Thursday, January 27, 2011

LCMS Pastor Vernon Harley - Colossians 1:13ff - Saints


Word and Sacrament, by Norma Boeckler




EXEGETICAL DEVOTION BASED ON COLOSSIANS 1: 13 FF


Dear Saints in Christ:


My reason for addressing you in this manner is derived from the manner in
which St. Paul speaks of believers in Christ in the chapter to which I would now
direct your more careful attention. He calls them saints, a title reserved for the
holy, the perfect. In v. 12 he gives thanks to the father who made us, the
believers, fit or “meet to be partakers of the saints in light.” Only believers in
Christ are spoken of in this way. We are worthy and fit to partake with all the
other holy ones, not because of any merits of our own, but purely because
through faith we have the redemption (v. 14), even the forgiveness of sins.


This fact is of utmost importance to us who are gathered here. Indeed
we are here to be strengthened in our faith, to grow in knowledge and
understanding, as Paul prayed that the believers at Colossa should, but we are
also deeply concerned that this title of “saints” is mistakenly being applied
either directly or by implication to all mankind, whether they ever come to faith
or not. And so in our meeting here we have chosen both for our own benefit
and that of others to study what Scripture has to say about being given the
status of saints, about being made “ meet to be partakers” of this glorious title.
The section chosen for this morning’s devotion should be of great help in this
respect.


Verse 13 is actually a continuation of the previous thought, even part of
the same sentence. Here Paul lays the basis for the hope we have of reaching
heaven and tells us again why we are able to be called saints and share with all
other saints the glorious inheritance of God’s eternal light. He, God the Father
Himself, delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the
kingdom of His dear Son. This is a thing that happened in the past. The
deliverance here spoken of is that which took place at our conversion, the same
spoken of in 2 Cor. 4: 6 when “God who commanded the light to shine out of
darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give us the light of the knowledge of the
glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”. Compare this also with 1 Pet. 2: 9, 1
John 1: 5-7. The darkness is that of sin and unbelief, of being without hope and

without God in the world; the light which we share is that of faith through which
we have fellowship with God in Jesus and the hope of eternal light and life. By
conversion we are taken out of Satan’s kingdom of darkness and put into the
kingdom of God’s Son of His love.


All this, of course, took place only because of the redemption through His
blood. He was made to be sin for us; our sins were laid upon Him and He died,
shedding His blood to wash away our sins, so that God is able to pronounce us
righteous for Jesus’ sake. In v. 14 it is said of believers: “In Him we have the
redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins.” Redemption and
forgiveness of sins are not the same thing. Redemption is paying the price for,
or buying back those who were lost, sold out to sin. Forgiveness of sins is the
actual freeing from sin, the aphesis . Redemption took place through the blood
of Christ, when He shed it on Calvary. We “have” the redemption the moment
we come to faith, and with it our forgiveness, God’s release pronounced upon us
from sin, His declaration of our being saints, our justification. Without the
redemption there could be not forgiveness of sins; but when we by faith are
made partakers of the redemption we also have the forgiveness of sins and
become partakers of the inheritance of God’s saints.


The next verses explain how it was possible for us to become saints and
have an inheritance in the kingdom of light. It is the Father who effects this
through His Son Jesus Christ; and He does this not through an ordinary
creature, but through the Son of His love, the One who is the express image or
likeness of Himself. He is identical with God in glory, honor, power and majesty.
He is God. Here He is called the “firstborn of every creature” (prototokos, not
protoktisis). Prototokos indicates that He is of the very nature and essence of
the Father, of God. Pasas ktiseoos (of every creature) is not a partitive
genitive, as though He were taken out from among the creatures. He was
before all creation. But He is the One of Whom and through Whom and for
Whom they all came into being, as the next two verses so beautifully explain.
This is why the Father sent Him to be the Redeemer. Only one such as He
would be able to conquer and subdue the powers and dominions which revolted
against God and which had enslaved us in the darkness of sin, unbelief and
death. No ordinary creature could have overcome and routed these enemies;
but by His perfect life, by His fulfillment of the Law for us, by His suffering,

