Meditations in Colossians: 40. Conditions
Col 1:23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.
When we were considering Jesus as the reconciler we had cause to note about the salvation he brings, that this does not apply to anyone but simply to those who will respond to it. It is not a universal salvation that means anyone regardless is saved. There is a school of thought that says ‘once saved, always saved’. I do not believe Scripture confirms that. The word ‘if’ here indicates a condition.
Remember the previous verses laid out our salvation: “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.” (v.22) Jesus has done everything necessary to make it possible for us to be reconciled to God so that we appear holy in his sight etc. And then comes the ‘if’. In other words all that is true only IF we “continue in our faith”. Note the word ‘continue’ which suggests we started out right, giving ourselves to God through Christ, but then comes the possibility that we fail to “continue in our faith.”
Now we need to bring a word of reassurance here for scripture indicates it is possible to stumble and sin but yet be able to continue. The apostle John says, “I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1) That makes it clear that it is possible to stumble and sin, but that is very different from a life that turns away from God which is what is implied in our verse above.
Note the path that is implied in our present verse: “if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.” Consider the opposites. It is possible to give up on your faith. Everything about the Christian life is faith and so if we give up on faith, we give up on our Christian life, our salvation. We become unstable in our thinking and our believing becomes movable and changing. No wonder our faith is undermined. We move away from the hope that the Gospel presented to us and so we have no assurance and rightly so because we have lost it.
Now for the faint hearted we should bring further reassurances. Yes, there is this possibility and it is a possibility of just drifting away from God so there is no reality of your salvation, and it is possible to be seduced away from God by the lies of the enemy, but realise that in each case we make an act of will to allow that to happen. If you don’t want it to happen, it won’t happen. Jude described God as the one “who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.” (Jude v.24)
That is God’s intent and that is what He is continually working to achieve, but He will not override your free will. So if you want, you can walk away – and some do – and when you observe their lives you see dissatisfaction, anxiety, upset, fears ,doubts and all the fruits of the old life again. Yes, they did genuinely make a real commitment to Christ and were even all out for him, and yet somewhere along the way they got lost – but it was an act of their will that took them there. Remember the apostle Paul’s words, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38,39) No one and nothing can separate you from Jesus as long as that is what you want!
The writer to the Hebrew wrote some sobering words: “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance.” (Heb 6:4-6) Again this is not a one off or occasional getting it wrong; this refers to those who willfully turn away in their lives from God. Be under no illusions, these were born again believers for who else could have these fivefold description given about them:
- who have once been enlightened,
- who have tasted the heavenly gift,
- who have shared in the Holy Spirit,
- who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and
- the powers of the coming age.
No, these were believers who had fully entered into the salvation provided for them but somehow they “fell away”, they gave up on it, they lost their assurance, their lost their joy and the many other fruits of knowing God. Possibly one of the most terrifying words of Scripture is found in judges, spoken about Samson who so presumed on God’s grace and thought he could get away with anything: “He awoke from his sleep and thought, “I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him.” (Jud 16:20) The truth is that God is holy and if we think we can get away with sinning continually, we are in danger of forfeiting our salvation. The condition is clear: IF you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.
A final warning and encouragement: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Cir 10:12,13) We need to be careful not to fall (and stay down) – that is our part to play. But God will be there for us helping us overcome any temptation the enemy may put before us. Yes, the warning is there, but there are so many positive encouragements that we need not be faint hearted and can be sure that we will be able to say with the apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day.” (2 Tim 4:7,8) Hallelujah!