- If I can get that job, people will think I’m a man.
- If I can increase sales, I can get that promotion.
- If I can lose that weight, he’ll really accept me.
- If I can teach the lesson well, I can become a leader.
- If I can keep things clean enough, he’ll stop yelling.
- If I can get As on those tests, I can get into that program.
Around us we are presented with these IFs. Inside of us we wrestle with these IFs. We feel like we can’t quite measure up. And most of us feel that way about God, too. If I can be a good enough person, He’ll accept me. If I can cut that disgusting habit, I’ll be ok with Him.
Much of the time we can fool ourselves into thinking we’re doing alright. We can minimize what sin is. We can explain away wrongs we can commit. And, we can also diminish the standard of what is good. We can convince ourselves God isn’t that concerned. But deep down, we know that we can’t measure up. There are conditions to be met, and we can’t quite keep them. If it’s up to us, we’re in a heap of trouble. However in Scripture we see another way.
Today, in our series through Colossians, “Jesus is Everything,” we come to chapter one, verses 21-23. Last week, Ryan led us through the most beautiful section of the book, really the theme paragraph for this series. There we saw that Jesus is everything in creation. He made all things. All things are about Him. All things are for Him. He holds it all together. He is everything. That passage ends saying that Jesus will also be seen as everything in redemption. His creation fell. It strayed from Him. But He’ll one day win it all back.
Verses 19 and 20 read, “For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.” Through His death, His creation that’s alienated from Him will one day be right with Him again. Reconciliation of all things will happen. Now this doesn’t mean that every creature will be on good terms with the Lord. Most will fall down as conquered foes. But some will come as friends. That’s what is described in today’s passage. That’s us - if we believe. Let’s pray and then jump into it.
Creator, Redeemer for You
Jesus has brought us so far, and He’ll carry us to the end. But we’ve gotta hang on. Here’s our outline for this morning: once alienated, now reconciled, soon presented, now motivated. Before we break that down, though, notice the words that kick off verse 21: “And you.” “And you.” Paul shifts from the third person to the second. He moves from the cosmic to the personal. Ryan showed us pictures last week from the Hubble telescope of constellations like the “big dog,” canis majoris. Imagine a telescopic camera up there, pointed the other direction, looking down toward earth. You see the the vastness of space. There, somewhere, if you can even see it, is this tiny dot called earth. The telescope starts zooming. The Milky Way comes into view. You keep zooming.
Our solar system can then be seen. Earth moves now into view. The U.S. soon comes into focus. Then Missouri, then Columbia. Finally, the viewfinder moves to capture your house, and it’s finally filled up with your face. That’s what’s happening here. Paul speaks of the creation that Jesus made and will one day reconcile to Himself. Christ is preeminent over it. It’s massive. It’s glorious. But it includes you. And no matter small or sinful you are or feel, He’s interested in you. He’s not only going to redeem all of it. He’s redeemed you. Or He will if you believe. Let that sink in for awhile.
Notice, though, the way the camera doesn’t go. It doesn’t start with us and zoom out. We’re not the point of the universe. He, not us, is everything. We act so often like the opposite is true. But it’s really not what we want. We know how small and messed up we are. If we start with us and zoom out from us, we’re left with a God who orbits around our lives, one who isn’t as great and glorious. More than that, we’re left with ourselves as god. And if we’re honest, there’s not much hope in the mirror. We are caught up in something much, much bigger. The Creator and Redeemer of all things. All this cosmic stuff has happened and will happen. But Paul here makes it personal. He writes, “and you.” He moves on.
He gives us a picture of who we once were. In verse 21, He writes, “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds.” Have you seen Kevin Bacon’s new videos to raise 80s awareness? They’re pretty hilarious. But I was there! I wore parachute pants. In fact, I remember saving up my own money to get some really awesome ones. I showed up and realized I had way overdone it and then felt really embarrassed. I remember watching the original Red Dawn - not the one with Josh from Drake & Josh - and truly being scared that Russians would jump out of helicopters and shoot up my school. I remember when we got MTV. I saw video kill the radio star. I wasn’t always the stunning 40s-something bearded man you see now. I was a geeky, insecure 80s teenager.
