(21) Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. (22) But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— (23) if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
Coming as it does right after the great exhilaration of the doxological worship of vv.15-20 -- Christ is the fullness of deity; Christ is before all things and in him all things hold together; Christ should in all things be preeminent -- these three verses give us our bearings. After encapsulating the infinite and eternal supremacy of Jesus, vv.21-23 are a nod at the believer's past, present, and future.
Past: You were a stranger, you were a sinner, and you were a hostile.
Present/past: You have been reconciled, you have been made holy, you have been reckoned "above reproach."
Future . . .
Paul throws the monkey in the wrench with verse 23. He has reconciled us, he has reckoned us holy and blameless . . . if you continue in your faith.
Does this mean if we continue working we will be saved? I may raise a few Calvinist eyebrows, but I say yes. If we continue in our faith, we will be saved.
But this is not the same thing as saying that we are saved because of our continued working.
The key, I believe, in verse 23 is Paul's inclusion of "the hope of the gospel."
And we get help elsewhere:
Philippians 1 tells us that Jesus will be faithful to complete the work he began in us.
We are told that Jesus it he Author and Finisher of our faith.
Yes, we are told to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, but we are quickly reminded that it is God who is actually working in us according to his pleasure.
We are told we are created for good works, but then we're reminded that even these good works were created for us beforehand that we might walk into them.
So it is true that if you persevere and endure, he will present you holy and blameless.
But this is true because it is only because he has presented you holy and blameless that you can persevere and endure.
You are probably familiar with the "Footprints" story. Maybe you've got it on a bookmark or coffee mug. (If you don't know it, Google is your friend.)
The problem with "Footprints" is that the Christian life is not that we walk side by side with Jesus until we need help. We always need help. Every day. There is nothing about our hearts for which we can truly say, "I got this." If Jesus is your copilot, only to pilot when there's turbulence, you would crash in clear skies.
It's always only one set of footprints -- his.
The bottom line is this: Jesus didn't put a down payment on something we now owe the balance on. He finishes what he starts.
So that even in our persevering, our enduring, our stable unwavering from the way of truth, it is Jesus who gets the glory. It's all his work.