Perseverance of the Saints? Paul’s Answer from Romans 5


Can a Christian lose their salvation? I think the biblical answer, from every biblical author, is an emphatic no.

I can’t think of any better passage to examine in light of this question than Romans 5. Paul writes Romans 5 after having examined our helplessness in sin in Romans 1-2, and God’s method of salvation in Romans 3-4. Paul finishes his argument in Romans 3-4 by saying that God saves through Jesus’ wrath satisfying death on the cross. Because Jesus suffered the wrath of God, we who practice faith are saved from this wrath.

Paul begins chapter 5 by giving the “therefore” of this justifying death. Paul starts out by saying that because Jesus suffered the wrath of God, we “have peace with God” (Rom 5:1). Before the cross, we were at enmity with God. Paul tells us in Romans 1:30 we were “haters of God”, rebellious and at war with him. Because of this, God’s wrath was upon us. His anger toward our sin was directed at us. But, because Jesus took our sins on his body, and suffered God’s just wrath, this puts this cosmic war to rest. It means that we are at peace with God. It means our enmity with God is put to death.

More than this though, Paul tells us that because we are at complete peace with God, we can “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Rom 5:2b). When Paul says hope, he doesn’t mean in the same way we do. He is using the word hope like we use the words promise or guarantee. RC Sproul rightly says that biblically, hope is “faith merely looking forward”. So what Paul is meaning to communicate here, is that because God’s wrath has been dealt with, we have a sure hope, or guarantee of sharing and enjoying God’s glory in eternity. In essence, the peace with have with God now is a guarantee of the glory we will have with God in the future. Paul is talking about the assurance of final salvation.

Paul goes on to tell us that this hope allows us to suffer in a different manner than others. We can suffer, and go through trials (Rom 5:3-4), knowing that this isn’t the end. We have a hope that one day we will share glory with God, enjoying and worshipping him forever. In fact, Paul says quite emphatically that we have a hope that “does not put put us to shame” (Rom 5:5). In other words, God doesn’t promise us eternal glory without giving us eternal glory. God will never go back on his word. And because of that, we know that our hope won’t put us to shame. And so Paul emphatically argues for final perseverance. God will keep those whom he has saved.

And if that wasn’t argument enough, Paul adds another layer in Romans 5:6-11. The climax of his argument is in verse 10, where he says, “for if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life”. What an incredible verse! In essence, what Paul is telling us is, “if God is able to save us at our worst, what is stopping him from keeping us until the end?”. The answer, of course, is nothing. If God saved us while we were still enemies of him, how much more can he keep us and save us until the end? The point is, God has saved us, and he will keep us.

What Paul is arguing through this whole passage is the fact that if God has made peace with us through Christ, he will keep us until the end, into glory. Final salvation is something guaranteed by God, and kept by God.

I think a lot of times, when Christians argue about whether a Christian can lose their salvation, the only thing that comes to mind is whether a Christian can forfeit salvation. But this is not at all how Paul sees the question in Romans 5. Paul posses the question in a totally different light. Instead of asking, “can lose my salvation?”, Paul asks, “Can God lose my salvation?”. And he emphatically answer no on several different levels. I believe we need to look at this question the way Paul does.

Douglas Wilson says it this way, “Christians cannot lose their salvation, for the simple reason that their salvation does not belong to them. It belongs to Christ. If anyone is to lose it, it must be he. And he has promised not to”. Jesus is the securer of our salvation. This means that it is he who has it, and it is he who keeps it. This is Paul’s point through the entire passage of Romans 5.

And in fact, he will argue this point from Romans 5-8, ending with the weight conclusion, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39).