death and resurrection He redeemed us. These verses make Jesus Christ God in
every respect, pre-existing all created things. He is the Creator of them all, also
their Preserver. All creatures consist and exist by Him. To interpret this
passage as the Arians (Jehovah’s Witnesses in our day) did would do violence to
this text and undo all that St. Paul is telling us here. It would demote Christ
even in His Pre-incarnate existence to a mere creature who then presumes and
attempts to take upon Himself the honor, glory and the works of God. Instead,
then, of having a Redeemer, we would in effect have a second devil in Christ,
who, though he is not God, attempts to be God.


Verse 18 brings out another aspect of Christ’s redemptive work and
person. He is the head of the body, the church. The church is none other than
the Communion of Saints, the total of those who have been “translated out of
darkness into His marvelous kingdom of light”. It is called His body. This
picture is used here and elsewhere (Eph. 4:1, 1 Cor. 12) to portray the
relationship of our Savior to all who are His subjects in the kingdom of light. He
is their Ruler, also their assurance of continued life and final victory. “ He is the
beginning, the first-born from the dead.” Archee and again prototokos are used
not in the sense of Him being the first of the dead, but in the sense that He
overcame death; He is the source of life and resurrection; in Him all life that
breaks forth from death has its origin. Chronologically in the course of human
history, others rose from the dead before He did; but He is the beginning and
first-born, the One in whom all others have their beginning and resurrection unto
new life. His preeminence, therefore, over all things does not pertain only to His
pre-incarnate state, but to His entire being as God-man, especially now also to
His human nature in which He died and rose again.


V. 19 continues: “For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness
dwell.” It is true that Christ according to His human nature can also be called a
creature, a man, one who had a beginning, who exercised limited powers. Yet it
is precisely of this human nature of which it is stated that; “It pleased the
Father that in Him all fulness should dwell.” In this Man who was conceived,
born, who suffered, died, and was buried and rose again everything resided that
God is. God was made flesh; Christ is the One in whom God and man become
one person.


It was, therefore, none less than God who died and made peace through
the blood of His cross. He had to be God to accomplish the purpose of His
being sent by the Father--that of making peace and of reconciling all things
unto Himself by Him. It should be noted that here we have a series of aorist
tenses which of themselves, particularly as infinitives and a participle, do not
express time-action, except in relation to each other. The finite verb is
eudokesen (“It pleased Him,” namely, the Father). The use of the aorist,
however, expresses completeness, finality. It was not a becoming thing that
fulness should dwell in Christ, but something complete though ongoing into all
eternity. It was not a thing that had to be done over and over; but “making
peace through His cross”, that is, providing through His death on the cross
everything needed for making peace, was accomplished once and for all by His
cross. The enmity spoken of still exists, and the peace-making effected by His
cross is still going on. That was the purpose of His cross. The hina clause with
the aorist infinitive apokatallaxai , likewise expresses purpose--that of reconciling
all things unto Himself, full and complete as far as Christ’s redemptive work is
concerned, but still being effective as through the gospel ministry men are
brought into a relationship of peace with God.


