Crossing the Finish Line: Perseverance of the Saints

How many times have you wondered: Can I lose my salvation?  This was a difficult question for me growing up, mainly because my heart had not been changed and I was living the way I wanted to live.  The question I should have been wondering was, “Am I really a Christian?”  This question still haunted me even after I became a Christian, because I would experience periods of “feeling” distant from God, like I was wandering in a spiritual desert.  This final doctrine of the TULIP acronym, perseverance of the saints, was (and is) a soothing balm for my soul, and I hope that it is for you as well.

So what does perseverance of the saints entail?  That by God’s grace and perseverance, those who He genuinely calls to faith in the Gospel will, despite their weakness and sinfulness, persevere in the faith until the end.  For followers of reformed theology, this preserving grace is only for the elect, and it is sufficient for them.  This sufficiency is found not in anything in themselves, but solely in the work of Christ on their behalf and God’s special redemptive divine grace, from start to finish.

 

Misunderstandings of Perseverance of the Saints

All I have to do is say the “Sinner’s Prayer,” and I will be saved forever.

Not quite.  Acknowledging sin and following with repentance is key in the Christian life, but just admitting that you are a sinner is not a guarantee that you are converted and have this preserving grace.  This perseverance of the saints is for a particular group, namely, the saints.  There is a distinguishing factor in this doctrine between genuine and false converts, and an acknowledgement that there are some who appear to be converted to Christ, but turn out not to be truly regenerate.  To reduce this doctrine down to a single prayer turns Christianity into a superstition.

Jesus is my Savior, but not my Lord.  So this means I get this perseverance too!

In the words of Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend.”  This used to be a popular idea back in the mass evangelist days (think Billy Graham) where you just had to accept Jesus as your Savior.  What usually happened after someone accepted Jesus as Savior is that nothing would change in their everyday life.  How would you explain that?  It defies how the Bible describes a person’s conversion.  When we see the mass conversions in the book of Acts, the people ask how they may be saved, and Peter responds, Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  Conversion requires change, and it requires Jesus to become Lord of your life.  Christians depend on the preserving grace of God to persevere and change throughout our lives.  

What if you deny Christ?  Doesn’t that mean you were not a true believer?

Well, there are a bunch of different ways to think about this.  It is true that some who claim to be Christians are not genuine in their faith, and some of these people might deny Christ (interestingly, a lot of people in this group will never deny Christ, be in church their whole lives, and have a cold heart).  But we have to think about Peter, who denied Christ three times.  What happens to him? Does he get thrown into the pit of hell?  No, Jesus comes back and restores him.  This means that even if you deny Christ and the Gospel at some point in your life, there is still hope for you to be restored.

This doctrine means that I will always have God’s grace carrying me.  Therefore, the Christian life is going to be a cake walk!

Anyone who has been a Christian for more than a few minutes knows this is not true.  The fact that this doctrine is commonly called the perseverance of the saints implies you will have to persevere.  This usually means that you will face difficult challenges throughout your entire life, and it is only by God’s grace that you will make it through.  In fact, because we depend on God’s grace, we should expect trials, because that is how the power of grace is demonstrated in our lives.  If we depend on God’s grace, there has to be trials.  Think of the incident in Mark 4 when Jesus calms storm.  After he calms the storm, he says, “Don’t you know who I am?  Did you think I was going to let you die?  The apostles were secure, but the storm was still real.  In the storm their security was demonstrated.

 

Implications of Perseverance of the Saints

Genuine saving faith in Christ will be evidenced by a transformed life.

Remember, there is a distinction made in the Bible of those who are genuine believers and those who pay mere lip service to Jesus.  There will be those to whom Jesus says, “You said my name, but I did not know you.”  Those who have been genuinely converted will be changed, and that change will rely on the preserving grace of God as they persevere life’s challenges. 

No matter how hard the trials believers face in life, God’s grace will sustain them.

I have heard this illustration to describe the idea of perseverance.  You are sailing in the sea if life (cheesy, I know), and your final destination is a port.  God never says that your seas will be calm.  In fact, you are going to have rough seas, with swells that you think are going to throw you overboard.  The only promise we have is that we will one day make it to the port.  This is the promise of Gospel and of this doctrine; we are saved by grace from start to finish, and God’s redemptive purposes never fail.

If a person is truly converted to Christ, they will surely gain eternal life. 

We look at Romans 8:30, ““And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”  There is no way for a person to called, and turn away.  They can have security in their salvation.  This is a beautiful thing!

 

Scriptural Support for Perseverance of the Saints

John 6: 37-40; “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.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 10:27-30; “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.I and the Father are one.”

 

Romans 8: 28-30, 35-39; “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 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.” 

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