Saturday, June 7, 2008

Must I Endure?

Must I Endure?
Colossians 1:21-23
How to Heed a Warning

Scripture Introduction:

Tonight we will be looking at Colossians 1:21-23. As you are turning there I want you to fast forward in your minds 5 years from now. Almost all of you will be graduated from high school. Now, let me ask you a question. If the picture of you five years from now is that you have completely abandoned the faith, what are we to think? If you do not continue in the faith but reject Christ until the day of your death, will you be saved?

Read Colossians 1:21-23

Sermon Introduction:

As we study the Scriptures this evening we will have an answer to the question we asked a few moments ago: If you do not continue in the faith but reject Christ until the day of your death, will you be saved? As you might expect this is a very debatable topic.

The question: What does Paul mean in verse 23 when he says, “If indeed you…” Is our hope of seeing God resting on conditional promises? There are at least four answers to that question which we will look at.

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 says the loss of salvation guy; look at 1 Timothy 1:19 and 2 Timothy 4:10. Here are examples of people who have made shipwreck of their faith. They have lost their salvation.

It seems that the situation in Colossae is very close to the situation facing the believers that Peter wrote to in 2 Peter when he says, “but false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction”. The phrase” Master who bought them” seems to be referring to a believer that has been reconciled. The swift destruction would be referring to hell. Sounds like loss of salvation to me.

Paul is even more specific in Galatians 5:4 when he says to some in the church of Galatia that they have “fallen away from grace”. Sounds like a loss of salvation. These are only a few examples among a whole host of warnings and a few actual examples of people falling away. Why then should we try to play games with the text and switch it to mean something else? Paul is serious, 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.

Loss of reward view

Now wait a second says the loss of reward guy. How then do you explain John 6:37-44 and 10:28-30? Listen to these words of Jesus:

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one.”

If Jesus says no one can snatch me out of the Father’s hand then I believe Him. If Jesus says that he must present those who are his to His Father and not lose any then I believe Him. Therefore, we ought to heed the wards of Jesus. Paul must mean something different here in Colossians 1:23. 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.[1]

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

Now wait a second I have something to say here as well. I agree with the last guy that we ought to heed what Jesus says in John, as well as what Paul says in Philippians and Romans. All those whom God has predestined will be glorified. All those who are Jesus’ sheep will not be snatched out of his hand. They will endure to the end. But I also agree with the first guy that if you do not persevere to the end you will not be saved.

Take a look at 1 John 2:19. The reason why these people did not remain in the fellowship 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. To say that someone can be saved and not persevere is to do injustice the text and Colossians 1:23 is one place you are doing an injustice. How do I understand Colossians 1:23? Listen to what Lewis Johnson says, “But what about the “if”? we hear someone say. Is not the whole program in jeopardy? Does it not all depend upon us ultimately? Suppose our faith fails? Now, we must not dodge the “ifs”’ of the Word. They are tests for professors. If faith fails, that is the evidence that the faith was not valid saving faith (cf. 1 Jn. 2:19). On the other hand, the genuine believer will persevere in faith, not by human strength, but by divine strengthening. . . .[2]

Means of salvation view

I agree with the third guy except on one minor point. I agree with you that all those who are elect will persevere to the end. Those who are genuinely saved will persevere to the end, they will produce good works and they will continue in the faith. Those who do not show evidence that they were not truly saved. However, I think you are not giving the full weight to what Paul means in Colossians 1:23.

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. It does not say, “Your perseverance reveals that you are really part of the people of God.” It merely says, “If you remain in the faith, you will be presented before God’s presence blameless.” By switching the text, you fail to communicate the function of the warning, for Paul does not summon us to look back and see if we are genuinely Christians. He calls us to remain faithful to Christ in the future and threatens us with eternal destruction if we do not remain in the faith. Contrary to the tests of genuineness view, I believe Paul means exactly what he says: “If we fall away from Christ, we will face eternal destruction.” That message should be preached from our pulpits, taught in our seminaries and colleges, and reflected upon in private devotions.

