Meditations in Colossians: 38. What we once were
Col 1:21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour.
We have commented before but it bears repeating, that the threads of these early verses of Colossians weave together in such a way that Paul basically repeats what he is saying but uses different language or concepts. He does it because he is a good teacher and, never having met these people at Colosse before, he wants to make sure they have a good foundation of the truth. He had started out saying how they had heard of their faith as they had received the Gospel (v.4-6), and had then prayed that their lives might fully reflect the anticipated fruits of salvation that comes through that Gospel (v.9-12).
Each part seems to build on the previous part, so prayers of thanks turned into prayers of request for who the Colossians have now become. As an encouragement to build on that he points out that they had been delivered from the dominion of darkness into Jesus’ kingdom in which they now live (v.13) by Jesus work on the Cross, the work of redemption (v.14). That leads him on to speak about the wonder of who Jesus was and what he had done (v.15-20). Throughout these verses we find little hints of some of the facets of our salvation, from where we have come, what has been achieved, what we’ve become; for example, “God’s grace,” (v.6 i.e. what we needed from God), “bearing fruit… growing,” (v.10 our need to change), “Rescued from the dominion of darkness,” (v.13 our plight and previous state), “to reconcile… by making peace through his blood,” (v.19 what Christ had to do for us). In the course of pondering on these things we have observed some of the other Scriptures that stated what our old life was like, and we may need to visit them again.
To fully appreciate the wonder of who we are and what we have ahead of us (which is what Paul has been speaking about), we also need to reflect back on where we have come from and what we were. I remember in the early days of my Christian life having many opportunities to give my testimony and listened to the testimonies of many others. A danger, I came to realise, is that we can spell out so much of what our old life was like in our attempts to show how wonderful the change has been, that we hear more about the seamy side of life than the wonder of our salvation and the new life we now have. Of course as a new Christian we did not fully appreciate the shear wonder of the life ahead of us, that was to come with the years. Beware the danger!
Paul’s objective at this point seems to be to remind (or teach anew?) the Colossians of the reality of what their state had been, by way of encouragement never to turn back that way. Hence, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” It is almost as if he is saying to them and to us, “Do you realise that before you came to Christ you were actually alienated from God, at a distance from Him. It wasn’t a case of , ‘well, you were nice people but just needed a little help from God’. No, you were actually completely separated off from God. And why was that? It was because your very thinking was hostile to God, you were enemies of God even in your thinking. You were godless and self-centred and certainly didn’t want God lording it over you. Don’t you tell me what to do, was in the back of your mind even if you had never quite got around to saying it out loud. But it wasn’t merely in your mind or your thinking because what we think, we do. I’ve just said you were self-centred and godless ad that was reflected in the way you behaved and I’m sorry to have to say it but your behaviour was evil. Anything that is contrary to God or hostile to God is evil. It runs contrary to the way He designed us to be.”
Yes, this is what Paul is saying and he is trying to get us to face up to the reality of what we used to be like, to remind us of how we were so that we recognize the need we had and that we were helpless to change and were thus hopeless. These are the truths about all of us. Sometimes we forget what we were once like and we almost take pride in who we are – superior to the rest of our neighbours – but we forget that we were exactly like them once and nothing we could do in ourselves could change that. That is why it is a Gospel of grace; it is God’s grace that, despite our godlessness, despite our self-centredness, despite our hostility, despite our rejection of Him, still reached out to us. As Paul wrote elsewhere, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) We were still like all that when God’s plan of redemption was put into operation at the Cross. We had nothing to do with it and we certainly had no part in planning it, for we were utterly clueless as to our plight. No, it was all of God’s grace that reached out to us, while we were still in wrong thinking, wrong behaviour and rejecting God.
We need this salutary reminder, not only to help us see the wonder of God’s love, grace and mercy, but also to keep ourselves in perspective. I still need His saving grace every day to hold me as one of His children, to keep me from the wiles of the enemy and remind me that the ways of the world are folly and destructive – and that He knows best! He always has and always will! And if I need any reminding of that, I just come back to this verse that reminds me that I was alienated from God and was His enemy in my mind, my thinking, my attitudes and my evil behavior. That’s what I was like and I’m only not like that today because of what He has done for me on the Cross and what His Spirit is doing within me today. That is the truth!