Our church is tackling Colossians 1:15-23 this week. One of the questions that will come up in our Life Groups is how Colossians 1:23 relates to our eternal security in Jesus. Does our hope of “seeing God” rest on conditional promises? What does Paul mean in Colossians 1:23 if he says, “If indeed you…”?
There are at least four views to this question*:
The loss of salvation view:
An adherent of the loss of salvation view would take Paul’s warning here as absolutely legit and completely literal. Paul means what he says. If you continue in the faith then you will be ultimately saved and all of these promises are yours. If you do not continue in the faith then you will have lost your salvation. This is no mere hypothetical situation either. People have lost their salvation (1 Timothy 1:19 and 2 Timothy 4:10) Paul is serious in Colossians 1:23, if you do not endure to the end you will not see God, we cannot be certain that any believer will endure to the end; therefore we ought to be careful to heed this warning.
The loss of rewards view:
Adherents to this view will put a ton of weight on other places in Scripture which speak of the eternal security of the believer (like John 6:37-44 and 10:28-30). To say that one must do good works to enter into heaven, or one must persevere until the end to obtain eternal life, is contrary to the message of grace which permeates the whole New Testament. If salvation is truly by grace through faith, then works can play no role in the outcome.
The presentation in view in verse 22 is not speaking of our ultimate judgment; it is speaking of the believer standing before Jesus in what is known as the Bema Judgment. What is at stake is not salvation and entrance into the Kingdom. What Paul is saying in this text is that if the believer continues in the faith then he will hear a well done good and faithful servant from Jesus. If he does not continue then he will be stripped of his rewards but will not forfeit entrance into the Kingdom because that, as we have seen from the above verses is not possible; once you are saved you are always saved.
Test of genuineness view:
This view partially agrees with both the above views. It agrees that those that are truly saved cannot lose their salvation. But it also agrees that if you do not persevere to the end you will not be saved. Such a view will look at 1 John 2:19 as proof. The reason why anyone does not endure is because they were never genuinely saved in the first place. And so it is every time in Scripture that we see someone “fall away”. All true believers will be empowered by God and endure to the end and thus be saved, if someone appears to fall away it is because they were not saved in the first place.
Means of salvation view:
This view is very similar to the third view, but in places like Colossians 1:23 an adherent to this view would say that the test of genuineness view does not give full weight to what Paul is saying.
The error that you make is assuming that Colossians 1:21-23 should be understood retrospectively. What I mean by that is that you are assuming that Colossians is something we look back upon after we have already endured or fallen away. If you endure then you look back at Colossians and say, “see my faith was genuine”, or you look back after falling away and say, “well I guess it must have been gas”. The truth of the matter though, is that Colossians 1:21-23 is prospective. Paul is not saying this looking backwards, he is looking forward.
Therefore, “it is precisely by taking the warnings seriously that we avoid eternal destruction”. These warnings are the means that God uses to keep us continuing in the faith.
As you might have picked up my preferred view is the means of salvation view. I believe it does the most justice to the biblical text. It does justice to the texts that clearly show that we will endure to the end. Yet it also does justice to the texts that cry out “You must endure to the end”!
Must you endure to the end to be saved? Absolutely. And because of the work of Christ Jesus and the indwelling Holy Spirit those that are believers will endure to the end by heeding such warnings.
*This is adapted material from a previous sermon that I preached. As such my thought here is probably indebted to many resources. I know for sure that I’m indebted to Tom Schreiner in his book with A.B. Caneday, The Race Set Before Us.