And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled Col 1:21
As we consider the past condition of the Colossian Christians, we are faced with one of the most depressing statements of the unsaved man’s state. Paul states, “And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled.” The first thing that we must focus upon is the nature of this enmity, which can be summed up in one word—alienation.
Well, we need to come to a proper understanding of this. And the best way to do this, as it is often the case, is to say what it cannot mean. It cannot mean that there was a time in the individual lives of any of the Colossians that they were friends of God. In other words, it does not mean that they had ever been in any other relationship with God than estrangement.
I underscore this fact because of important truth that we are all born into this state of alienation. It is not that all men are innocent and friends of God as they come into this world, but the every one of us is born into this world as those who oppose God. And this is due to our relationship to Adam. I think that one of the best statements of this fact is found in the 14th Article of the Belgic Confession, wherein it states,
For he transgressed the commandment of life, which he had received, and by his sin he separated himself from God, who was his true life, having corrupted his entire nature.
So he made himself guilty and subject to physical and spiritual death, having become wicked, perverse, and corrupt in all his ways. He lost all his excellent gifts which he had received from God, and he retained none of them except for small traces which are enough to make him inexcusable.
Now, this is no small issue. In order to underscore this, I want to bring out two important applications. On one hand, this teaching is a strike against the notion of the mysticism, which is so prevalent in our day. Mysticism is the attempt to find communion with God through direct experience, intuition, instinct or insight. Evelyn Underhill wrote on the process through which one goes to find communion with God. While it is not always a good source of accurate information, Wikipedia gives a fairly accurate description of her teaching:
Author and mystic, Evelyn Underhill outlines the universal mystic way, the actual process by which the mystic arrives at union with the absolute. She identifies five stages of this process. First is the awakening, the stage in which one begins to have some consciousness of absolute or divine reality. The second stage is one of purgation which is characterized by an awareness of one’s own imperfections and finiteness. The response in this stage is one of self-discipline and mortification. The third stage, illumination, is one reached by artists and visionaries as well as being the final stage of some mystics. It is marked by a consciousness of a transcendent order and a vision of a new heaven and a new earth. The great mystics go beyond the stage of illumination to a fourth stage which Underhill, borrowing the language of St. John of the Cross, calls the dark night of the soul. This stage, experienced by the few, is one of final and complete purification and is marked by confusion, helplessness, stagnation of the will, and a sense of the withdrawal of God’s presence. It is the period of final “unselfing” and the surrender to the hidden purposes of the divine will. The final and last stage is one of union with the object of love, the one Reality, God. Here the self has been permanently established on a transcendental level and liberated for a new purpose. Filled up with the Divine Will, it immerses itself in the temporal order, the world of appearances in order to incarnate the eternal in time, to become a mediator between humanity and eternity.
This mystical process is a real rejection of Christianity at its core level. God and man have a real alienation and estrangement. It is something that has taken place at the most fundamental level because of the fall, and mediation and self-denial are not the means to find reconciliation with God.
As I said previously, the mystical way is an ever-increasingly accepted way among Americans and even Christians. It is very attractive for this reason; men and women do not have to believe in anything. Garrett Sarley, being interviewed for CBS Sunday Morning, put it like this,
I think people start to look for, ‘How do I produce the experience that I want from my religion, without having to adopt the beliefs that don’t seem to match, or don’t seem relevant, or don’t even seem consonant or resonant with how I’m living my life.
In other words, the idea of mysticism is not really about God, but it is about appeasing the conscience. Indeed, a god is maintained and upheld, but this god is tamed and easily manipulated. One does not have to deny the existence of God, but one does not have to listen to Him, either. As Kenneth Boa correctly notes, it is a movement that is truly at enmity with the true God of heaven:
What the old materialistic, secular humanism and the new spiritual, religious humanism have in common is the desire to find personal fulfillment and world harmony on our own terms — with God as a source of power or wisdom, perhaps, but not as the standard of truth and values or the ruler of the world. Thus the New Age movement is part of a larger trend in Western culture seeking to find religious meaning and fulfillment apart from submission to the transcendent Creator, Judge, and Savior of biblical Christianity.
