Happy Friday, everyone. We have a good one for you today, an episode that will answer a question we get all the time. Basically, it’s this: Is our salvation an event, or is our salvation a process? Are we saved in a moment, or are we saved in a series of unfolding events? We need to work that out with open Bibles.
The question comes to us from Andrew, a listener in Jonesboro, Arkansas. “Hello, Pastor John! My brother sends me questions frequently so we can discuss them. The most recent one from him comes from Colossians 1:21–23, where it seems as if Paul is saying that salvation is a process, not an event. The only reason I have an issue with this is because he seems to think this also indicates that the ‘once saved, always saved’ teaching is incorrect, since we aren’t actually once saved but are, more accurately, continually being saved as we continue in the faith. This seems contrary to the many verses that say salvation is by faith, not works. But I still cannot completely reconcile verses such as these in Colossians. What are your thoughts?”
Well, let’s read the text because we need to have the verses right there in front of us so that we can see what the real problem is for so many people. It goes like this:
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard. (Colossians 1:21–23)
Event and Process
I think we need to make the problem worse before we make it better. Andrew says that “it looks like salvation is a process, not an event,” and that this is what creates the problem of the possible loss of salvation. But actually, salvation is an event and is a process.
Salvation — that word salvation and the reality behind it — is the really big, all-encompassing word in Scripture. It includes election, predestination, redemption, propitiation, divine calling, regeneration, reconciliation, forgiveness, adoption, sanctification, and glorification. I mean, it is a big, glorious word. All of those events and processes — some are events and some are processes — are involved in how God saves us forever, and all of them are essential.
“We have been, we are being, and we will be saved.”
So, Paul says in Ephesians 2:8, “You have been saved.” And he says in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “to us who are being saved.” And he says in Romans 13:11, “Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” So, we have been, we are being, and we will be saved — event and process forever.
God’s People Will Persevere
But that’s not what makes this text look like salvation can be lost. What makes it look like salvation can be lost is that big daunting word if in verse 23. “You . . . he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death . . . if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel.”
This is what makes so many people think, “Wow, if our present condition of being reconciled and saved and justified and regenerated — if our present condition is contingent, dependent, on our persevering or continuing in faith, then it must be true that we can lose our salvation. Or why else would there be a condition?” Now, that inference, that conclusion from the text is false. That’s not a true inference from this text. But it’s not false because there’s no condition — there really is a condition for perseverance. One must persevere.
The text says we have been reconciled if we continue in the faith. That’s a real condition. If we don’t continue in the faith — that is, if we throw away the faith, renounce Jesus Christ, turn against him and his truth, never repent — we’ll perish. That’s what John says in 1 John 2:19 about those who fall away. Here’s the absolutely crucial thing that he says: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”
Two crucial things are made clear in that text. First, if we don’t persevere in faith, we were never truly of God and of the people of God — never born of God. “They went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” — of God, of the new birth. That is, they are not born of God.
Second, if we are born of God, he says, we will persevere. We will. “If they had been of us” — that is, among those who are born of God — “they would have continued with us.” So there’s no thought of losing salvation, no thought of being born again and then being unborn again, being justified and then being unjustified, having eternal life and then it turns out it’s not eternal after all. So the question becomes, How can there be a condition in Colossians 1:23 if you can’t lose your reconciliation? How can Paul say you have been reconciled if you persevere?
Kept Through All Conditions
And the answer is that God uses such warnings to cause his children to persevere, and he secures their perseverance, he guarantees it, by his faithfulness to keep us in the faith. The Bible plainly teaches that all of those who are truly born again will in fact be saved. They will meet the condition.
“All the predestined are called, all the called are justified, all the justified are glorified — no dropouts.”
Consider just three passages. So here’s Romans 8:30. I think this is the most important. “Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” This is an unbroken chain of salvation. All the predestined are called, all the called are justified, all the justified are glorified — no dropouts. Eternal security of God’s predestined ones is a biblical truth.
Here’s 1 Corinthians 1:8–9, to see where it really rests, where that security rests: “[Jesus] will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” So, the issue is, is God a promise keeper? Is he faithful?
And here’s Philippians 1:6: “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” So, what makes us eternally secure in Christ is not that there are no conditions or that salvation is not a process, not a fight to be fought and a race to be run — it is. There are conditions: “If indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast . . .” (Colossians 1:23). What makes us eternally secure is the sovereign, keeping faithfulness of God.
Peter puts it like this in 1 Peter 1:5: “. . . who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” In other words, God’s power sustains our faith so that we persevere and inherit what has been promised to us. And here’s the way Hebrews 3:14 says it: “We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” In other words, perseverance shows that our original union with Christ was real.
And here’s the most beautiful promise of all about God’s keeping his own people:
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24–25)
God Will Keep Us to the End
So, yes, yes, yes, salvation is an event and a process. Salvation is conditional upon perseverance. Nevertheless — and it’s an absolutely glorious nevertheless — it is completely certain for God’s predestined, called, justified, believing children.
Therefore, all the warnings like this one, all the warnings of the New Testament, are to be taken seriously because God uses them to keep his children vigilant in the fight of faith. We are found to be secure by how seriously we take all the promises and all the warnings of Scripture.