Continue in the Faith (Colossians 1:23)

Worried_MinionPaul tells the Colossians, “God will present you holy, unblemished, and unblameable—if you continue in the faith.” This sounds like conditional salvation, but it is not. You are one with the Lord, and what God has joined together, no man can separate. Paul is saying, “In God’s eyes you are already holy and perfect, but you won’t see it unless you believe it. You won’t walk in that truth except by faith.”

You may ask, “How can I believe I am holy when my life is such an unholy mess?”

You can believe it because your life is hidden in Christ and he is holy and unblemished. You have a need for holiness—you can’t get in without it—but the good news is that Jesus meets your need. By his one sacrifice, you have been made holy and perfect forever (Hebrews 10:10, 14).

I know this is a lot to swallow, particularly if you have been raised on a diet of mixture. If you have had old covenant notions of faithfulness drummed into you, it’s hard not to be anxious, especially when you stumble. But Paul’s letter to the Colossians, and particularly chapter 2, is a brilliant response to the fears and anxieties of the insecure believer. Let me give you an example.

continuing in the faith

One sign that you are not continuing in the faith is that you are more conscious of your lack than you are of the Lord’s supply. You may think, I’m not holy enough, righteous enough, or fruitful enough. Look at how Paul corrects this misperception:

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. (Colossians 2:9–10a)

How do you continue in the faith? By recognizing that in Christ you lack no good thing. In Christ you have received every spiritual blessing there is. “In Christ you have been brought to fullness.”

The problem is not your lack but your unbelief. If you pray, “God, please make me righteous and holy,” you are no longer continuing in faith. You are giving voice to unbelief and contradicting his word, which says you are complete in him.

GITQ_coverInstead of asking Jesus to do what he’s already done, why not thank him that he’s done it? “Thank you, Jesus, that in you I am as righteous and holy as you are and eternally pleasing to God!”

[Extracted from chapter 18, “What does it mean to continue in the faith?” in The Gospel in Twenty Questions]

49 Comments on Continue in the Faith (Colossians 1:23)

  1. Holiness and perfection are 2 different things. The one means separation, the other flawlessness. Indeed, we were made holy, we were separated from the world for the Gospel’s sake. However, we weren’t made perfect. Let alone God sees us unblemished. The only one to be without blemish is Jesus and we’re in him. That makes us righteous, not perfect, we don’t own a righteousness of our own in Him. Perfection would invalidate the ongoing work of the Spirit for our equipping so that we lack nothing. It is an ongoing process. We’ll reach perfection in heaven.
    We are to be aware that we were made holy but also understand that in our flesh there’s no good at all. In fact with the flesh we serve the law of sin. By acknowledging this and relying on God’s grace that sin was triumphed over we have peace with God. It’s not about convincing ourselves that we’re perfect, but that in spite of our imperfection God’s grace still stands.

    • Hi Paul,

      In light of grace, how do you explain the warnings in 2Peter 2:20 and Jude 4 , warning believers of loosing their salvation?

      • Dale, I’m happy to answer your questions, but please don’t paste the same question under multiple posts like a spammer.

        I talk about 2 Peter 2 in this post and at length in chapter 6 of The Gospel in Twenty Questions. Short version, Peter is not describing believers but unrighteous men (v.9) who deny Jesus (v.1), follow Balaam (v.15), remain slaves to depravity (v.19) and who never stop sinning (v.14). These men have heard the gospel (v.20) and rejected it (v.21), which is why Peter says they would’ve been better off if they hadn’t heard. If they hadn’t heard, they might yet respond positively. But because they have heard and hardened their hearts towards it, they are well and truly lost. It’s the same message of Hebrews 6:4-6.

        It’s also the same message of Jude 4: “For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” I know critics of the grace message love to quote this verse when condemning those of us who preach it, but Jude is speaking of godless men who deny Jesus. Like Peter, he says these men follow Balaam. He also says they do not have the Spirit (v.19) settling beyond doubt that these men are no saved.

        Neither Jude nor Peter are threatening the saints. Neither mentions the possibility of losing salvation. Rather, both offer great assurances that those who Jesus saves, Jesus keeps (see Jude 24 and 1 Peter 5:10).

      • Incorrect Paul. 2Peter 2:20 is describing Christians, Peter uses the same phrase as he use in 2Peter 1:4 “having escaped the pollution of the world” – describing christians…

      • If you knew the answer, why did you ask the question?

