“Fairness leads me to conclude from Paul’s making final sanctification dependent upon Christians’ perseverance in faith that one could deduce the possibility of their losing salvation. But it is important to note that the apostle himself does not draw that conclusion here. Frankly, Colossians 1:21-23 CAN BE INTEGRATED INTO EITHER AN ARMINIAN OR CALVINIST SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY. THE PASSAGE BY ITSELF DOES NOT PROVE OR DISPROVE EITHER THEOLOGICAL SYSTEM” (Robert A. Peterson, “Our Secure Salvation: Preservation and Apostasy.” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2009, page 133; caps mine).
I’ve been blogging excessively on Peterson’s book titled “Election and Free Will: God’s Gracious Choice and Our Responsibility.” However, I’ve started reading his newest book in the “Explorations in Biblical Theology” series, titled “Our Secure Salvation: Preservation and Apostasy.”
In the above quote, Peterson is giving his analysis of Colossians 1:21-23, as he has presented various opinions on this passage. He presents the view of I. Howard Marshall:
“The need for perseverance in faith is also stressed in Colossians 1:23...here the construction, ‘provided that...’ (ei ge) allows, but by no means demands, THE POSSIBILITY THAT THE CONDITION MAY NOT BE FULFILLED” (132).
Then Peterson presents the view of P.T. O’Brien, who disagrees with Marshall’s conclusion:
“The Greek construction ‘ei ge’, translated ‘provided that,’ DOES NOT EXPRESS DOUBT...The words in this sentence may be paraphrased: ‘at any rate if you stand firm in the faith--- AND I AM SURE THAT YOU WILL’” (132).
With whom does Peterson agree? Neither. Instead, he sides with the opinion of Douglas Moo:
“...Pauline evidence POINTS IN BOTH DIRECTIONS, Galatians 3:4 falling into the former category and 2 Corinthians 5:3 and Ephesians 3:2; 4:21 into the latter...nevertheless, THE CONDITION IS A REAL ONE, and it is very important NOT TO ROB THE WORDS OF THEIR INTENDED RHETORICAL FUNCTION” (133).
In the analysis that Peterson provides from O’Brien, for example, there are problems. According to O’Brien, the Greek particle “ge” (gei) emphasizes assurance: “and I am sure that you will.”
According to some lexical sources, the word “ge” means “indeed, truly.” The word “ge” however, placed within the verse of Colossians 1:23, is meant to give assurance of the concept itself, not of the perseverance of the Colossians.
Let’s look at some other examples where “ge” is used:
“And he said, ‘Well done, good servant; because we faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities” (Luke 19:17, NKJV).
The word for “well done” in the Greek text here is “euge,” where the prefix “eu” stands for “good” or “well.” The word “ge” means “indeed.” So the master, when he says “well done,” is really saying “well indeed” or “good indeed.” By saying “good indeed,” the master is affirming the good job of the servant. He’s simply affirming what is done---not adding anything to the servant’s work.
The next verse from Luke is Luke 11:8—
“I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, YET because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs” (Luke 11:8, NKJV).
The word for “ge” in this verse is the English word “yet.” Here Jesus is affirming the response of the friend to a friend outside of his house who has a need. He is talking about persistence in prayer, and He is telling the disciples that if they continue to pray, they can be ASSURED or CERTAIN that the Lord will grant what they ask for. There is nothing that the word “ge” adds to the text---except certainty of what Jesus is saying. Jesus is saying this with assurance.
The last example is Luke 18:5—
“YET because widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me” (Lk. 18:5, NKJV).
Jesus is telling the story of the judge and the widow. The widow continually kept coming to the judge, until one day the judge decided to grant her request (so she could stop bothering him). This is why he says, “though I do not fear God nor regard man, YET because this widow troubles me...” (Lk. 18:4, 5) The judge decides here to give consent to the widow’s request, even though he felt no reason to do so (except that the woman worried him to death). So here, the word “ge” overturns the previous clause, “though I do not fear God nor regard man.” Because he is fearless, he was not worried about granting the woman’s request; but because he doesn’t want her to keep bothering him, he grants her request. It is her annoyance that gets her the blessing, not his good-heartedness or kindness...or even his willingness to help...but instead, her constant pestering.
