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Home: Articles / Bible Studies: Doctrines of Grace

"Perseverance of The Saints"
By Fred Butler

We come to the last of the five points of Calvinism – Perseverance of the Saints.  This doctrine as we shall observe, does not stand alone, but is a necessary conclusion to the previous 4 points.  Especially the election by God, the atonement of Christ, and the effectual call by the Spirit.

 

Various Definitions of Perseverance:

 

 

They, who God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace: but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved. The Westminster Confession of Faith, Ch. XIX, Sec. 1

 

The term perseverance of the saints emphasizes that Christians will persevere in trusting in Christ as their savior.  They will not turn on and then turn off, but they will continue believing forever.  Thus, they will always be saved forever. Edwin Palmer: The Five Points of Calvinism.

 

Perseverance. The act or quality of persevering; persistence; steadfast pursuit of an undertaking or aim; steadfastness.  Continuance in a state of grace until it is succeeded by a state of glory.

Persevere. To persist in any enterprise undertaken in spite of counter influences or oppositions.  Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary

 

 

These definitions describe the state of the believer.  From them we can glean to following points:

 

-          The perseverance of the saints is established by the work of the Godhead securing the saint’s salvation.

-          Once eternal salvation has been given to the saint, it can never be lost by the saint, or taken back by the Lord.

-          Regardless of outside opposition, the saint will persist in trusting Christ and never deny Him.

 

Perseverance means eternal security.  Perseverance and eternal security are like two sides to a coin.  On one side, the person who has placed his or her faith in Jesus Christ is eternally secure. They demonstrate that they have been chosen, saved, and called to eternal life; and they will never loose their salvation. 

On the other side, perseverance says that new Christians have a changed life, and will persevere in that salvation.  No amount of temptation, discouragement, or spiritual setback will cause them to take their eyes off of their Lord.  God has secured their salvation, and they will continue in that salvation.

 

The Arminian Position.

 

In contrast to the position of eternal security, the Arminian argues for what is termed conditional security.  In other words, the Christian, who accepts Christ, must remain obedient and faithful to Christ or that Christian risks the danger of falling away, and forfeiting his salvation.  Thus, the believer is saved on the condition he remains faithful to Christ.

When we examine some key biblical passages, it is clear that the Bible teaches eternal security.  The believer is never in danger of falling away, and he can remain confident that he has eternal life.

 

 

­      Ephesians 1:4-14

 

This passage has been studied before, but it would do good to review it once again in light of the believer’s eternal security.

 

 

The Work of the Godhead in Salvation

 

In this long sentence, penned by the hand of Paul, the apostle highlights the work of each member of the Godhead in bringing salvation to mankind.

 

As we have seen in our study, each member of the Holy Trinity has secured the saint’s salvation.  It is to be understood, then, that if each person of the Godhead has established the Christian’s salvation, then those same Persons will secure the Christian so that their salvation will be completed unto eternal life.

 

The Father (1:4-6)

 

The Father has chosen His people.  The choosing was done before the foundation of the world. 

 

His chose us to three states: holiness, blamelessness, and adoption. (vss. 4-5)

 

Holiness implies a separation unto the Lord; set apart.  The Christian has been chosen to be set apart, by God, for God’s use.

 

Blameless is translated from a root word meaning without blemish, or without fault.  Those chosen have no blemishes to incite blame.

 

Paul goes on to state that the Father predestinates Christians for adoption. (vs. 5)

Adoption signifies the place and condition of a son given to a person who does not naturally belong to that family. 

 

As we saw when studying unconditional election, the Father does this according to the pleasure of His good will.  He has marked out His people for election.  That marking out secures them.

 

The Son (1:7-12)

 

There are two key works the Son has done on behalf of the elect.

 

First, Christ redeemed them (1:7).  Redemption means that we have been purchased by Christ’s death.  Remember that the word redeem means that we had our dept paid in full.  Christ actually redeemed us completely, not merely made us redeemable.

 

Secondly, Christ has bestowed upon them an inheritance (vs. 11).  Inheritance implies a possession that is granted to a son, or family member.  Because of what Christ did with reconciling the elect to God by His death, the elect have obtained an inheritance, a special possession – eternal life.  The inheritance is so certain, that Paul speaks of it as being already received.

 

The Spirit (1:13-14)

 

The Holy Spirit is said to have sealed the believer.  Sealed means ownership.  Just as a document would be sealed in wax by an owner’s signature, so too is the believer.

 

The Holy Spirit is called the earnest or guarantee for the believer.  A pledge that assures the believer that they will be saved, and receive eternal life.