It should be noted that “to reconcile” has “ta panta” (all things) as its
object. Scripture never has God as the object of the reconciliation, as though
God had to be made over or “thoroughly other,” which is the basic meaning of
the verb katallassein . The “apokatallaxai” re-enforces the idea of reconciling out
from. It is significant that “all things” is the object of “to reconcile.” Already v.
21 gives us a clue as to when the actual reconciling takes place when it explains
the reconciliation - the making thoroughly other - as something that has taken
place already in those who now believe. They were “enemies in their mind.”
Their wicked works, specifically mentioned, put them under the wrath of God.
Scripture tells us that when man sinned, not only man, but all of God’s universe
created for the sake of man fell under the curse (Rom. 8: 20-21). The “ta
panta” extends even further, as we see from V. 16, to include even the powers
created in the heavens--all created powers and dominions. a different,
estranged relationship came about because of man’s sin, not only between men
and God, but between all created things and God. The evil angels by their sin
were forever cast out and reserved in the chains of darkness (2 Peter 2: 4) and
so excluded from any return to God. The inanimate creatures, the animals, etc.,
even the heavenly bodies were affected by the curse placed upon them because
of man’s sin. The good angels too, though not under any curse, found
themselves involved in the battle on God’s side, as Scripture teaches, now
ministering to sinful humans, particularly those who are the heirs of salvation. It
was to change this estranged relationship, to reconcile all things back to God,
that the Father sent His Son, not only to pay the price of reconciliation, but by
that payment to be the power effecting reconciliation. How such reconciliation
brings about a changed relationship in respect to some of God’s creatures is not
explained in detail in Scripture. But it does make plain that everything that is
involved in that reconciliation was effected, made possible, and is being
completed by virtue of Christ’s atoning work. Ultimately, this reconciliation in
its full effect upon God’s creation will be completed at the end of time, as we
see in 1 Corinthians 15: 28, “when all things shall be subdued unto Him, then
shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him,
that God may be all in all.”


Full understanding of all that is involved in this universal reconciliation
which is spoken of here as God’s purpose in sending Christ will never be ours in
this life. But what concerns us poor sinners, especially us believers, is that our
reconciliation unto God brought about by the death and resurrection of His Son
has become an actuality through our conversion, when we, as V. 21 tells us,
who “were sometime alienated and enemies in our mind by wicked works”
experienced a change of heart and mind, were taken out from under the wrath
of God and brought under His forgiving mercy in Christ Jesus. It was then that
we were “presented holy and unblamable and unreprovable in His sight.” None
of this was brought about by anything we had done or could do. It was not
effected by our faith, but our faith which also involved a change of heart and
mind toward God was brought about by the atoning work of Christ just as much
as was our justification or acceptance by God, our being presented “holy
unblamable and unreprovable in His sight.” It is not scripturally correct to
identify justification with redemption, or even with reconciliation, nor to make
justification universal and complete, or even to think of reconciliation as being
fully completed. Redemption was accomplished “by His cross” and completed
nineteen hundred plus years ago; reconciliation is the result of the Redemption
and will continue to be effected by virtue of His cross until the consummation
of all things; justification takes place when the sinner is brought to faith and as

long as he continues in faith, being presented holy and acceptable to God by
virtue of the righteousness of Christ which is his by faith. It is also not
scripturally correct to ascribe only justification to Christ’s atoning work and to
make that universal when Scripture ascribes everything involved in ultimate and
complete reconciliation, including our justification by faith and our final salvation
to the atoning work of Christ.


That the actual reconciliation brought about by the atoning work of Christ
is effected and in effect for us only as long as faith exists is clearly brought out
in v. 23. Picking up the main verb from v. 21, we have: “Yet now hath He
reconciled (you)... if you continue in the faith, grounded and settled, and be not
moved away from the hope of the gospel, which you have heard, and which was
preached to every creature which is under the heaven”. The effect of this “if”
is not to make faith the effective or effecting power and cause of reconciliation.
Christ’s atoning work is and will always remain that; but faith is, as our
Confessions say, a “necessary and essential element of justification .” It
belongs to the very essence of our being justified and has therefore properly
been termed the “instrumental” means through which reconciliation and its
purpose are accomplished. This is why Paul now concludes this section by
stressing his ministry, the ministry of the Gospel here, as he also does elsewhere
so often (see 2 Cor. 5: 18). If men do not continue to hear the word of the
cross, they do not come to faith and do not remain in faith. They revert back
to or remain in their minds the enemies of God. Thus, even though they were
redeemed, though the work accomplished for the reconciliation of all mankind
was completed, unbelievers live under the wrath of God rather than under His
loving mercy and forgiveness in Christ, and so they die in their sins. May God
preserve us from this and grant that we may never be “moved away from the
hope of the Gospel which we have heard.”



Vernon H. Harley
511 Tilden, Fairmont, MN 56031


August, 1984
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