        There is a difference between “knowing the way of righteousness” (v.21) and walking it. These false men had heard the gospel – they knew the way of righteousness or the “right way” (v.15), which is Jesus. They had risen above the distractions and pollutions of the world long enough to get a clear view of God’s grace. But they remained unchanged by what they saw. To use Peter’s words, they remained dogs (v.22) still living in the dog-eat-dog world of ungrace. They are “brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed” (v.12).

        A tree is known by its fruit. Everything Peter says about these men testifies to the fact they have not bowed the knee to Jesus and they have not been changed by grace. Peter’s harsh words for them can be contrasted with his gentle words for his “dear friends” the saints in chapters 1 and 3. As I say, Peter is not threatening the bride of Christ; he’s warning her about wicked men infiltrating the ranks.

      • Paul, regarding 2Peter 2:20- I didn’t ask the questions, already knowing the answer. I asked it to see if you could give an accurate answer, without changing context, meaning or without adding (which you have done quite a bit of) – with your current doctrinal slant. Unfortunately you have not addressed why Peter would use the same phrase: “saved from the pollutions of the world” in both 2Peter.1:4 and 2Peter 2:20 – but not be referring to believers in both?

        Added to this you have spoken about the false teachers, where as I was, and vs.20 is talking about those being lead astray – that are overcome.

      • Okay, one more try. (1) The words Peter uses in 1:4 and 2:20 are not the same. I know they appear the same in English but the letter was written in Greek. (2) Even if Peter did say the same thing twice, it would not follow that he was referring to the same group of people. (3) If Peter was referring to the same group of people and if he was hinting that believers can lose their salvation, he would be contradicting what he writes elsewhere (eg: 1 Peter 5:10-11). (4) If Peter was confused and contradictory it does not follow that God will break His many promises to us.

        So you must stand on a lot of ifs and maybes to come to the insecure conclusion. You have to change the meaning of Peter’s words, misread his context, and say the “they” in v.19 are not the same “they” in v.20. I suggest you discard your insecure lenses and read the whole of Peter’s letter through the secure lens of Christ’s finished work. “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37).

      • If immorality is self righteousness, and I believe it may well be by Jesus,s definition.And Jesus is the fullness of grace and our righteousness.You may have a dilemma with Jude 4.It could be that you need to have a good look in the mirror, you may be what you accuse others of being.God has a great sense of humour.

  2. Thanks, just at the right time!
    Yesterday night I read about the wonderful life and fruits of a brother and his wife who’ve had and lived in the revelation of grace and “Christ in you” since quite a few years…
    I got caught shedding a tear of self-pity and falling in the trap of comparing my SELF, and like you say thinking “I’m not fruitful enough” or haven’t been – I actually had tears swelling up… losing the consciousness that in Christ I have been brought to fullness and it’s not about my performance but His!
    Yes, thank You Jesus that in You I’m eternally pleasing God!

  3. Amen! Great message Paul. In Christ we are holy, Rom 11:16, Heb 10:10 and perfected, Heb 10:14 It’s our faith that is counted for righteousness, Rom 4:5.

    Unbelief in Jesus is the sin that the world is convicted of, John 16:9. Christians are running a race to win a crown, Heb 12:1. Who will win, the flesh (unbelief) or the spirit (believing on Jesus). The sin that besets us is unbelief in Jesus. Hence we are to look diligently lest any man fail the grace of God, Heb 12:15.

    And how can one fail the grace of God (unbelief in Jesus)? Gal 5:4 You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. Therefore Christians should all avoid any lukewarm teachings that mix grace with works of the law. Grace and works cannot be mixed, Rom 11:6. Jesus warned about the leaven (doctrine of righteousness by works of the law) of the Pharisees, Sadducees, Matt 16:6,12). Gal 5:9 gives a similar warning. A little leaven (doctrine of righteousness by works of the law) leavens the whole lump.

    • Hi All,
      Meditating on this passage and Romans 11.22 I believe that the IF means not If you continue ONLY THEN you will (future) be saved but rather if you believe in THIS WAY it means (is proof) that YOU HAVE BEEN and WILL continue to be saved.
      Let me know if this resonates in anyone’s spirit.
      Grace & peace.
      Lewis.

