Colossians 1:21-23: If Thinking Leads to Doing, Where Are We Headed?

January 21, 2015

As we continue our study of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, we are struck with the contrasts he so vividly paints. In today’s passage, Paul connects the dots between the glorious accomplishments of the Lord Jesus Christ and us (all) who were alienated and hostile to God’s intents and purposes.

21And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind,
doing evil deeds, 22he has now reconciled in his fleshly body
through death, so as to present you holy and blameless
and irreproachable before him—
23provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith,
without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard,
which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.
I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.

Wrong thinking leads to wrong doing, and if one’s life is to be transformed, the process begins with a new way of thinking. (Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart, and N.T. Wright agree on this.) If our thinking is hostile toward God, our actions will not be friendly toward him either.

This is why debating ideas is an important sharpening exercise for believers. We may be tired of “church arguments,” but the fact is evident that spiritually corrupt ideas have crept into the church and changed actions. Undisciplined, unbiblical thinking creates a new thing— not God’s new thing of Revelation 21:5, but a human thing (that really isn’t new at all)—that brings round old sins into a 21st century context. This is what has happened in my tribe, the PC(USA) and perhaps in yours, too. Paul cares about where our thinking leads us, and we would do well to acknowledge the link between the mind and the hands.

Speaking as a fellow sojourner, what is hard to swallow is being surrounded by bad, unorthodox thinking, and having no real place to go. Staying in the midst of teaching that is contrary to Scripture is strongly discouraged by the Psalmist:

1              Happy are those
                        who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
            or take the path that sinners tread,
                        or sit in the seat of scoffers;
2           but their delight is in the law of the LORD,
                        and on his law they meditate day and night.

And yet, one can stay in the fray and debate at every turn if one’s faith is strong and one senses a call to the prophetic ministry within his or her church family. Those prophets are more often being dismissed, one way or another, in today’s church. The accusation (or quietly whispered indictment) is of failure to promote the peace and unity (forget the purity) of the church. Our current situation makes it easier to picture “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” and the strange antics Jeremiah, for instance, employed to get an urgent message across.

All people at one time or another were once alienated from God, but God took the initiative to reestablish a relationship with us. Again, Paul’s theme of Christ’s work on the Cross is reprised, the notion that our lives are hidden in Christ’s so that we can approach the Father “holy and blameless.” It is important to note here that it was in Jesus’ body and by means of his physical death that we were rescued and brought back into fellowship. It is in Jesus’ body that human frailty and divine mercy meet.

Verse 23 introduces an interesting caution to the mix: “provided that you continue . . . steadfast . . .” This faithfulness to God is contrasted with shifting away from the gospel’s hope. We cannot help but think that the Colossians themselves were observed drifting away from the message of the gospel that Paul (and his protégé Epaphras) preached and taught. The caution to continue steadfastly again links behavior with the mind’s thinking. If indeed the Colossians’ ideas about the gospel are changing, it is going to show up in how they act. If their acts are contrary to the gospel of hope, then Paul hints that they jeopardize their holiness. We will hear more about this is the passages to come. For now, as Paul concludes the introductory section of the letter, he drops a hint as to his main concern and the occasion of his writing.

It is very important for believers who have become disenchanted with the church, alienated from fellowship, to not go off and do their own thing out of fellowship. Loss of accountability puts one in a perilous position spiritually. I hear your protests that the church you once knew no longer disciplines sinners toward repentance and transformation. I agree that many of our mainline denominations are enforcing a politically correct party line on the new unholy trinity of tolerance, relativism, and self-actualization. The culturally assimilated now holding power in our churches will “hold us accountable” all right, to their way of thinking, as evidenced two weeks ago in the defrocking of a good friend, the Rev. Joe Rightmyer in Dallas.

But if we are not to become dismissed prophets wandering alone in the wilderness, how are we to find and participate in the Body of Christ? Who will hold us accountable to God’s way of thinking, as God has revealed it in his Word? It is a troubling question for Presbyterians, with whom I am most familiar; but anybody who has participated in the church over a period of time in any tribe is bound to feel the same sort of angst about being on their own. As we continue in our study, let us look for those pointers toward a solution to our dilemma.

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6 Responses to “Colossians 1:21-23: If Thinking Leads to Doing, Where Are We Headed?”