But Paul here gives us another picture of where I once was, and who you once were, and it is even scarier than that. He says we were “doing evil deeds.” We were sinning with our hands. We did bad things that dishonored God. He says we were “hostile in mind.” Those works flowed from rebellious heads. We had angry, poor attitudes toward our Lord. He says we were “alienated.” We were separated from Him due to that sin that flowed from our insides to our outsides. God was angry at us. We were angry at Him. That’s the picture Paul gives of our past, who we once were.
Now you may get angry just hearing that. Maybe you don’t think that’s who you were. Maybe that’s not who you think you are right now. But as I look back at that awkward kid, I see someone who may not have carried a gun to school, but who did things to bring myself honor instead of God. I tried to take advantage of a girl the first chance I got. I was all about my fortune and glory. I may not have pointed my middle finger in the sky, but I was determined to do things my way. I wasn’t just apathetic toward Him. I told the Preeminent One, He is who is Everything, I’d do things my way. For that reason, I was separated from Him. I did “evil deeds.” I was “hostile in mind.” I was “alienated.”
Do you text and drive? Did you know that texting and driving is worse than drinking and driving? Millions of people all around you are doing this all the time. It’s worse than if they were drunk. Now they don’t think it’s that big of a deal. They’re not doing this angrily. But they - should I say “we?” - are rebelling against what is right and wise. We are choosing to potentially run over a playing child or to smash into that little kid’s mom every time we send that text we could wait five minutes for. That may help what Paul says here hit home. We may not have a story of God rescuing us from a rock and roll lifestyle. Maybe we do. But if we don’t, we were still committing sins out of a rebellious heart. And that made distance between us and the Lord. This is all true, even if we don’t really realize it. Even if we thought we were pretty good people. Karis family, remember where you once were. You were once alienated.
Yet that’s not the end of the story, right? We see a picture here now of our present, of where we are now. The Greek has the words “but now” there at the beginning of the verse. I’m not sure why it’s not in the ESV honestly. That’s the way things once were, “but now” everything’s changed. Look at verse 22. We were once alienated. “BUT NOW” we have been “reconciled in his body of flesh by his death.” Do you hear that? God can look down into our lives, into any situation and say, “But now,” and everything changes. What beautiful words!
We are now reconciled. Our sin caused a relational problem between us and our God. He has taken care of that. We can talk about being justified. When we believe, we’re declared not guilty. We are forgiven the penalty of our sin. We can talk about being redeemed. When we believe, He frees us. We are now longer under the power of sin. But we are also reconciled. Our relationship with Him is restored. We can draw near to Him. We can talk to Him. He welcomes us. He’s not just a Judge who forgives us in Christ and lets us walk free in Christ. He’s our Friend. He’s our Dad. He’s taken care of a relational problem. We’re no longer alienated. We’re now reconciled.
Notice I said He has taken care of it. Jesus took the initiative. Verse 22 says, “He has now reconciled.” He looked down on our situation. He saw us hiding in the corner ashamed. He walked up to us and embraced us. He picked us up and walked us home. And we didn’t deserve it. My oldest son asked me a question the other night that they had discussed in school that day. He said, “Would you rather things be equal or fair?” Equal, we all get the same thing, or fair, we get what we deserve. What do you think I told him? Neither is good for us. There’s something else. It’s called grace. Because of our sin, we all equally deserve death and judgment. That would be fair. But God has chosen a people who don’t get what’s fair. They get what Jesus deserves.
Why? Jesus gets what they deserve. Look at the rest of the verse. We are reconciled “in His body of flesh by His death.” How is this alienation dealt with? The rebels aren’t killed. That would be fair. Jesus is. He is nailed to a cross. He suffers “in His body.” He takes death and judgment in our place. He experiences all of that pain. He experiences all the alienation. God turns His back on Him. Remember in the gospels? He cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is so we can be reconciled. He’s forsaken. We’re accepted.
Notice the use of the word “body” here again. Paul speaks of Jesus being the head of the “body, the church” up in verse 18. How does Christ form that spiritual body? In His physical body. “In His body of flesh by His death.”
