Persevering in Gospel Hope

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Colossians 1:21-23)

These are familiar truths we’re looking at this morning. Paul is writing about some of the fundamental truths of the gospel. And I recognize this morning that there is a dangerous tendency for many of God’s children to be bored by the gospel message. When I say bored, I mean that we may agree with its relevance for “sinners,” but as those who have already been saved, we would often prefer to hear something else, something new, something different. We may feel disinterested with the gospel, so we automatically make the assumption that it must not be very interesting. And we move on. When it comes to the familiar gospel, we can let our pride-driven feelings lead us to tune out the very truths that should fill our lives with the greatest joy!

C.J. Mahaney says, “If there’s anything in life we should be passionate about, it’s the gospel. And I don’t mean passionate only about sharing it with others; I mean passionate in thinking about the gospel, reflecting upon it, rejoicing in it, allowing it to color the way we look at the world and all of life.” That is the gospel we’re going to look at this morning.

Maybe you never struggle with viewing the gospel rightly. Maybe that’s not an issue for you, but it is for me. I have that struggle. I have to battle daily to right my thinking, otherwise I won’t find much joy in the gospel, I won’t see its relevance.

If you’re in a similar place this morning, if you heard me say that we’re going to be talking about the gospel and you got a little disappointed, I would urge you to fight for truth-based thinking. Fight for joy. Fight to see that the gospel is relevant for you today, where you are, whoever you are, whatever place God has you in life. Ask God to help you be brought into humble worship through the truth of His Word.

With these things in mind, with that warning in front of us, let’s dig in to the text this morning. Paul begins this passage by reminding his readers of the state they were once in.

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds (Colossians 1:21)

Right before this, Paul had just finished a section filled with glorious truths about Jesus Christ. In verse 15 he called Jesus the image of the invisible God, then continues by saying that He is the one by whom all things were created, and by whom all things hold together. He writes that Christ is the preeminent one in all things, and that in Him dwells all the fullness of God. That’s our savior.

Contrast that glorious image of Christ with what Paul says about the state of all mankind apart from Christ. We were “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds.” By using this contrast between the glorious Christ and our former depravity, Paul is reminding us of just how great a reconciliation has taken place, just how great a work Christ has done to bring us into a right relationship with God.

1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1-3)

I want to pause here a moment. Because I think that when it comes to the topic of mankind’s depravity, many of us can be tempted to remove ourselves from the passage. There are many people here this morning who either have been or are being raised in Christian homes. Praise God for that. It is a wonderful thing to be raised in a Christian home, absolutely wonderful. But along with this blessing comes danger.

One of the greatest dangers to “Christian-home-kids” – and by the way, I’m a “Christian-home-kid” myself, so I’m speaking to me – one of the greatest dangers for us is the deception of thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought. What I mean by that is, we can easily think that passages like Ephesians 2:1-3, or Colossians 1:21, or any of the countless others that speak about the depravity of man, we can think that those passages don’t accurately describe us, that they’ve never accurately described us. And this is such a dangerous deception!

Because if God is up here, and we’re down here, then we can clearly see how much we need a Savior, right? There’s a big gap here! But if God is up here, and we’re somewhere in the middle here – we’re homeschooled, we’ve grown up in Christian homes, we don’t do all the bad things that our peers do. If you see that gap, it’s not so big, right? Maybe if it’s only a small gap, maybe we don’t need Christ quite as much. Maybe we don’t need Him so desperately. Maybe our good works, with a little Christ sprinkled in, maybe that will be good enough. Surely that can get us to heaven, right? But this is a destructive lie. A lie that the great deceiver has used to keep many from truly savoring the glory of Christ.

Here’s the truth of the matter. Here’s what Scripture says about everyone who has been saved. We all once belonged to the domain of darkness, the kingdom of Satan. In that domain we were slaves to sin, with no hope of freedom. Our eyes were blind, our ears were deaf. Our thoughts, words, and deeds were all consumed by sin. Our covering was ashes. We were poor, naked, starving, and desperately thirsty, yet powerless to save ourselves. Morally, we were anything but righteous; dead in sin, our souls were as dry bones. And all of this even from birth!

We were self-obsessed, with feet swift to shed blood, an open grave for a throat, full of curses and bitterness. Ruin and misery came upon us as we continued pursuing the destructive passions of our flesh. We were worthless, yet we did not seek God; instead we had only hatred for Him. There was no true peace in our souls.

