We have been discussing the doctrine of salvation, and the sub-doctrine of sanctification, in particular. Last time we talked about issues related to sanction, specifically, that idea of the old vs. the new.
Today we plan to finish up with a brief discussion on Assurance and Eternal Security.
Preservation and Perseverance
Some Historical Interpretations:
Saving grace is forfeited by mortal sins (Roman Catholic).
Roman Catholic makes a distinction between mortal and venial sins.
- Mortal sins are grave sins that are committed with willful intent.
- Venial sins are sins that are committed with ignorance.
The faithful who commit venial sins suffer the pain of purgatory. However, those who willfully commit these mortal sins are subjected to an eternal punishment.
In Roman Catholic theology, mortal sins can be removed, and saving grace restored by the sacrament of penance. This involves contrition, confession, absolution, works of satisfaction, etc.
All of this plays into a person’s perseverance. There are certain things you must do to attain, and keep your salvation.
Catholic theology is clearly synergistic in nature. Humans must cooperate with God in the work of salvation. God will not fail the faithful, but if a person commits a mortal sin, they fail God and can forfeit their salvation.
“Rome’s opposition to the Reformation doctrine of perseverance ‘lies in the synergistic interpretation of the correlation of faith and grace, along with the doctrine of the meritoriousness of good works and penance’” (Berkouwer).
Saving Grace can be lost by "walking after the flesh" (many Arminians).
As we have talked in past, Arminians reject the doctrine of unconditional election and effectual grace. As a result, they naturally conclude that perseverance is conditional, and final apostasy is possible for a truly regenerate believer.
Many Arminians will say they take the “warning passages” with greater weight, as warnings have meaning only if the threat is real-- not hypothetical.
As a result, grace is dependent on a believer’s continued faith, obedience, and perseverance. This is a form of “conditional salvation,” where a person is saved, but only on the condition that they remain faithful to God by their own free will.
In fact, Wesley claimed that the doctrine of eternal security (the Reformed position) would lull Christians into a sense of false security. “The believer who takes eternal security for granted grows a little and a little slacker till ere long he falls again into the sin from which he was clean escaped…. So he sins on, and sleeps on till he awakes in hell” (Wesley).
The point, here, is that it is up to the believer to finish the race. God grants grace, but the professing believer must work from his free will to remain faithful. God’s salvation is not final or secure because a truly regenerate believer can still defect from saving grace.
Elect believers persevere, but non-elect believers fall away (Many Lutherans).
Lutherans and Calvinists were of one mind when it came to the doctrine of justification by faith. However, they had much disagreement on the doctrine of perseverance.
Lutherans traditionally reject the idea that the "gift of perseverance" is a logical outcome of sovereign election. Rather, they hold to the view that not all those who have been regenerated are elected by God.
(So they split the truly regenerated into 2 categories: the elect and non-elect. And only the elect will persevere.)
They argue that the regenerated elect may fall into sin totally, but not finally.
As a result, they believe the regenerate non-elect may fall from grace both totally and finally.
So those who fall from grace into sin need a new experience of both conversion and justification.
Martin Luther equivicted on the issue. He saw great tension between law and grace.
As a result, he essentially believed that it was possible for believers to fall entirely from grace and faith.
He would point to examples where it seems true believers lost, or were in fear of losing, their salvation. His main example was David’s cry in Psalm 51 for God not to take away the Holy Spirit from Him.
Of course, that was not what David meant (he was talking about his anointing as King), but it is what Luther understood.
Melanchthon affirmed Luther’s belief that a true believer could lose his/her salvation. Writing in the Augsburg Confession (1530), he stated, “Rejected here are those who teach that persons who have once become godly cannot fall again” (art. XII).
God Preserves the Converted in Perseverance to the end (Reformed).
The Reformed position argues that a regenerated, justified believer can lapse in their faith, and even resist God for a season, but it is never final. The reason for that is because the Holy Spirit secures the final salvation of all true believers by bringing about their free perseverance to the end.
So when genuine Christians lapse in faith, “God deals with them graciously and patiently. The safety of true believers rests on their God-enabled perseverance. Grace and faith work together to ensure a positive outcome” (Demarest).
Augustine held that every aspect of salvation, from initial conversion to final perseverance, is the gift of God’s grace.
"[Augustine] taught that some who hear the Gospel, receive baptism, and become church members are changed for the better; they do good and appear to be Christians. Although recipients of a certain grace, such persons are not granted the gift of perseverance, and so they fall away and are eternally condemned" (Demarest).