So here’s the picture: we’re going along in our lives, either as a geeky, studious teenager or as a wild, promiscuous football star and God says, “Mine.” He doesn’t say, “IF you clean up your act, I’ll take you.” He grabs us where we are as we are. He points to His righteous acts. He points to His cross that forgives ours. Religion is “keep the IFs and He’ll embrace you.” Maybe some of you are living with that mentality right now. Unbeliever, come to Jesus. You can never measure up. Gospel is “He’s kept the IFs so embrace Him.” Run to Him!
Believer, are you living like you have been reconciled? Are you living in light of that truth? We’ve all seen those before and after pictures in exercise equipment and diet pill commercials, right? They’re photoshopped like crazy. You may be tempted to think, as I am, that you really haven’t changed that much. You still look pretty much the same. But whose picture is the Father looking at? It’s that of Jesus! He takes our sins. We get His righteousness. And we’re now reconciled. That’s where we are now. And soon He is going to make us look like Him.
Let’s turn now to look at our future, to where we’ll one day be. We’ll soon be presented. Look at verse 22. What’s the purpose for Christ’s rescue in our lives? We see those key words “in order to.” “He has now reconciled” you “in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him.” Jesus has reconciled us in order to present us to God.
I think so much today we fear being exposed. We get introduced to others and think it’s just a matter of time until we won’t keep the conditions. We won’t measure up to the “ifs.” And they’ll expose us. Or we’ll expose ourselves. But picture this situation. My wife is watching American Idol yet again. You’ve surely at least caught a glimpse of the last show, where they pick the final Idol. Ryan Seacrest says, “Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, this year’s American Idol,” and he gives the name. The music starts playing. The confetti starts flying. The winner is overcome by emotion. That’s what’s in our future, although it’s not going to be just one of us. And it won’t be based on our singing, right? It’ll be His sovereign choice. It will be all of His grace. It’ll be all of Jesus.
But here’s the truth: one day, Amy, you’ll actually be able to sing. I mean that metaphorically speaking. You and all of us here aren’t just going to be forgiven for the penalty of sin. We’re not only getting freed from the power of sin. One day, we’re going to be freed from the presence of sin. That “after” picture is going to be beautiful. Our lives are going to sing. They’ll point to His preeminence. They’ll point to Him in us. We’ll be “holy and blameless and above reproach before Him.” We’ll be perfect, without sin. We will stand on the day of judgment. That’s the day He’s talking about here.
What’s “above reproach” mean? It means no accusation can come against us. There’s nothing there to expose. He’ll meet the conditions in us. No one can say, “But I said, IF you do this, and you didn’t.” The Father won’t say it. Satan won’t be able to say it. We’ll be like Jesus.
And that’s something you need to notice. Who’s the one who’s “holy and blameless and above reproach” before the Father right now? It’s Jesus. He’s again taking what we deserve, so one day we’ll get what He deserves. Jesus is going to say, on the day of judgment, “I now present to you, Leanna Grove.” “Shalonda Farrow.” “Matt Elliott.” “Mike Wilson.” The crowd of heaven is gonna go wild. And we’re going to point up to Jesus. We’re going to give Him credit in our acceptance speech, and it’ll truly be sincere. No airbrushing or auto tuning necessary. That’s our future.
Our future together. We’ve gotten to see lots of weddings here in Karis Church. There is nothing like seeing the doors open and the bride walking down the aisle. Ephesians 5:27 speaks of Christ as a bridegroom who will “present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” That’s our future. We’ll be perfect. We’ll be like Him. We’ll be overflowing with joy. Jesus will be beaming like a groom, too. Do you believe it? That’s why Jesus did all this. For that final day. When we would be made like Him. We’ll be glorified. Most of all, He’ll be. He’ll be seen as preeminent in our lives, as our everything. But right now, we have to be sanctified. That’s where I want to turn now.
We were once alienated. We’re now reconciled. We’ll one day be presented. Now we’ve gotta be motivated. Jesus has brought us so far, and He’ll carry us to the end. But we’ve gotta hang on. We must be sanctified. What’s that? It means progressively moving forward in our faith, holding on tight to Jesus, maturing in our relationship with Him, becoming more and more holy.
