Bibliotheca Sacra 151 (July-Sept. 1994) 325-38.

          Copyright © 1994 by Dallas Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.

 

 

                                      Doctrinal Issues in Colossians

                                                 Part 3 (of 4 parts):

 

              THE DOCTRINE OF SALVATION

                              IN COLOSSIANS*

 

                                                 H. Wayne House

 

            The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Colossians,

painted an exquisite portrait of Jesus Christ. The apostle, how-

ever, did not complete his painting without also depicting the im-

portance of Christ's Person and work in relation to eternal salva-

tion. The basis of that salvation is the death of Christ on the cross,

by which He has given an eternal inheritance to believers. As

heirs, saints possess abundant salvific treasures, including re-

demption, reconciliation, sanctification, and ultimate glorifica-

tion. Salvation flows from the headwaters of the eternal plan of

God the Father and its actualization through the work of the Son in

time and space. By the Son, believers have been transferred from

the tyranny and destruction of the kingdom of darkness to the

blessing of the kingdom of light. Moreover, they are presently be-

ing transformed by the work of God. In Colossians, salvation is a

multifaceted doctrine, made up of many threads woven together

in relation to Christ and His work.

 

                        THE BELIEVER'S INHERITANCE

 

QUALIFIED BY GOD THE FATHER

            In Paul's opening prayer he praised God the Father as the One

who initiates the salvation of Christians (1:12), a salvation given

to them in the form of an inheritance. Paul clearly established the

fact that salvation is wrought in a family context. Salvation

comes through God "the Father, who has qualified us" for an in-

 

H. -Wayne House is Professor-at-large, Simon Greenleaf University, School of Law,

Anaheim, California.

 

This is article three in a four-part series "Doctrinal Issues in Colossians." Parts

one and two were published in the January 1992 and April 1992 issues of Biblio-

theca Sacra.



326     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July–September 1994

 

heritance. Inheritances, and specifically in this case salvation,

are awarded on the basis of family qualification. Salvation, then,

is not something that believers have obtained by merit; inheri-

tances are given to heirs and sons, not to workers. God the Father

qualified believers for a "portion of the lot" (th>n meri<da tou? klh<-

rou) by virtue of His predestined plan to adopt them (cf. Eph. 1:5).

The verb i[kano<w means "to make sufficient or to qualify,"1 and

i[kanw<santi is a consummative aorist emphasizing a past com-

pleted action. Thus, according to Paul, God caused believers to be

qualified for inheritance. Again an inheritance is only for those

who are duly authorized heirs.

            In Colossians 1:21 Paul demonstrated that before conversion

the believer's relationship with God was anything but familial.

Paul did not equivocate when he stated that sinners were alien-

ated (o@ntaj a]phllotriwme<nouj) and enemies (e]xqrou>j). The pre-

sent participle o@ntaj depicts an ongoing breach between God and

sinners. The idea of being enemies of God coincides with Ro-

mans 5:10. As an enemy, one is not entitled to anything. Mercy

and grace for a captive foe are purely at the discretion of the con-

queror. And though God owed sinners a fiery payment, He

forgave them and qualified them for an inheritance through

Jesus Christ and brought them into His household.

            When was this action of "qualifying" (Col. 1:12) consum-

mated? In one sense the believer was "qualified" by means of

God's election in eternity past. As Ephesians 1:4 states, believers

were chosen "in Him before the foundation of the world" (pro>

katabolh?j ko<smou2). Thus the qualification has already come

about in eternity past.3 Then through the sacrifice of His Son God

the Father qualified them to receive this inheritance. The Cross

was the outworking of God's eternal plan, which was initially

ratified "before the foundation of the world." Ephesians 1:11

further emphasizes that the inheritance comes by virtue of God's

predestination: "in whom we have obtained an inheritance,

having been predestined (prorisqe<ntej) according to His purpose

who works all things after the counsel of His will." The aorist

participle proorisqe<ntej indicates that God's predestining work is

the basis by which "we have obtained an inheritance"

 

1 Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lex-

icon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2d ed., rev. F.

Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,

1979), 374.

