Are We Alienated from God? – Colossians 1:21

In Colossians 1:21 Paul declares humans are all alienated (ἀπαλλοτριόω) from God. This verb could be translated as estranged. In English, estranged can mean a simple separation, as in the phrase “a man and his estranged wife…” This doesn’t mean the one of the marriage partners are in the wrong. It means the couple has marital problems and they are no longer living together. Similarly, the relationship humans have with God before we are saved. We are “separated,” we have left God are living a life which is anti-God in every way we can. This is the same thing Paul wrote in Romans 1:18-20 in far more detail (see All Ungodliness and Unrighteousness and The Foolishness of Idolatry). In fact, we are not only alienated from God, we are his enemies!

EnslavedPaul uses this phrase in Ephesians 2:12 and 4:18 to describe the the human condition before faith in Jesus. The Gentiles were not just ignorant of God, they were darkened and hardened in their minds against God (Romans 1:18-32). Paul chose his words carefully here  in order to highlight the rebelliousness of humans: “still more forcibly the persistence of the state of things” (BDF 352, a perfect passive participle). At one time, we were persistently and wholeheartedly “As such they did not serve God; rather, they were enmeshed in idolatry and slavery to sin.” (O’Brian, Colossians, 66).

Before coming to faith in Jesus Christ as savior, all humans are “enemies of God.” This is a state of hostile towards an enemy. Think of the (many) countries who consider America an enemy: They are committed to harassing us at every turn, and they want to harm us as best they can. That is the way that we were before we were saved, we hated God, and didn’t want to have anything to do with Him. We were estranged, and we hated the one we were alienated from. We had walked out of the relationship ourselves, and we were the ones who turned our backs on God.

Before before coming to faith in Jesus Christ as savior, all humans are in a state of hatred. But God did not hate us, in fact, he still loved us with an intense self-sacrificing love that was very patient. it was God who did something to reconcile that relationship, and God alone.

Both of these conditions is a result of our “evil behavior.” Obviously this could refer to paganism, the lifestyle out of which the Colossians were saved.  “These phrases denote the actions of the unbelieving world, which belong to the ways of darkness rather than the ways of light, and which ultimately lead to death.” (O’Brien, Colossians, 67).

Is this true of all unsaved people? Were we really “enemies of God” before Christ? We are enemies of God because we are a part of the human race, although not all of us are playing the role of “enemy insurgent.” Just as when Iraq was at war with America, all Iraqis are technically the enemy; not all Iraqis are actively attacking American interests. Some are more active enemies than others, but all are enemies by definition.

Does this accurately describe the human condition? What about humans who go objectively good things in the world?

17 thoughts on “Are We Alienated from God? – Colossians 1:21

  1. I do not think that we are all “enemies of God” before Christ, for, as you state above,we are not all “actively playing the role of enemy insurgent”. Although I believe that before Christ we are not right with God, I don’t think this makes us enemies. I doubt that the unsaved are all walking around contemplating how they can negatively affect God and His people–maybe some but not all. The definition of enemy is “a person who is actively opposed or hostile to someone or something”, but it is also “a hostile nation or its armed forces or citizens, especially in time of war” (according to Merriam-Webster dictionary). As stated, I do not think that ‘enemy’ is an appropriate description of all those who are unsaved, although it may apply to some.

  2. I have a hard time straight forwardly saying that we are all “enemies of God,”before we come to Christ, considering I believe that those who are still too young mentally to understand or know Christ and what he’s done, do go to Heaven. Not all theologians probably agree with that, but that is what I believe. I know that we are all sinners from the time we are born, but I do not think we are enemies of God until after we have come to an age where we would be able to understand and accept Christ’s salvation for us. Enemies seems like such a harsh word, but I think it is pretty fitting for people who purposely go about sinning, even secular people understand a basic sense of right and wrong after all, and any sin separates us from the Lord until we are cleansed by Christ before God. We are all influenced one way or another by the sinful natures running amok throughout the world. I feel it is more our natures, than our individual beings that are the real enemies of God. We cannot be anything other than estranged from the Lord, before we are reborn into the body of Christ. After that happens, we are no longer alienated, and our nature is no longer driving us to go against God, rather our new nature as a believer is to please God. We are henceforth children of God, we are in His family, and God’s original plan for the family not to have a family divided. According to the Longenecker and Still, it is understood that Paul was “acutely concerned about the harmful effects,” that the philosophy and nature of the people, especially pagan people, in Colossae, and was strongly preaching the Gospel of Christ in opposition to the other philosophy being accepted (TTP, 224). Just like back then, we all need to be wary of gospels, theology, or people who try and convince us of anything other than what we really learn from reading the Bible. As saved believers, most of us should be compelled to live like Christ did to the best of our human abilities, especially since we are no longer estranged and in conflict with the Lord.

