A Biblical Defense of the Perseverance of the Saints

Philippians-1-6-web

I’ve had a lot of interaction on this site recently regarding perseverance, or eternal security; so I thought it would be helpful to write a response as to why I hold to perseverance of the saints, and why I reject conditional perseverance.

First, I want to start with some terms:

Grace: Grace, by definition is unmerited favor. Meaning, favor that is given regardless of merit or demerit . The New Testament is fraught with this theme. Grace is given to God’s people. And what this means, to me at least, is that for grace to be grace, there cannot be anything can do to earn or lose it. Grace, by definition of being unmerited favor, ceases to be grace, if I can lose or forfeit salvation.

Justification: Biblically, the doctrine of justification means to be declared “not guilty”. Put in the framework of Paul’s epistle to the Romans, it means that God’s wrath has been turned away (Rom 3:25), and that we are already at peace with God (Rom 5:1). It doesn’t mean that we must keep peace with God — it means we have peace with God. The conclusion that Paul draws from this is that we can be assured of glory (Rom 5:2). Paul’s reasoning here is that because we have already been declared “not guilty”, then we can rest assured that we will never be found guilty once again. Someone who has been acquitted no longer has to fear being re-condemned. Justification, by nature, means that I don’t have to fear falling out of God’s good grace.

Regeneration: Paul tells us in Ephesians that we have been made new “and sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, the guarantee of our inheritance” (Eph 1:13-14). What Paul means to convey is that the Spirit is God’s downpayment of glory to the Christian. God ensures us future glory by giving us part of that future glory: the Holy Spirit. More than that, the Spirit makes us a new creation (2 Cor 5:17) with new desires and new abilities. We are literally recreated in Christ. What this means is that because we have been created anew, surely we cannot be uncreated. New creations are made for God’s future creation.

I bring all these terms into the discussion, because most people are accustomed to them. People preach on these terms. However, in my opinion, you can’t hold to these essential doctrines and hold to conditional perseverance. How can an acquitted “not guilty” sinner, become guilty again? What is grace if grace can be lost? How can a new creation become uncreated? The Bible portrays these terms in a specific context, which indicates that salvation cannot be lost.

At this point, I want to bring in several texts which point out that a Christian, who is truly justified and regenerated, cannot lost their salvation:

John 6:38-40: For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
John 10:27-29: My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will 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 the Father’s hand.
John 3:36: Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life
Romans 8:39: For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Ephesians 1:13-14: In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Philippians 1:6: And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 1:3-5: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
Jude 24-25: Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

There are more, but I’ll stop there. The point that I want to make, is that as much as there might seem to be passages which negate final perseverance, there are many, many more which support it.

The question, to me, then becomes, in light of the aforementioned passages, how do we address other passages which seem to indicate that a Christian can lose or forfeit their salvation?

For instance, Colossians 1:22-23 says, “he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard“. Or what about Hebrews 10:23, which commands us to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering”?

I want to first make clear, that I believe in apostasy. Meaning, I believe that people can leave the faith. And those people who leave that faith are not secure. If they die without having repented, they will go to hell. This is why I prefer that the historic doctrine of “perseverance of the saints” not be called “once saved always saved”. What this term implies is that it doesn’t matter what you do, you will always be saved. This isn’t true.

I believe in the historic Protestant doctrine of perseverance, which Wayne Grudem aptly defines: “all those who are truly born again will be kept by God’s power and will persevere as Christians until the end of their lives, and that only those who persevere until the end have been truly born again”. In other words, if you have been born again, you will persevere. Contrastly, if you don’t persevere, it reveals that you have not been born again. In other words, there are a lot of professing Christians, who aren’t really Christians — their falling away proves it.

Now, where is this line of reasoning in the scriptures? I first want to point out that all of the passages which exhort Christians to persevere never say that regenerated, Spirit indwelt believers can lose their salvation. They only command Christians to persevere. We might assume that what the writers are implying is that a true Christian can lose their salvation, but there is no New Testament passage which outright states that.

