21 And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, 22 yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach— 23 if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.
Colossians 1:23-25 (NASB95)
This passage raises one of the most controversial questions in all of Christian theology, and I am referring to verse 23 and the question of whether a Christian can lose his/her salvation.
Verse 23 states that Christians have been reconciled so Jesus may present us to God “holy and blameless and beyond reproach.” Then, as if to make sure we don’t miss what is about to come next, there is a hyphen, followed by an “if”: “—if indeed you continue in the faith.”
To Protestants who have been raised on sermons filled with declarations of God’s grace and great love for us, that hyphen and “if” can seem like a turd in the theological punchbowl. It has caused TULIPS to become TULIS and Dietrich Bonhoeffer to write about “cheap grace.” Debate over the “if” has caused Presbyterians to become Baptists, and Baptists to become backslidden. It inevitably leads to a question: “If one must continue in the faith to be saved, does that mean one can lose one’s salvation?”
The answer to that question is, “Why are you asking?”
Last Friday we celebrated my friends 60th birthday. He asked if we would host at our home because our home is large and well-designed for parties. He said he would take care of the rest.
He invited 30 people. Almost everyone he invited came, even those who came from out of state. Because of his background the invite list included a former NFL player, a former NHL player, a pastor, coworkers, his pastors, and his immediate family. It was the most interesting mix of exceptional individuals I had ever seen collected in one place.
He catered food from his favorite restaurants and cooked us tomahawk steaks. He served us. Then, once we were all seated, he went around the room, and for each person present, he said honored them with his word, explaining what they had meant to him. Then he gave them a present. That’s right he gave them a present.
When one of the guests stood up to honor him he said thank you but quickly shut him down and told him this was his party and this was what he wanted to do. He continued going around the room honoring each person and then giving them a gift. I had never seen anything like it.
I am now about a month out from suffering from the medical scare that led to this series of blog posts.
I’m happy to report my vision continues to improve from the torn retina.
Every Thursday night The Wife and I go to the bar at an historic hotel downtown for martinis. We know the bartenders by name, and they know us. We sit there, chat, and just relax.
As I was sitting there last Thursday, I felt different. It was no big thing: a drink at a bar with The Wife and some familiars. In the past, I might have been thinking about all that needed to be done, or what was on the calendar for the next day.
This time though I just savored the moment. I wasn’t worried about losing my vision, or whether my vision was going to improve following surgery. That was behind me. It was a day of prosperity, and I embraced it fully. I was happy.
On Sunday night, knowing the seriousness of the medical situation I was facing, I could not sleep.
So, as lay in bed, I begin going over Psalm 23, memorizing it verse by verse.
I had memorized it years ago but had not gone back over it in an attempt to recommit it to memory in years. Then, as I lay in bed, and later as I sat in the doctor’s office I kept going over it in my mind and meditating on it and what each verse meant.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. 3 He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Maybe it was 50th time I had gone over it in my mind, I noticed something. In the first three verses when David is talking about the good times – the lying down in green pastures, walking beside quiet waters, the refreshing of his soul, and walking in righteousness – David speaks of the Lord in the third person.
But when David turns to the times of adversity, he refers to the Lord in the second person. When walking through a situation where death is such a possibility it casts a shadow on David’s life, he says, “You are with me . . . ,” “Your rod and staff, they comfort me . . . ,” “You prepare a table before me . . .,” and “You anoint my head with oil…”
On Monday morning when I was waiting for the doctor’s office to open to make an appointment before I suffered any permanent loss of vision, I spent time in prayer. As I was praying, I was drawn to Ecclesiastes, chapter 7.
As I started reading, verse 14 jumped off the page:
In the day of prosperity be happy, But in the day of adversity consider— God has made the one as well as the other So that man will not discover anything that will be after him.
As I began to dig into this verse, the contrast became conspicuous.
Solomon explains how one should react to the good days, the days of prosperity: “be happy.” When I was younger, I thrived on deferred gratification, whether it be working when others were playing, or saving when others were spending, telling myself I would enjoy the good days in the future. Age and experience has since taught me to embrace those now rare days youth offered so liberally. However, this was not one of those days.
Instead, the word for me was in what followed in verse 14: “but in the days of adversity consider . . . .” Our response to prosperity should be an emotional one–be happy, embrace it, enjoy it–but our response to adversity should be an intellectual one: consider. Think. Realize. Understand.