Reformed Theology – Perseverance of the Saints (Part 6 of 6)

2 07 2008

Spurgeon said it best when he said “There is no gospel if we do not preach what is now commonly known as Calvinism”. I wholeheartedly agree with that. If we got it wrong then we’re all without hope. Through my study of these doctrines I’ve seen that they are the clearest explanation of the gospel message to date. I don’t believe them to be setting forward any new doctrines, but rather what shines forth so clearly from scripture.

I’d just like to give a few quotes about this doctrine which should help define it a little better.

The perseverance of the saints means that all those who are truly born again will be kept by God’s power and will persevere as Christians until the end of their lives, and that only those who persevere until the end have been truly born again.
Wayne Grudem from Systematic Theology ( pg. 788 )

If our religion be of our own getting or making, it will perish; and the sooner it goes, the better; but if our religion is a matter of God’s giving, we know that He shall never take back what He gives, and that, if He has commenced to work in us by His grace, He will never leave it unfinished.
C.H. Spurgeon

“For non-reformed theologies…”at the end of the day, the security of the believer finally rests with the believer. For those in the opposite camp [Reformed], the security of the believer finally rests with God — and that, I suggest, rightly taught, draws the believer back to God himself, to trust in God, to a renewed faith that is of a piece with trusting him in the first place.”
D.A. Carson

Theres a lot of Good we can pull out of all of those statements. But I’m all too keenly aware that these statements do not carry the authority of scripture.

When we speak of “once saved, always saved,” we are not taking into account the full scope of salvation. We have been saved (justification), are being saved (sanctified), and we will one day be saved (glorified). You cannot claim to have been “saved” (justified) unless you are being sanctified. Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord.” (Putting the Amazing Back into Grace pg. 171)

I feel He hit the nail on the head there. We certainly need to be educated on what the different terms mean. Salvation can occur in three stages. There is a present salvation, then a process of being made holy, our lives being transformed by the truth, and then a final salvation where we go to be with Jesus and receive new resurrection bodies.

The point of contention of this doctrine is whether a true Christian can fall away and be eternally lost. Arminian doctrine specifies that it is not that the believer falls away by some by some external force, but rather by their own choice they voluntarily refuse to repent or they decide no longer to accept the gift of salvation. This is where the real points of contention come in – can someone truly walk away from God? I will of course argue that this is not possible, and that those who appear to walk away were not regenerate beings in the first place. But it is a question seriously worth noting.

We need to make it clear from the outset that both sides can present a strong arguement from scripture and I will try to cover some of the Arminian objections from scripture in another post.

Scriptural support for the doctrine is plentiful:

Romans 8:30 “Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”
Romans 11:29: “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”

God predestined these people and called them to himself. Those whom He called He justified. Not those who responded in faith, not those whom God knew something about, but those whom God chose and called were justified. Now we need to note the link between justification and glorification, that is that there are no conditions placed on justification that the believer must meet to go from a state of justification to a state of Glorification. There is nothing that the believer themselves adds in between that process. Its also worth noting that a logical conclusion of being justified is glorification. If Arminian doctrine is true and some can walk away it would need to say those whom God foreknew would excercise faith in Him he called, those whom He called he allowed them to chose whether they would follow him or not, those who chose right he justified, those who remained faithful and didnt reject the justification he glorified, all others fell away. 

Romans 8:1 “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”
There is a bit of contention about the translation of this verse. Some translations add a bit to verse 1 (NIV, and KJV, NKJV) but others delete it saying it was a double up of verse 4 (NASB). A but of textual criticism gets rid of the addition. That said we see from this verse that those who are in Christ Jesus are free from Condemnation – that is the condemnation that was once going to be rendered to them has been passed onto Jesus who bore the weight of Gods wrath against sin. We now as Christ followers live under another law system if we would. The law of Christ which leads to life everlasting, as opposed to the law of the flesh which leads to death. When you see these different laws you need to see at the fundamentally basic level that Life or Law of the spirit refers to a life fashioned after Jesus and Life in the Flesh or Law of Sin refers to a life fashioned after Adam. The reason this relates to perseverance is because if one could fall away from salvation willingly or by some external force that would imply, explicit or implicit, that there was something that Christ did not pay for on the cross. That somehow his sacrifice was not sufficient for that persons sin. But again we see that people are not condemmed to hell for their rejection of Christ but for their sin.

