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!
Paul 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?