PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS
(See Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 17)
One of the wonderful things about being a Christian is the fact of being in possession of unlosable everlasting life. No matter what happens to us, if we are truly born of the Spirit, we will persevere to the end.
Now, this is not to say that everything will be “Easy Street” for the regenerated and therefore true believer. For we see all kinds of examples in the Bible of Godly men backsliding. Being a Christian can be a real struggle at times. No one is denying that. But, who can deny that once a person is saved he is always saved? Well, now that you mention it, Roman Catholicism denies it. But worse than that, sadly, there is a certain branch of the Protestant Church that believes Christians can lose salvation. They believe this for the same reason Rome believes it. It’s all to do with their view of salvation by grace.
Are we saved by grace? Yes! says Rome along with that certain branch of the Protestant Church. But are we saved by grace ALONE? No! says Roman Catholicism and that certain branch of Protestantism. So, this means that if you are not saved by grace alone, but are saved by your own works – be it exercising faith, or keeping the Ten Commandments or whatever – then you are able to “unsave” yourself! Which, in turn, alleges that there are saved people who will not persevere to the end!
Before Adam sinned he had losable everlasting life. When he sinned he lost that (losable) everlasting life. But, to those who believe that those justified by grace may lose their salvation, it’s as if Adam never fell. For some believe that man (as per God’s covenant arrangement with Adam pre-Fall) is still able to earn everlasting life.
I don’t bring up these things just for the sake of controversy. But I bring them up to show the importance of the Biblical teaching of the Perseverance of the Saints. I put it to you that if you believe that you may lose your salvation then you are still in bondage to the false doctrine of salvation-by-your-own-works! But if you believe that everyone who has been saved by grace will persevere to the end, then you need to know that Rome has placed its ugly curse upon your head because you hold to that belief! For Rome says,
If any one saith, that a man once justified can sin no more, nor lose grace, and that therefore he that falls and sins was never truly justified; or, on the other hand, that he is able, during his whole life, to avoid all sins, even those that are venial, except by a special privilege from God, as the Church holds in regard of the Blessed Virgin: let him be anathema. (Council of Trent, Session VI, Canon XXIII).
AA Hodge highlights the most offensive portion of this Romish canon in the following more contemporary English translation of the original Latin,
If any one maintain that a man once justified cannot lose grace, and therefore he who falls and sins never was truly justified … let him be accursed. (A. A. Hodge, The Confession of Faith, p. 240).
But as Peter and the other Apostles said, “We ought to obey God rather than men” Acts 5:29. So, without any more ado let’s see what the Scriptures say about our subject.
The Strategy of Perseverance
Peter in 1 Peter 1:2 speaks of Christians as those who are “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” Notice that all three Persons in the Trinity are mentioned: God the Father, the Spirit, and Jesus Christ. So, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are involved in the work of salvation.
The strategy of God in the work of our salvation is that the Father elects, the Son (as the God-man Jesus Christ) sheds His blood to redeem, and the Spirit sanctifies. So, from the Christian’s point of view he (the Christian) has been chosen by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. All of that can be seen in that one little verse, 1 Peter 1:2.
Now, in verse 5 of 1 Peter 1, speaking of Christians, we read these words, “…who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Who or what is keeping Christians for salvation? Is it the power of God or is it their faith that is keeping them for salvation? We see clear as an all-lit-up crystal chandelier that it is God’s power that keeps us. And if it is the power of God that keeps us for salvation, it is not our faith that is keeping us. And if it’s not our faith that is saving us, then we are not saved by our own exercising of faith. Rather we are saved by grace ALONE!
Notice that word “through” in that verse, 1 Peter 1:5: “…who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation.” We are not saved “by” faith, but “through” faith. Faith is the instrument of our salvation, not the cause of it. Ephesians 2:8&9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any one should boast.”
It is God who saves us. This salvation is a gift. This gift of salvation is called grace. God’s gift of salvation comes to us through faith. First God regenerates us by His Spirit. Then He effectually calls us by His Word. The moment we believe in the Gospel-message of Jesus Christ we are justified, i.e., declared righteous in the eyes of God.
The sanctification process of the Spirit begins the very moment the Spirit as it were, sprinkles the blood of Jesus Christ on us; i.e., He purifies or baptizes us by falling upon us. The Spirit is simply applying spiritually the shed blood of Jesus Christ to those whom the Father had elected in eternity past.
It is God who does it all. Faith is simply our personal thankful acceptance of the wonderful grace of the Triune God. Faith then is the receptacle and the pipe or funnel into which – and through which – grace (in the Person of the Holy Spirit) is poured into us by God (the Father and the Son).
