Before we look at this doctrine in more detail, let’s start by asking ourselves a question. I will randomly insert these questions as we read on and perhaps it will aid us in trying to pick apart and understand this doctrine.
- Can you leave Jesus and take your salvation with you?
What does the term “perseverance of the saints mean”? Is it the same as “once saved, always saved” or “eternal security”?
No, they are not one and the same. Perseverance of the saints is generally accepted as orthodox. “Once saved, always saved” and “eternal security” is unconditional security that both Arminians and Calvinists don’t believe to be true. “Once saved, always saved” and “eternal security” is set apart by the antinomian posture it has toward God and His word.
What is antinomianism? It means anti-law (from the Greek: ἀντί, “against” + νόμος, “law”). The term was coined by Luther in 1539 when he wrote the book Against the Antinomians. “Antinomianism is any view which rejects laws or legalism and argues against moral, religious or social norms …” This view teaches that as Christians we are not expected to follow the moral law. If this is the first time you read about this doctrine you might immediately think, that doesn’t make any sense, no! It doesn’t. 🙂
“Once saved, always saved” and “eternal security” have accepted Mr. Antinomian’s friends request. They teach that it doesn’t matter what a person does after they have confessed faith in Jesus Christ, they are eternally secure because of that one time confession of faith. This anti-law spirit is also prevalent in hyper-grace circles. This misunderstanding of what it means to be a Christian is as old as the scriptures themselves. We read Paul addressing the very same problem in Romans.
What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply? Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
Do I believe in the security of the believer? Yes I do, but look at the question itself. The condition of the security is based on believing, a believer is someone who believes, continuing to believe, not past tense. I do not believe in the security of someone who once believed. What is a believer? A believer is anyone who repents and turns toward Jesus Christ, a Christian is by definition a follower of Christ, not someone who followed Christ. A true Christian is not someone who says, I like to sin and God likes to forgive, match-made-in-heaven. That’s true antinomianism, see how we can throw around this cool label now, learning is fun. 🙂
Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the LORD, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.
Turning to the Lord is much more than a verbal statement of faith. It’s a supernatural moment in which you pass from death to life. He gives you a circumcised heart, you become a member of the kingdom of God, you receive the Holy Spirit and what takes place affects your mind. This rebirth creates a new state of mind, new points of reference are created that affect our actions and how we live our lives.
So you’ll recognize them by their fruit.
- Do we have freewill? Can a person walk away from Jesus?
Perseverance of the saints was first taught and formulated as we know it by Augustine. It is a necessary conclusion within the Augustinian-Calvinistic ecosystem. This theology is best explained using the acronym T.U.L.I.P., which stands for total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints.
I will quickly brake this down so you understand why you can’t lose your salvation under Calvinism. Because of their understanding of depravity, human beings are unable and unwilling to initiate, entertain or sustain a relationship with God. God has to effectually regenerate you and give you faith as to believe, prior to that you are totally unable to hear the gospel and respond positively. God arbitrarily chooses people to regenerate, that choice is unconditional. Nothing that a person does or does not do affects His choosing. Hence, limited atonement follows, that Christs blood was only shed for the elect, the ones who are unconditionally chosen: they will be irresistible drawn to salvation one way or the other. This system is unilateral, the technical term is monergism and there is no cooperation involved. If there was any involvement on our part that would mean it’s bilateral and the technical term for that is synergism. In Calvinism it takes only one to tango.
Since Calvinism teaches us that there is no libertarian free will, there is no cooperation in your salvation. Consequently, you play no role in staying redeemed, everything is meticulously mapped out by God’s decree. Calvinists do believe that the elect can backslide for a season (the backslide is by God’s decree anyway under their system) but they will always return to the faith prior to death. If that does not transpire they dismiss it and claim, “they were never saved to begin with,” that’s convenient.
- Is God’s sovereignty somehow threatened if people can freely choose to leave the faith?
Maybe you are not a member of the Calvinist club, you believe that we have the power of self-determination, the ability to freely choose our course of action. Yet, at the same time you might think it’s impossible for a true believer to apostate? After we accept Christ, do we lose the ability to freely choose to continue our walk with Christ? If that’s your understanding, subtle influences from Augustinian-Calvinism with it’s distorted view of God’s sovereignty might have affected your thinking unknowingly.
- Don’t we need to abide in Christ to be saved?
Is there salvation apart from Christ?
Let’s look at some of the scriptures used to affirm that a true believer cannot walk away from the faith. I can’t tackle every verse in the Bible used as a potential proof-text for perseverance of the saints. What I am interested in is raising the question and answering the question, what makes us secure as believers?
being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;
Who is Paul speaking to? Let’s backtrack to verse 1: “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi …” It’s to those who are in Christ Jesus, He who begun the work will complete it if they remain in him.