What word jumps off the page? It’s the word “if” in verse 23.
Col. 1:23 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.
I like those “buts,” but I can’t lie - I don’t like these big “ifs” at all. What can this mean anyhow? Let’s start with what it doesn’t mean. Let’s go back to how I began. We can see that lens zooming back on our faces again. We can think our salvation now entirely depends on what we do. If it’s to be, it’s up to me. Wrong. That’s not what the “if” means. No. “Stable?” “Steadfast?” “Not shifting?” Most of the time I feel like a wobbly toddler or a moody teenager. Right? If that’s true, I’m sunk. You’re sunk.
Salvation is begun by grace. It’s finished by grace. He saves us. He grows us. He sanctifies us. Paul writes in Galatians to believers who are tempted to go back to keeping rules to be right with God. He says, in chapter 3, verse 3: “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” He thinks they’re crazy. The “IFs” don’t save us. The conditions don’t keep us. That can’t be what this verse means.
Let’s consider what this verse does mean. First, the “IFs” prove us. You and I may feel pretty unstable. We may wrestle with doubt quite a bit. But if we’re really His, one day we’ll look back over our lives and we’ll see that we may have bounced around a bit, but we’ve always bounced back. We may have been blown about significantly, but we haven’t been blown over. And that displays the work of Jesus in our lives.
In 1 John 2:19, the apostle John talks about people who have walked away from the true faith. He says,
1 John 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.
“Their departing was their unmasking.” The fact they left the community displayed they were never really a part of it. The fact we keep the conditions given here - that we cling on to Him - doesn’t earn our salvation. It displays it. It shows Jesus in us.
Second, the “IFs” warn us. There is one sense in which these “IFs” do keep us. But listen carefully. We read these words, we realize true believers persevere, we heed the warnings, and we keep fighting, we keep believing. That’s the way we should take the Hebrews warnings, too. Look at chapter 10, verses 26-27:
Heb. 10:26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.
Will genuine believers experience judgment, that “fury of fire?” No. They’ll keep pursuing the Lord. They’ll heed these warnings. Check out chapter 6, verses 4-6:
Heb. 6:4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
Will those who’ve truly been saved taste God’s goodness and then walk away? I don’t think so. They won’t let this happen. Rather, HE won’t let it happen. The author of Hebrews doesn’t think so, either. In verse 9, he writes, “Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things— things that belong to salvation.” He’s confident these Hebrews will heed the warnings and keep fighting.
And many have pointed out that the same thing is found here in Colossians. The “if” in verse 23, in the original language, is a hopeful “if.” Paul doesn’t think these Colossian Christians will turn the other way. He knows they’re genuine believers. He thinks they’ll listen to the warnings. I’m hopeful for you and for me, also Karis. I’m hopeful we’ll keep going throughout the trials and temptations of life. I’m confident we won’t turn away from the true gospel of grace we find in Scripture.
In the gospels, Jesus teaches what has been called the parable of the soils. Jesus talks about a farmer sowing seed. Some is sown along the path, and birds immediately eat it up. He explains that refers to Satan immediately destroying their faith. Some is sown along rocky ground. It springs up fast, but it’s in bad soil. Therefore, it soon dies in the sun and heat. Jesus says that’s those who receive the word but don’t stand up in trials. Other seed is sown among thorns that grow up and choke the life out of their plants. Christ says those refer to people who embrace the gospel but then turn to wealth and sin and never grow. Still other seed is sown in good soil. It bears fruit that multiplies. That seed represents genuine believers.
Friends, our enemy is trying to take us out. He’s trying to discourage us in trials. He’s trying to get us to pack it in. He’s trying to pull us toward temptation. He’s attempting to get us to go to lesser things. If we’re for real, though, we’ll heed these warnings. We’ll keep going, showing what kind of soil we truly are.
Perhaps the best of this year’s True/False fest was Tim’s Vermeer. Tim Jenison is a wealthy guy with lots of time on His hands. He becomes fascinated by the works of 17th century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. He seemed to paint lifelike, almost camera-like images way back then. Tim becomes obsessed with figuring out how He did it. Utilizing a lens and a mirror, he thinks he’s figured it out. He spends the next 7 months painting an almost exact replica of a famous Vermeer painting. He’s so committed, he won’t give up. He perseveres to somehow discern his method. He then fights extreme boredom and a bad back, to complete the painting.
