What is a Reformed Church? (11) "P" -- The Perseverance of the Saints
by Pastor Lars Larson, PhD
(A sermon delivered on January 18, 2009, at the First Baptist Church, Leominster, Massachusetts, USA)
Today we will conclude our consideration of the doctrines of grace, by examining the matter of the perseverance of the saints. This is the “P” in the acrostic, TULIP. We have shown that these doctrines of grace emerged from the Reformed churches in Europe responding to the aberrant teachings of the Arminians, the followers of Jacobus (James) Arminius. The Arminians taught that God’s grace was resistible or obstructible by the free will of man. Even after having experienced saving grace, the Arminian said that man of his own will may reject that grace and as a result lose his salvation. The assembled men at the Synod of Dort said this was heresy, that the Scriptures taught that God’s purpose to save His people was never frustrated or defeated, but that God keeps all of His people secured in His grace. He does not lose one of His elect, but rather saves them to the uttermost.
I. Perseverance as taught in 1 Peter1
Let us turn to 1 Peter 1. We will read the first 5 verses.
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
In these first verses of this epistle we have several of the doctrines of grace mentioned to which we have been directing our study: the unconditional election of His people by God the Father, the particular redemption of Jesus Christ, the effectual calling (here, included in “sanctification”) of the Holy Spirit. Here also, specifically in verse 5, we have the fifth and final doctrine of grace set before us, the perseverance of the saints unto their full and final salvation.
Peter opens his epistle identifying himself and the ones to whom he addressed his epistle. They were Christians who are described as wandering pilgrims in this world, alluding to the Christians’ life journey to their heavenly Jerusalem. They lived in the northern areas of what is now modern Turkey, in the region just south of the Black Sea. He describes them as elect of the Father, sanctified (set apart) by the Holy Spirit, and redeemed by Jesus Christ, having been brought into a state of faith and obedience to their God.
With verse 3, the main body of the letter begins. Peter magnifies the grace of God in their salvation. Verse 3 is an expression of praise to God for having caused them to be born again. People are born again because God has purposed that for them. We should praise and thank God for having caused us to be born again. In His great mercy He performed this work in us. When we were dead in sin, unfeeling and unaware of our true condition, when we were strangers to Him, and quite content to be so, in mercy He caused us to be born again, whereby He imparted spiritual life to us, enabling us to understand, desire, and enter into a life of faith in Him and obedience to Him. And so, we were born again.
With that new birth, we were brought into a new life with new hopes and dreams. We were born into two things according to our text. First, we were born again “into a living hope” (v. 3). What is meant by “living hope?” What does it imply? Well, we might suggest several things. When we are born again, we are infused with new desires and aspirations. We desire to please God, and be blessed of Him. We are brought to love His Word and righteousness as taught in His Word and we long to be conformed to it. We look forward to the day we will be without sin, standing before Him in spotless purity and holiness. In addition, we see a glorious future before us, with the certain prospect of this future blessing. We become a people living in the prospect of the future. We are a forward looking people. Not for what we might purchase with next week’s pay check, or the prospect of enjoying next year’s vacation, although these are pleasant. These are not the things that drive our lives; rather, it is the prospect of eternity which moves and shapes our thinking and actions. We also anticipate with joy our future resurrection. We long for God’s kingdom to be realized. We look forward to our reunion with loved ones, our coming into God’s presence, as the things which give strength to us in living now.
How is this “living hope” secured? Verse 3: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” If it were not for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we would not have a certain living hope. Remember, “hope” in the Bible is not used as we frequently use it today: “I hope such and such will occur.” Rather, hope is a certain anticipation of what most assuredly will occur.
The only way we could have a certain anticipation of eternal participation in the blessing of God is "through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” The certain prospect of our future before we were born again, was death (and taxes). But because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, we, His people, have the certain prospect (hope) of our own resurrection. And as a result of His resurrection we are infused with certainty giving us meaning and motivation for living in anticipation of that day. We have been born again unto a “living hope through the resurrection of the dead.”
How is this “living hope” secured to us? By faith in what God has said in His Word respecting ourselves and Christ’s resurrection. It assures that God is able to raise us from the dead. This Hope is secured in us because we are confident that since God raised Jesus from the dead, He can raise us from the dead also. It assures us that God has purposed to raise us from the dead (cf. 1 Cor. 15:19-26). And then we have the promise of our Lord Jesus Himself: Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (cf. John 11:25). We Christians have a certain hope, and it effects how we live. It is a living hope into which we were born.