 

Looking at the work of the Trinity in regards to initiating, supplying, and securing man’s salvation, it is unreasonable to believe that men have to maintain their salvation on condition of faithfulness to Christ.

 

­      Colossians 3:1-4

 

With this passage, Paul explains the place of saving grace the believer currently, at this present time, experiences.

 

 

Note the following words: raised (3:1), died (3:3), hidden (3:3). They are all in the past tense. 

 

The believer has been raised (already) with Christ.  He has died (already) to the tyranny of sin, and his life is hidden (right now) in Christ.  What Christ has done for them, and what they currently experience, cannot be undone by a lack of faithfulness on the part of a believer.

 

­      1 Peter 1:3-5

 

A third passage that expands on the Christian’s security is found in the first chapter of 1 Peter.

 

First, we have been begotten to a lively hope (1:3).  Begotten means to give birth. God has brought us forth into salvation.  The Christian is begotten into a living/lively hope – a hope that is living. 

 

Secondly, Peter uses the word inheritance and describes it thus:

 

Ø       Incorruptible – It cannot suffer decay.

Ø       Undefiled – It can never be rendered polluted, unclean, or unholy.

Ø       Does not fade away – It never ceases to loose its luster, or whither.

Ø       Reserved – It is kept and guarded for the heir.

 

Thirdly, not only does the Christian obtain this unchanging inheritance, but he is also kept by the power of God.

Kept is translated from a word that means, to guard, watch over, and preserve.  The power of God keeps the Christian secure. 

 

Examination of Conditional Security

 

How then can a believer forfeit his salvation? Especially when God has done all of this on his behalf?

 

As we saw earlier, the Arminian position teaches that a Christian must remain faithful to Christ.  If a Christian removes himself from faith, he then could be in danger of loosing his salvation.

 

One particular denomination, The Free-Will Baptist, writes this in their official doctrinal statement:

 

There are strong grounds to hope that the truly regenerate will persevere unto the end and be saved, through the power of Divine Grace which is pledged for their support; but their future obedience and final salvation are neither determined nor certain, since through infirmity and manifold temptations they are in danger of falling; and they ought, therefore, to watch and pray lest they make shipwreck of their faith and be lost. (FWB Treatise, Ch. 13) [emphasis added].

 

This statement represents clearly the position of conditional security.  At its core, the position is problematic in several areas, as well as begins with a handful of erroneous presuppositions.

 

·         Conditional security elevates men, and their “free will,” over the sovereignty of God in completing salvation.  The Arminian will believe in God’s sovereignty in all things, except the eternal destiny of men.  That is the one area in creation where God has no control.  God is only allowed to make a way for men to be redeemable – through Jesus Christ. God, however, cannot force people to choose that way, nor remain in that way.  God must yield to the free will of men. It is the exercise of a man’s free will that brought him to believe in Christ, it is the further exercise of his free will that allows him to reject Christ.

 

·         Conditional security brings about a works oriented salvation. The conditional securist will argue for salvation being a “free gift” and through Jesus Christ alone; but their understanding of eternal security, being dependent upon the free choices of men, places them into the “salvation by works” camp.  It is the faithfulness (essentially, “good works”) of the believer that maintains his salvation, not the work of God alone.  If the believer is faithful, watching over his salvation, then God will impart to him more grace.  If the believer neglects this duty, then he can forfeit that salvation.

 

·         The amount of sin a Christian can do to forfeit salvation is ambiguous.  In other words, there is no clearly defined limit as to exactly how many sins will bring a believer to the point of “shipwrecking” his faith.  Is it two? Four? Maybe Ten? Are some sins worse than others? Will one particular sin bring a Christian further away from Christ than another?  There is just no clear indicator given by the eternal securist as to what degree of sinfulness permanently shipwrecks a believer’s faith.  Usually, any willful unbelief made by a Christian constitutes forfeiture of faith.  However, willful unbelief is a mark of those opposed to Christ, not some one who loves Him and has chosen to follow Him.

 

·         Conditional security brings serious ramifications upon the doctrine of regeneration.  The doctrine of regeneration teaches that God imparts spiritual life to a sinner, so that he is given a new heart and experiences a spiritual resurrection.  If a believer, in a willful act of disobedience, can forfeit his salvation and be eternally lost once again; then the implication is that the believer can undo God’s heart changing work.

Such thinking on the part of a conditional securist seriously effects how we look at salvation.  A person, who has been born again, can essentially commit “spiritual suicide” by becoming dead again in trespasses and sins.  He can replace the heart of flesh give to him by the Lord with another heart of stone.  This belief not only twists the meaning of scripture, but also makes God’s promises to save and sanctify a person a lie.