  3. I would not say that before being saved that I “hated God”. It was more of a being oblivious to God than a known hatred. In TTP, Longenecker states that, “Such disregard for God and the good incites God’s wrath or judgment of sinfulness.” Given this statement about Col. 3:5-8, It seems like God may have anger towards us in our sins, but all over the Bible, it says that God is love and Jesus is the example of that love, and the payment for the anger and judgement we deserve for the sins listed in Col. 3:5-8. Just because we were of a sinful nature, does not mean that once we are saved that we are still part of that nature such as in you illustration of Iraqis. We are then in a different group of love rather than the wrath we deserve.

  4. I believe that this is true. It is a hard thing to swallow, but even now, being a born-again Christian, I am a rebellious human-being. I don’t want to always listen to God’s will for me and because of my sinful nature, I am constantly sinning, even when I have the Holy Spirit in me. So how much more would I sin without the Holy Spirit being alive in me? It doesn’t mean I would want to intentionally hurt God or act out specifically against him, but I would be acting out against someone.

    God decided to wipe out an entire planet with a flood because of sin. Now, I am sure the world was evil just like the one we live in today, but I don’t think everyone was trying to actively hurt God. They were just living their own lives. Now, being that God wiped out the whole earth, I think he thought differently. It was a direct attack against God. In Genesis 9:6, it says, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” This means that when we are hurting each other, whether we kill a person or are being rude to someone, it is an attack on God because we are hurting his creation who were made in his image. Therefore, we would be like an enemy.

    When Paul speaks to the Colossians, he says this philosophy they are following gives them “false humility” and makes them “puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual minds” (Col 3:18, 23). It was a “hollow and deceptive” philosophy and it depended on humans rather than on Christ, which could have “harmful effects… in the Colossians’ commitment to Christ and his body, the church” (2:18, TTP 224). If the Colossians were following something other than Christ, how can this philosophy not be an enemy to God? Now, the Colossians he is talking to are Christians, but when they are following something that works against the Gospel of Christ, it seems to me that that in itself is an enemy of God, so how much more is a person an enemy if they are unsaved and did not trust in God as their Savior?

  5. Romans 5:7-8 tells us that while we were sinners, Christ died of us. Since God is holy, and hates anything to do with sin, that made us his enemies because we were sinners. We were once wicked and under the power of darkness. We need Christ in order for us to have a good relationship with God. Christ came, giving up his life and died of our sins on the cross. I personally believe that the statement “we were all enemies of God” applies to everyone. We were all once sinners and were divided with God. However, Christ died for all our sins. Since then, those who accept Jesus are no longer God’s enemies but are Gods friends. Such an amazing thought to think about.

  6. To say that I hated Christ before I was saved would be something that I do not think is true. I would say before I was saved I did not really know who Christ was, and it’s really hard to hate somebody you don’t know. But then when reading this post I noticed that we are all sinners, and even after being saved we sin. Romans 3:23 tells us that we all have sinned. God may have anger towards our sins, but I do not think that he has any towards us, or would consider us his enemies for our sins. Because we know that God is love and are showed that many times throughout the Bible, especially when it comes to his son. After being saved I think that we become part of a different categories, although we do live amongst the enemies, God can tell us apart.

  7. If we see God as King then yes, every person before Christ is an enemy. We are his enemy because we are not following his “law”. It isn’t about whether we hate God or not. It is about whether we are under the reign of God. Some of us may not be directly opposing his rule, but we may not be under it. As Sam Smith said, “I am a rebellious human being” that means we are attacking the authority of God. Anyone not following God is following another ruler thus they are an enemy. There is a hope though because God wants peace. Romans 5:7-8 gives us that truth. While we were enemies God was reconciling us. “This Lord Christ turns foes into friends by means of his reconciling and life-giving death” (TTP 228). Like any royal relationship though, it requires a continual following of the treaty. Christ died we must continue to walk in that. “Saving faith is continuing faith” (TTP 228).

  8. I do not believe that those who are alienated from God are all “enemies of God”. I feel weird trying to think that in my mind. Enemies are those who are intentionally trying to harm or harass, as you said. Some of those who are lost, have no idea who God is or what is their purpose in this life. Some people don’t even have a mental capacity to discern God, and I strongly believe that they are going to heaven, because I believe that God judges our heart and what we know. If we don’t know, then how can we be judged for it?

    I think it’s wrong to define those as enemies, but I do believe that those who are not actively God-followers have full potential to become enemies of God because unfortunately they are exposed to the influence of the enemy (Satan), and I see in Ephesians 6:12 that the message is about that.

    Also, when you gave Iraq as an example, you said –
    “Just as when Iraq was at war with America, all Iraqis are technically the enemy; not all Iraqis are actively attacking American interests. Some are more active enemies than others, but all are enemies by definition.”
    I also disagree with that, because I think it is a generalization of all in one. I can’t say that just because a group of cops did something wrong, all of them are wrong doers. To me that is putting all of them in a box and labeling them something that not all of them agreed to do.

    Some unsaved people are very active in harassing God, and I do consider them enemies of God, but not all unsaved are engaged in those practices.

