2 Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.
3 For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken lies, and your tongue mutters wicked things.
4 No one calls for justice; no one pleads His case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments and speak lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil.
10 All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 11 Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith." 12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 And He is the head of the body, the Church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross. 21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. 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 - 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.
In the days of military conscription in South Africa the army used to visit our schools each year, and in the year you turned 16 all boys had to register for compulsory military service. Having been born in England I didn’t want to give up my British passport, so when I filled in my forms as a 16 year old I specified that I wanted to remain a British citizen even though I’d lived in South Africa since I was 3. Towards the end of our final school year we would receive our call up papers telling us which part of the defence force we were joining and which railway station we had to report to as we began our 2 year stint in the military. My classmates received their papers and instructions, while all I received was a rather official letter from the South African Defence Force, stating that since I had chosen to remain an alien, I was not required for national service. At the time I was mostly relieved, but I took a fair amount of stick from a few of the guys in my class. The fact that I hadn’t asked to be exempted was irrelevant to them – they just thought I was a draft dodger. In fact I bumped into one of them about 10 years later and the first thing he said to me with a sarcastic snarl was, “So have you been to the army yet?” We haven’t kept in touch…
The one thing that has always stuck in my mind since then was that I was called an alien, even though this had been my home country for most of my life.
I’m not an alien - aliens are people who sneak across international borders without permission and proper documentation. Things have changed in South Africa since then, and I can assure you that I pay my taxes and I do live here legally, but it was quite a thing for me as a teenager to be regarded as an alien!
Early in his letter to the Colossians, Paul reminded them that they were now citizens of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. But that had not always been true. At one time they had been aliens to that kingdom, without any of the rights and privileges of divine citizenship. In fact, we, too, were not just citizens of another kingdom, the kingdom of darkness, but we were enemies of God and His kingdom. We were not just foreigners as far as God was concerned – we were hostile towards Him.
Firstly Paul speaks about our rebellion. “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour.”
Most people believe in some form of divine being, a kind of master of the universe who passes judgment on moral, ethical and faith-related matters, but who is also a friend in our time of need.
But Paul challenges that belief by saying that we were against God. We were His enemies, and we lived in a state of hostility against Him.
The majority of people would say they’re not really against the idea of there being some kind of God. They might not like Church very much and may regard it as mainly irrelevant in modern society, but they wouldn’t really go so far as to say they oppose God. After all, most of them are quite happy to attend Church weddings and funerals. But the Bible states clearly that until you know Jesus, a state of war exists between you and God, whether you have heard about it or not and whether you realise it or not.
But why is there this state of war? Mainly it is because we are basically evil people. Evil is probably a word we wouldn’t use to describe ourselves until we became Christians. Evil and wicked are words we apply to other people, but very rarely to ourselves. We’ve heard and said it all before: “No one is perfect, and I try to do my best. I’m basically a good person.”
Not many of us, before our eyes are opened by God’s truth have said, “I’m a wicked person and I’m basically evil.”
But the fact remains - that is what we were until we became Christians.
The reason people never apply these words to themselves is that the wrong standard is applied. People are asked, “Am I evil?” And the quick reply is “No, of course not. It’s the criminals and most of the politicians who are evil.”
Why then, does the Bible teach that everybody is evil? It’s because our minds are hostile to God. One of the greatest lies we’ve bought into is that because we’re not perfect, God doesn’t expect perfection. We just need to be sincere and try to be as good as we can. He won’t mind the occasional hiccup in our behaviour. But He does mind. God does have expectations, and those expectations are perfection and absolute holiness. And we become enemies of God because we justify to ourselves what God
Himself condemns. Our reading from Isaiah 59 challenges us, because we know it to be the truth “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear. For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken lies, and your tongue mutters wicked things. No one calls for justice; no one pleads His case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments and speak lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil.”
This is the basic human condition before Jesus comes into our lives. The greatest human dilemma is our hostility to God, and the fact that our sins have cut us off from Him.
