The Truth... What is it?

Colossians 1:21-23

Colossians 1:23 has sometimes been taken to teach that perseverance in the faith is a condition for final salvation. The passage reads as follow:

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 - if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you have heard . . . (1:21-23a).

It is clear that "condition" is the only appropriate word here. There is nothing to support the view that perseverance in the faith is an "inevitable" outcome of true salvation. On the contrary, the text reads like a warning. Naturally, in the context of the Colossian heresy (Col. 2:8, 16-23) that is exactly what it is.

But once again the mistake is made of referring the statement of the text to a man's final salvation. Words like "holy," "blameless," and "above reproach" do not require the sense of "sinless" or "absolutely perfect." Men can be described in all these ways who are not completely sinless. The word translated as "above reproach" is actually found in the Pauline list of qualifications for deacons and elders in the sense of "blameless" (1 Tim. 3:10; Titus 1:6, 7).

A comparison of Colossians 1:22 with 1:28 is also helpful. In 1:28 Paul writes:
Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.

This statement is connected with 1:22 by the presence of the special word "present." But here Paul employs the word "perfect" which is the normal Greek word for "mature" (and is so used in 1 Cor. 2:6; 14:20; Heb. 5:14). Obviously this word also does not have to suggest sinless perfection.

It is natural, therefore, to see 1:22 and 1:28 as slightly different forms of the same idea. The aim of Christ's reconciling work at the cross is the aim Paul serves by his teaching ministry. He seeks to bring men to that matured experience of holiness which will enable them to be presented acceptably to God. When they stand on review before Him their lives ought to meet with His approval (see also Rom. 14:10-12; 2 Cor. 5:10).

But this approval can only be achieved, he cautions his readers, if they hold firmly to their faith in the Gospel and do not allow new ideas and doctrines to move them away from fundamental truths (1:23).

As we have seen already, Paul knew perfectly well that Christians were not immune to the influences of heresy (2 Tim. 2:17-19; 1 Tim. 1:18-20). He is saying, then, that the Colossians will never reach maturity in holiness if they listen to the wrong voices. In that event, they could not be presented to God in a spiritual state which truly fulfilled the aims of the cross. Their lives would be open to His censure. They are, therefore, to hold firmly to the faith they had heard from the beginning.

But about perseverance in the faith as a condition for final salvation from hell, Paul here says nothing at all.

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(posted 7 April 2003)