What? Me Hostile to God?

Meditation on Colossians 1:21–22

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Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet he has now reconciled you in his fleshly body through death, in order to present you before him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.

The best news in all the world is that our alienation from God is ended and we are reconciled to the Judge of the universe. God is no longer against us but for us. Having omnipotent Love on our side mightily steels the soul. Life becomes utterly free and daring when the strongest Being is for you.

Because of the death of Christ for us, Paul says we will be presented to God “holy, blameless and beyond reproach.” These are shocking words in comparison to the actual us. It is almost too good to be true. In fact it is very hard to believe it in the hour of death. But we must preach to ourselves that this blameless presentation before God is not because we have perfect lives after conversion. It is because God made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ himself “has become to us…righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). Our only hope before a holy God is Christ in our place.

But Paul’s whole message of salvation is not good news to those who reject the diagnosis in Colossians 1:21. He says, “You were formerly alienated and hostile in mind.” How many people do you know who say, “I am hostile to God in my mind”? This is not a common self-analysis. People seldom say, “I hate God.”

So what does Paul mean that people were “hostile in mind” to God before they were reconciled by the blood of Christ? I think he means that the hostility is really there toward the true God, but people do not allow themselves to think about the true God. They imagine God to be the way they would like him to be, which seldom includes any possibility that they might be in really serious trouble with him.

I saw this more clearly recently in an article in the Star Tribune (June 16, 1997, page A11). Stephanie Salter was writing about Elisabeth Kübler-Ross who at 71 has changed her mind and wants to tell the world that a good God who rules the world and answers prayer is “a bunch of bull. Don’t believe a word of it.” Salter agreed and said that “if God worked as Kübler-Ross once believed, God would be one mean, petty, obsessive-compulsive boor.” She pictures such a God saying:

I’m giving leukemia to six babies in Iowa today, taking out 10,000 folks in Bangladesh in a typhoon and raising the rate of prostate cancer in Australia 11 percent. Meanwhile, because they asked me so nicely, I’m dissolving a tumor in the brain of a woman in London, rerouting an 8.3 earthquake away from the Azores and letting the contestant from Sweden win Miss Universe.

To this God Salter responds, “Good? Infinite? Sounds more like the Bean Counter From Hell.” Do you hear a little hostility of mind in this? “Whoa,” you say, “you don’t mean to imply that her description of God is true, do you, and that her hostility is the real hostility to God that Paul was talking about?” Almost. Not all of it is true. The snide description of prayer (“because they asked to nicely”) is defective. But the fact that God is sovereign over sickness and calamity is clearly taught in Scripture. “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him dumb or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exodus 4:11). “If a calamity occurs in a city has not the Lord done it?” (Amos 3:6).

So the point is: even though Ms. Salter gives the impression that God is acting whimsically without wisdom and justice and love, the raw facts are accurate and she hates them. This is, I think, what humans feel about the true God apart from the subduing, humbling, enlightening work of the Holy Spirit. We were all hostile to God, Paul says. Deep down, we hated his absolute power and authority. That any of us is saved is owing to the wonderful truth that the death of Christ obtained the grace by which God conquered our hearts and caused us to love the One we once hated. Many are still learning not to be hostile to God. It is a good thing that he is gloriously patient.

Savoring the supremacy of God’s grace and power,

Pastor John