With that said, below are several scriptures which indicate that if you don’t persevere, you were never saved in the first place. I’ve stressed parts of the verses which explain my point:

1 John 2:18-19: Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 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
Hebrews 3:14: For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end
John 8:31-32: So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth
Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Mark 4:16-17: And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.
2 Corinthians 13:5: Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!]
Romans 8:8-10: Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness
2 Timothy 2:17-19: Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”

What all of these verses indicate is that if you have been truly saved, then you will endure. But, if you aren’t legitimately born again, it stands to reason that, as Jesus said, you “have no root” in yourself, and will fall away. Hebrews 3:14 tells us that we know we have already come to share in Christ, if we hold fast. He doesn’t say we will come to share in Christ if we hold fast. In other words, our holding fast reveals that we have come to share in Christ. Paul tells the Corinthians to test themselves, and to see whether they pass as legitimate believers. Why would they have to test themselves? Why wouldn’t Paul just tell them that all their sins have caused them to lose their salvation?

I believe that, taken all that evidence, any and every truly saved believer will endure. God will keep them, and they will stay faithful. I have one last verse to make my point: Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:10, talks about the why of his faithfulness. And he says this: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me”. By God’s grace we are secure. We work hard, but at the end of the day, it is not us, but the grace of God with us. Yes and amen!

Advertisements

10 thoughts on “A Biblical Defense of the Perseverance of the Saints

  1. Two comments (and I’ll expand on them privately to avoid clogging your blogspace)
    1. I agree with your definition of grace but disagree with what you say that definition implies. Grace does mean the gift is not earned, but why do you believe grace cannot have conditions? God has offered and given many gifts by His grace but placed conditions on the acceptance or ongoing possession of what He offered (life in the Garden Gen. 2:15-16; Israel leaving Egypt at the Red Sea Ex. 14:16, 30; Israel defeating Jericho Josh. 6:2; Heb. 11:26). These, and other, gifts that were given conditionally were not earned. So it is with salvation from God.
    2. I would be interested in your comments on how it is possible that 2 Peter 2:1 (denying the Lord who bought them); Hebrews 10:29 counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified…); James 5:19-20) do not contradict your definition of perseverance.
    Thanks for providing a public forum for the examination and discussion of these things–I respect you for that.

    • David,

      Thanks for the the thoughts. I disagree with your definition with grace. Grace implies that I cannot earn the love that God has given in Christ. This by definition implies a lack of conditionality. In the gospel, God gives freely and unconditionally what he demands in the law.

      I want to comment on some of your verses which contain conditions. First, the Genesis account implies that Adam was in a conditional covenant with God. To be sure, Adam’s obedience maintained his fellowship with God. But again, Adam failed to meet those conditions, thus plunging us all into sin (cf. 5:12-21). BEcause Adam was our representative (Rom 5:12), his disobedience introduced sin to all of us. This is why God had to provide a Second Adam to undo what Adam did. By his obedience we are made righteous (2 Cor 5:21). This is the flow of the scriptures. We see this in Genesis 3:15: God promised to provide a seed which would undo Adam’s mess.

      Regards your other passages: I will content that Moses had to raise the staff. However, the Israel didn’t have to do anything. The reason is because Moses was their God-representative. Moses was a type of Christ, who was to come. So Moses did all the work FOR THEM. Also, the Jericho episode is given to us to teach us that we don’t have to work, God will fight for us.

      My stance is that salvation is a gift given by God freely (Rom 9:15), in which through Christ he gives repentance and faith (Eph 2:8-9, 2 Tim 2:25), imputes Christ’s perfect righteousness to his people (2 Cor 5:21), and preserves his people until glory by his Spirit (Rom 8:28-30, Jude 24-25, Eph 1:13). In other words, all the conditions demanded by God are met by God in the gospel.

      In response to the conditional verses you give. First, as I said in the blog above, the conditional verses MUST be contextualized with the rest of scriptures. I believe that my interpretation gives balance to all the verses. I would ask you how you interpret the above verses on security if no one is secure in Christ? Maybe when we meet again, you can think through that.

      But, here are some responses to your verses:

      2 Peter 2:1 says nothing of the false teachers being saved. There are two main interpretations of this text: One possible interpretation is that Peter is simply implying that Jesus died for their sins (thus, in a way, purchasing them), but they didn’t accept his offer — this is a common evangelical arminian interpretation which affirms universal atonement, as opposed to limited atonement. Another interpretation, which I believe fits the context, is that Peter was being sarcastic. In other words, the false teachers claimed to be slaves of Christ, yet by their works, they were denying Christ. In this way, Peter is trying to communicate that their works make it apparent that these supposed “purchased believers” are denying their “Lord”, employing sarcasm. It is not unheard of. Paul did this in Galatians 5:12. But either way, there is nothing in this passage where Peter implies that they “lost” their salvation. He is merely saying that, by their actions, they are denying Christ.