On the other hand, this is a repudiation of the age-old idea of man possessing a divine spark. This is a thought found in many within Protestant liberalism. When someone remarks that there is a divine spark in every person, usually they mean that there is a bit of God in everyone. Liberals normally refer to the human conscience as the “divine spark. As one man, identifying a major tenet of liberalism, said, “There is a divine spark in every man and woman. All persons, therefore, are good at heart and need only encouragement and nurturing to allow their natural goodness to express itself.”
This passage cuts the very head off from this false teaching. Men are alienated from God, and this alienation is radical so that God and men are separated spiritually. As John Laidlaw in his work on The Bible Doctrine of Man, accurately wrote, “The Scripture view of the fall . . . is that it was radical and fatal as regards to ma’s relationship to God.”
Man’s problem is not intellectual, but it is spiritual. Man was created to be the temple of God, but man’s sin has caused God to leave His temple. He is no longer there. Many years ago, the puritan minister John Howe, in his work The Living Temple, picturesquely describes this,
You come, amidst all this confusion, as into the ruined palace of some great prince, in which you see here the fragments of a noble pillar, there the shattered pieces of some curious imagery ; and all lying neglected and useless amongst heaps of dirt. He that invites you to take a view of the soul of man, gives you but such another prospect, and doth but say to you, ‘BEHOLD THE DESOLATION! all things rude and waste.’ So that should there be any pretence to the Divine presence, it might be said, if God be here, why is it thus? The faded glory, the darkness, the disorder, the impurity, the decayed state in all respects of this temple, too plainly show the great Inhabitant is gone.
Having considered the negative side of this, let us turn to a positive understanding of this idea of alienation. I have two primary things that I want to say about this alienation. Both have broad implications.
First, it is disaffection. It is an inward estrangement. Let me be very clear about what we are talking about here. We are very prone to think of this in as overt, unconcealed, and blatant hostility. Without doubt, this alienation involves this; yet, though valid, it is very short-sighted. What is the primary indictment against man here? It is that man has no real love for God at all. Alexander MacLaren’s words at this point are insightful:
The charge is not that of conscious, active hostility, but of practical want of affection, as manifested by habitual disobedience or inattention to God’s wishes, and by indifference and separation from Him in heart and mind.
And are these not the habitual temper of multitudes? The signs of love are joy in the company of the beloved, sweet memories and longings if parted, eager fulfillment of their lightest wish, a quick response to the most slender association recalling them to our thoughts. Have we these signs of love to God? If not, it is time to consider what temper of heart and mind towards the most loving of Hearts and the most unwearied of Givers, is indicated by the facts that we scarcely ever think of Him, that we have no delight in His felt presence, that most of our actions have no reference whatever to Him and would be done just the same if there were no God at all. Surely such a condition is [more like] hostility than love.
Therefore, what we can say about this is that this inward estrangement from God is that it is a want of any practical attention to Him. Or, in other words, it is found in practical atheism. Our lives are lived as if He did not exist, though we give theoretical acknowledgement that He exists.
Yet, we live our lives with little to no thought of Him. We think so little of Him that He plays no significant role –if any—in our lives. This is the indictment of men by God in Psalm 10:4 – “The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts.” That is the primary meaning of the word godless. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown define the word as “living without any conscious reference to God, and proper feelings towards Him.” Matthew Henry captures the thought well:
The nature of impiety and irreligion; it is not seeking after God and not having him in our thoughts. There is no enquiry made after him (Job 35:10, Jer. 2:6), no desire towards him, no communion with him, but a secret wish to have no dependence upon him and not to be beholden to him. Wicked people will not seek after God (that is, will not call upon him); they live without prayer, and that is living without God. They have many thoughts, many projects and devices, but no eye to God in any of them, no submission to his will nor aim at his glory.
There are billions that live in this way. They show every day that they alienated by God by their absolute neglect toward Him. And there are many within the churches that have this mark of impiety branded upon their forehead. They live without any conscious thought of God. They worship God with their lips but their heart is far from Him.