2 The phrase pro< katabolh?j is also used of Christ in 1 Peter 1:20.

3 Peter T. O'Brien, Colossians and Philemon, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco,

TX: Word, 1982), 26.



              The Doctrine of Salvation in Colossians                327

 

(e]klhrw<qhmen). Therefore this inheritance is a matter of God's

grace, since God's election is apart from any counsel or persua-

sion other than His own.

            The concept of inheritance was commonplace to those famil-

iar with Jewish history. God promised the Israelites an inheri-

tance in the land of Canaan (cf. Gen. 15:13-21; 48:3-44; Exod.

3:8), and as He led them out of Egypt He delivered them into the

Promised Land. The right of the Jews to this inheritance came by

virtue of their being descendants of Abraham. However, the in-

heritance promised to the Colossians "belongs to a higher plane

and a more enduring order than any terrestrial Canaan."4 Fur-

thermore, rather than having Abraham as their "father," believ-

ers today have God as their Father.

            The concept of inheritance in the Old Testament applied not

only to the land but also to the Israelites themselves. Deuteronomy

4:20 refers to Israel as "the people of His inheritance." Moreover,

in addition to God's claiming individuals as His inheritance,

people referred to God as their "portion" or "lot." For example the

psalmist claimed God as "his portion" (yqil;H,) or inheritance (Ps.

73:26). The notion that inheritance sometimes referred to spiri-

tual as well as physical possessions is well attested in the Old

Testament (cf. Deut. 7:6; 32:9; Ps. 16:5; Lam. 3:24).

 

THE INHERITORS AND THEIR KINGDOM

            God's inheritance is for His people, those mentioned in

Colossians 1:12 as "saints" (tw?n a[gi<wn). The saints are the people

of God, not angels.5 Certainly the Christian community is called

by God to participate in the angelic realm, and as they are "in the

light" they partake in the realm of the heavenlies. However, the

context seems to dictate that the a[gi<wn mentioned above are

believers (cf. Rom. 12:13; 1 Cor. 6:1; Eph. 3:8), and the light in

which they are qualified to share is the kingdom of light, the home

of God in His full glory. This is the polar opposite of the domain or

kingdom' of darkness, referred to in Colossians 1:13. This term

"darkness" (sko<toj) has an ominous tone of doom and destruc-

tion. Those in darkness are without salvation: "you were

formerly darkness" (Eph. 5:8). Such individuals are also

"children destined for wrath" (2:3). The Bible uses this contrast

 

4 F. F. Bruce, Epistle to the Colossians, Philemon and to the Ephesians, New In-

ternational Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984),

50.

5 Lohse, building on his study of the parallels between Colossians and Qumran

literature, says a[gi<wn refers to angels (Eduard Lohse, Colossians and Philemon,

Hermenia [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971], 36).



328     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July—September 1994

 

between light and darkness as a theme in many passages, not the

least of which is 1 John, which develops the difference between

light and darkness. In the literature of Qumran, "light and

darkness are determinative spheres but also paths one can

take."6 Light is indicative of goodness and righteousness, and the

culmination of this way of life is salvation, which is contrary to

darkness, which culminates in "eternal perdition in the fire of

dark places (1QS 4:12 f. cf. 2:8; 1 QH 3:29 ff.)."7

            The inheritance of the saints is said to be "in the light" be-

cause God removed them from the power of darkness. "He deliv-

ered us from the domain [e]cousi<aj] of darkness and transferred

[mete<sthsen] us to the kingdom of His beloved Son" (Col. 1:13).

The use of e]cousi<a here has the idea of the "domain of darkness"

as the antithesis of Christ's kingdom. The domain of darkness

refers to the spiritual realm where evil reigns. The phrase e]c

ousi<a tou? sko<touj is also found in Luke 22:53, which states that

Christ, when He was being betrayed said He knew that "the power

of darkness" was at hand. The term e]cousi<a was also used by

Paul in Ephesians 2:2, where the believer's former life is said to

be controlled by the prince of the domain (e]cousi<a) of the air,

whose spirit is working in the lives of unbelievers.8

            Leaving the domain of darkness involves both a present

lifestyle pleasing to the Lord (consisting of "goodness and

righteousness and truth," Eph. 5:9) and an eternal existence of

being "in the light" (e]n t&? fw?j, Col. 1:12).