In the film, Tim talks about setting up a space heater in his San Antonio warehouse on a cold day so he can keep painting. It occurs to him that he should make sure that it’s safe for inside use. He reads the directions. It says it’s NOT safe to do so. He decides to try to do it anyhow, telling his buddy that’s with him that they’ll together watch for the warning signs. They start getting really drowsy, talking about how they need a nap and finally it occurs to them: those are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. They get out fast. Or there wouldn’t be a movie! Friends, we’re called to persevere, clinging to this “hope of the gospel,” not giving up until we’re finished. Satan and the world are trying to lull us to sleep, to kill us off. We’ve got to heed the warnings and not get taken out of the game. And we need each other to fight through trials and against temptation.
Friends, this is a hopeful “if” here, as I’ve said. But maybe you’re someone who calls yourself a Christian, but you’re living in rebellion. You’re ignoring these warnings. Maybe you’re a poser. Wake up. Hear God’s word. Repent and believe.
He Preserves Us
We must stay motivated. We must persevere. I’m hopeful we will, but why? Why do we persevere? Because He preserves us. Heard of the perseverance of the saints? Genuine believers keep going. Why? The preservation of the saints.
The book of Jude shows this tension well. The letter is addressed, in verse 1 to “those who are called, beloved in god the Father and kept for Jesus Christ.” Verse 21 says, “Keep yourselves in the love of God.” The book ends in doxology, in verse 24, saying, “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy.” We can be hopeful because of His work in us. Philippians 2:12-13 puts it like this:
Phil. 2:12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
He’ll keep us. He’s at work in us. We can bank on it. I’m pumped that 24 is back on the air soon. Season One finds Jack continually trying to rescue his wife and daughter. The bad guys are using them to distract him. They’re also trying to get revenge. Jack will find them and rescue them. He’ll then put them in a safe house or in the car for a few minutes. He’ll come back and they’re gone. It’s really hard to believe. But that’s not the way it is with our Lord. He’ll keep us. We won’t leave His sight. He promises in John 10:28-29, “No one will snatch them out of my hand.” So keep going. Fight to “continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard.”
We Must Persevere
Keep going. We’re saved by grace. We’re kept by grace. He is everything we need for reconciliation. He’s also everything we need to maintain that relationship. The fact that He has saved us should motivate us. The truth that He is working to keep us should motivate us all the more. Hold on to Him.
Do it in the face of false teaching. Cling to the gospel. Again, that’s what the Colossians are facing, right? People who are trying to get them to go back to religion, to being plagued by the wrong kind of “IFs.” Do this and He’ll accept you. Don’t do that, and you’ll stay good with Him. They’re also trying to get them to go toward other types of spirituality. They’re saying Jesus isn’t quite enough. They point to some more bad “IFs.” If you get this, then you’ll have fullness. Paul is saying, this faith he’s given His life to, that He’s proclaiming to all creation, it’s all they need. It’s all we need.
Friends, we have the same temptations today. Jesus IS everything. He’ll bring us out of our alienation. He’ll show us reconciliation. He’ll one day present us before the Father. We’ll be perfect. We’ll be like Him. But we must keep on believing. This passage doesn’t say, “If you keep believing, you’ll be changed.” It teaches, “If you’ve been changed, you will keep believing.”
Everything for Reconciliation
Once alienated, now reconciled, soon presented, now motivated. Do we see all that He has done for us? Are we living in light of that? Are we hopeful for our future? If we are, we should be motivated, we should keep going.
Friends, that’s my hope for not only each of us, but for our body as a whole. I look back and I consider where God has brought us - He’s taken us so far. Let’s not get comfortable. Let’s keep stretching ourselves. Let’s keep going. That’s why we’re taking big risks now, renting out the Imago Center, trying to position ourselves on the front lines of our city. He’s done so much for us. We can’t just sit there. We must keep fighting. As a church. As individuals. Jesus has brought us so far, and He’ll carry us to the end. But we’ve gotta hang on.