But notice again our sentence, particularly verse 4, we are not only born into a “living hope” but we were born “into an inheritance” (v. 4). God has promised great things for His children. We are invigorated with the hope of our future inheritance, looking eagerly and waiting patiently for the full realization of the privileges and blessings of our sonship. God is a good God and He gives good gifts to all in this world, whether they are Christian or not. He gives gifts of health, strength, wisdom, wealth, power, and prestige, bestowing these gifts on ones even though they may not be His sons on whom He has designed to bestow His inheritance. Abraham gave gifts to sons born to Keturah, and then sent them on their way; but for Isaac, his chosen son, he reserved his name and fortune, bestowing them on him when he came to age. 1 Peter 1:3ff says that we were born again “into this inheritance.” It is an inheritance of the children of God, promised to us by God our Father. We are invigorated with this hope, secured to us by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Verse 4 tells us the nature of this inheritance. Notice how Peter described this inheritance:
a. It can never “perish.” This speaks of its everlasting duration. It is eternal.
b. It can never “spoil.” This speaks of its purity. There is no mixture of curse with this blessing, unlike so many earthly inheritances.
c. It can never “fade.” This speaks of its enduring quality. It cannot be spent/exhausted.
d. It is “reserved in heaven for you.” This speaks of the certainty of our receiving it. God Himself has set aside for safe keeping the inheritance that belongs to His children. It will be there for us when we arrive there one day.
Our inheritance is secure. God Himself has set aside for safe keeping the inheritance that belongs to His children. It will be there when we arrive. In contrast, earthly inheritances can disappear through any number of ways--financial setback, poor management. The Lord Jesus once described our treasures in heaven as being such that “thieves” cannot break in to steal, nor can “moths” ruin. Our inheritance is secure for us in heaven.
In verse 5 we read of Peter’s description of the heirs of salvation. We first read of the nature of the heirs (1:5a): “who through faith are shielded by God’s power.” The heirs are “shielded.” This is a passive verb, meaning that they are not shielding themselves, but God Himself is protecting them. Not only is our inheritance guarded by God for us, but we ourselves, are being guarded by God until we the day we receive our inheritance. We read that the heirs are “shielded through faith.” As an ancient soldier would use a shield to protect himself from an enemy’s assault, so God guards us through the means of faith. It is through faith that He shields us.
But notice this third point, for it is important: the heirs are “shielded through faith by God’s power.” Notice what is being said here and what is not being said. He is not saying that we are shielded “by faith.” He declared that Christians are shielded “by God’s power” “through faith.” God keeps us by creating and sustaining faith in us, whereby He protects and preserves us until the day when we will receive our inheritance. It is God’s power that created faith in us-- we “believed through grace” (Acts 18:27). And it is by God’s power that true faith is sustained.
Let me us the analogy of an ancient city on a hill. Suppose the Lord of a certain people who were living on a hilltop, desired to protect and preserve them for Himself. So, he fashions a perimeter wall about the city. If a force comes which would seem to be a greater threat than what the wall could withstand, he uses his authority and gives orders to widen the wall and increase its height so as to protect his people fully. God does this for us, His people. He defends us with His power through faith. He first created faith in us. When trials come which would overwhelm us, by His power He increases our faith so that we do not falter. We are shielded by God’s power through faith, until the coming of our inheritance.
Saving faith is not something that is created by us and sustained by us. It is a product of the grace of God. If our “shield” was only strong as a faith that we can muster together in and of ourselves, then it would not be much of a shield to protect us. And it would certainly provide little sense of security. But if the faith that saves is a divinely-wrought thing, created and sustained by His power, then indeed, the presence of that faith is both the means of keeping us and a cause of assurance that we will be kept. It is “God’s power” which shields us, that is, protects us so as to assure that we will one day receive our inheritance. And He uses faith as the instrument to keep His people.
