If Ye Continue (Colossians 1:23)
I recently had a protracted conversation with a Wesleyan Methodist on eternal security. He used Colossians 1:23 as a proof text for the conditional security of salvation. I had the same verse whipped out in my week long debate with Larry Hafley from the Church of Christ to dispute the doctrine of the eternal security of the believer. The verse does present the candidates for reconciliation and presentation before God the Father. Jesus both shed His blood (v. 20, represented by the cup in the Lord’s Table) and died (v. 22, represented by the bread in the Lord’s Table) to reconcile to God those who “were sometime alienated from and enemies of God by their wicked works,” which is “to present them holy and unblameable and unreprovable in his sight” (vv. 21b-22).
Who will Jesus reconcile and who will Jesus present holy before God’s presence? Those who “continue in the faith and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel” (v. 24a). What about those who will not continue in the faith? Well, it is correct to say that they will not be reconciled to God nor presented holy before God in the final judgment. So, in order for someone to be saved, he must continue? Yes. If he does not continue, he will not be saved? That’s right. So it’s not enough for someone only to believe in Jesus Christ in order to be reconciled to God, but he also must continue doing the works of God in order to be presented holy before God? No. No? That’s right. No. It seems like it follows though? It does not follow. And this is where the Wesleyans, the Nazarenes, many Charismatics, freewill Baptists, and the Church of Christ all fail. They say it follows that someone must keep on doing good works in order for him to be saved.
The one being saved will do good works. He must do good works. The works don’t save him, however. They have nothing to do with his salvation. It’s that when a person is reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, he will continue in the faith. Genuine faith will persevere. It will continue. It will overcome. It will bring forth fruit. It will conform to the image of God’s Son.
The first part of v. 23 is a conditional clause. Conditional clauses function as a part of a predicate in that they give a condition under which the action of the verb can take place. As we look for a verb in v. 22, we see that the verb must either be “reconciled” or “present.” I believe the condition fits best with “present,” since it is closer in proximity. Jesus will present someone to God holy, etc., if that person continues in the faith. People who get presented holy are the ones who continue in the faith. Those who do not continue in the faith do not get presented like that.
I’m parking on this technicality because I think it is important for you to know. I’m explaining a textual nugget for you. The New Testament was written in Greek. The Greek language of the New Testament has four classes of conditional clauses. These are all clearly and unmistakeably marked in the language itself by certain combinations of words. Working from the fourth to the first, the fourth class is the most rare and it is the condition of assumed possibility. The third class is the condition of assumed probability.
If at any future time this condition is met, then this will follow.
The second class is the condition of assumed unreality, that is, the assumption of an untruth for the sake of argument.
If this would have been, then that would have followed.
The first class is the condition of assumed reality, that is, the assumption of truth for the sake of argument.
If this is true (and I’m assuming it is), then this will happen.
The condition in Colossians 1:23 is the first class condition. The writer is assuming this condition to be reality, to be true. In other words, you should assume that anyone who will be presented to God holy, that anyone who is reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, will also continue in the faith. Why? Because believers do continue. He’s not continuing in order to be reconciled. He’s continuing because he’s been reconciled already. Those who Jesus reconciles will also continue in the faith. It isn’t just possible that a person who is reconciled will continue in the faith, and it isn’t just probable. It is the assumed reality of the reconciled, of those whom Jesus will present before God, that they will continue in the faith.
I often ask this question: “If you have to keep doing good works in order to be saved, then who is doing the saving, you or God?” The answer is, of course: you. Wesleyans and Campbellites and others add to grace and nullify grace. As Paul wrote in Galatians 5:1-4, Christ will profit them nothing, He is made of no effect unto them, and they have become debtors to do the whole law, when they add continuing works as a basis of reconciliation.
How can you tell a true Christian? He has prayed the sinner’s prayer? No. He claims to be a Christian? No. He’s got the date of his profession of faith written in the fly leaf of his Bible? No. His mother swears that he’s a saved person? No. He came forward at the invitation and went to the side room to accept Jesus? No. How? He continues in the faith.
Jesus’ and the apostles’ teaching was riddled with this truth. Those branches which are not cut off and thrown into the fire are those that abide in the vine (John 15). In the parable of the soils in Luke 8, someone may receive the Word with joy, but if he has no root, he will fall away under trial. In 1 John 2:19, John wrote that those who are of the believers would no doubt continue with believers. If you are not with us, then you are not of us. Jesus knew the hearts of men, and so we read in John 8:30-31:
As he spake these words, many believed on him. Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed.
We are not to assume that just anyone who has made a profession of faith is saved. As a matter of fact, we should only consider to be saved those who Jesus and Paul would have considered to be saved. And they will continue in the faith. Fundamentalist and evangelical churches are filled with unconverted because we have assigned a true conversion to those whom Jesus never would.