      To get to the bottom of Hebrews 10:29, we have to ask: WHO was sanctified by the blood? The greek absolutely demands that the author is talking about Jesus. Here is how the ESV translation renders it:

      “How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?”

      the blood of the covenant by which he (Christ) was sanctified. The author here is trying to communicate that Christ himself was sanctified by his death and resurrection, thus being made the High Priest of the New Covenant (in contrast to the Mosaic Covenant priests). Context lends to this interpretation. So, the author is saying, if Jews were destroyed for setting aside the Mosaic Covenant, how much more someone who sets aside the New Covenant? While I agree this passage does have to do with perseverance, the passage isn’t talking about sanctified believers losing their salvation. It is talking about Jews who deny the New Covenant for the Mosaic, and thus bring wrath on their heads. Interesting, I would love to hear your interpretation of Hebrews 10:14, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified”. This verse (and also verse 10) must be taken into context. How can Jesus perfect for ALL TIME those who are being sanctified, if those who are sanctified can become unperfected? Doesn’t add up to me.

      James 5:19-20 affirms apostasy, but it does not affirm that any truly believer can lose their salvation.

      Hope this helps

  2. 2 Peter 2:1 says they were bought (see 1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23; Rev. 5:9 on who is bought). Is Peter also sarcastic in verse 20 when he references people who have escaped pollutions through the knowledge of God (wherein is grace, peace, and promise 1:2-4) but later return to them? Did they never “really” escape? Some who were bought, later deny the one who bought them. Some escape the world through Jesus but are later entangled again. Some of the “beloved” could be led away with the error of the wicked (3:17).
    I agree that sarcasm is present in the Bible at times, but I’ve found no example where someone is sarcastically referred to as being in a saved condition, when in reality they were lost. Gal. 5:12 is not of that sort.
    Heb. 10:29 Verse 19 defines the audience—brethren…consider one another…you were illuminated (v19, 24, 33). This paragraph is addressed to believers (in this case who are Jewish but the principles apply to any believer). I think we agree on that point. Then, in verses 26-27 a believer who sins willfully is then identified as among the adversaries of God. Verse 29 continues that theme showing that these “brethren” face the fiery indignation and wrath that devours all adversaries of God.
    — What in the Greek demands that Jesus is the one sanctified? “Sanctified” appears twice in chapter 10 (v10, 14) referring to man. I don’t think that specific word (in English or Greek [hagiazo]) is applied to Jesus anywhere in Hebrews.
    Per your request: Heb. 10:14 contrasts Jesus’ sacrifice with the sacrifices described in v1: a one-time sacrifice versus repeated sacrifices. Verse 2 explains that the Mosaic offerings provided a “reminder of sins.” That is contrasted in verse 14. Under the Old Covenant, Jews offered multiple sacrifices for the same sins. For example, when a Jew sinned he was to offer a sacrifice for that. Then, at the Day of Atonement, there was another sacrifice to atone for the people’s sins (even the ones for which an atonement had already been made!). However under Christ, once any sin is forgiven, it is forgotten forever. There is never a repeat-sacrifice for the same sins (a flaw in the Catholic Eucharist wherein they claim Jesus is offered again). After having been cleansed from guilt, if we sin and become guilty again, we go to the same sacrifice (not an additional sacrifice) to be made whole (perfect, complete) again.
    You may wonder “If Christ makes us perfect, how can we become unperfect?” First, do we agree that “perfect” means complete, lacking nothing and does not mean “past, present, and future flawlessness”? (If we do not agree on the word’s meaning we must resolve that before continuing the discussion. I suspect we’ll agree on that). If we agree on that then the answer is that we become “unperfect” by choosing to sin (Js. 5:19-20, see below). But we are not then hopeless because the same sacrifice of Jesus can again make us perfect. That same sacrifice is forever available—God perfects us every time we need it (1 Jn. 1:9). Blessed assurance. For an example of something once being complete/perfect later being complete “again” see James 2:22.
    James 5:19-20 “Brethren” = Christians (4:11; 5:9). “Wanders from the truth and turn… back” implies they were once in the truth (Jn. 14:6), left the truth, and returned to the truth. This Christian was a sinner in danger of death (Js. 1:15) until he turned back to the truth (Jn. 14:6) from sin.
    Maybe we can discuss Simon the former sorcerer in Acts 8 in these regards sometime.
    Thanks again for studying these things with me. I know you are busy.

  3. Pingback: The Warning Passages and Perseverance of the Saints | Lucas Hattenberger

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s