Now also in verse 5 we read of the identification of the inheritance: “who are shielded “until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” Peter has been speaking of an “inheritance” which God has for His chosen people. But specifically, what is this inheritance? How would you define it? Perhaps when we have been referring to an inheritance you have been thinking in terms of heavenly rewards that He will bestow on His faithful servants. Thankfully, God will one day give rewards to His servants who have faithfully lived before Him. But Peter is not speaking of rewards for Christians. The inheritance is salvation itself. Salvation is viewed as future prospect (but its future reception is assured presently). It will be revealed at “the last time.” In Peter’s writings, salvation is presented as being received when the resurrection occurs at the Second Coming of Christ. It is received after having completed a life of faith and it is viewed as an outcome of that life of faith. What is the nature of saving faith according to Peter? One described it this way:
Faith here, as in Hebrews 11, is the power by which we grasp the unseen realities, the conviction that God is, that He is a Rewarder, and that His reward far exceeds the troubles of this life. It is the firm trust in God in spite of suffering: the salvation of his soul the Christian will only receive as the end of faith. It produces “endurance to the end,” unshaken by offences, false prophets, or lawlessness (Matt. 24:10-13); by it we resist the devil, and the sufferings he brings against us (1 Peter 5:9). (Charles Bigg, International Critical Commentary, p. 101).
What we have just read and considered in these few verses is the Bible’s teaching regarding the perseverance of the saints. It is the fifth of the five doctrines of grace.
II. Statement and explanation of the doctrine:
The doctrine stated: Those who are the elect of God, who are recipients of God’s effectual call, having been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, led to repent of sin and believe on Christ for salvation, shall never fall away so as to perish, but will be kept by the power of God unto the salvation which is reserved for them in heaven.
A. The doctrine of perseverance does not mean that everyone who professes to believe or believes for a while is saved eternally. This has reference to the elect of God, true believers who are truly born again, whose lives bear evidence of the presence of saving faith.
B. Consequently, the common expression, “the eternal security of the believer” is somewhat a misnomer. Perhaps better, “the eternal security of the true believer” would be better. But the expression “eternal security” should probably be distinguished from the expression, “the perseverance of the saints.” The former expression is often stressed with only respect to what Christ has done on behalf of the Christian-- due to His perfect sacrifice the Christian who is once forgiven, is forever forgiven. But “the perseverance of the saints also involves what Christ does ‘in” a person, thereby enabling him/her to persevere unto the end.
C. Perseverance in faith and obedience is the grand distinguishing mark of a true child of God.
D. The Statement from the First London Confession, 1646, article 23:
All those that have this precious faith wrought in them by the Spirit, can never finally nor totally fall away; seeing the gifts of God are without repentance; so that He still begets and nourishes in them faith, repentance, love, joy, hope, and all the graces of the Spirit unto immortality; and though many storms and floods arise, and beat against them, yet they shall never be able to take them off that foundation and rock, which by faith they are fastened upon; not withstanding, through unbelief, and the temptations of Satan, the sensible sight of this light and love, be clouded and overwhelmed for a time; yet God is still the same, and they shall be sure to be kept by the power of God unto salvation, where they shall enjoy their purchased possession, they being engraven upon the palms of His hands, and their names having been written in the book of life from all eternity.
E. The Statement from The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 (essentially the same as the Westminster Confession):
Article 18. The Perseverance of the Saints
1. Those whom God has accepted in the Beloved, and has effectually called and sanctified by His Spirit, and given the precious faith of His elect, can neither totally nor finally fall from the state of grace, but they will certainly persevere in that state to the end and be eternally saved. This is because the gifts and calling of God are without repentance, and therefore He continues to beget and nourish in them faith, repentance, love, joy, hope, and all the graces of the Spirit which lead to immortality (John 10:28-29; Phil 1:6; 2 Tim 2:19; 1 John 2:19).
And though many storms and floods arise and beat against the saints, yet these things shall never be able to sweep them off the foundation and rock which they are fastened upon by faith. Even though, through unbelief and the temptations of Satan, the sight and feeling of the light and love of God may for a time be clouded and obscured from them (Psa. 89:31-32; 1 Cor. 11:32), yet God is still the same, and they are sure to be kept by His power until their salvation is complete, when they shall enjoy the purchased possession which is theirs, for they are engraved upon the palm of His hands, and their names have been written in His Book of Life from all eternity (Mal 3:6).
2. This perseverance of the saints does not depend on them - that is, on their own free will. It rests upon the immutability of the decree of election (Rom 8:30; 9:11-16), which flows from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father. It also rests upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, and upon the union which true saints have with Him (Rom 5:9-10; John 14:19). It rests upon the oath of God (Heb 6.17-18), and upon the abiding of His Spirit. It depends upon the seed of God being within them (1 John 3:.9) and upon the very nature of the covenant of grace (Jer. 32:40). All these factors give rise to the certainty and infallibility of the security and perseverance of the saints.
