Note: With this and future Anchors, I will periodically return to loosely following the Puritan pastor Edward Elton’s commentary on Colossians published in 1637.
Colossians 1:12 pt. 1
“giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”
The Apostle Paul, having finished the introduction to the letter with verse 11, moves on to give his readers in Colosse a summary of the doctrine of salvation (vv12-23). Verse 12 declares the Author of salvation – God the Father, and the effect created by Him.
Paul begins by giving thanksgiving to God the Father. The reason for this thanksgiving is for His making us inheritors with His people – the Saints. The word “light” many times will mean a state or condition of being (e.g. holy, pure, truth), however, v13 clearly identifies “light” as an emblem of the Kingdom of God. Thus, God has given us an inheritance in His Kingdom as with all of His people.
So what may we learn from these words?
First, note how Paul begins his summation of salvation. He begins with the giving of thanks to God. When we think or speak of God’s grace and His work of our redemption, we should naturally praise His name, if not with our mouths, at least in our hearts. Doing so should be automatic for God’s people, who have been so affected by His salvation. And if His work of grace in you has not trained you to do so, pray that you would be more mindful of His grace in the future – that His name would more often receive your praise. If you are praising Him for His many gifts to you, it would be difficult to be downcast in your present or future.
Second, let’s look at the idea that God “qualified us to share in the inheritance”. Early in the Reformation, the Reformers and the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) debated over how Christians participated in God’s requirement for righteousness, or right standing before God. This verse was part of that debate. The question to be answered was “How did God the Father qualify us to be able to share in the heavenly inheritance?”. The short answer is that we were reconciled to God through the righteousness of Christ (2 Cor 5.18-21). Both Protestants and the RCC agree on that point. The crucial point of disagreement is how Christ’s righteousness is applied to God’s people.
The Reformers stated that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to believers. It is a banking or commerce term that means His righteousness was credited to our account. This is the same idea used when Paul told Philemon to charge Onesimus’ debts to Paul’s own account (Philemon 1.18). Whatever Onesimus owed to Philemon was now Paul’s responsibility to pay. The primary discussion of imputation of both Adam’s sin to all of mankind, and Christ’s righteousness to believers is Romans 5.12-21. However, there are many other verses which support that idea (Rm 4.3-11; James 2.23; and 1Pt 2.24). The implication of imputation is that when God looks at the believer, He sees not his sin, but Christ’s righteousness covering that sin as an effect of that believer’s inclusion into God’s Covenant. Thus man does nothing to merit his own salvation. Instead he is declared to have a righteous standing before God (ie justification) due only through Christ’s work.
The RCC teaches that man is justified before God by his being infused with the righteousness of Christ. That is to say, Christ’s righteousness is not applied to the believer’s account so that he may be declared righteousness; rather the person who is baptized actually has a measure of Christ’s righteousness formed in him. Thus a person’s obedience, and in particular the keeping of the sacraments, becomes an important part of their justification as that obedience perfects the inherent righteousness of RCC followers. Justification, instead of being a point-in-time declaratory act, which Protestants teach, becomes a process that is not completed until one reaches heaven. Sanctification becomes a mere component of justification. Man’s good works do not flow from the spiritual change within a believer, which is how Protestants view sanctification; instead with the RCC, one’s good works are seen as an integral part of one’s own justification.
Beliefs have real life consequences. Those who would add works to justification and therefore retain a self-righteousness, have earned the anathema that Paul gave to the church in Galatia (Gal 1.6-9; 2.16; 3.2-6 and 3.9-11). The fact that some (many?) members of the RCC do not know their own church’s stated beliefs means that we can have hope that there are true believers in the RCC. In fact, I have met some who I will be greeting in heaven, so I am not trying to cause a rift between myself and any RCC brethren. They should flee that system, but many do not comprehend the spiritual danger they are in by staying in the RCC. We should all show our love for them by our prayers and encouragement to attend a church where the “Solas” of the Reformation are taught – Saved by Grace Alone, Through Faith Alone, In Christ Alone, According to Scripture Alone, For the Glory of God Alone.