You might have a downspout going into a barrel to catch the rainwater that falls on your roof. Faith is the downspout and the barrel designed to catch the poured out grace of God. But you won’t exercise faith until and unless God removes the old tennis ball and the pile of dead leaves that your sin has stuck in the downspout! Thus He saves you through faith by opening up the channels for you to receive the benefits of what His Son has done on Calvary’s cross.
It is God who begins the work of salvation in you. And it is God who will bring to completion the work of salvation in you, for “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” Philippians 1:6. It is God in Jesus Christ who is the Author and Finisher of our faith, Hebrews 12:2.
And we who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation can, with confidence, look forward to receiving the end or the goal of our faith. 1 Peter 1:9&10, “Receiving the end of your faith – the salvation of your souls. Of this salvation the prophets have enquired and searched carefully, who prophesied the grace that would come to you.”
Could it be any clearer that those whom God has saved will persevere to the end and be saved forever? Do you think anyone is able to snatch God’s elect from His hand? Do you think we can jump out of His hand? Do you think the Devil can snatch us out of God’s hand? Jesus says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand” John 10:27-29.
So what is all this cursing coming out of Rome? Isn’t it about time she (and that sad branch of the Church who teaches the same thing), went back to the Scriptures and repented and believed what is clearly written? Pray that the Lord would be pleased to open up the eyes of those who cannot see these things. Pray that they will see the grace of God as revealed in the Gospel!
So, we have seen then that God’s strategy in our perseverance is that He alone will save His elect. Therefore we will never totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace that God has placed us in. To be sure we may at times backslide, but we are safe in the hand of God forever.
The Strength of Perseverance
Paul the Apostle said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” Philippians 4:13. Do you think we can persevere to the end through Christ who strengthens us? Of course we can persevere to the end and be saved forever!
One of the reasons this is so is because our salvation does not depend on our own free will. Free will is one of the main places that those who think Christians can lose their salvation come unstuck. But we have already taken note of the fact that we are saved by God’s grace alone, and not by anything we do, Ephesians 2:8-9. Therefore, when it comes to free will, God first has to make you willing to believe and receive His grace before you will trust in it for salvation.
Think about it, if we are not saved because of our free will, then we do not persevere because of our freewill. Freewill doesn’t save us. Therefore neither does it keep us saved. What then does keep us saved, i.e., keep us persevering until the end? Well, one thing is God’s everlasting love. It’s as the Lord says through Jeremiah His prophet, “The LORD Has appeared of old to me, saying: ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with loving kindness I have drawn you” Jeremiah 31:3. Therefore God’s love doesn’t eventually run dry like a stream in a desert. His love is everlasting – His mercy endures forever.
To be sure there are some folk whose faith dries up and they fall like wilted dates from a tree. But that is because they were never truly justified in the first place. The Apostle Paul gives us an example of this in 2 Timothy 2:17-19, “And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some. Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.’”
So, we see that some had their faith overthrown by two men who had strayed from the truth of the Gospel. All this demonstrates is that their faith was a weak human faith and not the persevering kind the Bible speaks of. But notice that the Apostle says, “The Lord knows those who are His.” If you belong to God you’ll never totally or finally fall out of God’s hand, for His grace and salvation stand upon solid foundations.
The Apostle John speaks of some who walked away from the grace of God, where he says, “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 they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us” 1 John 1:19. The writer to the Hebrews speaks of this very same thing in Hebrews 6:4-6 – going on to say in Hebrews 10:39, “But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but are of those who believe to the saving of the soul.” Those who are truly of God shall persevere until the end.
Another one of the reasons for this perseverance of the saints is that God’s decree of election is unchangeable. What God has decided in eternity past is decided for all time. If He has elected you then you will be saved, and you will therefore persevere. For election flows from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father.
God the Father wasn’t coerced into electing anyone. There was nothing outside of God that swayed Him to elect anyone. Therefore He’s never going to think that He made a bad decision electing you or me. You and I might make a decision based on bad advice and then regret it. You might listen to the car salesman and buy a Ford instead of a Toyota or something. This cannot and does not happen with the Almighty and eternal God. For He “alone is wise” Jude 25.
And not only will the election of God the Father ensure that you will persevere, but so also will the effectiveness and the merit of Jesus Christ ensure that you will persevere. Jesus Christ kept every jot and tittle of God’s Law unto death on behalf of God’s elect. Therefore the elect of the Father are saved by the merits of the Son’s work on earth. And not only that, but Jesus Christ is our Advocate before God even now. He intercedes with the Father on our behalf, 1 John 2:1.
