Participation in the Reconciliation of All

Colossians presents an all-embracing picture of reconciliation. The whole cosmos–things in heaven and things on earth–are reconciled to God through Christ (Col 1:20). And people participate in this reconciliation.

Before the Christ hymn, Paul says that God rescued us from darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of the beloved son (1:13). And immediately after the Christ hymn we read, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies… But now he has reconciled you by his physical body through death.”

The focal point here we too often miss: the place of our reconciliation is not our own hearts when we come to rest in Christ. The place and time of our reconciliation is Jesus’ death on the cross for us.

Similar things appear in Romans, for example, when Paul says, “Having now been justified in his blood…” and “Having been reconciled to God through the death of his son.” The Christ event itself, not the application of it to us, is the transformative reality of the Christian story and the “center” of Paul’s theology.

Reconciliation happens on the cross–and it transforms us. The purpose is to make us before God what we could not be in God’s presence in any other way: holy, faultless, blameless (Co 1:22).

This is one of those points in Paul’s letters where the sweeping power and transformative breadth of the Christ event seems to encompass each and every individual. But to my mind, Paul always seems to step back from this possibility.

This purification and holy standing before God is to be had, “If indeed (εἴ γε) you abide, in faith.”

The person’s union with Christ, and persistence in Christ through faith, hope, and love, seems a necessary prerequisite to participating in the reconciliation won by Christ. God has done the work, in Christ, of reconciling an alienated humanity to Himself. But for as cosmic as its scope is, there is still, it seems, a need to be united to that saving Christ, a reconciliation to be had by faithfully responding to and living into the gospel by which we are called.

The main point, however, is not to limit the application of the salvation or to downplay its breadth. The significant factor is that God has acted to create a reconciled cosmos, and invites us into that cosmic space. It is a place where we stand, not as reconciled individuals, but part of a reconciled humanity freed from enslaving powers that work against God, God’s good, and God’s people.

Cosmic freedom is won, and God transfers us into the space that is once again one with himself.

5 thoughts on “Participation in the Reconciliation of All”

  1. Reconciliation of Christ’s victory over the cross is cosmic in scope, but we still need to make the conscious effort to participate in this cosmic event(uation) of the gospel. Right, got it. That is pretty basic Pauline meat and potatoes.

    – But I gotta ask the “so what” question here? What does it then mean to participate in the Christ event? What does it look like in practice?

    Does it mean we go to the building with the cross on the top on Sunday mornings and herd ourselves along in a hushed single file line in order to drink warm grape juice out of a plastic disposable cup and eat stale crackers in a plastic gilded dish, while the visitors are left on the sidelines watching this happen, shifting uncomfortably in the pews — I realize they are “called to the alter,” but still, I mean really it’s just a creepy and weird and implausible expression of Christ’s last sup and resurrection sup if you ask me.

    Or, does it mean we clear out the pews for good, chuck out the single-file lines and put in a large table with chairs around it, and all the members of the church bring a dish to pass around; and there are cups filled to the brim with local wines and local micro-breweries that are supplied by your prophets (of course), only to have the preacher/leader of the church stand amid the feast, hush the chatter for a moment, and re-member the Body of Christ; here, the visitors of the church can eat and drink this up, so to speak, without fretting over whether or not they should “drink the red cool-aid!” Here there is participation that is real and plausible (and exegetical), a participation that isn’t so rigid and insider-prone, a participation which seamlessly interweaves the so-called sacred and profane.

    The former seems to be, at least in my experience, too focused on the last supper alone; the latter is a manifestation of both the last supper before crucifixion and the resurrection sup afterward — is a celebration and blessing of life as a whole.

  2. Daniel,

    You are touching on something that I have been wrestling with for some time now, but can’t quite get my mind around. I am in full agreement with you when you say, “The Christ event itself, not the application of it to us, is the transformative reality of the Christian story and the ‘center’ of Paul’s theology”, as well as when you state, “the sweeping power and transformative breadth of the Christ event seems to encompass each and every individual”.

    I think I agree with you as well when you say, “Paul always seems to step back from this possibility”. I guess I’m wondering how it is that you see both of these things coming together in Paul’s thought. On what basis does he take this “step back”, if the Christ event has forever transformed the reality which humanity inhabits? If the Christ event speaks the truth of new creation to all, but yet, Paul takes a “step back”, is it really true for those who are not united to Christ?

    For those people that I know who are not united to Christ through faith and baptism; how should I be approaching them? Is it true that all promises in Christ are theirs, as a result of the Christ event, or should we take a “step back” from telling them that? If we should take a “step back”, then in what way? And how do we do this without presenting Christ in such a way as to make the blessings of the Christ event dependent upon their entrance into the “in crowd”. If any of this makes any sense, I’d appreciate some help.

    1. Brian, you make some excellent points and bring up some excellent questions that are, sadly, most often avoided among those who call themselves “Christians.” It seems to me that no one else can answer them for you… you must answer them for yourself in a way that makes the most sense to you, and not just what necessarily aligns with orthodox Christian theology (ie, what you were taught in church). The “church” teaches that we must “make a decision for Christ” in order to take advantage of what Christ has done for us, essentially making those blessings “dependent upon their entrance into the ‘in crowd,’” which is nothing less than performance-based salvation (aka “salvation by works”). I think that you have very astutely noticed this and are therefore very uneasy about extending this idea towards the lost and essentially isolating them from the “blessings of Christ.”

      Paul said, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their transgressions against them, but giving us (Christians, supposedly) the ministry of reconciliation.” But does the “church” actually teach that the world (all mankind) has been reconciled to God? No, not if one continues with the insightful line of questioning that you have presented — it teaches instead that we must do something to reconcile ourselves to God – join the “in crowd,” “earn” our salvation, etc., etc.

      It seems to me then, and everyone must obviously come to their own conclusion concerning this, that either Christ HAS reconciled the world (encompassing each and every individual) or He has not, which would then leave it up to us imperfect, sinful, ignorant, deceived creatures to do it for ourselves. And therein lies the contradictory notion so common among “Christians” – “you can do nothing to save yourself, but here’s what you need to do to save yourself” – which again is nothing but salvation by works.

      Sadly, orthodox Christianity separates mankind into the “reconciled” and the “unreconciled,” the “saved” and the “lost,” the “righteous” and the “unrighteous,” but is that the true message of Christ, and is that the message that you want to share as GOOD news to your fellow man?

    2. The blessings of Christ are for the people of Christ. It’s that simple. A child can understand it. Yet, theology professors have to cloud the simplicity with ambiguity. What in the world is “cosmic” freedom?

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