Perseverance of the Saints
This is the final post of the T.U.L.I.P. series. The final letter stands for Perseverance of the Saints (PS). Sometimes referred to as Eternal Security, PS teaches that a person who has genuinely been saved cannot lose that salvation. Those who are saved have eternal life; it is not something they still may not receive.
This doctrine is very much a necessary consequence of all the others that preceded it, especially Unconditional Election. If God elects a particular people, then PS must be true. I do maintain that necessary deductions are a legitimate means of coming to biblical truth. As the Westminster Confession of Faith confirms,
“The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men” (Emphasis mine).
Likewise, the London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689) also confirms this to be true in a much more subtle way,
“The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men” (Emphasis mine).
Thus, for me, all of the points leading up to this final post serve as proof of this doctrine. Not just as proof texts, but as thorough and biblical presentations of salvation. However, there are many clear biblical texts we will turn to for additional support which isolate and teach this particular doctrine.
A Convenient Inconsistency
It must first be said that if there is a permitted category for the 4-point Calvinists (those who deny Limited Atonement), then there are many Arminians who perhaps could be thought of as 1-point Calvinists. As PS is believed by many who reject Calvinism.
I am happy to share that agreement with so many Arminians. Although I never want to argue someone out of a truthful position, I find this wildly inconsistent with a denial of the other letters of the acronym. To believe a person cannot lose their salvation seems to be at odds with the fundamental core of Arminian theology as it pertains to soteriology (salvation). In other words, Arminians who accept the “P” are essentially only Arminians until a person is saved, and then they suddenly become Calvinists.
If a person has the free, autonomous will to either reject or accept Christ, and this free-will is essential to the person’s very nature and ability to “truly love,” why does this will suddenly disappear once a decision is made? Why does a person lose their free-will once they become a believer?
It seems to me that the consistent picture would be that we either have a free, autonomous will or we do not. And if we do, then that means at any point during our walk with Christ we must be free to reject Him.
So, while I am glad many Arminians believe in this doctrine, I would encourage them to come all the way home with it!
A Trinitarian Salvation: The Holy Spirit
A person’s salvation is entirely Trinitarian. The Father predestines, calls, and draws (Ephesians 1, Romans 8, John 6), Jesus secures and accomplishes (Hebrews 9-10; Romans 3-4), and the Spirit is the one Who reveals (1 Corinthians 2) and, He is the one who maintains, or perseveres. All Members of the Trinity are necessary and due of glory in the salvation of a sinner. However, this doctrine is specifically focusing on the work of the Spirit. We are saved because the Spirit of God is effectual. Ephesians 1: 11-15,
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
The verse begins by speaking of an inheritance which has not yet been obtained (14) as if it is obtained already. Obviously, Paul’s understanding of the Christians is that their heavenly inheritance is so guaranteed we can speak of it as if we have it already. That could hardly be the rhetoric of Paul if in fact our inheritance is not guaranteed.
However, Paul get’s even more explicit by teaching that Gospel believers are “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of [our inheritance].”
The Holy Spirit is given, by the Father, to Gospel-believing people. That act seals them unto God, and until they acquire possession of the guaranteed personal inheritance.
The sealing of the Spirit, grammatically and contextually, cannot be separated from the acquiring of the inheritance. Because of the Spirit, God’s people will receive heaven.
This is consistent with Paul elsewhere when he writes,
“And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 1: 21-22).
Not only does Paul mention the “sealing” of the Father on believers again, but he also again teaches Christians that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit guarantees our salvation.
The one new information this text contains is the phrase “as a guarantee” is often times translated as “a down-payment.”
In other words, the Holy Spirit is God’s down payment to us. What does this mean? The same thing a down-payment means today! It assures another party you have the means to provide what you have promised to provide. God promises our salvation, and the Holy Spirit is His means of assuring us it will happen.
What happens to the person who does not provide what they promise? They lose their down payment. So in other words, to say a believer can lose their salvation, not only means that the Holy Spirit can fail to do the job the Father sent Him for, but it also incidentally implies the Spirit will be lost with the Christian. If a Christian loses their salvation, God loses His down payment.
Thanks to the Holy Spirit of God, believers are secured. God then receives all the credit for salvation,for as John MacArthur famously said,
“If you could lose your salvation, you would.”
A Trinitarian Salvation: The Son
The Holy Spirit is not alone in being charged by the Father to keep Christians secure. Jesus Himself is said to persevere and keep His sheep from falling away. John 6: 35-40,
“Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 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.‘”
Jesus, speaking to a hungry Jewish crowd, tells them of the Father’s will He has come to accomplish. And that will is to lose none of those whom the Father gives Him.
The classic rhetoric that “Jesus cannot lose us, but we can walk away,” is not in harmony with the very purpose of Jesus. The Father gave Jesus a group to raise up. If only a portion of that group is raised, the mission still failed, regardless of the excuse.
Jesus’ job was to actually save and actually raise to heaven a particular people given to Him. Thus, unless Jesus can fail to accomplish His Father’s will (He cannot), then all the elect are guaranteed a resurrection with Christ.