3. The saints may, through the temptation of Satan and the world, and because their remaining sinful tendencies prevail over them, and through their neglect of the means which God has provided to keep them, fall into grievous sins. They may continue in this state for some time (Matt 26:70-74), so that they incur God's displeasure, grieve His Holy Spirit (Isa 64:5-9; Eph 4:30), suffer the impairment of their graces and comforts (Psa. 51:10-12), have their hearts hardened and their consciences wounded (Psa. 32:3-4), and hurt and scandalize others. By this they will bring temporal judgements upon themselves (2 Sam 12:14). Yet they shall renew their repentance and be preserved, through faith in Christ Jesus, to the end (Luke 22:32; 61-62).
III. How does God keep His own?
A. God enables His own to persevere through giving them new birth. God gives to His elect a nature which loves God, aspires to holiness, detests sin; which, although abides alongside the fallen nature, nevertheless causes the heart to move to know God, please Him, doing His will. (cf. Jer. 32:37-42; Ezek. 36:22-27)
B. God enables His own to persevere by His providence -- cf. Romans 8:28; 2 Peter 2:7-10
C. God enables His own to persevere through through His acts of chastisement -- cf. Heb 12:3-7
IV. More Scripture Verses
A. Those verses which speak of God’s ability to keep His own
Phil. 3:20,21 -- For our citizenship is in heaven; whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, (that it may be) conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself.
2 Tim. 1:12 -- For which cause I suffer also these things: yet I am not ashamed; for I know him whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to guard that which I have committed unto him against that day.
Jude 24,25 -- Now unto him that is able to guard you from stumbling, and to set you before the presence of his glory without blemish in exceeding joy, to the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, (be) glory, majesty, dominion and power, before all time, and now, and for evermore. Amen.
B. Those verses which speaks of the certainty of God keeping His own.
Job 17:9. "The righteous also shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger."
Jeremiah 32:37-42. "Behold, I will gather them out of all countries where I have driven them in My anger, in My fury, and in great wrath; I will bring them back to this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely. They shall be My people, and I will be their God; then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for the good of them and their children after them. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me. Yes, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will assuredly plant them in this land, with all My heart and with all My soul.’ “For thus says the LORD: ‘Just as I have brought all this great calamity on this people, so I will bring on them all the good that I have promised them.
Ezekiel 36:22-27. “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD,” says the Lord GOD, “when I am hallowed in you before their eyes. For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them."
John 6:35-40. "Jesus said unto them: 'I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall not hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. But I said unto you, that ye have seen me, and yet believe not. All that which the Father giveth me shall come unto me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I am come down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the will of him that sent me, that of all that which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that every one that beholds the Son, and believeth on him, should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.'"
John 10:27, 28. "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand."
John 17:1, 2. "Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that the son may glorify thee: even as thou gavest him authority over all flesh, that to all whom thou hast given him, he should give eternal life."
Romans 8:28-30. "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified."
1 Corinthians 1:8, 9. "I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; that in every thing you are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord."
Philippians 1:6. "Being confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ."
2 Thessalonians 2:13, 14. "But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, for that God chose you from the beginning unto salvation through the sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: whereunto he called you through our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ."
1 Thessalonians 5:23, 24. "And the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that called you, who will also do it."
2 Timothy 4:18. "The Lord will deliver me from every evil work, and will save me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen."
Hebrews 9:11-15. "But Christ having come a high priest of the good things to come, through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation, nor yet through the blood of goats and calves, but through his own blood, entered in once for all into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling them that have been defiled, sanctify unto the cleanness of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish unto God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this cause he is the mediator of a new covenant, that a death having taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, they that have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance."
1 Peter 1:4, 5. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy begat us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, unto an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fades not away, reserved in heaven for you, who by the power of God are guarded through faith unto a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time."
1 John 2:1. "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us."
Jude 1. "Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ."
V. Objections to the doctrine
A. “This takes the matter out of man’s hands and places the whole work of salvation upon God alone!” Answer: “Exactly.”
B. “Does not the New Testament speak about falling from grace, or the possibility of losing one’s salvation?” Answer: “No, it doesn’t, although some wrongly conclude such a thing from the following verses.”
-- 1 Corinthians 9:27
-- Galatians 5:4
-- Hebrews 6:4-6
-- Revelation 3:5