A dear brother in Christ challenged the expression "once saved, always saved" by citing the verse Colossians 1:23. If (if indeed, seeing that) ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister; My friend made the inference that this verse sets the condition of staying in the faith if we are to continue to have salvation.
Colossians 1:23 does indeed begin with the word “if” and has been interpreted by many as presenting a condition to our salvation, i.e., that we continue in faith and not be moved away from it. But where is the “then” to the “if” in this verse? For this, we have to go back to verses 21-22 and even then we find no “then” but rather a statement of accomplished fact. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled 22In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: The “if” in this case is not setting a condition that has to be met but is drawing attention to the evidence that the accomplished fact of the regeneration of the Colossian believers has taken place. This “if” is in the sense of “seeing that” or “in that” or, better yet, “since” you are continuing in the faith, shows that Christ has redeemed you. Because of the construction of the statement and in particular the order of the two phrases it follows that Paul is establishing that continuing in the faith is a result of Christ’s reconciliation of believers through the work accomplished on the Cross and not a condition of that reconciliation.
But then a new question arises. What if a person does not continue in the faith in Jesus Christ? The implication would seem to be that Christ has not then reconciled that person to Himself (or to the Father). Since the reconciliation in verse 21 is presented as an accomplished fact the clear implication is that the person who does not continue in the faith was never reconciled in the first place, and since reconciliation is through faith (Ephesians: 2:8,9) the faith that the person had was/is a mere profession and not true saving faith at all but akin to the faith described in James 2:19: You believe that there is one God; you do well: the demons also believe, and tremble. Saving faith involves believing that God is and that He rewards those that seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). Saving faith involves calling upon Christ (Romans 10:13) and receiving Him as one’s personal Messiah/redeemer (John 1:12). Saving faith involves opening the door and inviting Jesus in for fellowship (Revelation 3:10). Saving faith means being born again or born from above.
Now, another question arises. If one is truly born from above, which is God’s doing and not our own, can he be unborn, i.e., lose his position in Christ by turning away from Him according to his volition as some interpret Colossians 1:23 to be saying. To answer this, we must consider the fact that being born does not mean that we no longer sin. Yes, if any man be in Christ he is a new creation
(2 Corinthians 5:17) and we have been crucified with Christ yet we live through Christ within us (Galatians 2:20), however, we still sin as described in 1 John 1:8 and struggle to do right as Paul wrote in Romans 7:19 before expressing the desire to be freed from this “body of death.” And so, the believer in Christ constantly battles sin which as long as he is in his earthly tabernacle. At what point then has a believer who sins crossed the line and is no longer saved?
I would guess the strength of this argument hinges on the interpretation one has of sin. The Bible defines sin as “missing the mark” or failing to obey God’s commandments. From this, various denominations and individual churches have devised a list of individual sins that comprise the standard of one’s standing as a Christian. But putting these lists aside, consider what took place in the Garden of Eden when man first fell into sin. There, our original parents took up the tempter’s offer to become as God by disobeying His one command (Genesis 6:3). Man has since been seeking to be his own God ever since. Salvation comes when we receive the living God back into our lives was we are born again.
At this point many biblical scholars bring up the objection that fallen man has not the capacity to receive God and they are right according to Romans 3:11: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. Jeremiah 17:9 describes man’s sinful nature in this way: The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? Since this is the case, there is no way a man can come to salvation except God draws him (John 6:44). This is the miracle of the new birth. God in his grace gives us a new nature that has the capacity to choose to receive Him. Salvation is all of God and not dependent on us. As one pastor of note has stated God gives us a nature that desires Him and will not choose otherwise.
Are we saying then, “Once saved, always saved?” First, consider the fact that this statement does not adequately express the position that a truly born again individual cannot lose his position in Christ. For starters, the words “once saved” insinuate that salvation is an experience that I initiate by something I have done. We must be clear. Salvation is not happening because I walk down an aisle or pray a sinner’s prayer although these things may be evidence of what God has done in me. Salvation comes when God recreates a new spirit within me that receives Christ into my life. Salvation is not dependent on something that I have done, but rather on something God has done within me. The concept that I can sin my salvation away puts the onus back upon me. It ignores the truth that since God saved me in the first place, He will keep me. Romans 8:35 and following verses address this very issue beginning with the question of “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” What then is the love of Christ? Does this refer to the concept that Christ still loves me though I reject His love for me? No, see verses 31-34 where Paul is referring to our position in Christ. If we are in Christ then nothing can separate us or remove us from Him.
What then, is left for me to do? I can do nothing as far as earning salvation. But there is much if I am to more fully experience salvation. Philippians 2:12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, is a verse that is often given to support the idea that we must work to keep our salvation. This, if true, would completely contradict all that has been said up to this point. However, a closer look at the verse reveals that Paul is not advocating in any way that our works have anything to do with our earning or keeping our salvation. Paul is, however, advocating that we work out as in the idea of exercising our salvation because it is God who is working in us.
So, If any man be in Christ he is a new creature. Old things have passed away and behold, all things have become new. As Christians we will still sin, but God does not leave us there. The Holy Spirit works within, correcting, reproving and bringing us back into fellowship with our loving Father. Blessed be the God who creates in us new life that does not pass away.