Though we thought we were serving ourselves alone, we were in fact serving the demonic rulers, authorities, and powers of the dark domain. We were trapped in their ways. Our hearts did nothing but deceive us, proving that our wickedness was not only external, but internal, beginning at the very core of our inner man. Our “good deeds” were in reality polluted garments to God. We were God’s sworn enemies. Such was life, such was our existence before Christ. This was you, this was me. But God…

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son (Colossians 1:13)

These descriptions of our past are true, they’re biblical. But how often do we really believe that? There’s a battle going on in our minds, isn’t there? So many people, products, businesses vying to influence our thinking. We have to fight to remember the truth. We’re not naturally prone to view our former selves according to what Scripture says. But in order to accurately see and savor Christ’s glory, we have to accurately see and understand our former state of being.

As Christians, this truth is hugely important. We can’t forget it. But at the same time, we can’t stay there. Paul knows that it does believers no good to dwell only on the place we once were. That’s not the end of the story, right? So he quickly moves on to highlight the place Christ has brought us to.

he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death (Colossians 1:22a)

Christ has torn our chains asunder! The veil has split in two. Because of Him the weight of our sin has been lifted, we are no longer under the wrath of God. We have in fact been reconciled to God, brought into loving, intimate fellowship with the King, partakers in Christ’s great inheritance. It’s all a work of Christ! We know that because, as we’ve already seen, we were spiritually dead. We couldn’t do anything to reconcile ourselves to God.

Why would Christ do this for us? Why would He give grace to such wicked creatures? Scripture gives many reasons. Such as, because He loved us – “For God so loved the world.” Or because He sought to do the Father’s will, because it pleased Him to save us, because He received glory through saving us. All of these reasons are true. But there’s more to it than that.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24)

This verse tells us not only what Christ did, but also why He did it. It tells us part of Christ’s purpose in dying for us. What is it? “that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” That we might be healed.

This purpose is the one I’d like to focus on this morning, because it is the purpose affirmed in verse 22 of Colossians 1. What does it say? He has now reconciled us in his body of flesh, by his death…

in order to present [us] holy and blameless and above reproach before him. (Colossians 1:22b)

Christ reconciled us to Himself, in part, to enact our purification, preparing us for our future glory with Him! This is what progressive sanctification is all about. We’ve already been justified, we’re now being purified, and we will one day be glorified.

This purpose is clearly stated several times in the New Testament. Think about Ephesians 5:25-27. It’s a passage many of us are probably familiar with, speaking on the topic of marriage. While it does speak of human marriage, it also speaks of Christ’s marriage to the church, His bride.

25 …Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25-27)

It’s crystal clear from these passages and so many others that Christ desires the purification of His bride. While we have already been justified completely before God, Christ doesn’t want us to continue being burdened by weights of sin. Sin harms us, it robs us of joy, it tarnishes our witness. Christ doesn’t want these things to happen to His beloved bride. He loves us too much for that. He longs for our purification, so He’s provided us with “all things that pertain to life and godliness.” We have His Spirit to help us, fellow believers to encourage us, and His Word to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths.

Christ saved us to sanctify us. If we say, “We’ve been saved, so now we can go off and do whatever we want! Sin in whatever ways we want! Because we’ve been forgiven!” If we say that, whether it’s out loud or just in our hearts, in our attitudes, we are totally missing the point. We are totally missing Christ’s purpose in saving us.

After he speaks about the purpose of our redemption, Paul moves on in verse 23 to say something interesting. It’s like he’s said already, “All of this is true, these wonderful things about reconciliation to God, and the purification and future glory that follows, it’s all true…if!”

if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Colossians 1:23)

At the beginning of verse 23, we find one of the most important and most terrifying “if”s in all of Scripture. It can throw us off some, because we’ve already seen that our salvation is all a work of Christ, right? That’s what Scripture says. So why would Paul throw an “if” in here? Why would he throw in a condition?

Before I go any further, I want to state that this “if” does not mean that believers can lose their salvation. We know from other passages that once a person has been truly adopted as God’s child, there is no going back. Once God saves you, you can have confidence that you’ll be His beloved for eternity.

28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. (John 10:28-29)

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy (Jude v. 24)

We see in these three passages the sovereignty of God in securing eternal salvation for His children. But Colossians 1:23 seems to, on the surface at least, promote a different message.

One thing to keep in mind is that any passage, when analyzed in isolation, apart from the rest of Scripture, can be easily misunderstood, twisted to mean something that God did not intend.

