Preeminent in Our Change

  • Text: Colossians 1:21-23, CSB
  • Series: Jesus above All (2019), Pt. 5
  • Date: Sunday, August 4, 2019 – AM service
  • Venue: Trinity Baptist Church – Seminole, Oklahoma
  • Speaker: Jared Byrns
  • Download Audio: mp3

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Our focus over the last several weeks has been on the preeminence of Christ—that means His sovereignty, His prominence, His lordship. And through it all, we’ve seen that we cannot overstate His importance or give Him too much glory. As we’ve worked our way through Colossians chapter 1, we’ve seen how Jesus has been at the center of the Father’s eternal plans. We’ve read about His power as the Creator and Sustainer of the whole Universe. We’ve learned that He’s the one and only, undisputed Head of the Church. This chapter highlights His preeminence in some pretty big areas. But it would be a mistake to look at that and conclude that the preeminence of Jesus Christ is just some abstract theological truth that applies only to big things without making any difference in our lives. 

Today, in this same chapter, we’re going to see how God’s Word describes the total spiritual transformation that takes place within individuals like you and me—and how Jesus Christ is at the heart of the entire process. Even when it comes to changing us and changing our lives, Jesus Christ is preeminent.

If you haven’t already, please go with me to Colossians chapter 1. Grab your Bible, grab a device with a Bible app, or share with someone—just get God’s Word in front of you. You’ll find Colossians about three-quarters of the way through the Bible, right after Ephesians and Philippians and right before 1st and 2nd Thessalonians. Colossians 1:21-23 says:

“Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds expressed in your evil actions. But now he has reconciled you by his physical body through his death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before him—if indeed you remain grounded and steadfast in the faith and are not shifted away from the hope of the gospel that you heard. This gospel has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and I, Paul, have become a servant of it.”

The Colossians had to contend with all kinds of false teachings in their town. Some people inside and outside the church were looking for new experiences and new philosophies that could bring them closer to God. They were looking for spiritual transformation without Jesus Christ. So the Apostle Paul’s explained that we can only be transformed and grow closer to God because of Jesus Christ. He is preeminent; He rules over the whole process.

To illustrate the unparalleled power of Jesus to transform lives, Paul reminded them of where they had started. Verse 21 says, “Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds.” They may have been part of the church for years, and they may have spent a big chunk of their lives assimilating to a Christian environment, but that didn’t entitle them to take credit for their spiritual growth. He reminded them that they didn’t start out as godly people. Instead of being self-righteous and thinking they didn’t need Jesus, the Colossians needed to remember that they were once alienated from God and filled with hostility toward Him. There was a time when they were distant from God.

Alienation from God means that they were estranged from Him and that His ways were something foreign. They didn’t want anything to do with God. Think about a picky child—I may or may not have some of those. When you introduce a new food to them, and it’s not a dessert, it’s something foreign to them. Do they typically dive right into it? No, more likely, they push it away. They’re not interested. That’s how our human nature reacts to God. We push Him away. He’s foreign and uncomfortable, so we do our best to keep Him at arm’s length.

Hostility, though, goes a step further. Their hostility meant that they hated God and saw Him as an enemy. As far as they were concerned, they were at war against Him. It’s part of our human nature to be hostile toward the things of God. The book of James even says, “Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the friend of the world becomes the enemy of God” (James 4:4, CSB). This means that when we attach our hearts to the sinful things of the world, we position ourselves as the enemies of God. God is a loving God, Who created us to love Him and be loved by Him. He created a perfect paradise here on Earth so that we could enjoy it and live there in perfect harmony, both with Him and with one another. Instead, mankind rejected God and His gifts. By our sin, we committed treason and launched into open rebellion against a loving King. We positioned ourselves as the enemies of God, and the relationship has been one of hostility ever since.

Some of the Colossians might have asked, ‘When were we alienated and hostile?’ Paul pointed out the evidence from their own lives. Our attitudes will invariably show up in our actions. Jesus taught that the condition of our heart is the source of our behavior. He said, “The mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. A good person produces good things from his storeroom of good and an evil person produces evil things from his storeroom of evil” (Matthew 12:34-35, CSB). So Paul led them to the evidence.

Verse 21 says, “Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds expressed in your evil actions.” Their alienation and hostility showed up in their evil actions. They hated God, and they demonstrated that hatred by sinning and by taking delight in their sin.

Elsewhere, in the book of Titus, Paul wrote about what it looks like when our hostility toward God shows up in our actions. He described our sinful human nature as “foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved by various passions and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, detesting one another” (Titus 3:3, CSB). The Bible is clear that wicked actions come from wicked hearts that have rejected God.

Even though Paul was writing to and about the people at Colossae, this could easily describe our human nature today. We’re all born with a heart problem—we’re all born with hearts that reject God. And our hostility toward God shows up in our actions.

It doesn’t matter whether we’ve lived quiet lives or wild ones. It’s irrelevant whether our sin has been open or discreet, whether it’s been small or spectacular. The reality is that we all have sinned. God’s Word tells us, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, CSB). At the age of five, I realized I was a sinner—even as a child. Outwardly, my biggest sin up to that point was probably disobeying my parents, but there was a deeper issue. I have this human nature that, even then, really enjoyed it when I’d get by with something I wasn’t supposed to do. It wasn’t just a problem with my behavior; it was a problem with my heart. My heart was far from God.