 

            CHRIST'S REDEMPTION OF HIS PEOPLE

 

            As is well known, the theological term "redemption"

(a]polu<trwsij) means "’setting free for a ransom,’ and is used of

prisoners of war."9 Slaves or captives could be "redeemed" or

"purchased" in the marketplace. Israelites would envision even

more in the word, for it would recall God's redeeming work in

Egypt on behalf of His chosen people. Corresponding to this re-

deeming work is the "forgiveness of sins" spoken of by the

prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel as they predicted the New

 

6 Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. "fw?j," by Hans Conzelmann,

9:326.

7 Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. "pneu?ma," by Eduard

Schweizer, 7:432.

8 Ernest R. Campbell, A Commentary on Colossians and Philemon (Silverton,

OR: Canyonview, 1982), 37.

9 Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. "a]polu<trwsij," by F. Bichsel,

4:352.



            The Doctrine of Salvation in Colossians                329

 

Covenant (Jer. 31:31, 34; Ezek. 36:16-36).10 The concepts of re-

demption and forgiveness (th<n a@fesin) in Colossians 1:14 are

closely related, perhaps even appositional.11  Lexically both terms

can be used in a commercial environment, a@fesij carrying the

notion of "cancellation of an obligation"12 and a]polu<trwsij con-

veying the idea of "buying back."13 Paul heralded this same truth

in a similar construction in Ephesians 1:7. Redemption, as a

work of salvation, is inseparable from the idea of forgiveness.

Redemption is "from the wrath and punitive justice of God."14

This redemption can be accomplished only by forgiveness. The

relationship between these two concepts has been a source of

dispute since the times of the early church fathers. Some said

salvation is a two-stage process, namely, forgiveness of sins at

baptism and redemption at a later state when the person receives

perfection (corresponding to Christ's baptism and the supposed

later descent of the Christ on the human Jesus), but Irenaeus

argued against this false notion.15 Calvin advanced that "the

apostle defines the redemption in Christ's blood as ‘the

forgiveness of sins’ [Col. 1:14]."16 Redemption has connotations

for both the present and the future. "All present spiritual

possessions are simply installments on the inheritance, which

will consist in the whole existence of man being given up and

made conformable in the Spirit."17

 

THROUGH CHRIST

            When the believer is delivered from the domain or power of

Satan, he is transferred (mete<sthsen) into the kingdom of Christ,

God's beloved Son.18 Citizenship in this kingdom is procured by

the purchase of Christ: "in whom we have redemption, the for-

 

10 N. T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon, Tyndale New Testament Commen-

taries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 63.

11 O'Brien, Colossians and Philemon, 28.

12 Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament

and Other Early Christian Literature, 96.

13 Ibid.

14 Charles J. Ellicott, The Epistles of St. Paul (Boston: Draper, 1866), 2:133.

15 Irenaeus, Against Heresies 50.21.2, cited in William Hendriksen, Exposition of

Colossians and Philemon (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1964), 65.

16 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, ed.

John T. McNeil, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 1:533.

17  Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. "a]polu<trwsij," by F. Buchsel,

4:352.

18 The aorist tense reiterates the truth in Ephesians 2:6 that believers are posi-

tionally in heaven (Robert G. Gromacki, Stand Perfect in Wisdom: An Exposition of

Colossians and Philemon [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981], 55).



330     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July—September 1994

 

giveness of sins" (1:14). The preposition e]n, though often rendered

"by," should here be translated "in" (cf. Eph. 1:7, 10, 13; Col. 2:3,

11-12; 2 Tim. 1:9). Clark thinks differently since Christ is the

agent by which redemption is accomplished.19 However, the idea

of the saints being in the light and being placed into the kingdom

adds force to the view that redemption is in Him. Romans 3:24

weaves together the ideas of redemption and the believer's posi-

tion in Christ: "through the redemption which is in Christ."20

With this interpretation is the conclusion that "forgiveness of

sins" is indeed appositional to redemption (as already sug-

gested).21 It further defines and clarifies redemption, not fully or

exhaustively, but enough to carry the intended meaning to the

reader. This identification is the crux of the issue for the believer.