As we look at the whole counsel of Scripture, we find that it is true to say “once saved, always saved.” We can have peace in that, we can have rest in that, not worrying about whether our salvation could be lost.

But that’s not the end of the discussion. While Scripture does indeed guarantee the eternal salvation of all who have faith in Christ, it also speaks a great deal about the responsibilities we have as those who have been saved. We’ve seen in several passages that God keeps us, that no one can snatch us from His hand, that He will bring the good work in us to completion. But then we have other passages, like this verse in Colossians, that say “if.” So there must be more to it.

While God is fully sovereign in our salvation – both in justifying and sanctifying us – Scripture also shows that some level of responsibility lies with us. A moment ago I read verse 24 of Jude, which said, “to him who is able to keep you.” If you look back a few verses though, Jude writes in verse 20…

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit (Jude v. 20)

So Jude is highlighting some of man’s responsibility here in verse 20. But that’s not the end, he doesn’t stop there. Jude continues on to say something very interesting in verse 21. He tells his readers…

keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. (Jude v. 21)

“Keep yourselves.” This kind of language seems to communicate the complete opposite of what Jude communicated in verse 24. One says we are to keep ourselves, while the other says that God keeps us. So which is it? The answer is obvious: both. That’s simple, right? Do we all understand that?

How that works in a practical sense, we may not find out until we’re in heaven. But there are many places in Scripture that portray a sort of cooperation between the acts of God and the acts of men. Some pertain to the issue of salvation, others speak to different matters of life.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. (Psalm 16:5)

David’s saying, “God, you’re the one holding my lot, but you’re my chosen portion, I chose you!”

It’s God, and it’s us.

There is clearly a mysterious tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. They almost seem to contradict each other, but we know they don’t, because if Scripture is God-breathed (which it is), it can’t be anything but the truth. There can be no contradictions, because the presence of a contradiction would mean what? That God is a liar. And God is definitely not a liar.

As much as these two doctrines may rub against each other, as much as they may confuse our tiny human brains, we can know one thing for sure: both doctrines are true. God is sovereign. And we are responsible before Him for all we say, think, and do.

Where does that leave us? It’s not like we can just say, “It’s a mystery, we’ll never get it, so let’s just sit on our hands and do nothing.” No. Let’s look again at the text in Colossians 1.

Paul writes that we have been reconciled to God in Christ, in order that we might be presented to Him holy, blameless, and above reproach. Then what? 

if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard (Colossians 1:23a)

Paul tells us that a person’s salvation depends on what? Faith. Specifically on a perseverance of faith. He says, “if…you continue in the faith.” We can never turn away from faith alone, grace alone, in Christ alone. Paul emphasizes this because he knows that as fallen creatures we are all-too-capable of messing this up, of forgetting these truths. He had to rebuke the Galatian church when they fell away from a faith-based hope and began putting confidence in their own good works.

1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?…Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:1-3)

We far too easily can forget, like the Galatians did, that our salvation is not based on our performance. Instead it is based on a persevering faith in Christ’s performance, that which He did on our behalf.

This persevering faith, how does it come? Verse 23 says as we put our hope in the right place, as we put our hope in the gospel. As we persevere, we gain greater confidence in the hope of the gospel, and our hope grows stronger. Perseverance leading to greater hope, and greater hope leading to greater perseverance.

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:13)

Our hope must be fully set on the gospel, on grace. That is the hope we’re called to persevere in, that is the faith we’re to have. Moment by moment, day by day remembering that we can have no confidence in the flesh, no confidence in good works that we’ve done.

Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord. (2 Corinthians 10:17)

Gospel hope puts no confidence in self, but all confidence in the truths of Scripture. No confidence in my performance, but all confidence in Christ’s. Gospel hope says that no matter what we do, no matter how grievously we may sin, we are still perfectly loved as God’s children. We are still God’s beloved, and God is still happy to be our Father. 

Is this the hope you live by each day, moment by moment? I know for me personally, my hope can shift, easily. One minute I can be having a refreshing time of personal morning worship, then the next I move on, and I find myself complaining about some little thing. As if God’s love had ceased for me in that moment. Like He loved me when I was having personal time with Him, then something else happened and He didn’t love me anymore. But the gospel tells us that God loves us perfectly, and He always will.