 

Problem Passages:

 

Preliminary Remarks

 

The doctrine of eternal security has the most problematic passages with which to answer. 

Most of these passages will contain the words, fall, fell, or fallen; or phrases such as, will endure, must endure, or contend earnestly, etc.

Arminains will appeal frequently to these passages in order to bolster their contention that eternal salvation is conditioned upon Christian faithfulness.  If a person’s salvation were eternally secure, they argue, then there would be no need for warning passages admonishing Christians to remain faithful lest they fall.

 

It is true that scripture exhorts and encourages believers to take heed of their personal walk.  That doesn’t imply, however, a loss of one’s salvation as a result of spiritual negligence.

To conclude these passages warn of a believer loosing his salvation is not only sloppy exegesis, but also failure to consider the context of the passage.  On top of that, it ignores other biblical passages where eternal security is clearly taught.

 

How are we to understand these warning passages?

 

Christians are exhorted to “take heed” for the following reasons:

 

1). In order to alert believers to the infiltration of false teachers and their heretical error that would disrupt the fellowship.  1 Timothy 4:1-5; 2 Peter 2; Jude 3.  The bulk of the warning passages address this issue. 

 

2). In order to stimulate spiritual growth in the believers and the local church. Phil. 2:12-15; Eph. 4:14-15; 1 Timothy 4:16.

 

3). In order to prevent bringing reproach upon Christ and the church. 1 Cor. 9:24-27; 1 Peter 3:14-17

 

 

The faulty assumption of conditional security

 

The conditional securist naively equates a person’s “confession of Christ” with saving faith. 

It is understood that any person who makes a profession of faith in Christ is considered saved.  If the new “convert” attends church and exercises religious duties, but then, after a period of time, leaves church and returns to the life of his previous worldliness; this departure is viewed as falling away and loosing salvation.

 

 

This assumption is fueled by a faulty evangelistic methodology.

Evangelists plead with people to walk an aisle, raise a hand, sign “decision cards,” or give some other visible indication that they are “saved.” These visible indicators are mistakenly highlighted as the moment a person is “saved.”  Thus, the person has a false assurance of salvation.

 

What does the Bible teach?

The Bible, however, is clear that an expression of conversion does not necessarily equal true saving faith.

 

·         Many who say, “Lord, Lord” will not be known by Jesus – Matt. 7:21-23.

·         Some men believed upon Jesus, but eventually they left off following Him. – Jn 2:24, 6:66.

·         Paul exhorted the Corinthians to “examine yourselves” to see whether they were in the faith or not – 1 Corinthians 13:5 ff.

·         Demas traveled as a missionary with Paul yet left the ministry all together – 2 Tim. 4:10.

·         John writes that some people had left the church because they were “not of us.” – 1 John 2:19.

 

 

The most problematic passage for eternal security:

 

Hebrews 6:4-6

 

              For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come.  If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

 

This is probably the one passage that is most frequently appealed to by those who believe Christians can loose their salvation.  Here is described for us a believer who falls away, after he or she has believed in faith upon Jesus Christ. 

 

Some objections:

 

-          Those who believe this passage teaches a forfeiture of eternal life ignore the majority of other passages that clear teach the opposite.  As we have learned from the handful of passages we studied, each member of the Godhead has an active role in securing the salvation of the Christian.  The majority of passages that clearly teach eternal security must be considered as we try to understand what is being discussed here.

 

-          The condition that causes the falling away is not stated in the passage.  The writer does not state what exactly caused these individuals to fall away.  Nor is it clear as to what brought them to this position, or how they arrived at falling away.  Is it a specific sin that brings them to falling away? Was it a willful, disobedient act? The passage does not answer why they fell away.

 

-          The author moves from addressing the Hebrews personally – “you,” “us” and “we” – to speaking in generalities – “those” and “they.”  That is significant, because none of the readers are being specifically warned.  The author is not saying, “you believers are falling away, or some of you have fallen away;” but he speaks impersonally.

 

How should this passage be understood?

 

The traditional interpretation of this passage is that it describes a professed believer who was never really saved, then returned to a former life of worldliness. 

 

These are people who are “enlightened,” who have knowledge of salvation, but have not truly experienced it.  They have simply “tasted” the good word of the Lord, and have not “eaten” of Christ’s flesh and blood, (John 6:53-56).  And they are mere “partakers” of the Holy Ghost, not possessors of Him. 

 

 

Response:

The main problem with this interpretation is that the words emphasized as showing a lack of real salvation, “enlightened,” “tasted,” and “partakers,” are used else where in Hebrews to describe genuine salvation:

 

Enlightened – 10:32 – where the enlightened experience persecution for their faith.