Whatever "in Him" means, it at least speaks to the inseparable

identification of the believer and his Lord. It most likely is a

locative of sphere (of Jesus Christ),22 and since this passage fo-

cuses on the believer's spiritual destiny, the spiritual union of the

believer and Christ seems to be emphasized (cf. Col. 3:1-3).23

 

REDEMPTION PARALLELS

            Most commentators agree that Colossians 1:14 could have

been a specific rejoinder against a false Colossian view on the

work and efficiency of Christ in relation to the true gospel mes-

sage (see 2:18). Colossians 1:14 is strikingly similar to Eph-

esians 1:7, "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the

forgiveness of our trespasses." The sin that has clung to

mankind since the Fall in Genesis 3 was not a mere triviality,

not something to be passed over without a second glance. God is a

just God, and sin carries a price. That debt was obtained by one

man, Adam, and its consequence was death (Rom. 5:12). The

progeny of Adam are carriers of this debt, this burden. Christ was

the lifeline, the only means of rescue, in the sea of sin. In the syn-

cretistic religious culture of Colossae, the uniqueness of Christ's

all-sufficiency was a central issue for the Apostle Paul. Any theo-

logical aberration that undermined the all-sufficiency of Christ

also jeopardized the verity of the redemption "in Him." A Chris-

 

19 Gordon H. Clark, Colossians: Another Commentary on an Inexhaustible Mes-

sage (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1979), 30.

20 The second attributive position allows the phrase e]n Xrist&?  ]Ihsou? to modify

the leading noun (th?j a]polutrw<sewj), thus pointing to the quality or kind of re-

demption:

21 A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 6 vols. (Nashville:

Broadman, 1931), 4:477.

22 Campbell, A Commentary on Colossians and Philemon, 40.

23 Hendriksen, Exposition of Colossians and Philemon, 65.



            The Doctrine of Salvation in Colossians                331

 

tology that lessens Christ and His power lessens His role in sal-

vation and the integrity of that salvation.

            In another parallel on the theme of redemption, Paul wrote,

"But by His [God's] doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to

us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and

redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30). The context of this passage states that

Christ's work and the gospel were seen as foolishness, and to

Gentiles, redemption carried little of the meaning it would have

for Jews. Greek philosophy did not include a Judeo-Christian

concept of sin, wrath, and atonement. Deities in the Greek pan-

theon were too fickle and involved in their own affairs to adhere

to any sense of a perfect justice, as is presented in the Scriptures.

Any type of redemption in the pagan mythology was motivated by

petty jealousy or some type of law that even the gods were under.

 

REDEMPTION AND FORGIVENESS

            The end of Colossians 1:14, which speaks of Christ's power to

forgive sins is a direct statement in support of His deity. In fact it

was this claim (though not exclusively) that spurred the wrath of

the Pharisees, and contributed ultimately to His crucifixion. In

healing a paralytic man, Christ first demonstrated His ability to

forgive sins (Mark 2:5-12). The scribes whispered among them-

selves in essence, "Blasphemy, who does this man think he is?

Only God forgives sin!" (v. 7). This was Jesus' exact point. He

can forgive sins because He is God in the flesh. Colossians 1:19

affirms the glorious truth that in Him all the fullness of deity

dwells in bodily form. The Pharisees could not bear the idea of

God in the flesh usurping their religious power over the populace;

and to the Colossians, who were delving into dualistic philosophy,

this concept certainly did not support their ascetic presuppositions

concerning flesh, spirit, and spirituality.

            All these components of salvation—inheritance, deliver-

ance, redemption, and forgiveness—are because of God the Fa-

ther (v. 12), who in eternity past predestined and chose, according

to His will, those who would believe. This is His prerogative and

blessing bestowed on those who are undeserving.

 

                                    RECONCILIATION

            Colossians 1:19-23 addresses several aspects of the subject of

reconciliation.

