DOCTRINES OF GRACE: TIP TOE THROUGH THE TULIPS "P" (6 of 6)
by Jeff Hagan
(Tacoma, WA, USA)
Perseverance of the Saints:
This term is used to summarize what the Scriptures teach about the eternal security of the believer. It answers the question, “Once a person is saved, can they lose their salvation?” Perseverance of the saints is the “P” in the TULIP acronym, which is commonly used to express what are known as the five points of Calvinism. Because the term “perseverance of the saints” can cause people to have the wrong idea about what is meant, some individuals will use terms like “eternal security,” “once saved always saved,” or “held by God.” Personally, I prefer the simplicity of “Eternal Security.”
The Scriptures teach that those who are born again will continue trusting in Christ forever. God, by His own power through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, keeps or preserves the believer forever. This remarkable truth is found in Ephesians 1:13-14, where we see that believers are sealed by the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession – to the praise of his glory. When we are born again, we receive the promised indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit that is God's guarantee that He who began a good work in us will complete it (Philippians 1:6). In order for us to lose our salvation after we have received the promised Holy Spirit, God would have to break His promise on His “guarantee,” which He cannot do. So, the believer is eternally secure because God is eternally faithful.
To understand this doctrine one needs to understand the unique and special love that God has for His children. Romans 8:28-39 tells us that (1) no one can bring a charge against God's elect; (2) nothing can separate the elect from the love of Christ; (3) God makes everything work together for the good of the elect; and (4) all who God saves will be glorified. God loves His children (the elect) so much that nothing can separate them from Him. This same truth is also seen in many other passages as well. In John 10:27-30 Jesus says: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me; I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; nor can anyone snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one” (NIV).
In John 6:37-47 we see Jesus claiming that everyone the Father gives Him will come to Him and He will raise them up at the last day.
Another supporting passage for the eternal security of the believer is found in John 5:24, where Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (NIV). Notice that eternal life is not something we get in the future, it is something we have once we believe. By its very nature, eternal life must last forever, or it could not be eternal. This passage says that, if we believe the gospel, we have eternal life and will not be condemned; therefore, it can certainly be said we are eternally secure.
There is actually very little scriptural warrant for arguing against the eternal security of the believer. There are a few verses that if taken out of context might give the impression one could lose their salvation, but when they are looked at carefully in their context it is clear that this is not the case at all. Most people know someone who expressed faith in Christ at one time and appeared to be a genuine Christian who later left the faith and now does not want to have anything to do with Jesus or His church. Those people might even deny that God exists. For those who do not want to accept what the scriptures say about the security of the believer, these kinds of situations are “proof” that the doctrine of eternal security cannot be right. However, the Scriptures show us otherwise, they teach that people like those who say Christ is Savior at one time but later walk away and deny Christ were never truly saved to begin with. For example, 1 John 2:19 says, “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us” (NIV). Scripture is also clear that not everyone who claims to be a Christian truly is. Jesus Himself says that not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21-22). Rather than proving we can lose our salvation, those who profess Christ and “fall away” just reinforce the importance of testing our salvation to make sure we are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5) and making our calling and election sure by continually taking inventory of our lives to make sure we are maturing in godliness (2 Peter 1:10).
One of the misunderstandings regarding the doctrine of perseverance of the saints is that it will lead to “carnal Christians” who believe that since they are eternally secure they can just go out and do whatever they want and still be saved. That is a misunderstanding of the doctrine and what the Scriptures teach. One who believes they can live any way they want because they have professed Christ is not demonstrating true saving faith (1 John 2:3-4). Our eternal security rests on the scriptural teaching that those who God justifies, He will also glorify (Romans 8:29-30). Those who are saved will be conformed to the image of Christ through the process of sanctification (1 Corinthians 6:11). When a person is saved, the Holy Spirit breaks the bondage of sin and gives the believer a new heart and a desire to strive for holiness. Therefore, a true Christian will never simply “live any way they want” because that kind of attitude is not possible for someone who has been given a new nature (2 Corinthians 5:17).
As we can see, the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints accurately represents what the Scriptures teach on this important topic. If someone is truly saved, they have been made alive by the Holy Spirit and has a new heart with new desires. There is no way that one who has been “born again” can later be “unborn.” Because of God's unique love for His children, He will keep all of His children safe from harm, and Jesus has promised that He would lose none of His sheep. The doctrine of perseverance of the saints recognizes that true Christians will persevere and are eternally secure because God keeps them that way. It is based on the fact that Jesus, the “author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2), is able to completely save those the Father has given Him (Hebrews 7:25) and to keep them saved through all eternity.