I don't know who it was that first conceived the idea, but one of the more durable and effective advertising schemes is the "before" and "after." I can remember as a young boy turning to the back page of my Superman comic book only to find myself looking at the less than flattering, black and white, picture of a pathetically scrawny, virtually emaciated man, under which was written one word: "Before." On the other side of the page was the impressive, color portrait of a smiling, robust, muscular individual (allegedly the same guy), under which was written: "After."
To what miracle drug or exercise program they attributed this miraculous and altogether unbelievable transformation, I can't recall. But the point was well made.
The authors of the NT, in their own unique and far more dignified way, also portray for us a "before" and "after." But in their case the transformation they describe isn't physical. It isn't from weakness to strength, or from obesity to a lean, taut frame, or from ugliness to beauty. Far less is it a change that occurs instantaneously, or even one that can be achieved over the course of a few months.
The transformation they repeatedly describe is spiritual and moral in nature, from unrighteousness and enmity with God to holiness and peace. It is the "before" and "after" of the Christian who formerly was immersed in immorality and religious apathy but now is devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ and conformity to his likeness. This is a transformation attributed to sovereign, saving, sanctifying grace.
To use a different analogy to make the same point, the Christian is portrayed as if he/she were a book with two chapters. Chapter One is their "before" Christ, or as people often say, "My B.C. days." This story is characterized by darkness, enmity, rebellion and unbelief.
Chapter Two is a different story. The "after" is a description of the progressive, incremental growth in grace and love and knowledge. It is a chapter not of enmity but peace, not of unbelief but trust, not of darkness but the light of the knowledge of the glory of God revealed in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6).
We read of the "before" and "after" of the Christian, of the two chapters in our book of life, here in Colossians 1:21-22 – "And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him . . ." Colossians 1:21 is the "before," the B.C. side of life, and to that I want to devote our brief attention.
Perhaps you're wondering why Paul even bothers to describe that season of our earthly sojourn that most of us would just as soon forever forget. I assure you that it isn't out of some morbid fascination with lust and greed and pride, but rather to highlight and magnify the wonder and majesty of God's grace and kindness in Jesus. It isn't in our sinful past that Paul's emphasis lies, but in the mighty mercy of God in reconciling us to himself through Jesus.
Note how he describes the "before" of the Colossians (and us). He mentions three things.
First, we were "alienated". Alienation is an ugly word. All of us know what it means in human relationships. The hurt and misunderstanding and bitterness towards another feel like insuperable barriers. In terms of our relationship with God, or lack thereof, our sin has alienated or divorced or separated us from him, while his holy wrath poses what appears to be an insurmountable obstacle to any form of reconciliation.
Second, we were "hostile in mind." Whereas in other texts God is portrayed as at enmity with us, here it is we who were at enmity with God. Contrary to how most non-Christians want to portray themselves, they are not neutral about religious matters. They are not indifferent about God or apathetic when it comes to the claims of Christ. They may speak publicly of a "supreme being" in whose existence they believe, but when it comes to the one true God of holiness and justice and absolute supremacy, rage and rebellion and hostility dominate the heart.
Paul said it with even greater force in Ephesians 4:18 – "They are darkened in their understanding [notwithstanding their claim to intellectual brilliance and scientific enlightenment], alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them [notwithstanding their claim to be 'in touch' with the divine and 'at one' with his will and ways], due to their hardness of heart [notwithstanding their professed spiritual sensitivity and openness to all things good]."
And let's not miss Paul's point that the problem is in the "mind," in how unbelievers think about God and envision his character and reflect on the claims of Christ. Their ideas (and our ideas, "before" we were graciously converted) are perverted, distorted, prejudiced, and vile.
Third, we were given over to "evil deeds." Bad beliefs inevitably yield the rotten fruit of bad behavior. The willful, conscious, intellectual antagonism of being "hostile in mind" ultimately poisons daily conduct. The social climate of our day strains to acknowledge that there is actually something someone can do that merits the adjective, "evil." In our live-and-let-live, personal-and-postmodern, politically-correct, don't-you-dare-judge-me-or-my-lifestyle, world, it's dangerous to call certain behaviors "evil". But such is surely what they are.
"But now . . ." Oh, blessed contrast! Estranged, hardened, perverted people can be reconciled, softened, and set straight. Praise God! There is indeed a glorious and Christ-exalting "after" to the "before" of our experience.
To be continued . . .
Anxious to read Chapter Two,