            For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell

            in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, hav-

            ing made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I

            say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. And although



332     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July—September 1994

 

            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 estab-

            lished 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.

 

THE DEFINITION OF RECONCILIATION

            The term a]pokata<llacai occurs in verses 20 and 22 and in

Ephesians 2:16. The prefixed preposition a]po suggests intensity

or completeness.24 In both passages it is important to note that this

type of reconciliation is not simply concession after mutual hos-

tility. It is used strictly in reference to man, not God. In 2 Corin-

thians 5:18-19, another passage on reconciliation, which uses the

term katalla<ssw, Paul wrote of sin not being reckoned to believ-

ers. This barrier of sin is truly a problem in man's relationship

to God. Scripture leaves no doubt as to the corruption of mankind

and the fact that this corruption, which is an effrontery before

God, required reconciliation.25 This reconciliation occurred

through the Cross. The Cross not only brought reconciliation and

an end to enmity between God and sinners, but it also is the

means of reconciliation between individuals (Eph. 2:16).

 

THE INITIATOR OF RECONCILIATION

            Colossians 1:20 depicts God reconciling all things to Him-

self. The unsaved are incapable of seeking reconciliation. No

one seeks God (Rom. 3:11), and all the unregenerate are enemies

of God (5:10). The depraved state of sinful humanity renders in-

dividuals spiritually dead, incapable, and unworthy. Despite all

these accusations, God the Father, through the blood of Christ, rec-

onciled sinners, while they were yet His enemies. Reflecting on

one's former state before God, a believer can more fully appreci-

ate the truth of salvation by grace. Enemies do not deserve grace.

The fact that grace is unmerited makes it a beautiful yet confus-

ing thing to the human mind.

 

THE EXTENT OF RECONCILIATION

            Because God reconciles sinners to Himself, by means of the

blood of His Son, its effects are all inclusive. The Cross thus af-

fects not only mankind but also the entire cosmos: "and through

 

24 S. Lewis Johnson, "From Enmity to Amity," Bibliotheca Sacra 121 (April-June,

1964): 143.

25 Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,

1965), 229.



           The Doctrine of Salvation in Colossians                333

 

Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace

through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things

on earth or things in heaven" (Col. 1:20).

            The phrase "through Him" (di ] au]tou?) demonstrates that

Christ is the intermediate Agent through whom God effected the

reconciliation. Though God the Father is not mentioned in this

passage specifically, contextual considerations indicate that He

uses Christ to bring about His objectives. Through the Son's work

the Father reconciles sinners.26

            However, in what sense does God reconcile all things to

Himself? One answer is that God, through Christ's death, has

somehow fully reconciled all fallen humanity, and that therefore

salvation has been procured for all. However, this view conflicts

with other Scripture. Universalism, though taught by some, has

never been a consensus of the orthodox church. The following

ramifications logically emanate from such an interpretation: (1)

Faith would be totally unnecessary. (2) The many biblical refer-

ences to hell and eternal suffering would need to be reinterpreted.

(3) Sin; forgiveness, and grace would be unimportant.27

The absurdity of these conclusions, when taken in light of all

Scripture, shows that this view is untenable. The proper view is

that reconciliation of all things means that God's legitimate

reign over all creation will be restored. Through Jesus God will

reign over all things because all things will be summed up in

Christ (a]nakefalaiw<sasqai ta> pa<nta e]n t&? Xrist&?, Eph. 1:10).

 

THE OBJECT OF RECONCILIATION

            The obvious target of God's reconciliation is fallen human-

ity. As He removed the barrier that stood between God and

mankind, He took care of the wrath that comes on the sons of dis-

obedience (Col. 3:6). The fact that the barrier has been removed

does not mean reconciliation has been appropriated. As Wal-

voord states, "the act of reconciliation in the death of Christ does

not in itself effect reconciliation for the individual, but rather .. .

it is provisional and makes possible the reconciliation of the

individual."28 However, people by nature do not desire to take

advantage of this situation on their own accord. This does not de-

tract from the reconciling work of the Father, for it had to be in

 

26 Clark, Colossians: Another Commentary on an Inexhaustible Message, 50.

27 Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids: Zonder-

van, 1982), 406-8.

