As long as sin has existed, there has existed the wicked desire to degrade, diminish, and devalue others. In our sinfulness and depravity, we act hatefully toward others. The Bible says that human beings are made in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26–27), meaning that, in some limited way, God has made us to be like Him and to bear His representative image on the earth. It is God, then, who places inherent value on human beings, and every person is worth the full measure of dignity and honor God’s image gives them.
Therefore, every act of hatred toward others in an attack against the image of God. Though the Bible teaches that we are all one race of people, even one family (Genesis 10), we suppress that truth in unrighteousness and believe the lie that other people are less valuable than ourselves.
Today, we hear a lot about reconciliation. And in the Christian discussion surrounding social justice, there have been several ideas put forward regarding racial reconciliation. How do we pursue reconciliation? The world, apart from Christ, will accomplish only a small measure of unity afforded it by the common grace of God. But for Christians, there is a loving unity that goes deeper than clothes and culture and skin; it is a unity paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ.
Redeemed in Christ
In his letter to the Colossian church, the Apostle Paul opposes a series of false notions in the church, primarily, the devaluing of Jesus Christ as God and Savior. Weighed down by Jewish legalism, worldly philosophy, and pagan mysticism, the church was buckling under the weight of false religion, and at risk of splintering into disunity, and even apostasy.
In the first two chapters of the letter, Paul exalts Christ, who had been dethroned in the hearts and minds of the people, and sets Him high and above every false system of religion wreaking havoc on the church. Having been rescued out of their former life of sin, Paul notes that God “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13–14). In Christ, our old self is gone, the record of our sin debt is cancelled out, and nailed to Christ’s cross (2:13–14). In the regeneration of the believer, there is a renewal of the imago Dei, rooted in the true knowledge of God (3:10).
As new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17), we are placed into the church—a body of redeemed, united believers—a picture of a renewed humanity which harkens back to Eden, yet still marred by the Fall. In the present age, we experience a small measure of this renewal. In the coming age, however, we will be participants in a full renewal of humanity in the new heavens and new earth. This renewal, while only a microcosm of what it will be in the future, is meant to have an impact on our present life. It should govern our moral conduct, and cause us to lay aside the deeds of our old self (Colossians 3:8–9), putting on the deeds of the new self (3:10–17).
Christ Overcomes Earthly Distinctions
Seizing on this theme of spiritual renewal, Paul is quick to note the reality of equality within the body of Christ. In setting their minds on heavenly things (Colossians 3:1–2), believers are exhorted to see all of life, and one another, in light of how they will be seen in Heaven. “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (3:11).
Old Barriers Removed
First, he notes that “there is not Greek and Jew.” In the Old Testament, God had mandated that Israel set themselves apart for holiness, so as not to adopt elements of pagan culture. But by the time of Jesus, the Jews considered all non-Jews (Gentiles/Greeks) to be unclean and untouchable. And while they were right to reject the pagan elements, Gentiles themselves were not inherently unsavable. When Christ came, He offered the gospel to all peoples—“to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16; 10:12). Regardless of background, nationality, or ethnicity, no people group is beyond salvation.
Religious Ceremony Set Aside
Next, Paul notes the lack of distinction between those who were ceremonially “circumcised” and “uncircumcised.” In the Mosaic covenant, all Jewish males were required to be circumcised. But for those who come to Christ in the New Covenant, the requirement is gone. No religious ritual, observance, or ceremony must be undertaken in order to be saved by the blood of Jesus Christ.
Cultural Differences Overcome
If the Jews struggled at first to accept uncircumcised Gentiles into their number, who did the Gentiles struggle to accept? Answer: the “barbarians” and “Scythians.” At a time when Greco-Roman culture embraced sophistication and civility, those who lived on the outskirts of society were derided. The “barbarians” constituted people of low class; uncivilized and uncultured. And the worst of the worst were the Scythians, a savage group of nomads known for attacking and pillaging unsuspecting peoples. The Greeks thought of the Scythians the way most Westerners think of Jihadi terrorists. But even those who society deems the worst of the worst are still not beyond the redeeming love of Christ.
Social Boundaries Crossed
The last group listed in Colossians 3:11 pertains to those of certain social or economic classes. In the first century, approximately one-third of all people living in the Roman Empire were slaves—a working-class group of individuals with no rights or privileges. The rest of the Roman citizens were considered “freemen.” When the gospel went out, both slaves and freemen responded in faith, and the early church became a melting pot of believers from all social classes. In fact, Paul even instructs the church on how to treat one another in light of these relationships (Colossians 3:22–4:1; cf. Philemon; Ephesians 6:5–9). Regardless of the societal standing, there is no distinction between brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.
Men and Women Valued Equally
One additional group that Paul does not mention in Colossians is mentioned in Galatians 3:28—that of male and female. While gender roles are defined by God, there is no hierarchy between sexes within the realm of salvation. Both men and women are equal in value to God, and are co-inheritors of His kingdom in Christ.
While God has created human beings to be unique in their own way, He has brought all believers together in unity. What is it that binds us all together? What breaks down all barriers and dividing walls? It is none other than Jesus Christ.
Christ is All
Paul concludes his statement about unity in the body with “Christ is all, and in all.” At first glance, it seems like an obscure statement, almost pantheistic. But when read in light of the rest of Scripture, the meaning becomes clearer.
The pinnacle of Paul’s letter to the Colossians comes in chapter 1, verses 15 through 20. Known as “The Hymn of the Incarnation,” the apostle masterfully extols the supremacy and majesty of Jesus Christ in only a few short statements. In reading the paragraph, one thing becomes abundantly clear: Christ is all-powerful, all-sufficient, wholly-supreme, true God, and sovereign King. In verses 16–17, we see Christ’s sustaining power over all creation, followed by His headship over the church.
Then Paul notes that Christ was sent “to reconcile to Himself all things … making peace by the blood of His cross” (v. 20). Not only is Christ sufficient to bind all of the created order together, He is also sufficient to bind together every Christian believer. And through the regenerating, indwelling, and transforming ministry of the Holy Spirit, Christ has placed Himself in all believers (cf. John 15:1–17, 17:20–26; Galatians 2:20).
While many would say that reconciliation comes through man-made efforts, the Bible proclaims that true reconciliation exists in those who have first been reconciled to God, and thus to one another in Christ. As John MacArthur has written, “There is no place for man-made barriers in the church since Christ is all, and in all. Because Christ indwells all believers, all are equal. He breaks down all racial, religious, cultural, and social barriers, and makes believers into one new man (Ephesians 2:15).” In short, Christ is enough.
—Nate Pickowicz, adapted with permission from an article on reformandamin.org