A Biblical Defense of the Perseverance of the Saints

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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!

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

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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).

What did Paul mean when he said, “you’ve fallen from grace”?

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Paul, in the height of his letter to the Galatians, says in Galatians 5:4,

You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace

What does Paul mean by this? Many have claimed that Paul here is teaching conditional security (as opposed to unconditional); the thought that one can lose their position in Christ, no longer being saved.

But is this what this passage is teaching? I really don’t think so.

First of all, from the context, Paul was not speaking about the status of one’s salvation. Paul here (as he has been addressing throughout the entire letter) was speaking of the method of salvation. Meaning, Paul wasn’t arguing whether someone is saved; his primary concern here and all throughout Galatians was how one becomes saved. And in Galatians, Paul had been arguing for free salvation through faith in Jesus, and against works-based, self-meritorious salvation.

And in fact, the Galatians had been duped by false teachers into thinking that the way someone is saved is through adherence to specific laws and outward obedience. They were tricked into thinking that if they obeyed enough, that they would be accepted and loved by God. But Paul was arguing that people are saved not on the basis of merit, but on the basis of grace. People are not saved by performance, or by outward actions, or by righteous deeds, but by the performance of Another; namely, by the performance of Jesus.

With this context in mind, I think it is clear that in Galatians 5:4 Paul was telling his readers that by attempting to win God’s approval through works, they were operating in a crippling system of legalism and works-righteousness, as opposed to salvation by grace.

In this light, Paul was not saying that people can sin their way out of salvation. He was not introducing this concept that a Christian could out-sin God’s grace, or forfeit their salvation through licentious living. In fact, Paul never had this concept in his head when he brought out this phrase “fallen from grace”. It is ironic that some mean “lose salvation” when they say “fall from grace”. But again, given the context of the entire book of Galatians, this cannot mean what Paul meant. And in fact, with Jesus’ perfect work being the ground of salvation, the thought that a Christian could out-sin grace would have been detestable to Paul.

In reality, when Paul said that the Galatians had “fallen from grace”, he was referring to the deadly thought that anyone could ever work their own way into salvation. Paul was refuting the Galatians’ legalism, not their licentiousness (Paul does renounce licentiousness in Romans 6 — but not here). Again, we cannot miss the context of this phrase.

So then, the Galatians had fallen from grace in that they were trying to earn the love of God with their own works. They had fallen from grace in that they thought their works could somehow merit God’s approval. They had fallen from grace in that they were not trusting the merit of Jesus, and in his sin-atoning death to attain the love of God for them.

But Paul was not saying that they had lost their salvation.

Rather, Paul was reminding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He was reminding them that the only way they could win or earn or achieve any type of love or acceptance from God was through the life and death of Jesus. Because through faith in Christ, Jesus’ perfect performance was given to them. And all of their sin was hoisted onto Jesus and punished in their place. Jesus had already done all the work. He had already lived the perfect life. He had already atoned from the sins of his people. And for that, those who had believed were already beloved children in the Father’s eyes (Mark 1:11). Why should they severe themselves from this truth? Why should they remove themselves from this grace? Paul was writing to make sure they understood where their righteousness came from.

James Boyce, 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”.

When our own works are the principle by which we relate to God, we are fallen from grace.