A Faith that Stays on Target


he has reconciled you by his physical body through death to present you holy, without blemish, and blameless before him – if indeed you remain in the faith, established and firm, without shifting from the hope of the gospel

The letter to the Colossians is written by Paul to a community that he has not met. This community, addressed as the “the saints, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ”, is being pulled toward adopting false philosophies through persuasive arguments (2:4,8), so Paul is writing to encourage them. In this letter, Paul is urging everyone to remain steadfast in Christ, who is first in all things (1:15-20), and endure in the faith (1:21-23).

But what is at stake for those who do not endure in their faith?

That is the question that is tackled in Grace, Salvation, & Discipleship (GSD).

A few years ago, I looked at this passage (1:21-23) and examined the question do we need enduring faith (link)? After examining the first class conditional it was suggested that this would be a reasonable interpretation of the if-then statement:

if we continue in the faith and let us suppose that we do continue in the faith
then we will certainly be reconciled

Paul’s main point is that those who commit apostasy (reject the faith and the hope of the gospel) should not have any assurance that they are redeemed and reconciled to God (ie saved).

In GSD,  author, Charles Bing, disagrees. He argues that those who fail to endure in their faith should have full assurance that they are saved, but will fail to receive “a favorable evaluation at the Judgment Seat of Christ” (p 184-186).

This presentation to God … is a clear reference to the believer’s appearance before the Lord at the Judgment Seat of Christ where one’s life, not one’s salvation, is judged.

and

The terms “holy, blameless, and irreproachable” are not used positionally but qualitatively for the degree of sanctification attained by the believer … Every believer will be presented to the Lord in that Day, but not all will be presented with equal honor.

If I were to paraphrase Bing’s position using similar if-then wording, it would be something like this:

if we continue in the faith and let us suppose that we do continue in the faith
then we will certainly be rewarded with a good evaluation at Christ’s Judgment Seat.

There is agreement that this passage is teaching us the need for a faith that stays on target. But there are very different ideas as to what is at stake for a faith that does not endure.

The question before us now is what is the “then clause” (apodosis) that Paul is making conditional on an enduring faith? Is it a warning about losing rewards or about forfeiting salvation (that one either never possessed or is relinquishing).

As we examine the passage (1:22) we have two verbs that are available to us as the apodosis. Paul is making either our being “reconciled” or how we are “presented” conditional on enduring faith.

Since both verbs are valid possibilities we have the following:

if we continue in the faith then we will be
(a) reconciled or presented as justified
(b) presented with the reward of a good evaluation at Christ’s Judgment Seat

The inverse gives us the following:

if we do not continue in the faith then we will not be
(a) reconciled or presented as justified
(b) presented with the reward of a good evaluation at Christ’s Judgment Seat

A quick look at the verbs used
In Colossians 1:22 we find that the main verb is reconciled. It appears as an aorist indicative . The verb “present” is an aorist infinitive and thus is giving us more information about its controlling verb, which in this case is “reconciled”. The infinitive can be used for several purposes (link), but based on the grammatical structure it is being used here to define the goal of its controlling verb.

This passage, in a nutshell, says that we are reconciled by Jesus with the goal that we will be presented as holy, blameless, and beyond reproach.

Using Presented as the Apodosis
If the apodosis is referring to our being reconciled then the Free Grace view would be incorrect. The passage would be tying an enduring faith to our being reconciled. An absence of faith would indicate that a person is not reconciled.

In an article appearing in Bibliotheca Sacra, Bing writes in detail about the warning passage in Colossians (pdf) and argues for using “presented” as the apodosis.

… the conditional element in verse 23 does not refer back to the reconciliation mentioned in verse 22, but to the presentation mentioned in verse 22.Those who say the condition relates to the reconciliation say that reconciliation is conditioned on persevering faith. However, it is more natural to see the focus of the condition applying to the nearest antecedent, thus making the condition prospective (future presentation), not retrospective (past reconciliation).

Douglas Moo, in his commentary “The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon” in the Pillar series agrees.

The verse takes the form of a long and complex conditional clause. It is proabably to be attached to the word “present” in v. 22 …

For the sake of the discussion in this post we will assume that the apodosis refers to our “presentation before Him” and not our reconciliation.

There are other assumptions that must be accepted for Bing to be correct.

  • Our presentation as holy, blameless, and without reproach must refer to being rewarded before the Judgment Seat of Christ and not the presentation of those who are in Christ through faith to the Father.
  • Christians can deny the faith (apostasy) and still be assured they are reconciled and redeemed (ie saved).

As noted above, this passage teaches us that we are reconciled so that we can be presented before Him. The question then is to whom are we being presented?