So then how ought we as believers receive these warning passages? In our journey in the Christian life we receive them just for what they say. When we read the warnings in Hebrews, 1 John, Revelation 2-3, etc., we take seriously the threat that if we do not endure, we will be eternally damned. The warnings remind us that falling away from the living God has eternal consequences. They shout out to us “Danger!” They are akin to a sign on the road which says, “Go no further. Steep cliff ahead.” Any driver who wants to preserve his life takes heed to the warning and turns around. Similarly, the warnings and admonitions in scripture call out to us, “Danger! Do not fall away from the living God. If you deny him, he will deny you.” It is precisely by taking the warnings seriously that we avoid eternal destruction. The label “Poison!” on a nottle seizes our attention and awakens us to the peril which awaits us if we swallow its contents. Thereby we take special care when handling such a container and do not put it in the same cupboard with soft drinks. The warnings in the scriptures are also intended to arouse us from lethargy and propel us onward in the pathway of faith. They provoke a healthy fear(Heb 4:1!), so that we are not casual and relaxed about entering the heavenly rest. Of course, this fear is not the same thing as the paralyzing fear which suppresses all activity (1 Jn 4:18). It is the same kind of fear which causes us to put on our seat belts when we drive and which causes us to place railings where a fall would be deadly. Fear in these instances does not paralyze us but actually contributes to our confidence when driving or climbing. Similarly, hearing and obeying the warnings in scriptures does not sap us of confidence and assurance. It is the pathway for full assurance in the faith.[3]

Those are four of the possible interpretations. We could look at a couple others but those are not as popular or as plausible. Our conclusion is that both 3 and 4 are correct at different times. Sometimes it is retrospective (determining if profession is legitimate) and sometimes it is prospective (potential, likely, expected—an actual if). Here in Colossians 1:23 I believe number 4 is correct. This is not as much a test of genuineness view as it is a means of salvation. Now certainly all those who do persevere will show their genuineness but I think we ought to heed this verse as it says. Unless you endure, you will not see God.

So what does this truth mean for your life? How do you apply such a text, which says, “Unless you endure, you will not see God”? The first one is obvious but I think overlooked in Christian circles. Believers and unbelievers alike ought to heed this text: unless you endure, you will not see God.

Heed the conditional clause

Some people will hear the glorious truths of the gospel, those that have been spelled out in Colossians 1 and will assume that it gives them a license to live as they want. The logic will go: Since Jesus has delivered me, since I am redeemed, since all of my sins are forgiven, since I am reconciled, and since he will present me holy and blameless and above reproach then it really does not matter how much I sin this side of glory. My sin does not matter, therefore I can live as I want and know that Jesus will forgive me in the end.

There are many people that see so little of the beauty of Christ in salvation that the gospel sounds like a license to go on sinning. All my sins have been atoned for, I am clean, I am forgiven, and therefore the gospel has no bearing on my life now. The gospel was something that I took care of a long time ago. A few years ago I prayed to receive Jesus. I’ve checked that off my list. I have settled with Jesus. Therefore, things like holiness and continuing in the gospel really do not matter, remember the Bible teaches once saved always saved.

For such a theology Colossians 1:23 cries out IF, If you endure. If you endure in the faith then you can apply the promises of God. If you endure then you can claim to be truly forgiven and truly clean. Heed the truth of this text and throw off the sin that entangles you and fight the fight of faith. Fight to continue in the faith. Do not get arrogant and conceited and figure, “oh, I would never fall”. No, look at all of the poisonous bottles around you and cling to dear life for Jesus. If you have been trusting more in the promises of assurance than trusting in Jesus then you really ought to repent. “If all you can see in the cross of Jesus is a license to go on sinning, you do not have saving faith. And you need to fall on your face and plead that God would open your eyes to see the compelling glory of Jesus Christ.”[4]

Your only hope of enduring is the gospel

Now some people will take what I have just said and get all confused. You will divorce this call to endure from the power and the promises of God. Do not do that. That is not the way you heed the warnings. You heed the warnings by running away from their danger and falling into the arms of Jesus. What does that look like practically? I want to give you four recommendations that come from this text; some directly and some indirectly.

Fight with the confidence of God’s sovereignty

There is a very good reason why I reject the loss of salvation view; it is contrary to the Scriptures and contrary to what God has done in salvation. If salvation is something that we do and something that we choose then I would very quickly change my view to a loss of salvation. Their logic is really good. Since I chose Jesus I can also unchoose Jesus. If God was a gentleman and would not infringe upon my free will then ought we not also to rightly assume he will not do that after we are saved? If we want to turn away from Jesus then certainly he would not force us to remain believers; this would be denying our free will.

Those that believe this often have really good intentions. They want to preserve holiness. They do not want to give people a license to sin. They also want to preserve the love of God and the freedom of mankind. They want to keep all sorts of distance from God and the causes of evil. Their intentions are often good, but their theology is, as I have seen, not biblical.