Do not many of our children show this to us in their habitual neglect of God, no liking for His worship and His word? We will make excuses for them, chalking it up to immaturity or the so-called lack of excitement found in the worship. But is not the real cause found elsewhere? If they do not like the worship of God now, what will they do for eternity, when we worship the Lord day and night?
What will happen to those who have such little thoughts of God? They pass from day to day, thinking that this is not a serious matter. But let us remember the words of Paul on this: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). Albert Barnes is correct, when stating,
Many people suppose that if they do not neglect their duty to their fellow-men, if they are honest and upright in their dealings, they are not guilty, even though they are not righteous, or do not do their duty to God; as though it were a less crime to dishonor God than man; and as though it were innocence to neglect and disobey our Maker and Redeemer.
The second positive description that we can say about this alienation is that is hostility toward God. It is enmity, which is the second word that Paul uses to describe. Again Paul states, “And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled.”
The word “and” between the words “alienated” and “enemies” has been rightly take to mean that the our alienation from God has led us become hostile toward God. This is enmity is our hostility toward God, though God is ever angry with the wicked; a topic that we will take up on another occasion. But here it speaks of man’s active hostility toward God as a result of being alienated in heart for God. Paul reiterates this same point in Ephesians 4:17-19:
This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. (Eph 4:17-19)
Notice the flow of thought. The unsaved have their understanding darkened. This necessarily involves a alienation from the life of God. But let us go further. Paul now goes on to say that this alienation is due to the ignorance in them. As one commentator remarks, “It is not an acquired ignorance that is due to absent of light and information; it is an original ignorance that is in them from the start, the ignorance of inborn sin.”
Well, how does this come about? It is due to the blindness of man’s heart. The word translated ‘blindness’ is actually hardness of heart. The word here is used in extra-biblical writings of the time as a medical term for callous hardening. It is only found three times in the New Testament: here and Mark 3:5 and Romans 11: 25.
And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other. (Mar 3:5)
For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. (Rom 11:25).
This is the real problem with man. While he is blind and ignorant, he has a more serious problem than that! His heart is stone. He has no feeling and love for God because of his rock-like hardness of heart, as Geoffrey Wilson put it. This is the real source of man’s alienation! Matthew Henry comments upon the flow of thought and its importance:
They sat in darkness, and they loved it rather than light: and by their ignorance they were alienated from the life of God. They were estranged from and had a dislike and aversion to, a life of holiness, which is not only that way of life which God requires and approves, and by which we live to him, but which resembles God himself, in his purity, righteousness, truth, and goodness. Their willful ignorance was the cause of their estrangement from this life of God, which begins in light and knowledge. Gross and affected ignorance is destructive to religion and godliness. And what was the cause of their being thus ignorant? It was because of the blindness or the hardness of their heart. It was not because God did not make himself known to them by his works, but because they would not admit the instructive rays of the divine light. They were ignorant because they would be so. Their ignorance proceeded from their obstinacy and the hardness of their hearts, their resisting the light and rejecting all the means of illumination and knowledge.
There are two lessons that surface in the light of this. On one hand, we must always remember that man’s main problem is not intellectual. It is a heart issue. At times we find people seeking to use apologetics as a means of evangelism, as if the very defense of the Scriptures and its truths is settled by arguments. It is simply not the case. Men are not neutral as the approach an argument. Charles Hodge explains this, as he speaks of creation and natural revelation.
The blind cannot see; therefore they are ignorant of the beauty of creation, therefore they are destitute of delight in its glories. You cannot heal them by light. The eye must first be opened. Then comes vision, and then joy and love. This view of the passage is in accordance with the analogy of Scripture; which constantly represents regeneration as necessary to spiritual discernment, and spiritual discernment as necessary to holy affections.
J.C. Ryle concurs and brings this home in a searching way.