  9. It may seem like too far of a generalization, but I agree that if we take the Word of God to be true, before we have accepted the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, we are enemies of God. Ephesians 2:1-3 makes this very clear, that we were “by nature deserving of wrath.” It does not matter whether we were saved at five years old when we hardly could comprehend spiritual matters such as these or whether we are saved on our deathbeds after leading a life of sin. It is not our actions that make us sinners, but rather, it is our human nature, and because Holy God cannot stand the presence of sin, we are indeed enemies of God. Thankfully, God has rescued us from that life, for as Colossians 1:13 states, He has “brought us into the kingdom of the Son whom He loves.” Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and shed blood has covered our guilt and has enabled God to bring us back into fellowship with Himself. Now, God does not see us how we are, guilty sinners who deserve His wrath, but instead, He sees us as He sees His Son, holy, blameless, and and acceptable. According to Longenecker in TTP, “Through him and his bloody cross, God effects the reconciliation of all things” (225). We are no longer enemies of God, but now, we are His sons and daughters.

  10. I do believe that we are all sinners and that we need to believe that Jesus Christ is our savior. Because we are all sinners, does that then mean that we all have a little “evil” inside of us? Is a person less “evil” and less of a “sinner” because they try to make the best decisions and follow God’s teachings in the Bible? A person’s choices and behavior do show who they are as a person. Are we not enlightened until we truly believe in God and the trinity?
    The cosmic Christ “is also the Church’s Christ; the church’s Lord is a crucified, reconciling, peacemaking Lord (Colossians 1:18a, 20)” (Longenecker, 227). Longenecker wrote that “this Lord Christ turns foes into friends by means of his reconciling and life-giving death” (227). The Colossians did not always know God or believe in Him (Colossians 1:22). After their eyes opened to God and were made holy in the sight of God through Jesus, they were saved by faith (Colossians 1:23).

  11. I agree with Allison that we are all sinners and that we need to believe in Jesus Christ as our savior. I believe that there are some people who hate Christ. We have all gone through times in our lives were we resented Christ. I believe that we all have evil, fleshy desires in our veins. We want the things of the world because we are still human. And like Adam said, we deserve the wrath. We deserve the death that was supposed to be given to us. So I believe that we will always have that earthly desire to crave evil. We just have to learn to rely on the strength of the Lord instead of our own. “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Psalm 18:2).

  12. I completely agree with the direction Adam is going towards. Looking at this concept completely Biblical, we are enemies of Christ. The Pirates of the Caribbean phrase from Philip comes to my mind, “I’m not with you, neither am I against you!” From the second after sin entered the world, the choice became simple: Christ or the world. One could not choose their category from the following: those who completely reject God; those who have never heard of the gospel; those who persecute Christians; those who are on the line about what they believe, etc. The Bible is straightforward. Either you KNOW God or you do not. Until we ask Jesus to take away our sins, we are on the opposite side of him. As 1 Peter states “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25). Before accepting Christ as our Savior, we are lost–as sheep without a shepherd. After asking God to take complete control of our lives, our hearts become guarded with a seal. This protection can be compared to sheep who are put in a gate so that their shepherd can take care of them.

  13. I do not think that I would say that we are enemies of God because we are unsaved. God created us so truly we cannot be enemies of Him. We can be far away from Him or disconnected from Him, but to say we are enemies is a little bit harsh. We may be estranged from God and we may be disconnected, but in order to be enemies with someone one party has to dislike or hate the other or be against each other and I do not think that God is ever against us because the whole point of being saved is so that we can be with God and that we come back to Him. Therefore saying we are enemies is a bit out of the truth on account of the fact that we are truly meant to be brought back into union with Him and not to stay away from Him.

  14. “We had walked out of the relationship ourselves, and we were the ones who turned our backs on God” (P. Long Blog). I feel that is still the relationship some of us have with God to this day and it flows into every other relationship in our lives. Now a days rather than doing all a person can do to try and save a dwindling marriage divorce is more so the option. When friends have a disagreement often the relationship is forgotten and full of hatred. Rather than trying to get to the bottom of the issue they give up of the friendship and forget one another. “Before humans encounter Christ, they are in this state of hatred” (P. Long, Blog). If we do not have a solid base in our love for God and know His love for us we will then be unable to show that unconditional love to those around us. We will instead let people go and forget about them all together “deleting” them from our lives. Even with our hatred of God, He never left us or hated us. Rater He sent His only son to come and die for all of the sins of humanity. This unconditional love is what we need in our lives so we can in turn love and show everyone that same unconditional love. “Negatively, Paul enjoins the assembly to “put to death” that which is earthly or unholy” (TTP, 230). It is easier to do that if we have the love of God in us. We will then not need to fill ourselves with the earthly things as that hole would no longer be there. We would be so filled with God that there would be no room for anything else.

  15. I think it is very evident that we are alienated from God, because that is how we are born, alienated from God. This is because sin separates us from God. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”(Romans 3:23). We have been alienated from God ever since the fall of man. From the moment we are born, we are born into sin, and there is no way for us to possibly be able to be with God on our own. However, because of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, we can have reconciliation- and actually be with God. “So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous”(Romans 5:18-19). Without Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for our sins, there would be no way for us to ever be with God, and we would always be alienated from God forever.

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