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 I 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!