Perseverance of the Saints
A Divine Perspective
Perseverance of the saints is really a two sided truth. On one side is the notion that God actively preserves saints in a state of grace so they finally are saved in heaven. On the other side is the notion that those whom God has genuinely called unto Himself will actively remain in the faith persevering unto eternal life. Both concepts are valid. As the Westminster Confession of Faith declares, genuine believers “…can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly preserve therein to the end, and be eternally saved.” Yet, “this perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election…”1
Thus a working definition might be that those who have been given to the Son will never be separated from Him. Not only will they persevere in faith; God determines that they will persevere. This is based on the simple biblical principle that salvation as a whole is of God—both its initiation and its continuance. Thus, perseverance is in contrast to the defective view of Arminianism, namely the teaching that since salvation is a result of man’s own self-determining free will; man is also responsible to keep himself saved. Consequently, it is possible for him to “fall from grace.” Perseverance also is a more pervasive teaching than the popular evangelical tenant called “eternal security,” since the former assumes that genuine believers will live changed lives and give evidence of regeneration. This doctrine assures the final security of the elect; it also guarantees that believers will persevere to the end as disciples of Christ. This is akin to what is commonly referred to as “lordship salvation.”
Clear statements that believers are eternally saved, as well as a number of other biblical teachings, require the validity of the perseverance of the saints as described above.
Sovereign Grace. To teach that a man can lose his salvation by sinning is to place him under the law, and suggest that part of his salvation—namely, “final salvation”—is by works. Paul lays out this great principle in his argument regarding Israel: “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace (Romans 11:6).2 Further, salvation in toto is not based on works, but rather upon the power of God and Christ’s accomplishment. It is not part grace and part works. Salvation is a package deal that extends from past to future: “…to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:4-5). The reality is that the person who denies the truth of the perseverance of the saints can never be sure of his final salvation. Therefore, upon faith in Christ, this person ought to consistently hope for death as soon as possible so that he doesn’t risk losing his salvation while here on earth.
Just as believers do nothing to earn their salvation—it was a free gift—so they can do nothing to forfeit this sovereign gift. In fact, regeneration itself is a permanent change from death to life.
Unconditional Election. If God chooses a person to salvation, then he will be saved finally. If not, then either God made a mistake or His elective decree is thwarted. The truth is that if God elects a person to salvation, that person is certain to reach heaven. There is a clear connection between the teaching of election and the final state of those chosen. This is outlined in the progression from the sovereign decrees described in Romans 8:28-30 to the final outcome pictured in Romans 8:38-39:
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified…For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:28-30, 38-39).
If sovereign election is true (and it is) and Christ actually took away the sin of His people on the cross (and He did), then the believer cannot be punished in hell for his sin; he is, therefore, secure in heaven. If the Godhead will not condemn the elect (and He won’t), then who can? (See Romans. 8:33, 34.)
Divine Salvation. The very essence of salvation is that men are rendered safe, sound, secure, and protected. They have been rescued by God Himself. Salvation is uniformly described as being eternal or everlasting:
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life (John 5:24).
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16).
He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him (John 3:36).
If a person professes salvation at age 20 and at age 25 commits some gross sin and loses his salvation (as some would have us believe is possible) and then dies at age 27 in this state of sin and goes to hell, it must be concluded that the salvation which he claimed to possess was not eternal. After all, he is eternally in hell, not in heaven. Therefore, his salvation was not eternal and was not biblical salvation. Whatever he had, it was not the salvation described in the Bible.
The Godhead. The participation of the each person of the Godhead in salvation argues for the perseverance of the saints. If believers do not persevere, then the character of the Godhead is called into question.
God the Father’s role in salvation implies the perseverance of the saints: "My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand” (John 10:29). “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). (See also 1 Peter 1:5 and Romans 11:29.)
God the Son’s role in salvation implies the perseverance of the saints: "This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:39). "I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh" (John 6:51). (See also John 10:28 and John 11:25-26.)
God the Spirit’s role in salvation implies the preservation of the saints: “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14). “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30).
Duane Spencer presents the contrasting views of eternal security in this way:
The logical conclusion of Arminianism is that since salvation is the result of man’s self-determination as he exercises his free will in choosing Christ, man is also responsible to keep himself saved by continuing faith and obedience. Should he, after having once accepted Christ, decide against Him and eternal life, or should he find the responsibility of living a holy life too great a burden and turn away, he will surely “fall from grace” and be lost.
The logical conclusion of Calvinism is that since “salvation is of the LORD”, and absolutely no part of it is dependent upon any condition found in the elect (1 Peter 1:5, 2 Timothy 1:12, 1 Timothy 4:18), but is wholly dependent upon the God (Jude 24, Ezekiel 11:19, Ezekiel 36:27, Deuteronomy 30:6) who has willed to save those whom He gave to His dear Son (Psalm 37:28, 1Thessalonians 5:24, Philippians 1:6), salvation can never be lost (John 8:39, John 10:27-29, Romans 8:37-39). The saints of God will surely persevere because He has given them His promise that no creature can take them away from Him (including themselves). We shall persevere because He wills to persevere!3
1 The Westminster Confession of Faith (Pennsylvania: The Committee on Christian Education, nd) p. 11.
2 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition (Anaheim, California: Foundation Publications, 1999).
3 Duane Spencer, “Tulip” (San Antonio, Texas: Duane Edward Spencer, 1975) pp 9-10.
© Copyright. Joseph Flatt. 2014. All rights reserved. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source.
Posted on Mon, July 28, 2014
by Joe Flatt filed under