And because our salvation is from God and God is triune, we mustn’t forget that the Holy Spirit will never leave us or forsake us. He is the One who strengthens us, for He is the Comforter or Helper. He is the One who regenerated us in the first place. He is the One who caused the little seed to germinate and put down roots.
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all involved in our salvation. For the Covenant of Grace is what makes our salvation definite and unfailing. For in the Covenant of Grace the Father has promised the Son the elect should He take on the form of a man and lay down His human life for them. The Holy Spirit testifies to this by His Word.
The Gospel is the proclamation of God’s everlasting covenant to save sinners. Therefore our strength to persevere comes entirely from the Lord. This the Psalmist knew well, “I will lift my eyes to the hills – from whence comes my help? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The LORD shall preserve your going out and our coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore” Psalm 121:1-8.
Who would argue with the psalmist that it is the Lord who keeps us? Therefore “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” Psalm 46:1.
The Struggle of Perseverance
Now, none of what we’ve said thus far means that the Christian life is not a struggle. One only has to look at the examples given in the Bible to see that we might at times fall into serious sins. Sins are potholes on the road to salvation for the Christian. King David fell into a great water-filled crater when he saw Bathsheba bathing. But God, by His grace, in time lifted him out of that miry pit.
Notice what David says in Psalm 51, his Psalm of penitence over his sin with Bathsheba. Psalm 51:7-8, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice.” If God forgives David his sin he will be cleansed whiter than the pure undriven snow. He is, of course, using figurative language. He’s talking about spiritual cleansing and spiritual purity. So, when he says, “Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice” he is not necessarily speaking of literal broken bones. But, be that as it may, we must acknowledge that David experienced something of God’s displeasure when he sinned with Bathsheba.
We see Jeremiah speak the same way in the Book of Lamentations. He gives a long list of things that God has done to him, but he says in Lamentations 3:4, “He has aged my flesh and my skin, and broken my bones.” Jeremiah was carted off with God’s people at that time into seventy years exile for their sins.
And what about the forty years in the wilderness for Moses and the people of God? We shouldn’t think for a moment that it will all be plain sailing for Christians. We live in a real world with real temptations. The Devil goes around like a roaring lion looking for people to devour. He tried to devour the Lord Himself when He was in the wilderness. Therefore why wouldn’t he try to devour those who belong to the Lord? So, we’ve also got the Devil to contend with.
And not only do we have the Devil, we have the remains of our sins within us. There’s a residue of sin that clings to your heart like lichen to a rock or mould to stale bread. God has poured streams of living water into dirty vessels. Rinsing your dirty cup under the tap doesn’t clean it completely. It has to stay in the dishwasher full cycle before it’s fully clean. So, you need to make sure you stay in the dishwasher if you are going to remain clean. If you wander off to the world’s fleshpots instead, you’re in danger of incurring God’s displeasure – His chastening hand. Therefore we need to be careful not to grieve the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, and has sealed us for the day of redemption, Ephesians 4:30.
God hardened His people’s hearts in the Book of Isaiah because of their sin. For Isaiah says, “O LORD, why have You made us stray from Your ways, and hardened our heart from Your fear?” Isaiah 63:17. The Lord’s twelve Disciples had the same problem of hardness of heart regarding the Lord’s miracle with the feeding the five thousand. Mark 6:52, “For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened.”
We see the hard hearts of the Disciples rise up again in Mark 16:14, “Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.”
Indeed unbelief and hardness of heart in true believers is not a new problem: “Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them’” Numbers 20:12.
So, don’t think for a minute that just because you’re saved you won’t ever have the Lord rebuke you for your unbelief and hardness of heart, and even harden your heart further. Just read your Bible if you don’t believe me! The Apostle Peter even denied the Lord three times! And we read in the Letter to the Hebrews that “whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives” Hebrews 12:6.
I don’t know about you, but I learned at a very early age that you could avoid a spanking by learning how to behave yourself. But even so, I still managed to do things that deserved a thrashing! So it is with the Christian. We might even bring scandal on others too with our misbehaving antics. But, all in all, if you are one of God’s elect, if you have been redeemed by the Son, if you have been sanctified by the Spirit, you will persevere to the end having received the gift of unloseable everlasting life.
Hold fast to the clear Scriptural teaching of the Perseverance of the Saints. Jesus didn’t die on the cross to make it possible for you and me to be saved. Rather He died on the cross to definitely save those whom His Father has elected out of His free grace.
The Holy Spirit has been given to the redeemed as a guarantee of our salvation, as the Apostle says in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, “Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”
By giving us the Holy Spirit God has therefore guaranteed that we will indeed, by His grace, persevere to the very end and be saved forever. In the words of Jude 24&25, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy. To God our Saviour, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.”