Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Perseverance of the Saints

Can I lose my salvation? That is a serious question. But equally serious is the question: can I live reveling in all kinds of sin, unbelief and turning from God but be assured that because I professed faith at one time, I am still truly saved?

The answer to the first question is: no. The answer to the second question is: no.

God who begins a good work in us, does not fail to loose us. However, there are people who outwardly appear saved and they act it with all sincerity and unction--but in the end show themselves to be what they are because they walk away from the faith. As 1 John 2:19 states: "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."

Coming to the truth of God's Word in these things and seeking to hear the whole of Scripture leads us to make the following summation sometimes called the doctrine of 'the perseverance of the saints." The emphasis falls on both God's great work in preserving those who are His true people and the serious warnings about falling away to those who claim to be God's people.

The doctrine of perseverance of the saints is defined as the continued work of God in those who have believed unto salvation so that they are not lost but receive final salvation and glorification. Because salvation is entirely a work of God, then it is in God alone whom our assurance of salvation lies. For this reason, God preserves His saints, those who he has foreknown, predestined, called, and justified will be glorified. They must be glorified (Rom. 8:29-30). Nothing at all can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:33-39). If God has placed us in His loving hands, and nothing can remove us, then even we, ourselves, cannot ‘jump’ out of the hands of God. Our union with Christ and the down-payment of the Spirit is evidence of eternal security. God began a good work in us and He will complete it (John 10:27-29; Phil. 1:6; 1 Pet. 1:5,9; 2 Pet. 1:10; 1 John 3:9). John 6:37-39 is also clear that Jesus will not lose all who have been given to Him. However the true saints of God, who are kept by God, are those who remain faithful to the end by the power of God (Matt. 24:13). After quoting John 6:38,39, John Murray writes, “Security inheres in Christ’s redemptive accomplishment. And this means that, in respect of the persons contemplated, design and accomplishment and final realization have all the same extent.” (Redemption Accomplished and Applied, [Eerdmans, 1955], 64]

Hebrews 6:4-6 is a complicated and disputed passage that must influence our understanding. The issue in the passage concerns those who have turned apostate, after having been involved in the church. For all intents and purposes they appeared saved and ‘played the Christian game’ yet upon going out and turning from the truth, they have in effect re-crucified Christ. Indicating that they are not saved. Lest we worry in despair over every sin we commit, we should point out that evidence of true repentance and desire to stop sinning is external evidence that one is saved and the Spirit of God is working in your life. The Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13 teaches us that those who are saved are those in whom the Word of God is brought to fruition by the power of the Word. Other passages that speak of people falling away include Matthew 24:10,12; 1 Tim. 1:9; 4:1; 2 Tim. 4:10; and 2 Pet. 2:20-22. This shows further that there is a category of ‘faith’ which can be described as temporal faith but is not true faith which is the work of God. John Murray summarizes in much clearer terms:
The Scripture itself, therefore, leads us to the conclusion that it is possible to have very uplifting, ennobling, reforming, and exhilarating experience of the power and truth of the gospel, to come into such close contact with the supernatural forces which are operative in God’s kingdom of grace that these forces produce effects in us which to human observation are hardly distinguishable from those produced by God’s regenerating and sanctifying grace and yet be not partakers of Christ and heirs of eternal life. (Redemption Accomplished and Applied, 153)
The doctrine of perseverance of the saints is often flippantly and untheologically summarized as “once saved always saved.” While in some sense true, this statement is generally used to refer to all who made a confession of faith, no matter how flippant or superficial. This view further extrapolates that one can make such a confession, return to an ungodly lifestyle and give no indication of spiritual change but still maintain complete assurance of salvation. This is not the Biblical perspective of eternal security and perseverance of the saints. If we are to use the terminology “once saved always saved” we should add “God works in those who are truly saved to continually bring them to Him.” Romans 8:5-13 seems clear that if one is still consistently living in sin as a continual lifestyle that person is still a slave to sin. Douglas Moo comments on 8:13 “the truly regenerate believer, while often committing ‘fleshly’ acts, will be infallibly prevented from living a fleshly lifestyle by the Spirit within” (The Epistle to the Romans, [Eerdmans, 1996], 494).  

This doctrine is a tightrope. Often, we cannot (and should not) make resolute judgments on a person eternal condition based on their present actions. However, we can stir them to repentance by continual preaching of the Word (from the pulpit, in counseling, or personally) and call them to repentance because their lifestyle does not bear evidence of any change in position before God.

We must remain clear that those who have been reconciled to God and have been justified by the blood of Christ will be saved (Rom 5:9-10). The true believer has the Spirit of God within him preserving him and enabling him to persevere. The Word of God says, “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 1:6). In 1 Peter 1:3-5, Peter praises God for the salvation of believers that is secure as they are kept by the power of God:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade-kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

Salvation is not for those who name it; claim it; yet reject the change in lifestyle, which evidences true conversion. This indicates that they were never saved to begin with (Matt. 7:21-23; Matt. 25:31-46; James 2:14-26). But to the true believer: “the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance” (2 Thes. 3:3-5). The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints shows us the God keeps and does not lose those who are his; their salvation is secure because of the blood of Christ and the work of the Spirit in applying that blood. It is God who continues to work in the believer preserving them until the final day of redemption.

1 comment:

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"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...