We all start in the same place; our hearts are far from God, our minds side with sin and against God, and our actions reveal the darkness within. But just because we start there doesn’t mean we have to stay there.

We can leave that place of separation from God, but there’s only one way out. The answer is not to straighten up our lives and try to earn God’s acceptance by doing better. The answer is not in an old religious ritual or a new philosophy. Our separation from God can only be solved by Jesus Christ. 

After Paul described their hopeless separation from God in verse 21, he wrote in verse 22, “But now he has reconciled you.” For the people at Colossae, something had changed that would allow them to have a relationship with God. Jesus Christ had reconciled them to God. 

We couldn’t do a thing to make ourselves acceptable to God—and we weren’t inclined to seek a relationship if we could. But Jesus did what was necessary—what we never could—so that we could be reconciled to the Father. He paid the full price and bore the entire punishment for the sin that separated us from God.

How did he do that? Verse 22 explains it. It says, “But now he has reconciled you by his physical body through his death.”

Because the people in Colossae were so interested in Gnostic heresies that turned Jesus into some spiritual emanation, a little bit like a ghost, Paul told them that our reconciliation required the death of Jesus’ physical body. You can’t nail a ghost to a cross, and spirits don’t bleed. A sacrifice required blood, and that’s why, in the words of the Apostle John, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14, CSB). God the Son became a man so that He could be the perfect sacrifice and the ultimate payment for our sins. In that physical body, He was nailed to the cross. He was punished in our place, and He paid the full price for our sins.

We could never do anything to overcome our separation from God. But on the cross, Jesus overcame that separation and transformed our relationship with God.

But there’s more to this spiritual transformation than ending our separation from God. Because of what Jesus Christ did, the Colossians were in a totally different situation in verse 22 from where they had been in verse 21. In verse 22, Paul said that Jesus had reconciled them to God for a purpose: “to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before him.” 

It says that because of Christ, we are presented to God as holy. In this context, holiness means that we are set apart to belong to God. We are reserved for Him. It’s like when they’ll put a reserved sign on a row of seats at a funeral. We know that those seats are set apart for the use of the family.  When the Bible says that we are presented holy because of Jesus, it means that God has declared us to be His. 

Holiness, in this sense, means that Jesus has transformed us from being God’s enemies to being His children. When we receive Christ as our Savior, God adopts us into His family. John says, “But to all who did receive him, he gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in his name” (John 1:12, CSB).

God operates like the Father in the story of the prodigal son. The prodigal son realized that he had sinned against his father and treated him as an enemy. He had no right to return to his father; he was unfit even to step foot on his father’s property. His only hope was that his father might be gracious enough to hire him on as a servant—though he didn’t even deserve that. But the father saw him from far away, ran to him, and welcomed him back as a son. That’s what God does for us. Because of Jesus, the Father takes enemies and reclassifies them not just as servants but as sons and daughters. Now, the Scriptures call us holy, because we are His.

But Jesus also transforms us into something faultless and blameless. The word that has been translated as faultless is something of a legal term. It means that we’re free from accusation. Because Jesus paid for our sins in full on the cross, we can approach the Father through Him. And when we come to the Father through faith in Jesus, the Father issues us a full and unconditional pardon. God looks at all the crimes we will have ever committed against Him, and He blots them out. Because of Jesus, the Father no longer finds any fault with us, and He declares us to be not guilty. We’re not just not guilty. It goes beyond that; we not chargeable in the court of God’s justice. The idea of being faultless means there’s no longer any accusation that can be brought against us in God’s courtroom because Jesus bore the penalty for our crimes in full.

Now, the word that has been translated as blameless refers to something that has no defects or blemishes. Because of what Jesus did to reconcile us to God, believers no longer bear any defect or blemish in God’s eyes. The ravages of sin no longer characterize us. Our evil choices and all the times we’ve let Him down, those things no longer define us as far as God is concerned. II Corinthians says, “He made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (II Corinthians 5:21, CSB). Our sins were paid for by Jesus, and we received His righteousness in return so that He could present us to the Father, pure and spotless in Him.

But, as incredible as all of that is, the transforming work of Jesus isn’t just a one-time event. Because of Jesus, the power of God is continually at work within believers to make us more like Jesus. Paul told the church at Philippi, “I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6, CSB). This ongoing transformation is so important. Just like verse 21 tells us that a life characterized by sin is evidence of our separation from God, verse 23 teaches that a life characterized by the work of God is evidence of our reconciliation to God.

It says, “If indeed you remain grounded and steadfast in the faith and are not shifted away from the hope of the gospel that you heard.” Our growing faith and our continuing walk with Jesus are evidence that we belong to Him. It’s just like the Apostle John wrote, “Everyone who has been born of God conquers the world. This is the victory that has conquered the world: our faith” (I John 5:4, CSB). This unshakable, overcoming faith, nurtured by God, demonstrates that we belong to Him.