Look at who took the initiative in Colossians. Look at our part in this salvation process. All I see here in this text is that we had sin. We were alienated, we were hostile to God. We were in the domain of darkness. And look what God has done, he has delivered us, he has redeemed us, he has reconciled us. Look at the contrast between verse 21 and verse 22. You=alienated. God=reconciled. This same thing is seen in Ephesians 2. You=dead. God=made alive. This is why Paul can assert so confidently in Philippians 1:6 that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Listen to the solid logic of John 6:39-40. “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Notice what Jesus is saying here, God’s will for him is that he might not lose anything that has been given to Jesus. He gets even more specific in verse 40, everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him; these are those that the Father has given me. I will lose none of them. And then listen to verse 44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day”. Who are those that will look to the Son? Those the Father draws. Those the Father draws the Son will keep. If any lose their salvation then Jesus Christ is not faithful to his calling. He has disobeyed the will of God. He is not faithful to God and he is no longer a faithful advocate. But take heart Jesus is faithful! He will not lose any of us. What God has started God will finish. You can rest assured in the promise of God that no one can snatch us out of His hand, and nothing can separate you from the love of God. How do you heed the warnings? The first way is to fight with the confidence of God’s sovereignty. It is God who works in us, it is God who will change us, it is God who will plead our cause, it is God who will bring about our righteousness, Remind yourself of what Micah the prophet said, “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise…” Trust that the Lord who saved you will plead your cause; which leads to our second way to heed the warnings.

Believe the gospel enough to “sin boldly” and have “gutsy guilt”

Perhaps you remember our sermon on Micah. In it we encouraged you to “sin boldly”. Those are words used by Martin Luther. We also used John Piper’s phrase of “gutsy guilt” and “bold brokenness”. Part of remaining stable and steadfast is remembering where God has brought you from. It is remembering that you are but dust. It is reminding ourselves of what Charles Spurgeon said, “If our sin is small then we have a small Savior, but if our sin is great [and it is] then we have a great Savior”.

Instead of hiding and pretending like we do not have sin we acknowledge sin. It’s living like Luther:

“If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true and not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly,  but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here [in this world] we have to sin. This life is not the dwelling place of righteousness,  but, as Peter says,  we look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. It is enough that by the riches of God’s glory we have come to know the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world.  No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day. Do you think that the purchase price that was paid for the redemption of our sins by so great a Lamb is too small? Pray boldly—you too are a mighty sinner.”[5]

Sinning boldly is acknowledging with great boldness that you are a sinner. And then it is taking that sin boldly to the Cross. It is not trying to atone for your own sin but giving it to Jesus. Which leads to our third way to heed the warning:

Preach the Gospel to yourself daily

Remind yourself of these great truths every day. You need the gospel daily. Do not live on day outside of the realm of the gospel. This is what Paul is trying to get the Colossians to see. Notice the shocking statement he makes at the end of verse 23. “Not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” He is urging them to remain steadfast to THE GOSPEL. This same gospel that has been preached through all creation (no certainly Paul does not mean the gospel has penetrated every place on the planet) is the same gospel that is your hope. There is no other gospel. There is no other hope. THIS is THE gospel: God has created you, God has told you which way to live, we have rebelled—we are sinners with wicked hearts that do not and will not love God, God requires absolute righteousness we have none. Because of His great love God the Father sent His Son Jesus Christ to redeem those fallen sinners that would one day become His sheep. By his death on the Cross he has taken our guilt and gave us His righteousness. So that in our place He stood condemned and he has given us what God requires—absolute righteousness. Those who respond to this gospel in repentance and belief receive all the promises of the gospel.

It will take an eternity for us to fully understand and rejoice in the gospel and its Savior. Do it each day. Remind yourself of each component of this gospel. God. Man. Christ. Response. Everyday. There is no other gospel. There is no other answer to your questions. It all comes back to the gospel. It really is that simple. Which leads to our last way of heeding the warning:

If it is not gospel do not go down that path

Look at verse 22 and then we will close. Notice what we will be. Notice why he reconciled us: “In order that” (that points to the reason for our reconciliation) now what is that reason? Holy, blameless, and above reproach. That is your gospel destination. To be holy, blameless, and above reproach. This means purity. This means a lack of sin. This means no condemnation. This means being clean before God and free from a heart that desires less than Him. But it also means that our desires will be what they ought. To truly be holy means that you will love what you ought to love. To truly be like Jesus means to love God with all of your being. That is our destination. That is where we are going. Therefore, if anything is contrary to this then do not go down that path. You know it is not what God intends for you. If it is not holy then do not do it. If it does not look like Jesus then do not go down that path. Pursue Jesus Christ and him alone.

Oh, may we constantly trust in the promises of God and heed the warnings. And may we do so in the power and grace of Jesus Christ.

[1] Schreiner, 34-35
[2] Schreiner, 37 quoting Lewis Johnson
[3] Schreiner
[4] Piper, Dealing with the guilt of sexual failure

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