28 John Walvoord, "Reconciliation," Bibliotheca Sacra 120 (January—March 1963):

8.



334     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July-September 1994

 

place to be in accord with His nature. For this reason Christ be-

came "sin on our behalf' (2 Cor. 5:21).

 

RECONCILIATION OF CREATION

            Another aspect of the reconciliation of all things on the earth

is the inclusion of all physical creation. The Fall had a definite

effect on the physical creation. As Adam and Eve were being ex-

pelled from the Garden of Eden, God informed them that because

of their sins, even the ground would be cursed (hmAdAxEhA hrAUrxE), and

it would produce thorns and thistles, along with their crops (Gen.

3:17-18). A New Testament witness to this fact is Romans 8:19-22,

which addresses mankind's responsibility for nature's fall.29

Creation waits with eager anticipation (a]pokaradoki<a) to be set

free from "the servility of corruption" (vv. 19-21). Moreover, cre-

ation "groans and suffers" (v. 22), while God, in reconciling ta>

pa<nta ("all things") to Himself, prepares to put creation itself un-

der His authority and rule, through the administrative reign of

Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:15-20 proclaims Christ as the cosmic

Head who is "before all things" (v. 17). When Christ is officially

inaugurated as the cosmic Potentate at the beginning of the eter-

nal state, the earth will have its day of reckoning and redemp-

tion, and will be transformed (2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 21:1).30

 

RECONCILIATION OF THE HEAVENS

            The worshiping of angels was part of the heretical practice in

the Colossian church (Col. 2:18). Christ's authority over all cre-

ation (1:16-17) suggests that there will be an end to the spiritual

tension present in the heavenly places. Colossians 1:16 speaks of

thrones (qro<noi), dominions (kurio<thtej), principalities (a@rxai),

and powers (e]cousi<ai), the potentates of the angelic realm (cf.

Eph. 3:10).31 Spiritual warfare in the heavenlies results in con-

flict in this life between the believer and satanic powers (6:10-18).

However, Christ, at the right hand of the Father, possesses author-

ity over the angelic realm, though at the present time that realm

has not come under final judgment. In spite of the presence of evil

in the heavenlies (cf. Job 15:15), the angelic realm will be subject

to God's work of reconciliation.32 Philippians 2:10 states that as a

result of His work on the cross, Christ will be exalted, and that at

His name "every knee shall bow, of those who are in heaven, and

 

29 See Charles C. Ryrie, ed., The Ryrie Study Bible (NASB), note on Romans 8:20.

30 Clark, Colossians: Another Commentary on an Inexhaustible Message, 51.

31 O'Brien, Colossians and Philemon, 46.

32 Gromacki, Stand Perfect in Wisdom, 74.



           The Doctrine of Salvation in Colossians                335

 

on earth, and under the earth." This is an all-inclusive state-

ment, affecting all creation (cf. Eph. 1:10). Though this digres-

sion on the reconciliation of creation seems to wander from the

soteriological examination of Colossians, it is necessary to

demonstrate the complex nature of soteriology, which affects both

mankind and the environment designed for their rule.

 

CONTRASTS IN MINDSETS ON RECONCILIATION

            Former condition. Paul's message in Colossians 1:21 nar-

rows in focus to the unbeliever's estrangement from God: "you

were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil

deeds." He contrasted the Colossians' former and present condi-

tions by the words "formerly" (pote, v. 21) and "yet now" (nuni>

de>, v. 22). This points up the dramatic change in the believer's

quality of life that was accomplished by God (cf. Eph. 2:11-13; Col.

3:7-8; Phile. 11).33

            "Formerly" they were "alienated" (a]phllotriwme<nouj) from

God (cf. Eph. 2:12; 4:18). This alienation was born out of igno-

rance. This ignorance was a spiritual not an intellectual lack of

knowledge (4:18). The same passage in Ephesians speaks of "the

darkened mind" (e]skotwme<noi t^? dianoi<%) of the unsaved. As en-

emies (e]xqrou<j) of God (Col. 1:21), the unregenerate are definitely

"hostile" toward God, and this relationship is in some way recip-

rocated by God.34 In light of God's dealings with sin in the Old

Testament and His dealings with His enemies in the New Tes-

tament (e.g., He will put "all His enemies under His feet," 1 Cor.