Paul then continues in Colossians 1 with the message of hope as he speaks about the miracle of reconciliation to God: “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.”
Once we were enemies of God, alienated from Him because of our evil nature and evil behaviour. But, even though we were hostile towards Him, He still loved us. And He put into place the plan to reconcile us to Himself through Jesus’ death.
The death of Jesus was necessary for our reconciliation with God to become a reality.
Why did Jesus have to die? One reason is in Colossians 2:13-14, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; He took it away, nailing it to the cross.”
It took the death of Jesus to free us from the debt that stood against us with all of its legal demands. Why was that important? Because the law - any law - brings us under condemnation. Whenever we try to impress God by obeying the commands of some law, we condemn ourselves because we end up disobeying that law. Breaking the law puts us under a divine curse. That’s what Paul meant in Galatians 3:10 – “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’”
So by becoming human and going to the cross, Jesus took the curse that rightfully should have fallen on us. That curse that comes from living under a law we cannot keep could not have been removed without a Saviour dying in our place. By dying for us Jesus not only shattered the curse, but He also shattered the law that kept us condemned before God. What this means is that no longer do we have to relate to God by perfectly keeping some law. We are saved from being under a continual curse, and that frees us to have a living relationship with Him.
Jesus not only had to die to abolish the claims of the law on our lives. He also had to die to act as a propitiation or atoning sacrifice for us. 1 John 2:2 says, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”
Propitiation is a word we don’t use much these days. An act of propitiation serves 2 main functions: The appeasement of wrath and the satisfaction of justice. Any husband who has forgotten his wife’s birthday or their anniversary will understand the principle of propitiation perfectly. That bunch of flowers or box of chocolates you bought her served two purposes: It appeased her wrath, and the money you spent on that gift was the cost of justice being done.
Whatever you did to stop your wife being angry with you and restore peace at home was an act of propitiation.
This helps us to understand propitiation when we apply it to our relationship with God. God created you to live a pure and sinless life, and to model His image to the world. When you rebel and fail to obey His commands, you incur His wrath. The righteous anger of a holy God stands against you, and you need a way to turn that wrath away from you. And that’s why Jesus died. God is holy and righteous. And because of His holy and righteous nature, He demands that justice be done.
The great question the Bible answers is not “How can a loving God send anyone to hell?” Rather, the question it answers is this: “How can a holy God maintain His holiness, uphold the integrity of His perfect law, and at the same time make it possible for His enemies to not go to hell?”
God by His very nature is perfectly holy and righteous, and His nature dictates that He cannot and will not bend the rules to allow us to escape the eternal punishment we deserve as His enemies. And that is why Jesus died for you.
God’s plan of salvation is actually two-fold: He saves you by accepting the atoning death of Jesus in your place, while at the same time He maintains His perfect, holy standards. You will not be in heaven because you crept in under the radar or because God pretended to look the other way while you snuck in. You will be there because Jesus died to make it possible.
The mystery of the plan of salvation is that God has made it possible for Him to remain entirely holy, while at the same time He saved us. In His great and amazing grace, God made a way. That’s why we call it good news!
Before coming to Christ we are enemies of God. We have broken His commandments, and as Paul says in Romans 6, the wages of sin is death. We deserve to be punished for our sin, but in His mercy and because of His immeasurable love for us, God sent His Son as a substitute for us. 1 Peter 2:24 says, “He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed.”
He took our punishment, and God’s law, which requires punishment for sin, was honoured. The price was paid in full, and we are now reconciled to God. In the words of Jesus Himself as He died on the cross, “It is finished.”
So what next for us? If God has done all that was necessary for us to be reconciled to Him, how are we to live the rest of our lives? Paul answers that question in Colossians 1:23, although the sentence is incomplete unless if we begin in the previous verse: “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 - if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.”
