In the New Testament we are exhorted to continue in God’s kindness (Romans 11:22), continue in the faith (Colossians 1:23), continue in the teaching of Christ (2 John 1:9), and continue in what we have learned and been convinced of (2 Tim 3:14). In short, we are to continue in the grace of God:
When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God. (Act 13:43)
In the mind of the secure believer, these are healthy exhortations that lead us in the path of life. But to the insecure, they are scary threats that can make us susceptible to the peddlers of works-based religion.
“You’ve got to continue in God’s kindness or you’ll be cut off from Christ,” says the preacher of works. “You’ve got to continue in the faith or you’ll be rejected. You’ve got to work at being holy, produce fruit, depart from sin, or you’ll get the chop!”
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The exhortation to continue in God’s kindness does not mean God will reject you if you don’t. And the exhortation to continue in the faith does not mean your salvation is conditional on what you do. We stand on his work not ours.
Saved and kept by grace
It’s important that you get this. You are saved by grace and kept by grace. Jesus is the author and the finisher. He who began a good work in you will complete it. (If this is news to you, check out my series on eternal security.)
So why did Paul and Barnabas urge the new believers in Pisidian Antioch to continue in the grace of God? Because there was a danger that they wouldn’t, that they would fall from grace like the Galatians.
“But this proves the importance of continuing, for the Galatians fell from grace and lost their salvation.” No they didn’t.
Paul said the Galatians cut themselves off from Christ (Gal. 5:4); he never says Christ cut them off. Paul said the Galatians were destroying themselves in vicious arguments (Gal 5:15); he never said God would destroy them. There are certainly bad consequences to falling from grace, but God unchilding his children is not one of them.
In Pisidian Antioch Paul and Barnabas preached the grace of God to “Jews and devout converts to Judaism.” You need to see the picture: They were preaching grace to law-lovers in a synagogue on a Sabbath. Talk about a challenge! Yet wonder of wonders, these law-lovers responded to the message of grace. They invited Paul and Barnabas to speak further and a church was planted.
But as often happens when grace and religion collide there was strife. Some religious Jews became jealous and abusive and stirred up trouble. Much like the modern church the town became split along grace-law lines. It got so bad that Paul and Barnabas were kicked out, but their exhortation to continue in the grace of God was received by some and the church they left behind thrived. As a result “the word of the Lord spread through the whole region” (Acts 13:49).
What does it mean to continue in the grace of God?
Every Christian knows what it means to begin with the grace of God but not every Christian continues in the grace of God. The temptation to take out a little works insurance is strong in a culture where performance is idolized. Resist that temptation! Don’t buy into any message that says you must do A, B, and C to please the Lord or earn his blessings or prove your worth. Anytime you are tempted to indulge the flesh with dead works, look to Jesus who did it all on your behalf.
To continue in the grace of God is to continue in Jesus. It’s trusting him from start to finish. Does this mean you will be a lazy, passive Christian? Far from it! Those who know their Lord will do great exploits – just look at Paul and Barnabas.
Instead of filling your life with works, fill it with praise and thanksgiving for your Father in heaven. Instead of occupying yourself with activity, occupy yourself with him. Then stand back and marvel at what he reveals to you and does through you.
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