15:25), the wrath of God is an active element against His enemies,

not just a passive attitude (Rom. 1:18). Acording to Romans 8:7,

the mindset (fro<nhma) of the flesh is enmity against God, and this

hostility manifests itself in deeds of wickedness.35 Just as faith

will manifest itself in a tangible way in the believer's overt ac-

tions toward others, so also will powerful and sinful states of

mind be revealed by "evil deeds" (e]n toi?j e@rgoij toi?j ponhroi?j,

Col. 1:21; cf. James 2:14-26). This enmity is in the mind (t^? di-

anoi<%). This word translated "mind" is used almost synony-

mously with kardi<a ("heart") in the Septuagint in referring to the

totality of the individual (Gen. 8:21; Deut. 4:39).36

            Present condition. "Yet He has now reconciled you in His

 

33 O'Brien, Colossians and Philemon, 66.

34 E. H. Gifford, The Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans (London: Murray, 1886),

114.

35 Hendriksen, Exposition of Colossians and Philemon, 83.

36 O'Brien, Colossians and Philemon, 66.



336     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July-September 1994

 

fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him

holy and blameless and beyond reproach" (Col. 1:22).

            After establishing the extent of the believer's former condi-

tion (1:21), Paul then disclosed the purpose of the reconciliation

("to present," parasth?sai, a purpose infinitive giving the in-

tended goal of the reconciliation37), along with a description of the

means ("in His fleshly body through death"). By stressing the

fact of Jesus' "body of flesh," Paul blatantly renounced any of the

dualistic philosophies that might have seeped into the Colossian

church and fully upheld the integrity of Christ's Person, by link-

ing the Incarnation and the Atonement.38 As Eadie wrote,

 

            The whole phrase makes plain that the reconciliation of the

            Colossians was accomplished by one who was truly incarnate

            (against a docetic understanding of Jesus' historical life) and who

            really died (dia< tou? qana<tou; against a gnostic[like] interpretation

            which glossed over his death as unreal (cf. Eph. 2:14, 16).39

 

The prepositions Paul used support this interpretation: e]n speaks

to the issue of the sphere of the uniting operation before death, and

dia< points to the instrumental cause.40  By identification,

believers are positionally holy (a[gi<ouj), blameless (a]mw<mouj), and

beyond reproach (a]negklh<touj). And they are to manifest these

qualities in their Christian walk. The three adjectives together

indicate faultlessness, in a somewhat liturgical formula.41

 

                                    PERSEVERANCE

 

            The conditional clause in verse 23 ("if indeed you continue

in the faith") at first glance may seem difficult to reconcile with

the truths Paul presented in the preceding verses. God the Father

reconciles sinners to Himself, based on His own sovereign will.

It is He who redeems believing sinners, qualifies them for an in-

heritance, transfers them to His Son's kingdom, and through

Christ presents them holy, blameless, and beyond reproach.

            Does verse 23 place believers in the position of determining

their own destiny? The "if" clause has been rendered variously:

 

37 Bruce, Epistle to the Colossians, Philemon, and to the Ephesians, 78.

38 O'Brien, Colossians and Philemon, 68.

39 John Eadie, Commentary on the Epistle to the Colossians (1856; reprint, Grand

Rapids: Zondervan, 1959), 82.

40 This verb can suggest presenting a sacrifice or it can convey a legal placement

of a case before a court (Fritz Rienecker and Cleon Rogers, Jr., A Linguistic Key to

the Greek New Testament [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980], 569).

41 Lohse, Colossians and Philemon, 65.



            The Doctrine of Salvation in Colossians                337

 

"if indeed you continue" (NASB), "if you continue" (NIV), "if ye

continue" (KJV), "provided that" (RSV), "as long as you persevere"

(Jerusalem Bible). What most commentators agree on is that the

words ei@ ge ("if indeed") do not express doubt. This conditional

clause does not undermine the efficacy of the work of God, and

certainly the apostle did not oscillate between a theocentric grace-

oriented theology and an anthropocentric works-based theology.