Looking at Colossians 1:23 again, we can now put the word “ge” into proper perspective (looking at two senses in which it is used in the Gospel of Luke).
When Paul says, “if INDEED you continue in the faith,” he is affirming the truth of this statement. In the immediate context, he discusses what God has done for them (v. 21) and what God’s goal is for them (v.22); but in verse 23, he does two things. First, he encourages them with the words, “continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel...” Next, Paul affirms the need to continue: “if INDEED you continue...” He is sounding confident in their continuance in the faith while still urging them to remain nonetheless. His assurance of their walk in the faith doesn’t cancel out his need to exhort them to “continue” in the things they have walked in.
Last but not least, I want to talk on the issue of assurance. According to O’Brien, Paul seems assured that they will continue in the faith. But why is Paul assured? Is he assured because their continuance in the faith is GUARANTEED---or is he assured because of their fruit? The answer? Because of their fruit. Let’s read Paul’s words to the Colossians:
“We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, SINCE WE HEARD OF YOUR FAITH IN CHRIST JESUS AND YOUR LOVE FOR ALL THE SAINTS; because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the WORD OF THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, AND IS BRINGING FORTH FRUIT, AS IT IS ALSO AMONG YOU SINCE THE DAY YOU HEARD AND KNEW THE GRACE OF GOD IN TRUTH” (Colossians 1:3-6, NKJV).
Notice that the Colossians’ faith and love have been demonstrated. In addition, their hearing the gospel has “brought forth fruit...also among them” from the time they heard the word of the gospel up until this point (the writing of Paul’s letter). It is because of Epaphras’s report to Paul and Timothy, “for this reason,” that “we also, since the day we heard it, DO NOT CEASE TO PRAY FOR YOU...” (Col. 1:9)
Their work in the faith from their conversion until the time of Paul’s writing gives Paul and Timothy confidence regarding the spiritual growth of the congregation. Paul and Timothy are not praying for good things because they are guaranteed these things (unconditional guarantee); no---they are praying for the good things to come because of the constant good reports being given concerning the Colossians. The congregation seems to be headed in the right direction.
Paul does the exact same thing with the Philippians congregation. This is the statement of assurance Paul gives:
“being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6, NKJV).
Calvinists often point to this verse and say, “See, Paul is confident of the Philippians’ final salvation.” But, notice that Paul gives reasons for his confidence in the congregation:
“just as it is right for me to think this of you all, BECAUSE I HAVE YOU IN MY HEART, INASMUCH AS both in my chains and in the defense of the gospel, YOU ALL ARE PARTAKERS WITH ME OF GRACE” (Phil. 1:7).
The Philippians are fellow partakers of afflictions with Paul. This is why he can write with confidence of their end. Paul also mentions their “fellowship in the gospel” in verse 5. Paul tells the Philippians that it is a privilege to suffer for the name of Christ (Phil. 1:29), and that they have “always obeyed” his instructions (2:12). These clues give us insight into Paul’s assurance of their faith as well as the proof of their faith. Paul even wrote that they should let their conduct “be worthy of the gospel of Christ,” so that, despite their enemies, their conduct would be proof of their salvation (Phil. 1:27, 28).
The assurance Paul has regarding both the Colossians and Philippians is not some “guaranteed” assurance of the Calvinists, but rather the “persevering assurance” of the Word of God. The Word of God grants assurance in perseverance, not a guarantee in laziness. There is no unconditional guarantee of continual belief in Christ, which is why Paul tells the Colossian congregation to “continue in the faith.” In addition, we have the parable of the soils in Luke 8, with one of the soils believing “for a while” in Christ (Lk. 8:13). Only the soil that “keeps the word and bears fruit” (Lk. 8:15) is the one that reaps the harvest and receives eternal life.