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
The meaning of something being sealed has changed over time somewhat. Now we talk about things being sealed shut, in the old-world it didn’t necessarily have that meaning or function. This verse does not mean that the Holy Spirit locks you away with an unbreakable seal, giving the impression that you are saved forever no matter what because no human power can brake that seal. What was the function of a seal before, during and after Paul’s time? A person of authority or the owner of the item would put their personal stamp into hot wax. This was to ensure that no one would tamper with the content that was sealed, but if someone did, they would know about it.
If the king gave you a document with his seal on it, then you could act on his behalf, with his authority, meaning that there is power behind the one who sealed it. The seal that Paul wrote about functions in the same manner. Only God has the signet of the Holy Spirit, we are sealed by the One who has all material and spiritual power and that seal proves that we are real Christians, we belong to Him. It also tells the spiritual realm who is the owner of the person, spiritual beings don’t tamper with a person who is sealed. You can brake that seal by departing from the faith. Only you, and you alone can brake the seal.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. John 5:24
We can also lump together; John 3:16; 6:35; 6:37; 8:51; 10:27-30.
If He has given us eternal life, if we have passed from death into life, if we have been reborn, how can He take it away from us? (God doesn’t take it away from us but that’s how the question is often framed.) These texts have many present and perfect tenses that give the impression that those who once believed will never perish, as if it’s one event that guarantees eternal life. Let’s take a closer look at the present tense.
It’s often quoted that no one is able to snatch a believer from the Father’s hand and why is that? Because: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” They follow me, present tense, if anyone keeps My word, he will never see death, present tense. Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst, etc. The person who keeps following His voice, whoever keeps eating and drinking of Him, whoever keeps believing will remain in the Father’s hand.
Present tense: “A tense expressing an action that is currently going on or habitually performed, or a state that currently or generally exists.
“If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.”
2 Timothy 2:13.
Some hold that verse 13 teaches that even if we are faithless, we are still eternally secure because He is faithful. That’s reading into the text something it’s not saying. This is not saying that you are eternally secure because He is faithful. Paul just finished telling us in verse 12 that we must endure and if we deny Him, He will deny us. Clearly losing your faith and walking away from Christ is denying Him. 2 Timothy 2:11-12.
- If we are not saved by works, then we aren’t kept by works?
That’s begging the question and a caricature of what it means to be a Christian. We are saved by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:28). That’s justification, the initial stage of salvation, the Bible is crystal clear that there are no works that can earn our salvation but it also tells us as clearly that certain things do follow justification. The question is do we maintain our salvation if nothing in our lives changes? Does the Bible teach that you can live an unrighteous life and still inherit the kingdom of God?
Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I tell you about these things in advance—as I told you before—that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Isn’t that works based? Abstaining from these things? I thought having faith was enough. 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 has a similar list and after it Paul writes, “And some of you used to be like this.” Past tense, because being a follower of Christ and having the Holy Spirit abide in you leads to a different lifestyle.
What are people afraid of? Why are many Christians so opposed to the idea that Christians can leave the faith? In my opinion, many Christians want to have their cake and eat it too. They claim to have saving faith and that’s all that’s needed, anything else is saved by grace, kept by works doctrine. I would qualify that as easy-believism because true faith in God will result in a changed life since saving faith is never alone, it produces something. James 2:14-22
- Can I sin my way out of salvation?
“You can lose your salvation like you lose your car keys!” This is a common straw-man argument from the other side. No you can’t lose your salvation like you lose your car keys, that’s a naive rebuttal to an honest question many Christians have, “is it possible to lose your faith and salvation in Christ?” We all sin, we all fall short. Sin affects our relationship with Christ. Habitual, long-term, rebellious sinning raises the question, how does that lifestyle align up with being a follower of Christ?
Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?
2 Corinthians 13:5
Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble;
2 Peter 1:10
We are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:5). This is such a beautiful promise! God does protect us and keep us! 🙂 But it is through faith in Jesus Christ.
This could be much longer but as my wife pointed out to me, nobody reads long blogs so maybe I’ll write part 2 someday. I want to end it with this. No matter what text you use, no matter how you present your doctrine on the eternal security of the believer there is something that cannot be refuted Biblically.
Who persevered? Who was victorious? Who rose again? Who sits at the right hand of the Father? It was Christ. How will we persevere? How will we be victorious? How are we cleansed? Through whom will we be raised to eternal life? Who enables our access into the future kingdom? It’s in Christ. If you are not in Christ you aren’t eternally secure, simple as that. The one who has the Son, present tense.
And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.
1 John 5:11-12
Before we leave this topic, please check out the following scriptures.
“But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.” (1 Timothy 4:1). You can’t fall away from somewhere you were never at. People that support perseverance of the saints redefine the faith spoken of by Paul as non-saving faith.
“he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36). We must obey what scripture teaches us, otherwise we will not see life.
“he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5-6). We must abide in Him, abiding will produce fruit and good works, without abiding in Him we can do nothing.
“As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.” (1 John 2:24). What we heard from the beginning that enabled our justification must continue to abide in us. There is an if condition, if what we heard abides in us, we will also abide in the Son and in the Father.
Salvation is only in Jesus Christ.