Jesus’ story and ours

My favourite Bible verse – if I must choose just one – is Colossians 1:22:

“But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation …”

Paul presents the Colossians’ salvation as a before-and-after story: you used to be alienated and enemies but now – just look what God has done! In his sight Jesus Christ has made you holy, blameless and free from accusation. In him you have been reconciled, rescued, brought into his kingdom, forgiven, granted an inheritance and the promise of eternal life (vv. 5, 12-14). All this through Jesus Christ who is the fully divine, truly human lord of creation and head of the church (vv. 15-20).

The Colossians’ story has become a part of the much grander story of Jesus Christ. This is also your story and mine. Jesus takes our lives and unites them to himself – and his story. Every believer, together with the Colossians, has died with Christ, been buried with him in baptism and raised with him (2:12, 20; 3:1). Their lives are hidden with Christ in God. He is their life, and when he appears, they also will appear with him in glory (3:3-4).

No one can be a servant of the gospel without being a servant of the church.

Paul: A servant of the gospel

Paul writes to a group of Christians he has never met and so introduces himself, his message and his ministry (1:1-2:5). The theme of his introduction, simply, is the gospel: which has come to the Colossians (1:1-14), which concerns the person and work of Jesus Christ (1:15-23a), and his own ministry as a servant of the gospel (1:23b-2:5). He wants them to understand the grace given them in Jesus Christ, and the call embedded in the gospel.

His ministry aim is to proclaim Jesus Christ, presenting every believer fully mature in Christ (v. 28). He strives to see the church encouraged, with hearts knit together in love, and growing in their understanding of Jesus (2:2-5). A servant of the gospel, he is also a servant of the church (1:25). The two go together: no one can be the former without the latter.

Paul suffers so that the world for which Christ suffered might hear and believe this good news.

Paul struggles for them (2:1). Further, he rejoices in his sufferings for them, fills “up in [his] flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (1:24).

Just as Jesus suffered in his earthly body for us – his body the church – so Paul suffers in his earthly body for the sake of Jesus’ (spiritual) body – the church. Just as Jesus “presents” us as reconciled and holy in his sight, so Paul aims to “present” every believer fully mature in Christ.

Paul’s suffering “in the flesh” is, of course, distinct from that of Jesus. Jesus’ suffering was the once-for-all redemptive work of the incarnate Son doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. Paul’s suffering is the result of the proclamation of Jesus’ saving work. Jesus Christ suffered for the salvation of the world; Paul suffers so that the world for which Christ suffered might hear and believe this good news.

Jesus’ story, Paul’s story and ours

In both cases, Paul’s story and activity are an echo of Jesus’ story and activity. It also bears the character of Jesus’ story: a life given in sacrificial service for the salvation and blessing of others. We can say this differently, and better: Jesus’ story is ongoing; it continues in Paul’s story.

“To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (v. 29). Jesus has co-opted Paul’s story and made it his own. Paul finds that he has been grafted into Jesus’ ongoing story. The resurrected Lord is alive and active, busily at work, in and through his servant Paul.

God calls us to take our place as characters in his story.

Paul does not in Colossians call his listeners to imitate him, as he does the Corinthians, Philippians and Timothy (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1; Philippians 3:17; 2 Timothy 3:10-11). Nevertheless, “follow me as I follow Christ” is applicable here also, for anyone who would be a servant of the gospel and of the church.

As Christ was at work in Paul, so he is also in us. We, too, are members of his body and participants in his ongoing life. Jesus takes our lives and stories and makes them his own, elevating them and suffusing them with eternal significance. Paul prays that he will do this more and more, and exhorts his listeners to faithful and responsive obedience.

The ongoing gospel story is our story and God calls us to take our place as characters in his story. We participate in the story when we live in the faith, hope and love given to us in the gospel. Our prayers and our service, our witness and our friendships, help carry this story forward.

Everything we do in the name of Jesus and for the sake of his mission and his people – whether big or small, unknown or well-known – plays a role in his story. Let’s believe the story given to us in the Scriptures. Let’s live the story, let’s pray the story, let’s grow in the story and let’s tell the story!

Taking our place

How might we live more purposefully as part of Jesus’ story?

  1. By finding our life in the gospel – in Jesus Christ himself, who is our life. Believe and receive the gospel, returning to it time and again, trusting God’s promise, appropriating the blessings of the gospel, and responding personally to its call and claim on our lives (1:23; 2:6-7; 3:1-17).
  2. By taking our place in his community, with hearts knit together in love, growing together in the truth of the gospel and its implications and applications in our lives (2:2-5; 3:12-17).
  3. By giving our life as servants of the gospel and of the church, in prayer and witness, mutual care and encouragement, living to please God and bear fruit in every good work (1:9-11; 4:2-6, 12).

Michael O’Neil is Dean of Morling College, Perth (Vose) Campus where he teaches Christian Thought & History. He and his wife Monica have three adult children and six grandchildren. He is the author of Church as Moral Community: Karl Barth’s Vision of Christian Life, 1915-1922 and preaches regularly in churches around Perth. Michael blogs at

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