Perseverance and the Gospel

proof cover

Timothy Paul Jones, co-writer of PROOF, articulates well why perseverance is a gospel issue. If a Christian can forfeit or lose or reject their salvation, then grace by definition is lost. Consequently, the gospel itself is lost.

Jones describes how many today perceive that salvation begins with God’s grace, but is kept by our own effort. He continues saying,

Seen this way, our salvation begins by God’s grace — but then it’s up to us to stay saved. Whether or not we remain in God’s good graces depends on our choices. Perhaps there are certain unpardonable sins that must be avoided or certain levels of growth that must be maintained or even religious rites that must be performed. Jesus starts it, but we finish it. But God, according to the scriptures, doesn’t only start our salvation; he plans it and guarantees it from beginning to end…It’s clear throughout the scriptures that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are working together at all times to sustain our salvation to the very end of time.

  • The Father plans our salvation to the end, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6)
  • The Son promises to carry out our salvation to the end: Jesus is both “the pioneer and perfecter” of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). In other words, Jesus doesn’t start our faith as the pioneer, but then leave us to finish the project. Jesus is the one who brings it to completion as “the perfecter” of our faith as well.
  • The Spirit guarantees our salvation to the end: God “put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Corinthians 1:22).

That’s good news for believers in Jesus Christ because it means you don’t have to keep up the payments on your salvation! If you’ve trusted Jesus, it’s not because you planed that faith in your fleeting and faulty wisdom. It’s because God set his heart on you from eternity past; God made this choice knowing everything about you — past, present, and future! As a result, nothing can change his choice to pour out his grace on you.

Not your sin.

Not our fears.

Not the darkness that gnaws at your heart that no one else knows about.

Nothing in your future.

Nothing in your past.

Nothing in all creation.

Nothing at all can separate you from God’s love.

God proved his love for you once and for all through the cross of Jesus and the empty tomb — and nothing can change his determination to save you by his grace. That’s the promise of forever grace. Forever grace means that God preserves us in his grace and that we persevere by this same grace. Both of these realities are rooted in God’s gracious work. Neither one is a work that originates in us, and both truths are essential. We can glimpse both of these truths at the same time in the same verse in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit” (that’s a command to persevere) “with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (4:30) — that’s an assurance that you will be preserved… God’s planning never writes a check his power can’t cash!

What a comfort to know that if God has saved us in Christ, he will keep us in Christ. He will preserve us, and ensure that we will persevere until the end. As Douglas Wilson once said, Works-righteousness “is a barren mother; she will never have any children, much less gracious children. Grace is fruitful; her children are many, and they all work hard“.

11 thoughts on “Perseverance and the Gospel

  1. My thoughts are that I think the premise is wrong to begin with. While is is certainly true that we have been saved by grace through faith as Eph 2:8-9 declares, grace AND faith are the two vital components of salvation. To focus on God’s grace exclusively while not addressing what the nature of the believer’s faith involves is to omit a vital component. God does not shirk away from making his grace available to us and as such cannot be “lost.” The question though is are we always faithful and if our faith becomes corrupted or if we fall away from our faith, what then becomes of our salvation? Calvinists dismiss the claim that a truly regenerated person can fall away claiming that such persons were never saved to begin with. However the very definition of apostasy dictates that the person(s) by necessity would have to have something (in this case faith) to fall away from. Logic dictates that one cannot fall away from something that one was never a part of to begin with.
    The Apostle Paul also warned against the possibility of not persevering when he issued his warning to the brethren in Rome:
    “Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” (Rom :12-13)

  2. Stu. Appreciate the comment.

    I’m going to disagree that the logical premise is wrong. The reason is because it’s a premise in scripture. 1 John 2:19 tells us this: ” 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”. Apostasy makes plain that they are “not of us”. Jesus presupposes that some will say “Lord, Lord” who do not know him (Mt 7:21-23). So it’s a logic that is in scripture. So while you say that “the very definition of apostasy dictates that the person(s) by necessity would have to have something (in this case faith) to fall away from. Logic dictates that one cannot fall away from something that one was never a part of to begin with”, I respectfully disagree based on a scriptural premise.

    Another thing, you quoted Ephesians 2:8-9, a passage in which Paul argues that faith is not something that man does exclusively. While it is a personal response, it is a response given or enabled by God. Paul says “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God”. The “this is not of your own doing” is referring to the entire process of grace AND faith. So, from Ephesians 2, Paul argues that faith is given of God. And if it is given of God, how can that faith given by God be “corrupted”?

    I would also point to other passages which state that a believer cannot be lost: Romans 8:35, John 10:38, Romans 5:1-11.