We need to be careful with this verse. It doesn’t teach that our salvation is dependent on our performance. It doesn’t teach that salvation can be lost unless we meet some vague standard of groundedness and steadfastness. The Bible, when read in context, is emphatic that we do not receive or retain salvation because of our performance. Instead, this verse deals with evidence. Who are the ones who’ve been reconciled, made holy, made faultless, made blameless? You’ll know them when you see them continuing in the Gospel. How can I know that I’ve been saved? He’ll preserve you and empower you to persevere in the faith. 

What Paul was saying to the Colossians was that if Jesus Christ has transformed you, you won’t abandon Him or the hope that you have in His death and resurrection. It’s not saying that we’ll never have questions. It’s not saying you’ll never struggle with your faith. What it is saying is that those who’ve genuinely been born again by faith in Christ won’t just toss Him aside to look for hope elsewhere.

Even in their day, some people walked away from the faith. They didn’t just lay out of church for a while; they abandoned Jesus Christ altogether. Some of them went back to pagan gods. Some of them embraced Gnostic teachings thinking they would find some other way to God that didn’t involve Jesus. Some of them were just lured away by the siren song of sin. And John said that was evidence that they never belonged to Jesus in the first place. He wrote in I John, “They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. However, they went out so that it might be made clear that none of them belongs to us” (I John 2:19, CSB). 

Those who desert Jesus Christ and abandon His Gospel are just showing the evidence that they never really had Him. A few of Jesus’ parables describe people who profess faith without genuinely possessing faith. So this isn’t saying that your salvation depends on your continued performance; it’s teaching that our continuing, steadfast faith in Jesus Christ is evidence of the work that He’s doing in us. Those who’ve really trusted in Christ will see the evidence of it as He transforms our lives and strengthens our faith in Him.

Paul provided them a dramatic example of how Jesus transforms lives and how the evidence of His work is apparent. Verse 23 says, “This gospel has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and I, Paul, have become a servant of it.” I can’t help but think that Paul was drawing their attention to how Jesus had transformed his own life. As the Gospel went out to the nations, Paul at first resisted it. But in the end, even He was captivated by the message of Jesus Christ.

Just think about who Paul was before Jesus. When he described the ugliness of sin, it wasn’t just something he understood in theory. He had lived in the ugliness of sin in a way that few others have. He had been a Pharisee—someone who strived to keep God’s law outwardly, but whose heart was diseased by pride and self-righteousness. His heart was just as rebellious as anyone else’s, and when Jesus came along to fulfill God’s Word, Paul despised Him for it. Saul—as Paul was known at the time—encouraged an angry mob to torture and kill a man whose only crime was following Jesus Christ. Then Saul set out on a campaign of terror and murder against all the Christians he could find, until one day when Jesus invaded his life.

Once he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul was never the same again. His life was completely transformed. He went from being one of the greatest persecutors of the church in history to one of the greatest proclaimers of the Gospel in history. This transformation didn’t happen because Paul was great. It didn’t happen because he committed to clean up his act. It happened because of Jesus Christ. Through his encounter with Jesus, Paul stopped trusting in his own self-righteous efforts to earn God’s acceptance and started trusting completely in the risen Savior that he had formerly despised. Jesus saved him, Jesus finally brought him peace with God, and Jesus transformed him into an entirely different kind of man. There’s the evidence that it was real; you can’t fake the transforming power of Jesus Christ in the life of a sinner, and you can’t hide it either.

So let me ask you, this morning, where does the evidence point in your life? As you listen to the Bible’s descriptions, does the evidence in your life point to separation from God, or does it indicate that you’ve been reconciled to Him? That’s not necessarily something I can answer for you; that’s something you need to deal with God about on your own.

The Bible tells us, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith. Examine yourselves” (II Corinthians 13:5, CSB).

So have you trusted in Jesus Christ alone to save you and reconcile you to God? Have you trusted in Him alone to do this? Have you trusted in Him to make you holy before God, or are you still trying to earn His acceptance on your own? Do you see evidence of His work in your life?

If you’ve never trusted Him as your Savior—if the evidence shows that you’re distant and separated from God, Jesus alone can reconcile you to God today. You’ll need to acknowledge your sin against God as the reason why you need a Savior in the first place. You must believe that Jesus died on the cross as the payment for your sins and that He rose again from the dead. You need to trust in Him as your one and only Savior. If you believe this, you can ask God for forgiveness, and He’ll forgive your sins because Jesus Christ has already paid for them. Because of what Jesus did, you can have forgiveness of sin, eternal life, peace with God, and a home with Him in Heaven. You can be reconciled to God this morning. You can see the start of the transformation within that only Jesus Christ can bring about—not because you started out good, not because you started out close to God, not because you’re trying to do better, but because Jesus Christ bled and died to pay for your sins, because Jesus Christ offers you salvation, because Jesus can reconcile you, present you holy, faultless, and blameless before the Father, and because He can transform you from where you started out to where God wants you to be. But it requires that we trust in Him and Him alone.

Sermon audio and text, © 2019, Jared Byrns. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Biblical references are taken from The Christian Standard Bible. Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible®, and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers, all rights reserved.