemed and forgiven in 1:14, reconciled in 1:21, 22, and then it becomes very clear that they have been saved when we look for ward to Colossians 2:5, 6 where Paul says, NASB "For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ. Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, {so} walk in Him." In just a few verses he praises them because they are "steadfast" [stability]. So 1:23, then, is not trying to get them saved but encouraging them not to be distracted in their pursuit of spiritual maturity because there is an end game, a future reality that we all have, and it is easy to let the details of this life distract us from the objective which is our preparation for ministry in the future millennial kingdom.

This brings us to a very important doctrine in the Scriptures, the doctrine of hope. We have to remember what the context is here. There is this group of believers who are in this church at Colosse who come under the same kind of pressure that every one of us comes under, and every Christian has faced down through the centuries, and that is the pressure to think like the world around them thinks; to think in terms of the norms and standards and the lifestyle of the culture around them. Yet God has called us to be distinct and unique and not to be like the world around us. This is the same kind of thing that God did in the Old Testament when he called out Abraham. He had a specific plan for Abraham and his descendants and they were to live in a way that was set apart and distinct from all of the nations around them. God gave them the Torah, the Law, so that on the basis of their observance of the Law God would bless them richly and this would be a testimony, a witness to the entire world—see Deuteronomy chapter four. The church age believer is called out the same way. We are to live a life that is set apart and distinct—that is the idea in the word "holiness." Today we face the same kind of problems they faced at Colosse. We have a world around us that is shaped by the materialist philosophy, the nihilist philosophy that has been prevalent throughout the last 150 years, emphasis on Darwinism, evolution, and that the basic problems of man are defined by psychoanalysis and not by the Word of God. All of these kinds of things have shaped the thinking of western culture and it bears different fruit in different generations.

As we look at Colossians we see that hope is foundational to the whole message. In 1:4 what motivated love for the saints? 1:6, "because of the hope laid up for you in heaven." So what does this means, that we have hope?

1.  Definition: If we look the idea up in any English dictionary it has the idea of just a wishful optimism. It has the idea of a desire with the expectation of obtaining something, or to expect something with confidence. Webster's Dictionary also lists and archaic meaning of trust and reliance. In contrast to the ambiguous way in which English uses the word "hope" the Greek text uses hope with a precise meaning: the idea of a confident expectation, an assurance of a future reality. Hope in the Bible is never this idea of wishful optimism, it is always the expression of a certainty, a future certainty/ reality, a confident expectation or assurance that something will take place. At its broadest sense, when we read the word "hope" it is a reminder that we can be certain and confident and we can be assured of our salvation and our eternal destiny. In a narrower sense the word "hope" focuses on the quality of our future eternal life as we are serving the Lord in the Millennial kingdom. 

2.  Hope is very closely related to faith in the Scriptures. In some passages there is almost an overlap of meaning. For example, when the apostle Paul was giving his testimony explaining what had happened when he was arrested in Jerusalem to Felix he said: "I have hope in God." There it is very close to saying: I believe in God. The hope is the result of belief. It is close to the idea of faith and it also focuses on something in the future: "… which they themselves also accept that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust. Later when Paul is addressing Herod and Festus he said, "Now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers." Hope is often related to promise. When we claim a promise there is a hope or confidence that God will fulfill that which He has promised. That is looking forward to something. Another passage which focuses on the future is Titus 1:2 NASB "in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago." It is certain in the confident expectation of eternal life. In  Romans 4:18 in reference to Abraham's confidence in God, Paul writes: "In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, "SO SHALL YOUR DESCENDANTS BE." It should be translated "From hope [from previous expectations and the realization of the promise of God] and on the basis of that hope he believed…" The point that has been made is that God had demonstrated faithfulness to His promises to Abraham in the past, and on the basis of that hope and hope realized Abraham continued to have hope and confident expectation that God would fulfill the promise that He had made to him. You don't have hope in faith, you have hope on the basis of faith; it is the faith that precedes the hope.

The hope of our calling focuses on our destiny; we were called for a purpose. The calling has to do with God's saving us, and that saving us isn't just so we can end up going to heaven rather than the lake of fire but that we would have a destiny of service to God in the future kingdom and on into the eternal state. So that one hope of our calling summarizes all that God has for us in the future. It is because we understand where we are headed that it impacts the decisions we make and the lives we have now. We are living today in light of the future and in light of eternity. The fact that this is the problem that the Colossian believers are facing and the distraction that Paul is warning them about is seen in the next chapter where Paul says again: "Let no one cheat you of your reward." The focal point that Paul has here is that if the believer gets distracted in his pursuit of spiritual maturity, which will have fruit for eternity, then he will be cheated of his reward at the judgment seat of Christ. The point is to encourage the Colossian believers and us to move forward, to understand the hope that comes from the gospel.