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I try really hard. Oh, you muse, you could be accused of more heinous crimes. After all, isn’t it all about trying harder to live for Christ? Isn’t that what we’ve been told for most of our lives from church pulpits and Christian books? You know, read your Bible more, pray more, minister more, give more, attend church more, serve on more committees (like we need more committees – ugh!). More, more, more! And then you will produce fruit for God and please Him.  

Some may be upset (it won’t be the first time) but I think this is all wrong, all backwards. This formula (interestingly, the Word of God is generally devoid of clear formulas even though our flesh loves them so) leads to exhaustion, bondage, powerlessness, and, eventually, joylessness in our faith. And it produces no eternal fruit or affirmation from God. That’s why I say that trying harder may be the problem. It is ethnocentric and not Christocentric. This is what Paul is getting at in Romans 7:4-6: 

“Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.  For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.  But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” 

Don’t get me wrong, there is a form human effort in our struggle to honor Christ but this only accomplished by His energy and His power at work in us. Self-effort alone will end in frustration and defeat. Notice the unique phrasing of Colossians 1:29: “I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” The human exertion I’m talking about is focusing adoringly on our Savior and reliantly on His Spirit and not our own energies and efforts (see Hebrews 12:2; Colossians 3:1-2).  

With this in mind, please ponder this series of statements. The first half of each statement is what we have been told and taught and may be experiencing. The second half is what must happen to truly serve and please God in His power. The first half is focused on self and the second half is focused on the Savior and the Spirit. I hope this makes sense…here goes! 

            Self-centered                                                  Savior/Spirit-centered 

It’s not just about serving more…          it’s about seeking and surrendering to Him.

It’s not just about reformation…            it’s about releasing everything to Him.

It’s not just about living better…           it’s about loving Him more.

It’s not just about works…                     it’s about worshipping Him.

It’s not just about religion…                   it’s about relationship with Him.

It’s not just about singing hymns…       it’s about being satisfied in Him.

It’s not just about activities…                it’s about adoring Him with all we are.

It’s not just about “fruit production”… it’s about faith in His power.

It’s not just about trying harder…      it’s about treasuring and trusting Him more. 

Please understand, I’m not suggesting we don’t give, learn, pray, and serve (or produce fruit). I’m saying this should happen not due to self-effort but supernaturally (notice I didn’t use the term naturally) as an overflow of our intentional focus on treasuring Him above all things and being totally dependant upon His Spirit for everything produced in and through us. In other words, living based upon the second half of these statements actually allows the first half of the statements to be divinely accomplished. But, as opposed to our own strength being at work, it is His. And if it is from Him it is real, of eternal value, and radically transformational!

You see, the first half of these statements is legalism. It is so subtle and insidious, however, that we may not recognize it as living under the law. But it is. Paul tells us that we are dead to the law through Christ’s sacrifice so that we can be given (as in a marriage; see the previous verses – Romans 7:1-3) to Jesus in love (Romans 7:4). We need not live in the flesh and produce lifeless and valueless fruit (Romans 7:5). We are to forsake living under the bondage of the law (which is man-centered works) to serve in the new and powerful way of the Spirit (Romans 7:6). In other words, out with the defeating, meaningless, and exhausting old way (rules based self-effort) and in with the freeing, dynamic, and transformational new way of living in and through His Spirit. 

As Terrence Kelshaw explains, “We cannot live the Christian life on our own or by our own strength. Jesus says, ‘I never said you could. I always said I would.’” This is why Paul tells us, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). So let’s be freed from the bondage of legalism and human effort. Let’s experience the freedom and usefulness in Christ that can only be known when we stop trying harder and start treasuring Him and trusting in His Spirit more.

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“…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” (Colossians 1:23). 

Arminians and Calvinists agree on one thing: Those in Christ, His elect (meaning chosen) will continue in the faith. They may differ on how this happens but they agree that it does happen nonetheless. I believe this verse serves two purposes. First, it is evidence that those with true saving faith will not be moved from their hope that is in the gospel of Jesus. Secondly, it is a warning to all who claim to have saving faith is Christ, lest they do not continue established and firm in the faith and in a persevering life that demonstrates the reality of that faith. 

Absorb the explanation of theologian Dr. Grant C. Richison:

“Does this “if” indicate that our salvation depends upon us? What if our faith fails? If faith fails then it is an indication that it was not a valid saving faith (I John 2:19). The genuine believer will persevere by the reality of God in his life. It is the perseverance of the Savior that preserves the perseverance of the saints!

In the Greek, the “if” indicates an assumption of truth. Paul assumes that the Colossians will continue in the faith. This is not an “if” of the future; it is an “if” of the past. The word can be translated “since.” “Since indeed you continue in the faith.” Our reconciliation is an accomplished fact. Continuance is a test of reality. There is no uncertainty of the believer’s reconciliation. The believer will be uncharged and without blemish when he stands before God (v. 22). Salvation was an accomplished event at the moment of faith.”

In other words, Paul is presuming the condition of continuing to be reality, to be true.   He predicates this on the previous statement – that anyone who will be presented to God holy, that anyone who is reconciled to God through Jesus Christ will also continue in the faith.  Why?  Because true believers (His elect) do remain firm and are not moved away from the faith.  Those that have been placed in Christ are not persevering in order to achieve reconciliation. They are persevering because they’ve already been reconciled.  Simply said, those who Jesus reconciles will continue in the faith.  This isn’t just a probability or  a possibility: It is a promise that the reconciled, those whom Jesus will present before God, will not be moved from the hope of the gospel.

Hence we see the warning is implicit in the text. The word “continue” means to persist in or adhere to the faith. Be warned, Paul, suggests, you must persevere in the faith and the pursuit of a Christ-honoring life to be a genuine participant in the good news of the hope found only in Christ. So, how is a true follower of Christ identified?  Has he prayed the sinner’s prayer?  Not necessarily.  Did he walked an aisle, join a “church”, and get baptized?  Hardly enough. Does he profess to be a Christian?  Maybe.   Does he do good works?  Insufficient by itself (see Matthew 7:21-23)?  How then?  When he continues in heart-altering, steadfast faith and with a life that demonstrates the transforming nature of the Holy Spirit’s residence in and Jesus’ dominion over him. Immerse yourself in the words of Jesus:

Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built” (Luke 6:46-48).

Jesus’ and the apostles’ teaching was fraught with this idea.  In Luke 8:4-8, someone may receive the Word with joy but having no root (not real) he will fall away under trial. Those branches which abide in the vine are not cut off and thrown into the fire (John 15).  We read In 1 John 2:19 that those who are genuine believers will no doubt continue in the community of faith, that if you are not with Christ then you are not of Christ.  With this in mind, Jesus’ understanding of the tendencies of fallen man is revealed in John 8:30-32: “As he was saying these things, many believed in him. So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

But let us not forget that even in this promise and warning we are utterly dependant on Jesus:

 “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body,  and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:19-23).

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