Perseverance Of The Saints
The doctrine of ‘Perseverance of the Saints’ is probably the most acceptable of the TULIP. But only because it is so misunderstood. ‘Perseverance of the Saints’ is not ‘Eternal Security’. It is much, much more. But first let’s go back to the beginning. This doctrine was a reaffirmation of the testimony of Scripture in regards to the process and the end of salvation. The ‘Arminians’ had questioned whether or not one who had true biblical faith and had truly repented of their sins would indeed persevere to the end. And why shouldn’t they question this? If they may will themselves into Christ, couldn’t they just as easily will themselves out? If Christ’s death depended on their faith for its efficacy for them, did it subtract anything more from His atoning death? If they could resist the call of the Spirit prior to salvation, couldn’t they resist the Spirit after initial faith and thereby lose their salvation? Or, put more to the point, if the will was the only part of them that God would not tamper with, who or what is to stop them to will the opposite of faith and repentance?
The doctrine of ‘Perseverance’ is dependent on the other four points even more than most people recognize. That is probably why ‘Eternal Security’ has become the doctrine of the day. ‘Eternal Security’ is commonly referred to as the doctrine that once we are saved, we are always saved. This is true, but what does it mean to be saved? This is where ‘Perseverance of the Saints’ takes the whole of scripture into consideration. 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15 states very clearly ‘Calvinists’ believe.
2 Thessalonians 2:13 “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.”
First, ‘Calvinists’ believe that the current state of salvation in this life is a progressing towards a goal of ultimate salvation. In other words, we believe that salvation is taking place in our lives in four basic stages:
1. Set Apart For Salvation-Election and Gospel.
2. Already Saved-Regeneration, Conversion, Justification, and Adoption.
3. Being Saved-Sanctification and Perseverance.
4. Future Salvation-Glorification. (This is my own creation as it is helpful for me to understand salvation in this way. We may be able to dissect it but I would prefer not to mess with it a whole lot as it will make it more complicated for me.)
Just as God has chosen us for salvation through belief in the truth, He has chosen for salvation through sanctification through the Spirit. Election is unmistakably tied to glorification. (Romans 8:28-30, Ephesians 1:3-14) This is what separates predestination from fatalism. (God has a purpose, fate has no purpose.) The process that brings us to glorification is sanctification. This is what I mean by ‘we are being saved’. We have been set apart for salvation though election and then through the Gospel call, we are already saved through regeneration, conversion, justification, and adoption, we are being saved by sanctification and perseverance, and we will be saved when we receive our glorified bodies and are finally conformed to the image of Christ.
The doctrine of perseverance remembers these facts and tells us to keep going. And all who are chosen, called, and sealed must continue because the train of salvation has no stops until we reach the destination of glorification. And yet, this text reminds us and exhorts us to ‘stand firm’ and ‘hold fast’. This is done in cooperation with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works in us changing our wills and desires and helping us to continue in faith and repentance, while we desire God’s will and believe in Him while repenting of our sins.
Second, ‘Calvinists’ believe that once one has experienced the work of regeneration, that person cannot return to a life of sin, but that he will continue as a Christian, trusting in Christ and repenting of his sins. This recognizes the regenerative work of the Spirit that has taken place and the fact that Christians sometimes sin. The Spirit has effected a change in us. We are new creations. Therefore, we seek to please Christ in faith. But we are feeble and live in a fallen world, therefore, we repent daily of our sins.
Misconceptions that have arisen from the ‘Eternal Security’ or ‘Once Saved, Always Saved’ camps are;
1. If you are saved then you can live however you want to,
2. If you make a profession then you are saved whether you want to be later or not, and
3. Christ can save you without demanding Lordship over your life.
My response to these misconceptions are;
1. If you are saved you can live however you want to, because your ‘want to’ has changed. True Christians seek the will of God,
2. A profession does not a Christian make. Continuous faith and continuous repentance are the marks of a true Christian, and
3. This means that Christ demands your affection, loyalty, and submission.
The doctrine of ‘Perseverance of the Saints’ means that once God has chosen you and declared you righteous, He will make you what He has declared you to be, ‘righteous’. God finishes what He starts. If faith, repentance, and sanctification are not part of our daily life then we should examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith.