A Meditation on Colossians 1:21-22

•February 8, 2013 • Leave a Comment

In studying through Paul’s letter to the Colosians, I was sweetly reminded recently of the precious truths of the gospel. Here is a meditation on Colossians 1:21-22.

Text: (21) And you, who were once 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, …

Observations from the text

  • Previously, v.19-20 taught that God’s fullness was pleased to dwell in Jesus and to reconcile all things to Jesus through Jesus, making peace specifically through his death on the cross.
  • v. 21 begins “And you.”  “You” (v.21) is one of the “all things” from v.20
  • v.21 gives a description of the audience’s past.  It describes this former state in three ways: 1) alienated; 2) hostile (specifically in mind); 3) doing evil deeds.
  • “Now” (v.22) contrasts with “once” (v.21); “reconciled” (v.22) with “alienated” (v.21)
  • “He reconciled” is the main subject/verb of the sentence. “You” is the direct object.
  • Reconciliation happened in the body of Jesus’ flesh.
  • Reconciliation happened by the death of Jesus.
  • v.22(b) gives a purpose statement: “present” is the secondary verb.  Jesus reconciled “you” in order to present “you.”
  • Present you how?  In what condition?  Paul gives three answers: 1) holy; 2) blameless; 3) above reproach.
  • The presentation is to himself.  “He” will present you (a certain way) “before him.”


Interpretation of the text
There is a clear past-present-future flow to this passage.  The Colossians were once not reconciled, now are reconciled, and will be presented.  The beauty of the gospel shines most brightly when it’s evident what we were, what we’ve become, and what we will be.  This draws attention to Christ, not to us, fo rhe is clearly the active agent here, not the Colossians.

The three descriptions of the Colossians’ former life are three aspects of what it means to be a sinner apart from Christ. Do these three describe the same reality from three different perspectives? (Note: the terms “normative,” “situtational,” and “existential” comprise John Frame’s triperspectivalism, a theological sheme for understanding knowledge.  For a primer on triperspectivalism, click here.)

  • Alienation is from God; they were alienated from him.  It describes their former relationship to him, their state apart from him (cf. Eph. 2:12).  In one sense, alienation seems to describe their situation, but alienation is also a normative truth as well as an experience.  Perhaps it is best simply to say that alienation describes their relationship to God.
  • Second, hostility in mind is the attitude the Colossians had (presumably towards God but also possibly towards others – cf. Titus 3:3).  This is important becasue it removes the objection that alienation is God’s fault – far from it!  The Colossians’ guilt is preserved because they were hostile to God.  Hostility is a normative truth, since we all inherit Adam’s guilt, and it is also a temporary situational reality for pre-converted sheep, yet also an existential felling that is harbored.  Perhaps it is best to say that hostility describes the inner disposition of a sinner towards God; they do not want reconciliation.
  • Third, Paul mentions their actions: evil deeds.  This also maintains their guilt by teaching that external sins have a moral offensiveness to God, which continually fuels the alienation.  Again, I am not sure if “evil deeds” correspons to one of the three perspectives, but it surely describes the outward actings of the unconverted.
    So, prior to the application of redemption (and reconciliation), the Colossians were relationally distant from God, inwardly hostile towards him, and outwardly offending him.  My best guess at this point is that outward deeds are normatively sinful, inward dispositions are existentially sinful, and relational strife is situationally sinful.Do the three future descriptions correspond to the three past descriptions?

    1. Holy – set apart, undefiled.  I think the sense here is definitive, that is, declared to be holy, positionally and objectively.  The completion of progressive sanctification is the fulfillment of definitive sanctification.
    2. Blameless – Unblemished, in the way that an Old Testament sacrificial lamb would be.  I think this refers to the subjective cleansing and purging of sin from us.  Blamelessness happens as “the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin,” actually.
    3. Above Reproach – Usually used in the pastoral epistles to describe an outward record of holiness.  Pastors above reproach are not subject to any reasonable moral charge against them.

    So “above reproach” seems to match with “doing evil deeds,” in the sense that they both have to do with outward actions.  If I had to guess, I would say that “holy” is the opposite of “alienated” and “blameless” is the opposite of “hostile,” but I don’t think the matching is of very great significance.  The important point is that while we were separated, hating, and offending God, we will be declared perfectly holy, made actually blameless, and shown to be above reproach as a testimony to God’s grace.

    Application of the text
    The link between our past alienation and our future presentation is our present reconciliation.  Jesus accomplished our reconciliation by a substitutionary atonement to pay for sin.  That is why the text says, “in his body of flesh by his death.”  Jesus was a real human and he really physically endured the pain and suffering of the cross.  The death he died was the death we deserve.  He is our substitute.  He was punished in our place, so that the record of our debt might be cancelled (Col. 2:14).  

    Jesus Christ was treated as one who was alienated from God; he was cut off that we might be welcomed in.  Jesus Christ was treated as one with a hostile dispostiion towards God; he bore wrath that we might enjoy favor.  Jesus Christ was treated as one who lived a life full of evil deeds, though he never once sinned in thought, word, or action; he was punished that we might be forgiven!  This is the heart of the gospel.  And this gospel is not only true for those Colossians who trusted in this Christ, but it is true as well for those of us who today rely on the precious blood of our Savior, our Lord, and our Treasure.

Triperspectivalism

•February 8, 2013 • 1 Comment

Over the past couple years, I’ve become quite fond of triperspectivalism, a meta-cognition tool coined by reformed theologian John Frame. Triperspectivalism says that true knowledge can always be viewed from three perspectives: normative, situational, and existential. We don’t fully understand anything until we have learned normative truth about it, seen how it applies to certain situations and points in history, and experienced it for ourselves.

Frame teaches that the three perspectives are rooted in God’s three “Lordship attributes.” Since God is the King of the universe, he has ultimate authority, which corresponds to the normative perspective.  What God says goes. Since God can sovereignly intervene at any point in history and in the lives of individuals, we say he has complete control, which fits with the situational perspective.  God does what he wills.  And since God desires to dwell with his people, he gives us his covenant presence, which corresponds to the existential perspective. Our God is “God with us.” So, normatively, we hear and submit to God; situationally, we follow and obey God; and existentially, we communie with and enjoy God.

This threefold distinction can be applied to many biblical doctrines.  For example, God himself images the three perspectives in the Trinity. Though ontologically all three members of the Trinity are of the same essence and coeternal, economically there are differences between the three persons. God the Father shows us the normative perspective: he decrees, commands, and ordains.  God the Son shows us the situational perspective: he comes into history to image to us what God is like.  God the Holy Spirit shows us the existential perspective: he dwells in us and gives us the very presence of God.  To quote Frame directly, “The three persons of the Trinity take on a sort of division of labor with regard to creation and redemption: the Father plans, the Son executes, the Spirit applies.”

Why is this important?  I think it is extremely helpful, first because it gives us three categories that many (though not all) of the famous triads in Scripture fit into.  The three elements of God’s Covenants of Grace: seed (E),  land (S), and redemption (N). The three offices of Christ: Prophet (N), Priest (E), and King (S).  The three emphases in the cultural mandate, which are fulfilled in the Great Commission: filling the earth with believers (S), making disciples under the authority of Jesus’ commands (N), and the presence of God with us as we obey (E). You could even argue (as Frame does) that faith, hope, and love correspond to the normative, situational, and existential perspectives, respectively.  Even love itself, Frame says, can be thought of as an allegiance (N), an action (S), and an affection (E). I know, Frame is quite the philosopher.  The important point is that triperspectivalism is a helpful grid for thinking about how we “do theology.”

Here is Frame’s own, longer explanation of the three perspectives and how they help us in our understanding:

So, we have three terms here: God, the world, and the self, and we can’t understand one of these without the others.  We know God through his Word, so let’s replace God with his Word in this scheme: the Word of God, the world, and the self.

This triad ties in with the lordship attribues.  The world is the course of nature and history under God’s control.  The Word is the authoritative revelation of God.  And th self is where God dwells with us in his temple-presence.  You can’t know God without knowing these three things, and you can’t know any one of them without the others.

Let me define these three perspectives, which I think are important to theology.  When you ask directly what God’s revelation says, you are using the normative perspective.  Of course, you can’t understand God’s revelation apart from the world and the self.  The world and the self are revelation…you cannot fully understand special revelation, general revelation, and existential revelation apart from the others.  So, the normative perspective focuses on God’s revelation, applying it to the world and to the self.

When you ask about God’s world, trying to understand the situations we get into, I call that the situational perspective.  Of course, you can’t understand your situation without understanding God’s revelation or without understanding yourself.

Then when you ask about yourself, when you seek to know yourself, you are seeking to know from what I will call the existential perspective.  In this perspective, you focus on yourself.  Of course, you can’t understand yourself apart from the Word and the world.  You can’t understand yourself apart from God’s revelation, and you can’t understand yourself apart from the situation, your environment.

I call these perspectives because each of them covers the whole field of knowledge from a particular angle, a perspective.  It’s not that the normative covers some things, the situational others, and the existential still others; rather, each perspective covers everything.  The normative focuses on God’s revelation, but it looks both at the world and the self, for everything is revelation.  The situational focuses on the world, but it also looks at the Word and the self, which are parts of the world.  The same is true for the existential.  It focuses on the self, but it is through the self (our thoughts and perceptions) that we know everything else.  Each of the three perspectives deals with the whold world but does so from its peculiar, well, perspective.

The situational correlates with the lordship attribute of control, for in studying the world we are studying God’s mighty works of creation and providence.  The normative correlates with the lordship attribute of authority, for his revelation is authoritative.  And the existential correlates with the lordship attribute of presence, as God can always be found in and with the individual self.

(Frame, Salvation Belongs To The Lord, 77-78)

 

May God lead us all into a deeper understanding of his Word, our world, and ourselves, and give us great joy in submitting to his authority, depending on his control, and communing with his presence.

The Presence of the Future: Living the Dawn of the New Creation

•October 8, 2012 • 1 Comment

In our final session, Gunner spoke about God’s new creation in Christ, the conclusion to the story of Scripture.

Why does the church gather on Sunday?  Because we’re celebrating Jesus’ victory in the resurrection.  As believers in Jesus, we share in his resurrection victory.

6 Facts About the New Creation

1. The New Creation Will Be a New and Expanded Eden (Genesis 1-3; Revelation 21:1-5, 22:1-5)
The bookends of the Bible are the same.  Consider the similarities between Eden and the New Creation: a physical world, God dwelling with man; man ruling over creation, trees of life bearing fruit, nothing is cursed.  Everything we see will dissolve, but we will have a new heavens and new earth (Isaiah 65:17, 2 Peter 3:10-13).

2. A New Humanity Will Inhabit the New Creation (Philippians 3:20-21, Romans 8:19-23)
One of the greatest things about the new creation is not just that it’s new, but that we’re new.  It’s not just a new place, but a new people.  Adam, Noah, Abraham, Jesus.  God is always making a new creation home for his people and a new people for his creation home.

3. The Resurrected Jesus is the First Member of the New Humanity (1 Corinthians 15:20-23)
When Jesus raised from the dead, he became the first member of this new people.  He is already alive in his resurrection body.  He is not going to die again.

4. The New Creation Dawned With Jesus’ Resurrection (John 20:1, 16)
When the Son of God came out of the grave, the sunlight of the new creation came out with him.  The first member of God’s new creation is mistaken for someone doing the same old thing.  The question John wants us to ask is this: Did Jesus rise with the dawn that morning, or did the dawn rise with Jesus?

5. Every Christian is a New Human Living in the Old World (Colossians 2:20-3:4)
You are something different than what you think.  You are more significant than your ethnic heritage or your national identity.  You are a regenerated person in a degenerate world, a new creation in a dead world.  It should feel that way.

6. Every Christian Shows the Dawn of the New Creation (2 Corinthians 4:6, 5:17)
When did God first say “Let light shine out of darkness?  At creation.  When light shines into your heart at regeneration, you become a new creation.  Whenever you meet someone with an accent or from a different country, you naturally wonder what their story is and where they’re from.  People will wonder how to get from a dead world to a new creation.

