Monday, June 1, 2009

The Perserverance of the Saints is the Work of Christ; or, How That "Footprints" Illustration is Baloney

I preached on Spiritual endurance from Colossians 1:21-23 last night. We had technical difficulties, so the audio won't be available, but here is a bit of the tack I took.
(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.

22 comments:

David said...

Funny, I've just been memorizing this passage over the last week, and almost exactly the same thing came to mind when I saw the "Footprints" mug at a friend's house.

dle said...

Say that you teach your daughter how to do a particular work. You equip her with the teaching and the tools, but ultimately, she has to choose to do the work and actually perform it based on what you, as her father, have bestowed to her.

This does not discount her giving you credit for equipping her to do the work. The acknowledgment "I would not be here save for what my father gave to me" does not deny the equipper glory simply because the equipped puts in the sweat equity. Paul illustrates this perfectly in 1 Cor. 9:24-27.

dle said...

I was thinking more about this post and wondered about the following:

Our Faith = Our Discipleship

What do you think of that equation? Can they be perfectly substituted for each other or not?

Spike said...

Amen, Jared. And I don't think Calvinist would get too upset... I 'think' we believe that even the non-elect can answer the outward call to salvation, (as opposed to the inward non-failing call of the elect) but can, and often do fall away, so it fits right in with what you're saying. (Though, let's not open a can of worms here... thanx)

Jared said...

Dan, you wrote:
Say that you teach your daughter how to do a particular work. You equip her with the teaching and the tools, but ultimately, she has to choose to do the work and actually perform it based on what you, as her father, have bestowed to her.

This does not discount her giving you credit for equipping her to do the work. The acknowledgment "I would not be here save for what my father gave to me" does not deny the equipper glory simply because the equipped puts in the sweat equity. Paul illustrates this perfectly in 1 Cor. 9:24-27.
Three things:

1) I think your illustration is about as biblical as Footprints.

It is not as if God gets the ball rolling by training us in righteousness and then expects us to keep it going after.
God not only trains and teaches us righteousness and commands us to live righteously, he gives Christ himself as our righteousness. (He knew no sin became sin so that we could become his righteousness.) Our righteousness, after all, is filthy rags.

2) I don't think 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 illustrates "sweat equity" perfectly. I actually can't see how it fits anything here, unless you're reading that I'm saying we don't work. I don't say that and never have.

3) At the moment, I can't think of an idea more antithetical to the gospel than human "sweat equity."

I think Galatians 3:3 is appropriate here.

Jared said...

"Faith = Discipleship"

Given certain definitions, I might agree with that, with caveats.

How's that for hedging? :-)

dle said...

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
—1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Jesus created the race. Jesus ran it perfectly. Jesus made it possible to win. Without Jesus, it is impossible to win the race. Jesus gave Paul the means, Himself, to win the race. But for Paul to win, he has to run the race himself. He learns the discipline of running the race from Jesus, but he has to apply that discipline. He cannot ask someone else to run the race for him. Jesus has asked Paul to run that race, therefore Paul has to get on the track and run.

Jared said...

He is running. Yet not him, but Christ in him.

That's all I'm saying.

dle said...

I'm not sure how Paul can be running but not running at the same time.

He also writes: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."
—2 Timothy 4:7

In this, his last letter, he had every opportunity to replace the "I" above with "Jesus in me," but he didn't.

This isn't a justification issue. You're absolutely right in that all our righteousness is as filthy rags when it comes to atoning for our own sins. We simply cannot save ourselves. But this is about what happens after we are justified and filled by the Spirit.

What God does by filling us with His Spirit is to undo what was lost in the Garden. When we are born again, we take on the nature of the Perfect Adam, Christ, and we walk in the same way as Adam was supposed to walk. The question there is, Did God carry Adam everywhere in the Garden or did He allow Adam the freedom to walk on his own under the guidance of His Spirit?

dle said...

One last comment on your "He is running" comment:

Why would Paul admonish his readers to "Run so that you may attain it" if Jesus is doing all the running for them? What sense does Paul's admonishment make? There would be no question of them obtaining it then. But he didn't write, "None of you have to worry about running because Jesus is going to do all the running for you." Sadly, I know a lot of folks who come from a hyper-Calvinist position who use that reasoning to justify not doing anything for the Kingdom.

Jared said...

I'm not sure how Paul can be running but not running at the same time.Galatians 2:20. How does he live but not live at the same time?

We simply cannot save ourselves. But this is about what happens after we are justified and filled by the Spirit.Yes. We participate in our sanctification. But my argument is still that our works are Christ's work in us. The Spirit produces the fruit that we bear. Jesus authors our faith and completes it.
Even in Acts we hear about God granting people repentance.

we walk in the same way as Adam was supposed to walkNot precisely. We still sin. We are free as Adam was, but we sin as Adam eventually did.
Paul laments this with the whole "war in my members" thing.

Jesus is the New Adam, not us.

Why would Paul admonish his readers to "Run so that you may attain it"Because we're supposed to work. There's no denying that.
The answer is the same reason John tells us in John 2 not to sin. He knows we're going to.

But let's read those few verses from 1 Cor. 9 in the context of the rest Paul says rather than read the rest of what Paul says in the context of those few verses. He leaves no room for thinking Jesus is a down payment that we then pay the balance on.

But he didn't write, "None of you have to worry about running because Jesus is going to do all the running for you."Actually, he kinda does:
"Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." (Phil. 2:12-13)

Dan, you are arguing as if I'm saying "We aren't to obey or work."
I'm not.

The hyperCalvinism thing is a canard. I'm sure those people are out there, but I've never met any. I know literally hundreds of "good workers" who don't do anything for the kingdom, though.

dle said...