The work of salvation is complete, but there is an obligation for us. We are to continue in our faith, not giving up on the hope held out in the gospel. He has given us His Holy Spirit who is constantly at work within us, giving us the strength we need to not stray away from God’s truth. We are to become involved in the life and witness of the Church. Last week I said that if there have been no significant changes in your life since accepting salvation through Jesus, you need to do some serious soul-searching. God has provided for your reconciliation to Him through Jesus. The relationship is restored, but you need to live in this relationship. Paul’s words in Philippians 2:12-13 have caused much confusion: “My dear friends, as you have always obeyed - not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence - continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.” This does not mean we must work for our salvation. Jesus has already done that. What it does mean is that we must work in our salvation. We need to “work out our salvation” in the way we live our lives as former aliens and enemies of God who have now been reconciled to Him.
When Paul wrote his letter to the Colossian Church, he encouraged them to resist a religious system that did not make Jesus the sole source of reconciliation to God. False teachers were saying that Jesus is only one of many steps to be taken to God, but they were wrong. What Jesus did at Calvary is all we need. We don’t need anything or anyone else to restore our relationship with God. It’s already been achieved, but we must strive to remain within that relationship – not by doing things, but by holding on to Jesus.
How many Christians make the mistake of trying to get to heaven by perfectly keeping the law? How many of us have decided that reaching heaven depends on being perfectly obedient? Some teach that we are now under a new law that must be flawlessly kept in order to be saved. That is unscriptural and heretical, because if I believed that, it would put my hope on Judgment Day in my perfect obedience, rather than the perfect, complete work of Jesus on the cross.
Authentic Christians don’t live under a whole new set of laws. Authentic Christians live a transformed lifestyle.
And we do this because we are no longer enemies of God, and we no longer participate in evil behaviour.
An authentic Christian lives a life characterised by the fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
Our lives are now marked by holiness and godliness, simply because we are now reconciled to God. We don’t strive to do these things in order to be saved. We do them because we are saved. The importance of the difference between these 2 principles is crucial. The only reason we have the hope of heaven is because Jesus took care of our sin problem at Calvary, making reconciliation possible by His death.
In the words of Edward Mote’s hymn, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus Christ, my righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”
On whom or on what is your confidence of salvation?
What is the basis of your hope of eternal life? Is your hope in your obedience? Is it in some set of laws or teachings that you think you need to perfectly obey? Or is your hope in what Jesus has done for you?
If your confidence is in Jesus, then know this: God has reconciled you to Himself. If your hope is in anything other than the life and death of Jesus, you have no basis for real hope in this life, and worse, you will die with your hope in a doctrine or a practice that cannot save you.
Because you are an enemy of God, you are condemned to spend eternity banished from the God who created you. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In the words of 2 Corinthians 5:20, “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” If you are still an alien and an enemy of God, turn to Christ while you still have the opportunity.
If on the other hand, you have accepted salvation in Christ, remember that you are reconciled to God. You are no longer His enemy and the preceding verses of 2 Corinthians 5 are for you: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Colossians 1:21-23
How would you answer the question “Are you an evil person?”
How do you think you may have answered this question prior to becoming a Christian, and before you had an understanding of the reason for Jesus’ death?
Read Psalm 14:1-3 and Colossians 1:21 again.
How do you feel about being regarded as an enemy of God before you became a Christian?
What would your reaction have been had you read these verses before turning to Jesus?
Discuss some of the fundamental flaws in the well-known phrase, “I’m basically a good person.”
Read 1 John 2:2
Some translations use the word ‘propitiation’ for atoning sacrifice. Using the simple example of a husband buying his wife a gift after forgetting her birthday, how does propitiation work in regards to Jesus’ death on the cross for us?
(Reminder: Propitiation serves 2 purposes. It appeases anger and serves justice).
Read Philippians 2:12-13 and Colossians 1:23
Discuss some of the confusion caused by misunderstanding Paul’s words in Philippians 2:12.
Now that we are saved and reconciled to God, how are we to live these new lives? (Galatians 5:22 may help your discussions