And here’s the beautiful thing about that. Being perfectly loved doesn’t just mean that our sins have been atoned for, that we’ve been given the righteousness of Christ. Certainly it means those things! And if that’s all it meant, then we should spend all our days rejoicing in Him. But there’s even more to God’s love than that.

If I’m loved perfectly by God, then I don’t need to demand the love of others. I don’t need to demand my own way, because I know God’s way is better, it’s best! If something doesn’t go like I want it to, I can remember that in being perfectly loved by God, all of my circumstances, no matter what they are, they are all being perfectly worked out for my good!

I know that my God is a big God, sovereign over all things, so I can have no experience in life that was not sovereignly allowed by God in love. Whether it’s something small – I have to wake up earlier than I want to, my kid throws a tantrum in the grocery store, I get stuck in traffic – small things like that. Or whether it’s something big – I lose my job and am unemployed for a really long time, my wife is killed in a car crash, or whatever other horrible thing that could happen – in all these things, every one of them, God is expressing His love to me by using every single circumstance for my good. Think about that.

None of these are good things, in themselves. But God is a miracle worker. He takes the mundane, day to day grind, and He takes the most significant kinds of pain and suffering, and He makes them all instruments of His love, He makes them the means by which we become like Jesus, the means by which we are drawn into a deeper, more intimate relationship with Him.

These are the kind of ways we need to discipline ourselves to think. Do you see how these kind of thoughts can radically impact our every day, our every moment? Can you imagine how meditating on these things could change the way we view all of life?

Something bad happens, something doesn’t go my way? Praise God! I am going to rejoice in Him, because His love never fails. Whether I’m at home, at work, at school, at the DMV waiting far too long to renew my driver’s license. Wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, whatever trial I’m facing, in all these things, God’s love never fails.

What kind of love for Him can these truths inspire us to have? What kind of life-consuming passion for our Lord could be stirred up in our hearts as we persevere in remembering gospel hope?

As humans, we naturally tend to love those who love us, right? So what kind of love could we have for God if we were disciplined in opening our eyes to the breadth, length, height, and depth of His love for us?

As we close, and we continue considering the identity we have in Christ, the hope we have in Him, I’d like to turn our focus and look briefly at the joy that God has in us. One of the places we best see our Father’s delight in His children is in Zephaniah 3:17. If you have your Bible, please turn there with me. One of my favorite verses in Scripture, Zephaniah 3:17.

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)

Do you see the kind of joy God is expressing here? The kind of pleasure He takes in loving His children? He is happy in us! He is happy in being in relationship with us, in sharing Himself with us!

But why? Why would God delight in us, even when we sin against Him? Even when we don’t perform up to His perfect standards? Which we never do.

Listen closely, because this is the gospel hope that we are called to persevere in. We know He’s not delighting in our failures; our sin itself doesn’t please Him. God hates sin. Yet He delights in us. Why?

Because our identity is not found in our performance – how well we obey Him or how poorly we obey Him. As Christians our identity is and always will be found in the person of Jesus Christ – in His love, His grace, His sacrifice, His righteousness imputed to us, the perfect victory He gained that He has lavishly bestowed upon us!

The victory has been won! Look at the beginning of the verse. It says God is a mighty one “who will save.” There’s no doubt there!

Why would God delight in His children, even when we sin against Him? Why would He exult over us with loud singing? Because He has saved us! Our salvation has been perfectly purchased through the blood of Jesus Christ. It is finished!

As Christians, members of the church, we will be presented before Christ as a beautiful bride, holy, blameless, and above reproach. God has promised it. He will bring the good work He’s begun in us to completion. We will be made like Christ.

He is working toward that goal in us even now, at this exact moment in time. Do you believe that? He is actively at work within us at all times, He is at work in our circumstances at all times, using them all to perfectly complete the work of making us like Jesus – holy, pure, and blameless.

This is the hope we have. This is gospel hope. And these are the things we need to be reminding ourselves of day by day, rooting ourselves in them, not shifting from them. Just as a tree digs its roots deep in the ground, firmly entrenching itself so that it might have life, so that it might grow and bear fruit, in the same way we are to firmly take hold of these truths, saturating our minds in them, washing ourselves in them, remembering that our hope and identity is not found in ourselves, but in Him who has conquered. He who lived the perfect life, died the perfect death, and is now raised, ascended to the throne of God, who is awaiting the day when His bride, the church, will be presented to Him in splendor. And even now, through His Spirit, He is actively working to prepare us for that glorious future with Him.

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Colossians 1:21-23)