Presented before Jesus
Bing in the same article asserts that “before Him” refers to the Lord  Jesus.

The phrase “before Him” in Colossians 1:22 also speaks of the believer‘s appearance before the Lord at the judgment seat of Christ, where each believer will be evaluated and rewarded according to his or her deeds. That such passages are written to Christians whose justification is settled shows that this is not a judgment about one‘s salvation, but of the worthiness of one‘s life and conduct for eternal rewards.

It is possible that Paul has in view the presentation of the person before Christ in which their works will be evaluated and rewarded as we find in 2 Corinthians 5:10 (also Rom 2:16; 14:10; Eph 5:27; Matt 25:14-30).

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil.

The presentation before the Judgment Seat of Christ is generally understood as the time and place where believers will be rewarded for how they have lived. If this understanding is correct then we must remember that what is evaluated is our works. Turning back to our passage in Colossians we find that Paul does not ground the condition that must be met for one to receive a good presentation in bearing fruit (1:6) or walking worthy (1:10; 2:5). The basis of our good presentation is predicated on an enduring faith and abiding hope in the gospel (1:23). If Paul wanted to make it clear that rewards were in view then he could have written the protasis (if clause) so that our walk and not our faith were the basis of the evaluation. The fact that Paul uses faith in the conditional clause weakens the Free Grace view that this passage is focusing on rewards.

Further, the letter opens encouraging the readers to be thankful because we are rescued, transferred, redeemed, forgiven, and reconciled. These concepts are related to our salvation that is in Christ and are used as motivation for how we ought to live. It is later in the letter that we see the theme shift to our walk, which is the major focus in chapters 3 and 4. This, coupled with the use of faith over works in the protasis, gives us good reason to assume that salvation is in view in this passage and not rewards (1:21-23).

Another weakness to the Free Grace interpretation is that Paul discusses a worthy walk in this letter and tells us that it is based on our having been rooted in Christ and established in faith (2:6-7).

Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith …

If one were to apostate, rejecting Christ, they have not continued in the faith. It would be safe to say that they do not have faith. Which would mean that there is no faith upon which the walk can be established. You can’t build on a faith that you don’t have.

Presented before the Father
It is just as likely that Paul has in view Christ presenting us before the Father, where we will be assessed on whether we are in Christ and thus qualified for entering the kingdom as we see in Matthew 10:33 (also Matt 25:31-46; Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; 12:9; 1 Thes 3:13; 2 Tim 2:12).

But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.

If we look at the context of the Colossians passage, one could argue that the presentation is before the Father. In 1:12 we find that we are encouraged to give thanks to the Father who has qualified us, delivered us, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son. It is the mention of the Son that causes Paul to launch into what many consider a hymn in verses 15-20. This hymn describes the preeminence of Christ. In v 21, Paul may be returning to his original theme of thanking the Father, tying it to the reconciliation that is through Christ and the cross mentioned in the hymn (1:20-21).

Further, it is our reconciliation through the cross which allows us to be presented before the Father with all of our debts cancelled and without condemnation (1:14; 2:13-14; Rom 8:1). However, Paul cautions, it is on the basis of our enduring faith that we are in Christ and thus are presented without condemnation (1:22-23). Therefore we must hold onto our faith so that we are not disqualified (2:18).

What strengthens this view are other passages in Scriptures that affirm that denying Christ means we will be denied the Son who is our life. For example, 1 John 5:12 tells us that “whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” As we look at 1 John 2:22-23 we find that denying the Son means we have neither Jesus nor the Father and thus we can conclude do not have eternal life.

An observation on using the term believer
Defending the Free Grace view that rewards are the only thing at stake if we fail to continue in the faith, Bing writes that “all believers will be presented fully justified”.

While a future presentation to the Lord is guaranteed for all believers, a favorable presentation before the Lord, in which they are holy,blameless, and beyond reproach, is stated as the desirable goal for all believers. While all believers will be presented to Christ fully justified in position, not all will be blameless in experience

When Bing asserts that “a future presentation to the Lord is guaranteed for all believers” and”all believers will be presented fully justified”, I would agree with him. The problem with his view is that he considers an apostate who does not continue in the faith and thus is no longer believing a believer. How can one without faith be described as a believer? To use an analogy, that is like considering a married man a bachelor because he was at one time a bachelor.

A believer is someone who is actively believing. Someone who has an enduring faith that stays focused on the target – Christ and the hope that is contained in the message of the gospel. If one is not continuing in the faith they would not be called a believer and should not have any assurance that they are reconciled nor that they will be presented without condemnation before the Father.


This post is part of a series exploring the book Grace, Salvation, & Discipleship (GSD), by Charles Bing.

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