Tasted – 2:9 – where Christ is said to have tasted death.

Partakers – 3:1,14 – where the readers are called partakers of the “heavenly calling,” and “Christ.”

 

There is nothing in the meaning of these words that suggests these individuals in Hebrews 6:4-6 are anything but genuinely saved.

So, is the Arminian view of conditional security vindicated here?  No, lets apply our principles of hermeneutics to our passage.

 

What is the purpose of the letter to the Hebrews?

 

When we understand why the letter to the Hebrews was written, it will help shed bright light upon 6:4-6.  As the title of the letter reveals, the recipients of Hebrews were Hebrews; Jewish converts to Christianity.  Though it is true some gentile readers were present with them, the specific discussion of OT images and theology show that the book is intended largely for Jewish Christians.

 

Further more, it is important to keep in mind that Jewish converts struggled with a complete departure from Judaism through out the initial foundation of the Church. 

 

Consider the following:

 

> The Apostles were hesitant to take the gospel to the Samaritans (Acts 8)

> Peter had to have a divinely given vision to go see Cornelius (Acts 10). 

> When Peter returned to report the gentile’s inclusion into the church, the Christians at Jerusalem were reluctant to believe him (Acts 11).

> Paul rebuked Peter himself, because he had fellow-shipped with the gentiles, up until other Jewish Christians arrived from Jerusalem to witness what was happening (Galatians 2). 

> A council was convened in Jerusalem to address the issue of how “Jewish” gentiles must become, in order to have saving faith (Acts 15). 

> Paul even wrote an epistle rebuking the notion of adding Judaism to Christian faith (Galatians).

 

How is that applied to Hebrews?

When Hebrews is studied, the book emphasizes the superiority of Christ over Judaism. 

He is greater than angels (1-2); He is greater than Moses (3-4); He is the greater high priest (5-7); and Christ has a greater ministry than that of the OT – He has made a New Covenant (8-10).

 

The purpose of Hebrews then, is to exhort the Jewish Christians to totally make a break with Judaism.  In a manner of speaking, to get out of the temple. 

 

Any warning passages would be understood as an exhortation for Jewish believers not to fall back into Judaism.  The reason is that Judaism cannot bring true salvation.

 

The Context of Hebrews 6:4-5

 

These verses are part of a larger passage exhorting the Hebrews to mature in their faith.

The section could be broken up like so:

 

Rebuke for spiritual immaturity – (5:11-14)

 

The section begins with a rebuke for not growing.  The readers are still dependent upon “spiritual milk.” They are not ready for true meat.  Though they should be teaching others, they are actually unskilled and in need of being taught.

 

Encouragement toward spiritual maturity – (6:1-3)

 

The Hebrews are then exhorted to lay aside the elementary principles of salvation.  Apparently, where they lacked growth was with solidifying the doctrines of saving faith in their hearts and minds.  Coming from a Jewish background, these believers would perhaps struggle with how much of the OT doctrines of salvation carried into the NT. 

 

A warning regarding apostasy – (6:4-8)

 

After being rebuked for immaturity and then encouraged to maturity, the Hebrews are told of a dangerous situation.  A scenario is presented describing the result of abandoning Christianity and returning to Judaism.  If a Christian were to return to Judaism, there would be no way to renew them to repentance, because Christ would have to be crucified again, and that is impossible.

An illustration is drawn from nature.  When it rains, good ground will produce fruit; bad ground will produce thorns and thistles.  In like manner, the ground pictures the heart of the hearers.  Their positive response to these truths regarding Christ and Judaism indicates the fruitful condition of their heart.  The rejection of these truths indicates their worthless response to God’s work.

 

Conclusion

 

Though this passage is difficult to grasp, I believe what the author intends to show is the futility of these Jewish believers abandoning the New Covenant and returning to the Old Covenant.  The warning of apostasy is hypothetical.  If these wavering Jewish believers leave the greater New Covenant for the lesser Old Covenant, they have then removed themselves from the place of genuine salvation. 

Galatians 5:4 is a brief summary of Hebrews 6:4-6.  Paul writes there that if the Galatians mixed their faith in Christ with the rituals of the law, then they have removed themselves from grace.  It is not that they have lost their salvation, but that they have separated themselves from the effectiveness of true, saving faith.

 

It is important to read further into Hebrews 6.  Once the scenario of 6:4-6 is presented to the Hebrews as a warning, the author writes, but, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner, (6:9).  He is confident that the Hebrew believers were not in danger of leaving their faith.  The severe description has been employed for the sake of argument, and thus is hypothetical.

 

 


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