The conditional clause is a first class condition, which assumes

the statement of the protasis to be true for the sake of argument.

The reality or actuality of the protasis cannot be determined by the

mere presence of the first class condition.42 Writing from a pas-

tor's heart, Paul assumed that those who respond to the call of the

gospel will continue in it. The basic idea here is that

"continuance is the test of reality."43 "The call is to a steadfast-

ness in the face of the danger of being drawn away from the apos-

tolic gospel."44

            Paul never vouched for his audience's salvation without good

reason, and he seems to have sufficient reason to be encouraged

by the Colossian believers' development of faith (2:5). Though the

gospel was flourishing at Colossae, it would be naive to say that

Paul assumed everyone in the church was saved, especially

among those who were proliferating the heresy. In fact in this

epistle several crucial doctrinal questions are discussed that in-

dicate some source of tension. Even at Galatia, Paul worried

whether he had labored over some of them in vain (Gal. 4:11). As

Charles Spurgeon said, "I believe not so much in the perseverance

of the saints as in the perseverance of the Saviour."45

            The conditional clause in Colossians 1:23 seems almost

rhetorical, expecting a positive answer. O'Brien paraphrased it

in this way: "at any rate if you stand firm in the faith, and I am

sure that you will."46 The clause expresses the idea that if they

were reconciled, then their faith would in fact continue. Paul did

not hesitate to sort those who merely professed Christ from those

who evidenced their possession of faith in Christ. The latter are

those whose faith is "firmly established and steadfast"

(teqemeliwme<noi kai> e[drai?oi). In Jesus' analogy in Matthew 7:24

27, the house built on solid rock stood "for it had been founded"

 

42 Maximilian Zerwick, Biblical Greek (Rome: Scripta Pontificii Instituti Biblici,

1963), 103.

43 O'Brien, Colossians and Philemon, 69.

44 Ibid.

45 Cited by Johnson, "From Enmity to Amity," 147.

46 O'Brien, Colossians and Philemon, 69.



338     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July—September 1994

 

(teqemeli<wto) on firm material. Similarly believers, those who

are in God's house, will stand firm, because its unshakable foun-

dation is Christ (1 Cor. 3:10; 2 Tim. 2:19).47 The Colossians were

exhorted to continue in "the faith" (t^? pi<stei). Their confidence

was to be in the objective apostolic doctrine of the gospel, not some

subjective experience. In other Pauline literature (cf. Rom. 6:1;

11:22-23; 1 Tim. 4:16) e]pime<nw ("continue") with the dative indi-

cates "to persist in or persevere."48 Faith then is used in the sense

of a place to stay or remain, more than just an activity.49 As doc-

trinal heresies crept in through religious syncretism, it was im-

portant that their faith remain undaunted, firm in Christ's work.

Though the Colossian heretics tried to minimize the Person and

work of Christ, the believers knew their salvation depended on the

gospel they had obtained.50

 

                                    CONCLUSION

 

            The doctrine of salvation is the core of Christianity, not a side

issue or a trivial theological subject. With passionate fervor Paul

wrote about the Person of Christ and described in detail the

means, methods, and motives of salvation. Salvation is a work of

the Father, accomplished by the Son of God, and is evidenced

through the faith and faithfulness of believers. The motivation is

the Father's love, and nothing else. All these theological tenets

intertwine in the marvelous doctrine of grace. In answer to the

false teachers and religious syncretism, Paul presented the only

means of salvation, namely, Christ's redeeming work wrought

on the cross. Thomas asked the Son of God Himself, "Lord, we do

not know where You are going, how do we know the way?" He

replied, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to

the Father, but through Me" (John 14:5-6).

 

47 Lohse, Colossians and Philemon, 66.

48 O'Brien, Colossians and Philemon, 69.

49 Wright, Colossians and Philemon, 84.

50 Gromacki, Stand Perfect in Wisdom, 79.

 

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:    y

Dallas Theological Seminary

            3909 Swiss Ave.

            Dallas, TX   75204          

www.dts.edu

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu