Lesson from January 25th, 2009
This short passage in Colossians brings the opening section focused on thanksgiving to a close. These verses are also significant because they present both the application to the powerful section on the person and work of Jesus Christ (v. 15-20) and because they serve to set the agenda for the rest of the letter which is a focus on living out the implication of reconciliation. They also place an emphasis squarely on the responsibility of believers in living the Christian life, even as they celebrate their redemption in Jesus.
This passage is also a classic case of one long Pauline sentence. The key verb is “to present,” in verse 22 which is what Christ’s death on the cross made possible, that believers can be presented to God holy, without blemish, and free from accusation. The first two of these designators reference religious sacrifice and the last is a judicial reference. The rest of the phrases and pieces of the sentence either lead into this key verb, “to present,” or follow from it. The first two words are also placed for emphasis, “and you,” which the NIV translates as “once you.” Paul is moving from the grand description of Christ directly into the lives and condition of the believers in Colosse, and to us.
Finally, this short passage is interesting because in the same sentence we have both justification/ redemption named as well as the process of sanctification outlined. That is a lot to include in one sentence. Justification is a once and for all act which is accomplished not by us but by Christ on our behalf. The grammar of the sentence brings this out as “he has reconciled,” in v. 22 is an aorist infinitive – a once and for all act. But this is then followed up with a statement concerning the ongoing process of living the Christian life in v. 23 and raises a tension: If justification is a once and for all act, as seems to be the point here and other places in the New Testament, why does Paul use the conditional phrase, “if you continue in your faith ….”
One way to see the significance of this passage is to see it as a lens through which our identity as Christians can and should be viewed. That is, it is a passage that gives us an accurate self understanding which, once obtained and maintained, can help us live the Christian life. Commentator R.C. Lucas puts it this way:
This lovely little paragraph is characteristic of New Testament life and experience. The early Christians delighted to speak of the great change brought about for them by the gospel. The contrast between what , ‘once we were’ and ‘now by grace are’ was frequently on their lips” (The Message of Colossians, p. 59).
This change in our self understanding encompasses past (21), to present (22), and future (23).
For Further Reading:
Ephesians 2 and Romans 5-8 are two other passages that draw out the connections between justification and sanctification and thus are good passages to read in conjunction with this passage in Colossians.
Opening Shakespeare, “past is prologue,” what does this mean? Where do we see it? How about at the personal level?
As I read, see if you can see how time is functioning in this passage.
Describe the literary context of the passage
Describe the passage itself – “to present,” and “and you”
Show both justification and sanctification and raise the tension.
Sanctification – stable, steadfast, not to shift (why saying this?)
Person next to you, solve the tension.
What happens when a Christian leans too far one way or the other? Colossian heresy and other heresy’s often discount the redemptive step and say it is just a beginning.