Tuesday, October 7, 2014

What Can I Make the Bible Say? Colossians 1:23

#4: “If indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister,” Colossians 1:23.

Another verse that seemingly highlights the need for keeping the commandments or “keeping the faith” to retain one’s salvation, in either case the verse used in this light places the responsibility of the believer’s eternal life solely in their own hands. This is of itself flawed reasoning, since we read just before this statement: “For it pleased the Father that in Him [Jesus] all the fullness (of the Godhead, see 2:9) should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him [Jesus], whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of the cross. And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight,” Colossians 1:19-22.

Scant verses earlier we also read: “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins,” Colossians 1:13-14. The entirety of this passage, its Christology if you will, teaches the sufficiency and primacy of Christ’s person and offering. It would indeed be sorely out of place for Paul to transfer the focus from Christ at this point to us.

Twice we read in these four verses (Colossians 1:19-22) that it is Christ, not us, that has successfully made reconciliation by the meritorious act of His sacrifice on the cross on our behalf. Further we are told that it is through the blood of the cross that we have received peace, whereas prior to this we did not have such peace. The focus of this passage is the nature of the gospel and its power to save; not our efforts to retain the salvation freely given us in Christ. Rather, verse 23 is explained as Paul’s desire that we continue to remain steadfast in the faith as sure evidence that we have obtained salvation through the saving message of the gospel. Ephesians 2:8-10 states that salvation is a gift of God, and its reception is followed by the good works God created for us to do. Titus 2:13-14 likewise tells us the same story: that Christ redeemed us apart from any effort of our own, and purified for Himself a people (already saved) zealous for good works.

It is by faith that Christ dwells in our hearts, Ephesians 3:17. It is by a living and active faith in Christ that the believer may comprehend the enormous scope of Jesus’ love for us, Ephesians 3:18-19. Focusing on the single word “able” in Ephesians 3:18 let us see what a few of the other things Christ is “able” to do. Jesus is “able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them,” Hebrews 7:25. Jesus is also “able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,” Jude 1:24. Finally, Jesus is fully “able to subdue all things to Himself,” Philippians 3:21. We have discerned that Jesus is our Lord is able, but is He willing? “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out,” John 6:37. The Lord is “longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance,” 2nd Peter 3:9. When the penitent leper approached Jesus, asking if the Lord was willing to cleanse his filth from him Jesus answered, “I am willing; be cleansed,” Mark 1:41.

We are encouraged to maintain good works because these are “good and profitable to men” and we should meet urgent needs so that we “may not be unfruitful,” Titus 3:8, 14. You will not find a passage in Scripture where it states that you forfeit eternal life if one does not endure in the faith, or maintain a sufficient amount of works. Works follow faith and should be their natural outcome. It is like this: not to sound morbid, but have you noticed the difference between a living and a dead person? The living person always shows signs that betrays the fact that they still possess life. The dead person has no such indication. They are still, cold, and lifeless. The believer should manifest in his flesh signs that the Son of God dwells in his heart through faith; and to this end Paul encourages the saints to continue in the faith, and not to be moved away. For it is in Christ that we have both peace and security. It is when we depart from our Lord in an effort to replace the simplicity of the gospel with works to purchase or maintain our salvation that we have ceased “continuing in the faith.” “This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” Galatians 3:2-3.

The apostle James likewise wrote of much the same topic when he stated: “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves,” James 1:21-22. The apostle urges that Christians practice what they believe, which is entirely reasonable; if someone truly believes something then their daily lives reflect on the surface what they believe in their heart. James concludes by saying “But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does,” James 1:25. The Christian continues in the faith, among other reasons (as noted above) for the sake of reward. The motivation of the genuine saint has nothing to do with fear of eternal judgment.

The inevitable consequence of works salvation is an unwillingness to permit the atonement of Christ to have been made for all sin; that is for the sins of every individual who ever lived past, present and future. This includes the sins of saints after the moment of their conversion, for “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” 1st John 1:9. The proof for the validity of works salvation/conditional security must be provided by a thorough, systematic study of Scripture, not the use of scattered verses wrested from their context here and there to “prove” a point. What professing Christian would sincerely set about demonstrating that Christ was not made a satisfactory sacrifice for sin, to take away the sin of the world (not just an individual’s sins before or after conversion)? See John 1:29; 2nd Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 9:26 as a few of the evidences that such a position is untenable.

It is stretching the credulity to suggest that Colossians 1:23 teaches conditional security. Rather it becomes an isolated passage that is not synthesized with the rest of Scripture. It is an affront to the Holy Spirit who inspired the apostle to write, to suggest that human effort somehow rivals the atoning sacrifice of Christ or that “continuing in the faith” is a euphemism for teaching that human effort supplements or helps to undergird our salvation.

2 comments:

  1. Great post, Ian.

    To carry your illustration a little farther, sooner or later the dead body will decay and fall away because it is dead. The rotting and falling away were not the cause of it's death, but the result.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the addition; it's a good depiction of cause and effect.

    ReplyDelete

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