  4. The text says that “continuing in the faith ” is the only condition of remaining holy and blameless “in His sight.” The text does not say that continuing in the faith is the only condition of remaining holy and blameless in “our own sight. ” While it is true that in our own sight we recognize our objective and perfect holiness and blamelessness in Christ when we refuse to measure ourselves by our own behaviour or performance- while that is true -that is not what the text is teaching or saying. It is speaking of holiness and blamelessness “in His sight”. The only condition of remaining holy and blameless in HIS sight is -not merely as you say- a matter of not looking at ourselves or measuring ourselves vs looking at Jesus. Rather “continuing in the faith” so that we remain holy and blameless “in his sight” means not rejecting “the faith” . ” The faith” in Pauline theology always refers to the absolute basic means of salvation- which is the gospel . Paul is teaching here that if you want to remain holy and blameless in God’s sight you must not reject the gospel ( renounce Jesus and his blood as the only means of salvation). If you renounce the gospel you are no longer “continuing in the faith” and by that renunciation you have rejected the only means of remaining holy and blameless in Gods sight. ( see also Gal 5:3-4;).

    • Hi Barry,
      In my spirit it makes sense to me that continuing in the faith not only speaks of believing HOW salvation is obtained but also the need to believe exactly WHAT has been obtained. Only when we correctly believe both of these elements can we live like it and experience salvation.
      Blessings.

  5. Diamond Girl // March 12, 2014 at 3:19 am // Reply

    I must say that previous readings of that verse either left me fearful or completely discouraged. If I am to continue in the faith for God to do all these things then I felt out. I’ve still got a lit of “mixture” in me so I’m going to meditate on this some more. Thank you for the post.

  6. Very encouraging, I’m going to check out that chapter again. Thanks

  7. Yes, Yes, Yes…………..continue in the faith… God can’t work where there is unbelief in the finished work of Jesus the Chris, an accomplished fact when the Spirit of God raised Jesus from the dead… Now, we, those who believe and walk by faith in the Spirit, get to partake of everything He accomplished…….we are partakers of His divine nature, joint-heirs, seated at the right hand of God NOW, partakers of His massive love for mankind. We get to rest in Christ and know internally and exhibit fruit…..and what a blessed thing to swim in, love, joy, peace, longsuffering, goodness, faith, gentleness and self-control! He gets to keep these in me and my life is just that…..full of Him via the gift given by the gift giver but only by and through my faith in Him – Wow, I think of Hebrews 11, and if they could have faith and experience the supreme God, how much greater can we as we are “IN CHRIST”…
    Hallelujah, what a Savior, what a Lord…. Your site has blessed me and does again. Started a New Creation Church in Rangely, Colorado (9/2012) – pray for us as there is opposition from the pharicees……no doubt!! ….Blessing galore to you… Grace is a license to WIN…

  8. I wonder what conditional Paul used in Greek. Often our if doesn’t suffice, it seems. i.e 1 John 1:9 could be ‘whether we confess our sins or not, God has forgiven us once for all.’

    • Hi,
      I have a couple of questions I’d like to ask you.

      By your statement, are you implying that if you committed, say, adultery you wouldn’t have to confess your sin because Jesus already forgave you?

      Why did Jesus teach his disciple to pray in a certain way, which included the clause, “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors”? Jesus said this is how we should pray. Why are you interpreting 1 John 1:9 without this in mind?

  9. I have no faith I know . So the only way I can read this passage is that I continue in his faith in me.

  10. Hi. I really want to thank you, Paul, for all your writings. They’ve meant a lot to me. Still, regarding the matter at hand, I’m a bit confused about your interpretation of this verse. You state that “This sounds like conditional salvation, but it is not.” Yet, when i look up the word greek word for “if” (http://biblehub.com/greek/1487.htm) in this verse, the one thing i see coming up again and again when the word is explained, is that it makes something conditional. It states, for example that it is a conditional conjunction and that when it is put together with a verb, it often expresses “a condition”.

    I know that if this verse meant that you had to continue in the faith to stay saved, it would connect salvation to our works and contradict wonderful passages like John 10:28 and 2 Timothy 2:13. Still, i can’t seem to find another way to interpret it. There may be something wrong with my understanding of the word “if” since i don’t know greek, but the definitions on biblehub seem to be quite clear on that it makes something conditional. Do anybody know of an alternative interpretation?

    • It is a conditional statement. Since you can continue or not continue there are two possible outcomes. But losing your salvation is not one of them. What are the two possible outcomes? I identify them in the post. (The picture gives a clue.) I list others in the chapter.

