Monday, June 09, 2008

Tiptoeing through the TULIPs - Part 5: Perseverance of the Saints

Perseverance of the Saints
This is the promise and the assurance we have as Christians that we are eternally secure in Christ. It follows logically that if God is the one doing all the work to save us, then he is also the one who is able to hold us. That is why many Calvinists prefer the term "preservation of the saints." It is not so much that we persevere to the end, but that God preserves us throughout all eternity.

Jesus Christ taught that all who are given to him by the Father will never be lost, but will be raised up on the last day (John 6:37-39). Paul writes in Philippians 1:6 "that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." We have no choice but to conclude that one who is given eternal life will have exactly that.

Yet many Christians continue to think it is possible for a believer to lose his salvation. They point to passages like 2nd Peter 1:10, which implores us to "make our calling and election sure." They also like to refer to Hebrews 6:4-6:
    For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
Once again, we see verses that at first glance seem to refute the Calvinist position. But, as usual, we are reminded of the importance of keeping verses in context and interpreting them in light of other passages.

For example, scripture teaches that the future of God's elect has already been sealed. Paul tells us that "those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified" (Romans 8:30). Note that the glorification of those who receive the gift of salvation is presented as a present reality. While it hasn't happened yet, it's spoken of as if it already has. It is assured.

Christ himself said, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:27-28). That hardly leaves any room for debate.

But what about those who "fall away" from the faith? 1st John 2:19-20 has the answer: "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. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge." It is possible for people to be touched by the gospel, even changed in some way. However, as the parable of the sower shows us, only real faith bears fruit (Matthew 13:1-23).

The belief that Christians can lose their salvation just doesn't make sense in light of scripture. We read in 2nd Thessalonians 2:13 that we were chosen "as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth." Why would we be chosen for salvation only to be cast aside later? In 1st Peter 1:5 we learn that believers "by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." Why would anyone want to think that God is incapable of guarding our salvation?

Perhaps the biggest criticism leveled at this particular doctrine is that it hands the believer a license to sin. "If there is no way for a Christian to lose his salvation, then we can sin all we want without fear of judgment." Nothing could be further from the truth.

Yes, Christians sin. That's taught in scripture. In fact, if we claim to be without sin, "we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1st John 1:8). But scripture also teaches that we are "predestined to be conformed" to the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:29), and Hebrews 10:14 says that Christ "has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified."

Sanctification is the process by which we continue to grow as Christians. To be sanctified means to be set apart, to be made holy. This is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within each believer (2nd Timothy 1:14). If left to our own devices, we would surely fall away into sin and be lost forever.

Without the doctrines of grace, one could only conclude that salvation depends ultimately on us. We convict ourselves of sin. We choose God. We decide whether or not Christ's gift of salvation applies to us. We are drawn to God only if we allow it. Therefore, we abide forever in Christ only if we decide that's what we want.

I won't speak for anyone else, but I know for a fact that I wouldn't make it through one day apart from God's saving and sustaining grace. My hope lies in the fact that my ultimate salvation doesn't depend on my own feeble efforts. As Paul reminds me in 1st Corinthians 1:8, it is Christ alone who sustains me to the end.

Part 1: Total Depravity
Part 2: Unconditional Election
Part 3: Limited Atonement
Part 4: Irresistable Grace
Part 5: Perseverance of the Saints


Anonymous said...

i always thought/assumed that it was called "perseverance" rather than "preservation" to clarify that license is not an issue... the grace we are given to raise us from the "dead" also has power to change the way we live.

1 Corinthians 15:10
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Perseverance/Preservation of the Saints

Assumption: A Christian can determine whether another person perseveres to the end as a preserved Christian saint.

This doctrine would seem to have a necessary corollary then. That corollary would be: If a person does not persevere to the end, then s/he was never a Christian saint to begin with.

Is that true?

So then for example, let's hypothetically suppose our blog host, Lee Shelton IV, announces publically that he rejects Christ and is becoming atheist. Lee lives as an atheist for 20 years and then dies suddenly of a heart attack.

So then by Calvinist theology, a logical Calvinist would have to say that Lee Shelton IV was never a Christian to begin with since he didn't persevere as a saint to the end.

Is this correct? Is my understanding of this doctrine and its outworkings correct?

Lee Shelton said...

Anonymous, I agree, but sometimes people are confused the the word "perseverance," thinking it implies a works-based salvation. However, the passage you quoted clearly teaches that it is the grace of God at work. Our perseverance is the effect of that grace.

Lee Shelton said...

TUAD, if I ever did that, the only biblical assumption you could make is that I was never a Christian in the first place. The only two alternatives would be: 1) I was a Christian, but lost my salvation when I rejected Christ, or 2) I was a Christian because I once professed Christ, but just didn't produce fruit; I was a "carnal Christian." Believe it or not, you will find many professing believers who support both positions.

1st John 2:19-20, however, makes the truth quite clear. So, yes, I would say your understanding of this doctrine is correct.

As far as determining whether or not someone is persevering, our only guide is scripture. Jesus tells us that his followers will be known by their love for each other (John 13:35). The entire book of James teaches that if good works do not accompany one's faith, that faith is dead. In other words, it was never a real, saving faith to begin with.

And let's not forget Galatians 5:22-24: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." If you have been born of the Spirit, you will produce fruit. "For each tree is known by its own fruit" (Luke 6:44).

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"TUAD, if I ever did that, the only biblical assumption you could make is that I was never a Christian in the first place."

Thanks for the intellectual honesty and moral and theological integrity contained in your reply, Lee.

God bless you.

Arthur Sido said...

What is troubling is how many Christians hold to a decisional regeneration model of salvation, but then support perseverance of the Saints, as if once we decide to choose God, THEN He is sovereign.

Perseverence is only logical when coupled with the other four points.

Anonymous said...

I think you are misrepresenting the issue. I do not believe that one can "lose" his or her salvation, however, I do believe one can commit Apostasy, and there is a tremendous difference. To formally renounce one's Christian faith is not only possible but is the entire premise or reason for the author penning the book of Hebrews. It was meant to be not only an encouragement, but a warning to these formally "Jewish" believers who had now embraced Christ, not to return to their former faith, presupposing the fact that it was possible to do so. If Apostasy were impossible why warn anyone of the dangers of it?? in fact, there are New Testament examples of those who did. What of Simon the Sorcerer. "Thy money perish with thee, indicating he was in a state of perishing! It is a comforting theology that teaches the idea that I can't get away from Jesus Christ no matter how hard I try. He has a ball and chain on me to prevent me from jumping out of His hand. I believe both 2nd Peter and Hebrews are warnings against the unpardonable sin "Blasphemy of the Holy Sririt". think you need a bit more study of 2nd Peter and Hebrews.

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