  1. Jodie Gallo Says:

    Mary,

    This is a careless yet telling comment: ” Who will hold us accountable to God’s way of thinking, as God has revealed it in his Word? “, for even in Scripture we are reminded that we cannot know the mind of God, and that his thoughts are as far away from our thoughts as the sky is above the earth.

    Isn’t the very definition of Grace that we are not to be held accountable, that the account is cleared, the “debt” is “paid”?

    This paradigm is a dead end street. Humans need humans to hold each other accountable. It’s a human need. We are free to do so, and it helps us live in community. But confusing the mind of God with the needs of our humanity creates the tangled ball of overcooked spaghetti that theological conservatives bring to the table. It is one of the reasons people leave the church.

    Jodie Gallo

  2. Randy Larrabee Says:

    Do we know every thought of God? Of course not. There are the secret things of God that no one knows. On the other hand Jesus called us his friends. (John 15:15) And said He shared with us what the Father told Him. The Bible tells us all we need to know for life and godliness. In Christ the unknowable God became knowable man and walked among us. That miracle is a stumbling block to many and a blessing to those who believe.

  3. Jodie Gallo Says:

    Randy,

    It is ironic, don’t you think, that God went to all that trouble to manifest his Word into a Person, and we turn right around and turn that Person back into Word and written law. We say that Jesus is revealed in Scripture, but according to Scripture, the opposite is true: Scripture is revealed in Jesus. And unless one sees and knows Him first, the Scriptures, the Law, and God Himself remain an unsearchable mystery. Jesus is – present tense – all the life and godliness we need in order to know the Bible.

    Indeed, a stumbling block.

    Jodie

  4. Jim Berkley Says:

    Jodie,

    You wouldn’t have the least idea of who Jesus is or what he is like without the Scripture. The written Word is how God intended us to know himself. Without the written Word, any concept of Jesus is only a fantasy of one’s own making. Through the written Word, we authoritatively know the living Word, Jesus Christ.

    Whatever Jesus you make up apart from the Word is a sad joke, which probably looks a lot like a gussied up version of the person you see in the mirror.

    Jim Berkley
    Roslyn, WA

  5. Jodie Gallo Says:

    Jim,

    Your post to me is sad and abrasive and arrogant and presumptuous, but ultimately, and most of all, sad because I believe you really do believe what you said.

    It explains a lot.

    But I wonder how many people really share your perceptions. Not about me but about Jesus. There must be 100s of millions of people out there, over the centuries and living today, who know Jesus intimately, without the aid of Scripture. Some, like me, will come to Scripture only because they recognize the Jesus they already know in the Scriptures. But many will never come to the Scriptures at all. They have neither the time nor the education to enjoy such a privilege. Yet they have been blessed with an unshakable faith and knowledge of Jesus in a way which you apparently have not.

    I have no idea what to make of that.

    Except perhaps to share that I have known people who start out like you, and in the end they loose their faith, because its foundation is impeachable. It’s a house built on sand.

    The very popular Prof. Bart Ehrman is a perfect example and he describes his own poignant story of how he lost his faith in his best selling book “Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why”. It’s a cautionary tale for all those who believe as you.

    Fortunately I can say with joyful confidence that with the exception of how you describe the source of your own faith, you are quite wrong. Hopefully some day you will discover why.

    Jodie

  6. Jim Berkley Says:

    Don’t cry for me, Jodie Gallo. The truth is you never get me.

    Indeed, people can and do come to faith without first reading and responding to the Scriptures. But unless their faith is Scripture-conformed, they are mistaken about who Jesus truly is and what he did. If they believe in and follow a “Jesus” who is different from the Jesus of history and the Scriptures and if they insist on behaving in ways contrary to what Scripture instructs, then they are following a construct of their own speculation and not the Jesus who is true truth.

    No, have no doubt about the blessed indelible faith God has built within me. If the tragedy of Bart Ehrman is to be my guide, then may I be pitied. As it is, I have been blessed, gifted with faith by a loving God through none of my own doing.

    God gives us everything we NEED to know through the Bible. It is not everything about God, but it is everything we need, and it is true. It is sufficient without being exhaustive. I’m plenty content with that, and my job is to conform my life to what it says, rather than to try to conform the Bible to what I think it should say.

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