      • Ah, that makes a lot of sense, Paul. It never ceases to amaze me when bible verses i have struggled to understand suddenly become a source of joy. Holy, unblemished and unblameable – that’s quite a promise! Thanks!

      • Grace Seeker // March 13, 2014 at 12:18 pm //

        Paul, I am still struggling in the same way Tholossi was. You reference your picture as the possible outcomes, but the verse nowhere describes those outcomes (Although, ultimately that conclusion I believe is right). The outcome seems to be in His sight we are holy and blameless / not holy and not blameless conditioned on our faith. Like Barry said above, if it said “In our sight’ I would agree with your conclusion, but it says “In his sight” which seems to make all the difference.

        Sometimes I find I just need to hear it explained a different way. Do you have any more thoughts, or maybe even a link to someone else who has written on this passage? Thanks!

      • The verse doesn’t, but the succeeding chapter (Colossians 2) does. I unpackage this fully in chapter 18 of The Gospel in Twenty Questions.

    • If anybody still struggles with the same problem i struggled with, notice exactly which words Paul the apostle used in the verse. He says he will present us holy, unblemished, and unblameable, but when Paul in places like Romans 3:20-5:21 deal with the issue of salvation in depth, he recurringly uses the phrase “to be counted righteous.” This means essentially the same as the english phrase “to be saved.” So if Paul in Colossians 1:23 had been trying to convey that we have to continue in the faith to stay saved, he would have written something along the lines of “God will keep you righteous – if you continue in the faith.” But he doesn’t. So this verse can in no way mean that our salvation is dependent on our continuing in the faith-performance.

  11. Thank you, the picture is perfect and a great way for me to connect this idea with my kids, 9 & 10 yrs.

  12. this is great! love those minions🙂

  13. Could someone please help me what do you see as being the faith, I thought it was believing that you are holy and unblemished in Jesus, just like God said about Noah , he was without blemish in his generations, so are we in our new birth.

  14. Brian Midmore // March 13, 2014 at 8:58 pm // Reply

    ‘Being confident of this very thing, that he who begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus the Messiah’ (Philippians 1.6). We do need to persevere as Christians to receive our heavenly reward (as Col 1.23 says) but we can be absolutely confident that God by his Holy Spirit will act in us and for us to achieve this. We need to trust not only in the finished work of Christ but also in the power of his Spirit.

  15. Thank-you Paul. God’s richest and best to you and your family always. P.S. Began reading “The Gospel in Twenty Questions”. Like “The Gospel in Ten Words” can put it down only long enough to read your post. TB

  16. Brian Midmore // March 14, 2014 at 8:35 pm // Reply

    The greek word ‘pistis’ can be translated in two ways, either ‘faith’ meaning belief in or ‘faithfulness’ which suggests a lifestyle that flows from this faith. What is the faith that Paul talks of in Col 1.23. I would suggest it means ‘faith in a faithful Messiah’. This is the essence of the gospel and the faith. Should we exhort Christians to faithfulness? The problem with exhortation is that it tends to legalism: ‘Christians should and must be faithful so buck your ideas up or else!’ But if the exhortation is done in the faith that Christians will be faithful because they believe in a faithful Messiah and thereby partake in his faithfulness then exhortation to faithfulness has a place. But it must be done faithfully with reference to the fact that it is the power of Christ’s Spirit that keeps a Christian faithful.

  17. Thank you, Paul. I so delight in your emails of blessings, Truth and Life! Good word here! We’re using your new book as our Bible Study here – we are loving it!

  18. a am about 1/3 way through 20 ?’s. This book confirms 20 years of my accepting Christ but not understanding how commandments were supposed to work with the grace Paul taught. I think this ought to accompany every Bible sold! I am a technician and this is like the technical description that would go along with a schematic diagram of a complicated electronic device.

    Paul are there any complimentary copies to be had. We teach a small group of kids and adults that are economically not able to buy a lot of things.. . many thanks for your work and honesty. We also listen to J. Prince and A. Wommack

  19. It’s interesting the verse goes on to say “grounded and settled”. I believe that would take the Holy Spirit working that out or in us. and thank God “he calls those things that be not as though they were” thus “continuing” becomes a done deal in Christ. The verse could also refer to sinners as I think i t is safe to assume there were sinners hearing this read in Colossee. Plus the context talks about reconcilation which reminds me of II Cor 5 around verse 18-20. It is good news!!!