Augustine developed this, primarily, from 1 Jn. 2:19--
“They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.”
“Since they did not have perseverance, they were not truly children of God, just as they were not truly disciples of Christ, even when they seemed to be such, and were called such” (Augustine).
Similarly, Charles Spurgeon argued that there is a kind of faith that appears lively, but that does not personally commit to Christ and obey the Gospel.
“We believe that God has an elect people whom He has chosen unto eternal life, and that truth necessarily involves the perseverance in grace. We believe in special redemption, and this secures the salvation and consequent perseverance of the redeemed. We believe in effectual calling, which is bound up with justification, a justification which ensures glorification. The doctrines of grace are like a chain-- if you believe in one of them you must believe the next, for each on involves the rest; therefore, I say that you who accept any of the doctrines of grace must receive this also [doctrine of final perseverance], as involved in them” (Spurgeon).
Some Biblical Warrant (there are many passages we could look at, but here are two important ones).
John 6:39-40, 44
John 6:39-40 “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. "For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”
Notice the absoluteness of the terms. This is not hypothetical, but a declaration of what will be taking place. Jesus will lose “nothing.” “Everyone” will be raised up by Jesus Himself. They “will have” eternal life.
The same language is used a few versus later in v.44
John 6:44 - “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Notice, again, the absoluteness of the terms. “No one can come, unless the Father draws him…” “I will raise him up on the last day…” It is not that Jesus hopes to raise them up, or desires to raise them up. Rather, He will raise them up.
Rom. 8:20 - “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”
This is Paul’s unbreakable chain. Here we see a series of acts that God alone has done.
This is a string of aorists, which means every verb is in the same verb tense, and they all are written from the perspective of a complete action (i.e., aorist).
So just as certain as God is the one Who justifies, Paul is also certain God is the one who will bring someone to the end. In other words, glorification (which implies perseverance) is a much God’s work as justification. There is certainty here, and in Paul’s mind, it is a complete action on behalf of God.
Notice, there is no work of man here. This doesn’t involve the will (of free will) of man. The entire focus is upon what God has done. Again, just as surely as a person is justified, so also shall they preserve unto glorification.
Means of Perseverance
- The Word of God and sound doctrine -
Col. 1:22 - “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-- 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.”
2 Tim. 2:16 - “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some.”
- The Holy Spirit -
Eph. 1:13 - “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.”
- Obedience -
2 Pet. 1:10-11 “Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.”
- Discipline -
Hebrews. 12:8-11 “But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”
- Trial -
James 1:2-4 “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
- Warnings -
We talked about the various warning passages in our apostasy episodes (e.g., Heb. 6, 10, etc.), so we would encourage you to go back and listen to those for how we dealt with the warning passages in relation to perseverance.
But the purpose of the many warning passages is to help us not presume upon the grace of God.
When a professing believer takes the warning passages seriously, they, then, become a means of grace through which they will persevere.
It is only when a person becomes casual about their faith, presuming they’re “saved,” do they enter into a dangerous place.
“Exhortations [or warnings] in Scriptures have at least a threefold purpose: 1) To reveal the spurious professor of faith, 2) To cause the believer to strive for holiness of life, 3) To drive the believer to his only source of enablement-- the preserving grace of God” (Ardel Candeday).
There is much more that could be said, but that is a basic survey.
In the end, if a person is truly regenerate, it means they will finish the race set before them. And why? Because they have been sealed by the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption (Eph. 1:13). There is no defection from this. In fact, not even we can defect ourselves from the faith. Just listen to Romans 8 here:
Rom. 8:35-38 “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, "FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED." But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 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 (which includes us, as we are something created), will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
So not even we can screw this up.
In fact, it is John Macarthur who once said, “If I could lose my salvation, I would.”
We didn’t save ourselves.
We can’t glorify ourselves.
We certainly can’t bring ourselves to glory in this persevering process.
But having said all that, it is a synergistic work. God emplores us to persevere, and yet He energizes us to the task.
Perseverance is absolutely vital to the Christian faith. It is part and parcel to the process of sanctification.
There is no such thing as a person who “gets saved,” but then lives life how they want.
It is always the life that is marked by persevering faithfulness (and increasing obedience) that gives the evidence one has truly been saved.
And this is what we see from Genesis to Revelation.
So that is STII.
Next time we will begin STIII, Lord-willing, with the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.