Perseverance





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.