  20. Excellent article. Too many focus on the big IF in the passage and read into it a conditional salvation. They format an ideology that one who is truly born again, sealed with the Holy Ghost until the day of redemption, has the very love of God shed abroad in their heart (thus God’s very nature is in the heart), would somehow decide to renounce Jesus Christ as Lord and say I quit. This is idea is utter nonsense. The truth is even the faith we exercise to believe in Jesus and accept Him in our life is His faith! His faith cannot fail! Jesus salvation plan is eternally secure not temporal or conditional based on the frailty of human will power or the ability to “perform better”.

    • Brian Midmore // March 18, 2014 at 8:50 pm // Reply

      Yes I agree John. We get it wrong if we read ‘if you continue in the faith’ as ‘because you are unlikely to continue in the faith you had better shape up’ a bit like a headmasters stern speech at the beginning of term warning his lazy school children. He does this because he does not believe that a change of heart has occured in his school. In our haste to avoid this approach, however, we might make the big IF so small that it disappears altogether and say that our salvation is utterly unconditional on our staying in the faith when Paul clearly says that it is conditional. If we stop believing and following Jesus and serve ourselves will we be saved?

  21. Once I thought I couldn’t escape His wrath cause I failed so miserably in trying to be perfect as He is. Every “IF” in the Word spelled “danger”.
    Now I know I can’t escape His love, grace and passion for me.
    “Since” I can’t but “continue in the faith”.
    We love Him because He first loved us.

  22. Paul, i just read your comments on confession and how we should not ask for forgiveness as Jesus has already forgiven us (thank God). But i am confused by Matthew 6:12. Please help with clarification. I dont understand the blog comment above… Thank you.

    Deborah

    • Hi Deborah, I don’t know that I would say it’s wrong to ask for forgiveness – unnecessary, maybe, but not wrong. If asking helps you to receive the grace that God has already given, then by all means have the freedom to ask.

      I have written on the words of Jesus here and here.

  23. Interesting article! You are exactly right that salvation is permanent and is never conditional after that we have been saved.The challenge is with the word “if” which is certainly a conditional word. The answer (in my opinion) is that Col.1:22-28 is not about salvation but about the judgment seat of Christ. Eph.1:4 clearly states that we will ultimately be presented to the Father as holy and unblameable but for some this will only occur by going through the refining judgment seat of Christ where unfruitful works are done away (1st Cor. 3:12-15). Colossians 1:22 is about presenting everyone perfect at the judgment seat without needing any works purged away (see Col.1:28). That perfect presentation will only occur for those that “continue in the faith”. Those that do not “continue in faith” will not lose their salvation but will lose their reward. It is after the judgment seat of Christ that everyone will be presented BY CHRIST to the Father as completely “holy and unblameable.”

  24. Arguments about whether or not our salvation is secure go back and forth so much. I believe that I have a pretty good understanding of scripture on the subject now (much thanks to grace teachers like you Paul) and I am fully convinced of my eternal salvation and security in Christ, but I have one question for those who argue against it. What exactly do you propose happens when I lose my salvation? The old man is dead and I am a New Creation. Does this new man now die and and the old come back to life? Or do I get a brand new “lost “man? People often talk as if what happened at the new birth is more theory rather than an actual event that happened.

    • I have asked people to find me the scriptures that tell how our new man is taken out of us, the old man brought back to life and stuck back into us. So far no one has taken me up on the challenge.🙂

  25. Jacob Guralnik // March 3, 2015 at 8:37 pm // Reply

    “IF” there means “indeed, seeing that, truly” Its not even a conditional if, its only translated “if” like two other times in NT! Therefore it states, He presents you … seeing that; indeed ye continue in the faith” He is basically exhorting them to continue steadfastly, giving them great reason to I believe He is talking about coming to the Father for prayer and worship, in Spirit and truth through Jesus finished work; and the Father ministering to us. Hebrews exhorts that we can approach having no conscious of sin at all, boldly because of the blood. I believe the word “PRESENT” here is in the present active tense which means, He is constantly able to present you to His throne of grace holy, unblemished, unblameable; so come more often, keep believing it, be established in Righteousness! There is another place that in Ephesians 5:25: … “so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might PRESENT her to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.” Present here is in the present continuous tense. Wow, this is in context of husbands loving their wives as christ loved; meaning an ongoing relationship, how Jesus sees us and talks to us, by the washing of HIs words.

  26. i personally believe that when you are established and feeding on the grace of our Lord Jesus, it is impossible not to remain in faith

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