    I appreciate comments and input from my readers, but I categorically disagree. Thanks Stu

    Here are a couple other posts I have written on this issue:

  3. Greetings Lucas – thanks for your cordial response. To lend more clarity to the issue perhaps it is better to define what is meant by apostasy. Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Evangelical Theology defines apostasy as:
    Defection from the faith, an act of unpardonable rebellion against God and his truth. The sin of apostasy results in the abandonment of Christian doctrine and conduct. With respect to the covenant relationship established through prior profession of faith (passive profession in the case of baptized infants), apostates place themselves under the curse and wrath of God as covenant breakers, having entered into a state of final and irrevocable condemnation. Those who apostatize are thus numbered among the reprobate. Since the resurrection of Christ, there is no distinction between blasphemy against Christ and blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (cf. Matt 12:31-32 ; Heb 6:4-6 ; 10:26-29 ; 1 John 5:16-17 ). G. C. Berkouwer comments: “We must underscore the deep seriousness of the biblical warning against apostasy after enlightenment’ and after the knowledge of the truth.’ This is the apostasy which reviles the Spirit of grace and despises the Son of God and crucifies the Man of Sorrows anew” (p. 343). Berkouwer is correct to refute the idea that this sin against the Holy Spirit is a mysterium iniquitatis (“a mystery of sin”), a sin difficult, if at all possible, to define precisely in the Bible.
    Apostatizing from God’s redemptive covenant is an act of unpardonable transgression and rebellion. All other sins are forgiven on true repentance and faith. Those who fall out of fellowship with the saints are restored to full communion through confession of sin and reaffirmation of faith in Jesus Christ. Excommunication, as a final step in the process of ecclesiastical discipline, is undertaken in the hope of restoring the wayward sinner who has fallen into grievous sin ( 1 Co 5:1-5 ).

    Based on the above definition, it is apparent that apostasy only applies to those who were of faith to begin with but have since fallen away. In addition although I do agree with you that Scripture does cite those who were never believers to begin with, in order to make your scriptural premise a valid one, all of the scriptures regarding apostasy without exception, would have to refer to those who were never believers to begin with. I don’t believe the scriptures make that case as you have supposed. You have offered 1 Jn 2:19 and I agree with your interpretation that they “were not of us.” However, other scriptures such as 1 Tim 4:1 specifically state that it is indeed possible to depart from the faith:
    “Now the Spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of demons.”

    Similarly Paul admonishes the Galatian believers with this warning:
    “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4).
    Note that despite freely receiving the grace of God, some of the Galatian believers “corrupted” their faith by seeking to be justified by the law and had thus fallen from grace.

    Finally, I believe that in Luke 8, Jesus himself taught that a Christian can initially believe but later become lost:
    11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. 12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.”
    The same word pisteuo for “believe” is used in both v.12 and v.13. In v.12 they do not believe and are not saved. In v.13 they believe for a period of time but later fall away.
    I think the few scriptures I have cited are plain in their meaning and that is why I believe that a Christian can become lost. Thanks for the opportunity to dialogue with you.

    • Stu. Again, I dont deny the reality of apostasy, and perils therein. However, your definitions do not demand that those who apostasize were ever legitimately saved. These texts you are citing, are merely talking about the dangers and realities of rejecting Christ. I completely disagree with you about the Luke 8 passage. I think these texts prove my point. For someone to “receive the word with joy” and “have not root”, and therefore”fall away” means that they didn’t truly believe. There was not a “root” of faith there. It was a fake faith.

      Here is another post I wrote addressing my stance:

      How do you handle the security texts (Rom 8, John 10, Jude 24-25, John 6, etc)? How can “nothing separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” if we can be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus? I believe that balancing all the texts together helps to affirm that apostasy is real, but apostasy reveals that you were never truly saved.

      • Hi Lucas – you said…”These texts you are citing, are merely talking about the dangers and realities of rejecting Christ.” I agree with your statement except for the “merely” part as I don’t think that “merely” befits the consequences of the dangers and realities of rejecting Christ. You assert that you don’t deny the “reality of apostasy and the perils within” yet you deny that such were legitimately saved. Which is it? For clarification do you agree with Baker’s definition of apostasy and its attendant consequences? Baker’s definition requires that one defect from the faith not reject the faith; so although you say you don’t deny the reality of apostasy; I’m still unclear as to how you define it and what if any consequences you believe in. The only thing I understand from you is that the truly regenerate can never fall away and the warning passages in the scriptures refer to those who were never saved to begin with.

