Series on Colossians, I The Mystery of Christ, A The Revelation of God, 2 Prayers, c Purpose, Text: 1:21-23, Title: Beloved Enemies

Introduction

If there is anything that rankles the natural man is it being told that he is God’s enemy. A really vocal atheist might acknowledge that he is an enemy of the idea of God, but since he does not believe God exists, how can he be His enemy? A hubris of unbelief typically characterizes the best and brightest. They have learned to count on themselves for their security and contentment, and given the public’s affirmation of their ability, they find no real need for God’s affirmation. Walk any college campus and the logical positivists will tell you that the word God has no meaning for them. God is a meaningless word and the idea that He exists is a meaningless proposition. However, a reasoned decision against the truth and values of the Christian gospel and for the falsehoods and fictions of the social order results in a mind or intellectual orientation that is alienated from the Creator’s purposes for “all things.” These are the people Paul is talking about in I Corinthians 1:18-24, For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Robert Wall comments “This requires a paradigm shift in how we function within society. The slogans of secular materialism promise humanity’s salvation in terms of self-sufficiency or economic security, technological progress or national sovereignty. According to Paul, God’s salvation from evil comes to those who depend upon Christ. And to depend upon Christ is to follow his downwardly mobile way in an upwardly mobile world.” Therefore we see here what we were, what we are, and what we shall be. We consider ourselves as antagonistic, accepted, and assured.

I Antagonistic

For many this is a too severe indictment in verse 21, Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. The indictment is plain and rough they say and a far too harsh description of human nature. Our forefathers no doubt were occasionally tempted to paint the “depravity of human nature” in very black colors, but we are tempted just in the opposite direction. It sounds too harsh and rude to press home the old-fashioned truth on cultured, educated, respectable ladies and gentlemen. But the charge is not that of conscious, active hostility, but of practical want of affection, as manifested by habitual disobedience or inattention to God’s wishes, and by indifference and separation from Him in heart and mind. This separation leads to all kinds of sinful behavior as Paul makes clear in chapter 3:5-7, Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. You can hardly pick up a paper or magazine or turn on your TV without hearing the latest scandal about somebody’s secret sins. All kinds of evil desires are spread out for all to see and we still insist on the liberal myth that men are essentially good. Hogwash. For all our technology the world grows worse daily and we still persist in the Devil’s lie in Genesis 3:5 and 6 that it’s OK to disobey God because he really doesn’t know what’s best for you, “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Paul reveals our real situation in Romans 1:18-20, The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. There is a myth of neutrality. Take a course in comparative religion and discover how the professor treats every culture and religious expression as if we were neutral and could decide what God is really like. This is antagonism to the true and living God who has made clear to all what He is like. All religions are not paths up a mountain to the same summit. In the true religion God came down the mountain to save us through the cross of Christ. Your opinion does not matter and it’s prejudiced anyway because apart from Christ you  are an enemy of the truth.

II Accepted

But Paul tells the Colossian Christians that they are no longer enemies in verse 22, But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation. The statement that you have been reconciled by Christ’s physical body is exceedingly important. We might wonder why Paul stresses this. The answer lie sin the gnostic heresy he was combating in Colosse. Instead of God becoming human, the Gnostic Christians believed that GOD decided to send a messenger to earth, Jesus. Since Jesus came from GOD, who focused on spiritual matters, then Jesus was all spirit, he was not physical.  The word used to describe this state is “phantom”; he appeared to be physical but was not. So they rejected the Incarnation. They believed that it was someone else who was crucified and that Jesus simply disappeared. This heresy was widespread and Paul is not the only one preaching against it. The apostle John also warns against the gnostic heresy in I John 4:1-3 identifying it with the antichrist, Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. In modern times gnosticism appears under a different guise in theological perspectives that deny the historicity of Christianity and teach men that it does not matter whether Adam or Abraham or David or Jesus is an historical person. We can regard it as mythical they say and still have our faith. Obviously this is a way to circumvent modern criticism and skepticism. If you are not saved by an actual historical Jesus suffering on an actual cross, in an actual place, Golgotha in 33 AD, then you are not saved at all because you are historical and if He is not then His death cannot present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation. Jesus entered history and suffered to seek and save that which was lost and it wasn’t lost in a myth, it was lost in the real world. Jesus saved Thomas from this very error when as the gospel reports in John 20:26-29, A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Also Luke dispels this error in 24:36-39, While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” And the author of Hebrews boldly tells us that if Jesus was not fully human He could not have saved us in 2:14-17, Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Thus we see Jesus physical, touchable, fully human and not a spirit making atonement and making us holy, free from blemish and free from accusation: from enemies to friends.

III Assured

In conclusion Paul reminds them that their hope is not a fleeting one, here today and gone tomorrow. He writes in verse 23, if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. The incarnation, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus provided the basis not only for our salvation but for our preservation. From our perspective that preservation is perseverance in the faith. This is why Paul says we must continue and not lose sight of the goal. Athletes compete for the prize. Paul persevered for the prize of the high calling of God in  Christ Jesus. Jesus Himself endured the shame of the cross for the joy that was set before Him. I agree with the sentiment of the man after whom the National Football League championship trophy is named, Vince Lombardi, “ If it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, then why do they keep score?” I think Paul would also have agreed because he wrote be established, be firm, continue, do not stop hoping. Your perseverance is the evidence that God is preserving you. It comes not when you are cheering on the sidelines, but when you are battling in the trenches. This is where you prove your mettle and it is where you find your assurance that Jesus is your Savior. Assurance is not something we get by believing a formula and having some evangelist tell us that we are OK. Assurance is a dynamic thing that is born out of our determination to persevere in the gospel.