After the Jews grumble about Jesus’ claims to deity, He tells them this again. John 6:44,
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”
Jesus does not present the raising of those drawn as a possibility or a hope; it is a guarantee.
Further Proof Texts
Jesus’ mighty role in guaranteeing the salvation of His people is often noted in the New Testament epistles as well. For example, the writer of Hebrews describes Jesus as being “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Our faith cannot be lost because we are not the ones perfecting it.
Paul is certainly a fan of this doctrine. He teaches it in Philippians 1:6,
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
Paul stresses that the work of salvation is entirely of God from beginning to end. It cannot be lost because Jesus is the one bringing it to completion, not the person being saved.
Paul not only believed this doctrine, he cherished it. That is why he prayed it over his church in Thessalonica, and by extension, prays it over all believers everywhere. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24,
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
This is such a clear text. Paul’s understanding is that the same God who calls us (Irresistible Grace) is also the God who sanctifies us perfectly, and keeps us blameless until the second coming of Christ. Not only this, but Paul says that God will surely do this. Paul knows this is a guarantee, and he establishes that guarantee on the faithfulness of God. Therefore, it can be concluded, that in Paul’s thinking, if God does not maintain us and preserve our salvation, then it is His own faithfulness which is then called into question. This is exactly why PS is a doctrine which glorifies God. For one no longer has room to boast once PS is established. The reason we get to heaven is because of the faithfulness of God, not our own ability to work and maintain the salvation God gives us. That is borderline works-salvation, which is exactly why Paul uses the argument against the Galatian church who had adopted such a thing. Galatians 3:3,
Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
The Famous Chapter
Perhaps, in light of all the evidence, the most famous and well-known text on this subject from the Apostle Paul is found at Romans 8:31-39,
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 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.”
The love God has for His elect cannot be separated or changed. Nothing can sever that relationship. Although the text seems self-explanatory, it would be wise to deal with the objections.
First and foremost, the love of this text is not God’s general love for all people. It is often said that this is dealing only with God’s love for all people, but not a person’s salvation. For one, the text explicitly defines those receiving love as those whom God “gave up His son” for, as those who are “justified,” as those who cannot be condemned, as those who Christ is “interceding for.” This is clearly for believers only, not all people, especially since the love is described in verse 39 is as being “in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Unbelievers are not positioned in Him to receive that kind of love.
Along with that, Paul would not long after this describe Esau as one God did not love like Jacob, but hate (Romans 9:13). Moments after this text, Jacob is said to be loved and Esau hated. This means that Paul is talking about a kind of love that some people are excluded from, and the text bears out the details.
Second, it also cannot be said that this is referring only to external forces but not internal forces. Many have argued that this text teaches that nothing outside of a person can take away their salvation, but said person can forfeit it on their own free-will.
For one, the external forces are intended to be read as those things which influence our wills. Second, our personal and internal will are part of the “any other created thing” portion of the text. If you are a created thing, you cannot separate yourself from the saving love of Christ, for no created thing can do that.
This doctrine is thoroughly and repeatedly established in a variety of ways throughout Scripture. And, the doctrine is also the only way to give full and complete glory to God on the day of judgement.
Those Who Have Fallen Away
What is likely on the mind of many readers are the texts in the Bible which speak of people falling away. Rather than go through every single possible text, I would like to present one general response I have for all of them. 1 John 2: 18-19,
Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (Emphasis mine).
In this text, John makes explicit the notion that those who were falling away from the faith were professors only, not genuine Christians. This is not an arbitrary rescuing device, but an explicit doctrine.
John is under the impression that those who left would have remained provided they were truly saved. In John’s mind, what keeps someone in the church, what prevents them from being an antichrist, is their salvation.
Even those Christians who believe a person can lose his salvation must believe that not everyone who falls away has. Everyone must now make room in their theology for people who fall away, but were never saved, and the reformed position is that every falling away text can be consistently interpreted this way.
This understanding is consistent with the writer of Hebrews when he writes this: Hebrews 3:12-14,
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
The author of this text does two important things. He first explicitly states that it is not justified believers who fall away, but those with “evil, unbelieving hearts” that fall away. Those who fall away fell because they were actually unbelievers.
The author also here qualifies the address of “brothers” by recognizing that those who do not hold firm to the end were not actually sharing in Christ.
The Reformed position does not deny that people fall away, that people walk away from the Christian faith. That happens all of the time. The argument is that these people were not saved.
True Belief & Professed Belief
And this is not the first time the apostle John brings his audience to see that people can profess the faith but not really believe. He gives this account of Jesus. John 2:23-25,
Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.
These people professed belief, but Jesus knew it was not authentic. It was not real.
As a matter of fact, the entire book of James is dedicated to refuting a kind of faith that cannot save, a dead faith. James 2:14-17,
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
Not all faith is created equal. Anyone can be baptized. Anyone can claim the faith. That does not make them born-again. Only an authentic faith, a sincere faith as Paul tells Timothy, can save. And that faith, because of the power and faithfulness of God, when given to the sinner, will never be taken away. God will not fail to save His beloved people.
For a deeper look into this issue, listen to Christian apologist Dr. James White discuss it here:
To continue to the final installment in this series, click here.