A deep principle is contained in this saying of our Lord’s, and one that deserves special attention. True faith does not depend merely on the state of man’s head and understanding, but on the state of his heart. His mind may be convinced. His conscience may be pierced. But so long as there is anything the man is secretly loving more than God, there will be no true faith. The man himself may be puzzled, and wonder why he does not believe. He does not see that he is like a child sitting on the lid of his box, and wishing to open it, but not considering that his own weight keeps it shut. Let a man make sure that he honestly and really desires first the praise of God. It is the lack of an honest heart which makes many stick fast in their false religion all their days, and die at length without peace. Those who complain that they hear, and approve, and assent, but make no progress, and cannot get any hold on Christ, should ask themselves this simple question–”Am I honest? Am I sincere? Do I really desire first the praise of God?”
I recall this being brought home to my own heart recently, when in Alaska. There was a man by the name of Sean. He mentioned that we would like to have the Christian’s faith, but he simply could not. After arguing for some time, he said that his basic problem was that he did not want to have a god that was His authority. Here is a self-proclaimed atheist confessing his real dilemma to me. It is not that men don’t know that God exists; it is not an issue of the mind, but it is really an issue of the heart. They don’t want to retain the knowledge that they possess; in fact, they suppress the knowledge already possessed in unrighteousness.
I am not saying that apologetics have no place. They do, but they have a twofold purpose. First, apologetics removes all intellectual obstacles that have been placed there by the world and the devil. Second, apologetics removes all excuses and acts as the law to bring out the wickedness of men so the sinfulness of sin is exposed for what it truly is—alienation and enmity against God.
On the other hand, there is a very important lesson concerning the reason for man’s damnation. It is due to man’s inattention, neglect, and refusal to come to the Lord. The Lord says, “And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life” (John 5:40). No man can say that his damnation is the fault of God, for the Lord has been more than gracious. Rather, it is due to a suppressing of truth and knowledge. Men will not come and believe.
This unwillingness is undoubtedly manifested in many ways. At times, it is manifested by excuses, as in the parable of the Wedding Feast. It is written that “they all with one consent began to make excuse” (Luke 14:18). And this is surely happening in our day. I am too old; I am too young. I will later; I am too timid to make a public profession, etc. Let everyone of us contemplate the following comments by J. C. Ryle:
We have in this part of the parable a vivid picture of the reception which the Gospel is continually meeting with wherever it is proclaimed, Thousands are continually doing what the parable describes. They are invited to come to Christ, and they will not come. It is not ignorance of religion that ruins most men’s souls. It is want of will to use knowledge, or love of this present world.–It is not open profligacy that fills hell. It is excessive attention to things which in themselves are lawful.–It is not avowed dislike to the Gospel which is so much to be feared. It is that procrastinating, excuse-making spirit, which is always ready with a reason why Christ cannot be served to-day.–Let the words of our Lord on this subject sink down into our hearts. Infidelity and immorality, no doubt, slay their thousands. But decent, plausible, smooth-spoken excuses slay their tens of thousands. No excuse can justify a man in refusing God’s invitation, and not coming to Christ.
On other occasions, this unwillingness is manifested by the love of pleasure more than God. In all of this, they manifested their enmity. In 2Thess. 2:10, Paul speaks of the “deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.” Again in 2 Thess. 2:12, he says, “That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” John 3:20 asserts, “For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.”
All of these passages show that the reason for man’s ruin and damnation is entirely on man’s side. Again, Ryle rightly states, “His blood will be on his own head, if he makes shipwreck of his soul. The blame will be at his own door, if he misses heaven. His eternal misery will be the result of his own choice. His destruction will be the work of his own hand. God loved him, and was willing to save him; out he ‘loved darkness,’ and therefore darkness must be his everlasting portion. He would not come to Christ, and therefore he could not have life. (John 5:40.)”
Now these are serious matters. And the truth of man’s alienation is real and evident in the course of human events. But it must be seen that it is true of you and me on a persona level. And you and I must realize that this is the real issue between us and God. You and I are alienated from Him, and we are at enmity with Him, until we come to Him in Christ. Unless we begin here, we will never be saved.