Practically, when we obey, we are pointing to the perfect creation that is coming.  We create microcosms, tiny glimpses of what the new world will look like.  The story of all stories is a cosmic drama.  We’ve been born again into the last stage.

Forgiven and Free: Getting Out of Sin and Slavery

•October 7, 2012 • Leave a Comment

The role of humanity in the story of the Bible has been to contribute nothing but sin and rebellion against our holy Creator God.  Saturday night, Gunner continued the story of our redemption by explaining how sinful people are freed from slavery to sin.

Ishmael Beah was a child soldier in Sierra Leone’s civil war in the 1990s.  Though his friends wanted to hear “entertaining” stories of fighting and killing, Beah was not naive to the devastation brought into the world from sin and suffering.  Like Beah, Psalm 130 is a poem of honesty, unwilling to sugarcoat or make a spectacle of life’s harshest realities.

How Can We Become Forgiven and Free? 4 Reasons From Psalm 130

1. We Cry to the Lord For Mercy
The Psalmist is clear (according to v.3-4) that his cry for mercy (v.1-2) is because he is grieved over his sin. Crying out for mercy assumes that judgment is deserved.  He doesn’t assume God should hear him or that he should forgive him.  Likewise, we don’t seek Christ for salvation if we don’t first see our need for him.  Weeping fuels worship.

2. We Turn to the Lord For Forgiveness
What if God cataloged all your sins?  The Psalmist’s answer it, “O Lord, who could stand?”  The forgiveness given here is not a bartering act; it is a complete removal of sin.

3. We Wait on the Lord For Salvation
We do not work for salvation; we wait for salvation.

4. We Hope in the Lord For Redemption
In v.7, the Psalmist goes public in confidence for the whole people of Israel.  The covenant God of Israel is the hope of God’s people or salvation.  When an Israelite hears, “There is a way for your sins to be forgiven,” they would automatically think of the sacrificial system.

Jesus Christ is the only perfect sacrifice for sin.  This truth encourages us to respond in at least six ways: sing heartily, tell boldly, forgive gladly, grow vigorously, live passionately, and give radically.

The Emperor of All Maladies

•October 6, 2012 • Leave a Comment

This morning, Gunner gave his second talk, focusing on our identity in God’s story.  Who are we?  What does the Bible say about our condition?

In 2010, a medical researcher published a book about cancer entitled “The Emperor of all Maladies.”  The emperor of all maladies, in fact, is not cancer, but sin.  Sin is a sickness, a death, a rebellion, and a wickedness.  Each of these analogies is true, but yet, imperfect.  No analogous language can fully express the reality of our sin.  Using the Bible as our diagnostic manual, let’s conduct a spiritual autopsy on our helpless condition.

Eight Diagnoses of Sinners

1. We are Behavioral Sinners (Ecclesiastes 7:20)

2. We are Inherent Sinners (Psalm 51:5, Ephesians 2:3)

3. We are Knowledgable Sinners (Romans 2:14-15)

4. We are Willful Sinners (Romans 1:18-32)

5. We are Enslaved Sinners (John 8:31-34, 2 Peter 2:19, Titus 3:3)

6. We are Dead Sinners (Ephesians 2:1, Ezekiel 37)

7. We are Condemned Sinners (Romans 1:18-3:20)

8. We are Self-Deceived Sinners (Matthew 23:23-24, 2 Corinthians 7:10-11)

We don’t like to identify ourselves as sinners.  We think we have all kinds of excuses so we can slither out of our sin, but the truth is we are guilty.

Sin is the emperor of all maladies, but Jesus is the King of all grace.

 

The Story Above All Stories: The Bible’s Grand Narrative

•October 6, 2012 • Leave a Comment

In our first session, David “Gunner” Gunderson shared the entire story of the Bible in one sitting.

Every “get to know you” conversation is exchanging pieces of your story.  But how do you know who you actually are?  The Bible tells us the ultimate story – the meta-narrative of the universe.  It’s surprisingly unfrustrating how little we (both Christians and non-Christians) know of how the whole story fits together.

The Story of the Bible in 10 Scenes

1. Creation and Commission: God creates the world, a theater to display his glory (Genesis 1-2)
The crown of creation, human beings, are in a different category from the rest of creation because they are created in the image of God to reflect his glory.