Well, we have a few disagreements on this, but that's okay. I don't want hash this out any further than it has gone.

One final comment: The hyper-Calvinism thing is not a canard. It is prevalent, and I run into it more times than not. I know too many "perfect" Calvinists who hide behind "Jesus does it all" as a justification for not working for the Kingdom. Truthfully, such people are no better than the megachurch Christianity-lite folks they tend to critique with glee.

Chanda said...

Love it, love it!

I've been reading 2 Samuel, when David had won a bunch of battles, had some free time, and decided the Lord deserved better than a tent. He thought he could determine what the Lord should/would have. Great intentions, but the Lord put him in his place. The point of that for me, was, God is the beginner and finisher of any real good. He's the sole author of all good plans. He doesn't "need" us to make something for Him. He is gracious enough to make something of us. That's what pleases Him most.

You're right. The "Footprints" thing never seemed to ring true in my heart. Now I understand why.

Jared said...

Fair enough.

I only meant it was a canard in this conversation. Unless you're saying I'm a hyperCalvinist who doesn't do anything for the kingdom.
If you aren't saying that, it is irrelevant.
It would be like you and I discussing the existence of speaking in tongues and my using the abuses and fakery of some as an argument against it.

Peace

Jared said...

From the chapter cited in the post, Col. 1:29 is instructive, also:
For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

I toil. But it's God's energy and his work inside me.

dle said...

Jared,

I would hope that you would not think I was accusing you of being a hyper-Calvinist, as we both know that's not the case.

I was surprised by your statement that you did not run into hyper-Calvinists, whereas my experiences with Calvinists in my neck of the woods have been mostly with the hyper kind, and they are most likely to say that all the work has been finished so they can just sit back and enjoy their private club while the work goes undone.

Winston said...

Thanks for the great explanation of that passage. I know from my own experience that victory over sin only comes as I see more of my own inability and more of Christ's sufficiency.

Jared said...

Dan, I've literally never met a single person who says that because Christ's work is finished we can live a country club Christianity. I'm not saying you haven't: it's a weird world with stupid people in it. I'm just reiterating that, no, I have never met anyone like that myself.

But as I said, the Bible Belt I've lived in for the last 33 years of my life is full of people who believe they've really got to work hard but then don't anyway.
---

Winston, thank you for reading. And your statement about victory over sin is a great testament to the ongoing power of the gospel.

Darrell said...

OK, please help me understand this. We are saved by grace alone and I understand that works are evidence of a true faith, but if we must "finish the race", as Paul put it, how do we know? How is there any assurance of faith as in Heb 10:22? If our salvation is predicated on future works that none of us can be sure of, how can we have assurance?

All of us are fallen and without Christ's power subject to fall daily. In fact we all miss the mark daily and God's grace is sufficient but is there no room for, using an old baptist term for lack of a better one, backsliding?

What is the prodigal son about? Was not the son a true son before he left and squandered his inheritance? Was his sonship predicated on his return?

Thank you for the opportunity to ask. A little insight would be appreciated.

Jared said...

Darrell, good questions.

If our salvation is predicated on future works...

I don't believe I said or intimated this in the post. Can you tell me where you see this line of reasoning?

I believe our salvation is predicated on Christ's atoning work, which is eternal and eternally effective, but occurred in history at the crucifixion and resurrection. So our salvation, in that sense, is predicated on a past work.

This post is sort of an angle on the perseverance of the saints, which is to say that those who are saved will bear fruit of repentance.

is sufficient but is there no room for, using an old baptist term for lack of a better one, backsliding?

Yeah, I hope so! We still sin. We won't be totally free of the sin in us until we're face to face with the Lord.
I don't see perseverance or the life of discipleship as a perfectly upward trajectory. It's messy; it's a roller coaster.

So our assurance is not in our works, but in Christ's work.

What is the prodigal son about? Was not the son a true son before he left and squandered his inheritance? Was his sonship predicated on his return?

The way I read the parables usually precludes reading in detailed theology -- I typically think they make one big point, occasionally two or three -- but aren't meant as airtight systematics. But I would say, if I had to apply this subject to that parable (or vice versa), that because the prodigal was the father's son and because the father represents God, it means that no matter how far gone we go, we will find our way home.

But I also side with Keller, et.al. that the parable is a cliffhanger of sorts that implies an absence of search and rescue (as in the two parables that accompany it: the lost coin and lost sheep). I believe the lost son parable sets up the understanding that Jesus is the older brother who actually searches out his lost siblings and rescues them.

To answer what I think is your general question:
I don't believe our works save us; I believe our works are evidence of our salvation.
But assurance always comes from faith in Christ's work, not accumulation of our own.

Not sure if that explains any better. Let me know if I can clarify or answer or anything else.

Darrell said...

I guess my confusion started on the "if" in Col 1:23. You said "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." That sounds like, to be presented, perseverance is a requirement. I am not trying to put words into your mouth. I am just trying better to understand. I am currently reading John MacAuthur's The Gospel According To The Apostles and he is discussing the Lordship /No Lordship salvation debate and perhaps I read too much or not enough into your posting. Thanks for the reply and the venue.

Jared said...

No worries.

Let me re-state and see if that helps clear up my position.

If you persevere, you will be saved at the day of death or Christ's second coming. But you will persevere if you have been saved at the day of Christ's atonement.

It's basically saying Christians must work, but real Christians will work.

I think it is similar to the Lordship debate, but not sure. I have not studied that and don't know all the nuances; the sense I get from it is more of an emphasis on assurance through works than I am comfortable with.

For me, assurance is always in Christ, through faith. So this post isn't so much about assurance as it is about saying that our sin is us but our good works are Christ.
If that makes sense.