        Nonetheless, getting to specifics regarding the Luke 8 passage, you have not dealt with the word “pisteuo” or believe which we cannot overlook and is key to understanding the plain meaning of the text. The word – believe in v.13 is the same word – believe found in v.12. Verse 12 clearly references those who don’t believe and consequently are not saved. To maintain hermeneutical consistency should not the same salvific consequences apply to those whom only “believe for a while” in v.13? Believe in these two verses clearly references “sozo” or saving faith. In v.12 those were never saved to begin with because the text plainly states that “they may not believe.” In v.13 we find those who “believe for a while” but later fell away. The problem with claiming that those in v.13 “didn’t truly believe” is that if one acknowledges that pisteuo in v.12 refers to believe in terms of saving faith, one has to acknowledge that believe in v.13 also has to refer to saving faith. One cannot change the definition of believe from one verse to the very next. Moreover, can you explain to me how someone can fall away (v.13) from the faith if they didn’t truly believe to begin with? Contextually it makes a lot more sense that these were true believers but their belief was only temporary and they did not persevere because of the onset of testing/temptations. Also, how would you explain that these people were tested/tempted? Unbelievers are dead in their sins and as such they cannot be said to be tested or tempted. The scriptures only refer to believers as being tested/tempted.
        If we venture beyond the specific context of this passage, the same word pisteuo is used in many other instances and in well-known passages such as Jn 3:16 and Rom 10:9 with particular reference to saving faith. These are key verses often used in evangelizing and bringing the unsaved into saving faith. We must be hermeneutically consistent in our interpretation of the scriptures. Therefore, I can’t agree with your interpretation of this passage in Luke 8 where you claim that those who believed temporarily were never true believers.

      • You don’t have to agree. I’m not forcing u. However, it’s the position (and many other evangelicals’ position) I hold over here at my blog. I’ve posted other links w further clarification. So if u want to follow those links, great. If not, I’ll stop our convo here. it was good engaging u

    • Also Stu, regarding the Galatians 5:4 text, I believe you are missing the context of Paul’s statement. Boice, commenting on this verse, says: “to ‘fall from grace’, as seen by this context, is to fall into legalism. Or to put it another way, to choose legalism is to relinquish grace as the principle by which one desires to be related to God”.

      I have another post regarding this verse:

  4. Too bad you didn’t bother to answer my questions or responses Lucas since I took the time to politely answer yours. I find that to be quite puzzling on your part. Should you not be expected to be able to scripturally defend your position especially since you teach doctrine on your blog? But then again it’s your blog; but perhaps you shouldn’t invite comments.

    • Ur comments are long stu. This makes it hard for me to respond to everything u say. Besides this, I feel no personal responsibility to respond to each one. I’ve taken my time to respond to u, and have allowed u to give ur side. However, I posted other links which u have yet to look at. If u want me to engage u and take ur side seriously, read the links, be cordial, and shorten ur comments. Otherwise I don’t feel any need to reply to further comments

      • I have read the links which are longer versions of your basic view which I have already alluded to. So in essence I have replied in reference to those links. If I have inaccurately described your position please inform me accordingly. Would it be too much to ask of you to at least post my all of my responses instead of holding them in moderation? And if you feel like they are too long, I am not asking that you reply to all of my points although I tried to respond to all of yours. My point is that if you teach doctrine on your blog you should be willing to engage with those who do not hold to the same view – after all – “iron sharpens iron.”

      • Ok, you’ve read my posts. You should take those posts as a more defined articulation of my position, and respond to those posts. I’m puzzled why you feel that I need to articulate my position more clearly under this post, especially considering I have about 5-6 other posts on this subject.

        Within my post on the defense of the perseverance of the saints, I have provided several instances in scripture which indicate that someone who has fallen away was not regenerate. Not least of these in 2 Corinthians 13:5 in which Paul indicates that “Jesus Christ lives in you, UNLESS you have failed the test”. This to me, indicates that regeneration will bear fruit. If there is no fruit, you have failed the test of salvation.

        What this means is that I balance other scriptures which exhort believers to persevere. When believers persevere, it is indicative of their regeneration. When they do not, it reveals they are not truly born again. I’m not sure what else to explain to you of my position.

        I disagree that Romans 8 indicate the only external sufferings are in view. This is true of course. But Paul mentions that nothing on heaven and earth can separate us. This includes us as well.

        Also, your position in Romans 8:13 fails to recognize context. Paul says in Romans 8:9: “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, IF in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you”. Again, this verse lends to my position. IF the Spirit dwells in you, you are not in the flesh. I take this context when interpreting verse 13.

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