2. Fall and Curse: sin and death invade (Genesis 3-11)
Humanity is plunged into sin, but they leave on a note of hope.  The problem is not just banishment from the garden; it’s a fundamental change in humanity.

3. Promise and Hope: The great rescue begins (Genesis 12-50)
The story is about the continual fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, ultimately to be fulfilled in Christ.

4. Slavery and Exodus: God redeems his people (Exodus – Deuteronomy)
The passover is a foreshadowing and a type of substitutionary atonement, pointing to Christ’s death.

5. Covenant and Conquest: God establishes Israel (Joshua)
The tabernacle and sacrificial system are established.  God can no longer live freely among his people because of their sin.

6. Failure and Chaos: Israel breaks God’s covenant (Judges – 1 Samuel)
The outworking of sin is seen in the statement “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6, 21:15)

7. Kingdom and Compromise: The kingdom and kings fail 
God promises David a covenant, and the 40 kings after David make an absolute mess of it.

8. Exile and Darkness: God’s people are exiled again
The Israelites are again taken away from God’s land into captivity.

9. Light and Hope: Jesus comes, dies, and rises
Jesus fulfills the promises made to Adam, Abraham, and David as the true descendant of each.  Jesus is God in the flesh, thus God no longer requires a Temple to dwell with his people.

10. Spirit and Church: The salvation message spreads
Jesus teaches his disciples to offer the Abrahamic promise to all nations, because there has been an ultimate sacrifice for sin.  This is the way people can become what they were created to be: in a perfect relationship with God

At the end of the story, a new creation dawns and a new Eden is established in perfect harmony.  We are currently living in the 10th scene, therefore God’s story of salvation is nearing an end.  How should this truth change how you think about your story?

Inspiration and Incarnation

•September 23, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Being on staff here at URC has been good for me personally in a number of ways.  One of those ways is that Chip and I are doing some reading and writing for pastor Kevin as he leads us through some material and trains us theologically.

We just finished reading and writing about “Redemption: Accomplished and Applied” by John Murray.  Now we are reading “40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible” by Robert L. Plummer.

In chapter 3, entitled “Who Wrote the Bible – Humans or God?” Plummer ends by discussing how the duality of biblical authorship is similar to the dual natures of Jesus Christ.  There are some ways that the union of human and divine natures in Jesus help us understand the union of human and divine authorship of Scripture.  He quotes at length from a book by T.C. Hammond, which I was helped by and will thus reproduce below:

The living Revelation was mysteriously brought into the world without the intervention of a human father.  The Holy Spirit was the appointed Agent.  The written revelation came into being by a similar process without the aid of human philosophical abstractions.  The Holy Spirit was again the appointed Agent.  The mother of our Lord remained a human mother and her experiences throughout would appear to have been those of every other mother – except that she was made aware that her child was to be the long-expected Redeemer of Israel.  The writers of the biblical books remained human  authors, and their experiences appear to have been similarly natural, though they were sometimes aware that God was giving to the world through them a message of no ordinary importance (e.g., “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you…” 1 Cor. 11:23).  Mary, the mother of our Lord, probably brought into the world other children by the normal process of birth.  The writers of the biblical books probably wrote other purely personal letters which were not necessarily of canonical importance.  More important still, no student should fail to grasp the fact that the divine-human personal life of our Lord is one and indivisible by any human means of analysis.  On no recorded occasions can we say that in the one instance there was purely divine  thought, and in the other a purely human  thought.  The two natures were united in one indissoluble Person.  From the manger to the cross, the Lord must always be thought of and described from that point of view.  Similarly, though the parallel is not quite complete, the student will be saved much unsound thinking, unnecessary confusion and, injury to his faith, by observing that in the Scriptures the divine and human elements are blended in such a way that in few cases can we, with any certainty, analyse the record to demonstrate purely human elements.

Praise the Lord for godly scholars who help us see and understand biblical truth!  And praise the Lord for preserving his holy Word and maintaining both divine and human authorship, as he preserved the person of Christ in maintaining his full divinity and full humanity!