I have been in dialogue with a friend on the topic of perseverance of the saints. It was what prompted this post HERE. My basic thesis is that all true believers are kept by God’s power, and continue in faith until the end. There is nothing that can separate God’s people from his love, because God, by his power, keeps his people faithful and believing. I affirmed that apostasy is in fact a leaving-of-the-faith; however, this does not demand that those who leave the faith are truly regenerate believers (for texts which affirm this fact, see the link above).
However, my friend objected to my position. His largest beef was that my position doesn’t take the “warning passages” seriously. He argued that the warning passages warn true believers of the dangers of leaving apostasy. After considering these texts a bit further, I do agree that the warning texts are addressing believers.
The question then becomes, how should one view and interpret these texts? To put another way, does that fact that the warning passages address believers demand that they can forfeit their salvation?
Thomas Schreiner, in his book Run to Win the Prize, attempts to wade this issue. As a Calvinist, Schreiner adheres to perseverance of saints. However, at the same time, Schreiner agrees that the warning texts address regenerate believers. He admits that the Arminian reading (that the warnings are addressed to believers) of the warning passages is not at all “far-fetched”, and actually takes “the warnings… seriously”.
However, Schreiner disagrees with the Arminian conclusion that believers can lose their salvation. The reason is because while Schreiner wishes to deal with the warning texts fairly, he also wants to deal with the assurnance texts fairly. In essence, he concludes that Arminians are too one-sided when it comes to the passages on the believer’s security in Christ. He says,
The problem with the Arminian reading is that those adhering to [conditional security] do not have a persuasive reading of the assurance texts in Scripture… For instance, Paul assures the Philippians that ‘he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion in the day of Jesus Christ’ (Phil. 1:6). Arminians read this text to say that the good work will be completed, provided that one continues to believe and if one does not fall away. Such a reading, however, drains the verse of virtually all comfort…
…The same line of argument applies to Romans 8:35-39, where Paul promises that nothing will separate believers from the love of Christ. Again the Arminian argues that nothing external can separate believers from Christ’s love, but believers may be detached from Christ by their own choices. Such a reading of the text is unconvincing… The very point Paul makes here is that even the most terrifying experiences will not move one to forsake Christ. The reason for believers’ faithfulness does not lie in the strength of their will but in the love of Christ, which keeps them even through agonizing sufferings.
I totally agree. The security passages are incredibly clear. The question then becomes, how can the warnings texts address believers concerning the dangers of apostasy, if believers cannot/will not apostatize?
Schreiner answer this question by look at the the purpose of the warning texts. He explains, saying:
[The warning texts do in fact warn believers] against falling away, for those who do so will be damned forever. It is precisely at this point that we must [explain]…the function of the warnings in the NT. The writers in the texts we have examined do not accuse their readers as if the latter have fallen away. They admonish them so that they will not fall away. The warnings are prospective, not retrospective. They are like road signs that caution drivers of dangers ahead on the highway. They are written so that readers will heed the warnings and escape the threatened consequence… The purpose of warnings in the NT is redemptive and salvific. The Lord uses them as means so that believers will escape death…
This is an interesting way to observe the warnings. What Schreiner means to explain is that the NT warnings are a means by which God keeps his elect in the faith. Those in the Reformed camp would all agree that God uses means to infallibly save and keep his people. Schreiner argues that the warning texts are one of God’s main ways of doing so. Another important observation is that the warnings are prospective, not retrospective — in other words, the warnings do not address those who have already left the faith — they warn believers of what would happen if they did apostatize.
I would contend that all true believers (all the elect, all those who have the Holy Spirit and enjoy the forgiveness of sins and are members of the new covenant) heed the warnings and are thereby saved. In other words, the warnings are one of the means God uses to keep his own trusting him and persevering in the faith until the end… The warnings in the NT, then, do not rebuke believers for falling away. They urge them most earnestly not to do so…
The main objection that is raised against this reading of the warnings is that the warning is drained of all significance if it cannot be fulfilled. If the elect always and inevitably fulfill the warning, then what is the point of giving the admonition? [To answer by way of illustration], the other day I was driving my car in reverse and almost hit a parked car behind me, but my son cried out, “Dad, stop!” His warning caused me to put on the brakes and prevented me from hitting the car. In the same way, because, when my children were small, I threatened punishments if they ran into the street, they never ran into the street. Warnings are not abstractions. They are the means God uses to keep believers from falling away.
Schreiner ends his argument by making this helpful clarification:
God has promised that his elect will persevere, just as he promised to grant faith to his chosen ones. Such a promise does not eliminate [responsibility]. Both the summons to persevere and [the call to believe] in the gospel are conditions that must be fulfilled to be saved, but in both instances God grants the grace so that the conditions will certainly be fulfilled in those who belong to him.
While I believe that my last post is still in harmony with this position, I think Schreiner has a helpful discussion, especially considering the nature of the warning passages in the NT.