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.”
This is a great verse that should give comfort to all believers out there. Here we see the Father heart of God. He has given a certain number of people to Jesus and everyone that has been given to Jesus will come to Jesus. There are no conditions attached there! Isnt that wonderful news? Taking this verse in isolation one could possibly draw the conclusion that someone could walk away from God. While it is Gods will never to “cast” anyone out it does not stipulate that someone could not walk away willingly.
But we need to take this verse in context of the rest of the verses.

“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.”From these verses I find it hard to draw any other conclusion that those who believe that Jesus is Lord can fall away. The will of the Father and the will of Jesus will not allow it. Jesus himself said the will of God is that He would lose NOTHING of all that he has been given. That removes the chance of someone “walking away” from the faith because that would mean that Jesus would lose something the Father had given Him. If the Father has given something to Jesus it implies ownership, that God has the right to chose to do what he wants to do with His possessions. If the Father has given Jesus something he does not want Him to lose anything, can we say that God’s will is made of no effect? Of course not, God’s word does not return void but accomplishes that which it set out to do. Again this passage is to give us hope that no matter how bad things get or how lost we feel we are held securely in Christ. Does this mean we go out and sin like mad? Of course not, if you can discern that then, as Lloyd Jones said, “you have no spiritual life in you at all”.

John 10:28-29: “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.”
Again this is a wonderful passage to show the hope the believer has. God is the giver of eternal life and the controller of the destiny of the believer. It is not the believer who choses eternal life, it is God who gives it freely to the elect. Again there are no conditions attached to the gift. No conditions attached to the statement “They will never perish”. If Jesus has said that those whom He gives eternal life to will never perish how can we add any conditions to this? Nowhere in this verse or any of the preceeding verses is Faith or remaining faithful a condition of eternal life. Clearly from this verse we see that eternal life, and the assurance of salvation lie solely with God and not with ourselves.

The Arminian arguement here is that no external force can snatch a person out of God’s hand, but I can certainly walk away if I chose to. While the verse does not explicity differentiate between internal and external forces, it is clear that no one can snatch the believer out of the Fathers hand. The simplest reading of the text is to say “no one” means no person or force internal or external can snatch the believer out of Gods hand. The problem with differentiating between internal and external forces is that it equates mans ability with Gods. If man is equal to God in that respect, man does not need a saviour. We open a very slippery slope if we want to differentiate.

Romans 5:9-10: “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”

If we have been justified by his blood that means that something must have taken place, something happened on the cross. Something effectual. Christ actually paid for our sins, he paid the price we would have to pay. We need to ask the question “Was the blood of Jesus enough for God?” Note the order of the words, if we have been justified we will be spared the wrath of God. Again I notice that there are no conditions apart from being Justified to be spared Gods wrath. People who end up in Hell are under the full weight of God’s wrath, and the believer will never feel that wrath. The full weight of it that was due to us has been paid in full by Jesus on the Cross. Sometimes I think we’ve lost an appreciation for just how bad sin is in the eyes of God. I don’t just mean the bad things we do sometimes, but the terrible vile nature of an unregenerate man. It is something so foul and displeasing to God that his justice and holiness will not allow Him to be in contact with it. God’s justice demans punishment for sin and its a miracle that he justified anyone instead of destroying us all.

Another part of this verse that I love is that part that talks about us as enemies. The love of God is no better demonstrated than in his love for those who are his enemies and while were enemies of God we were reconciled to him through Jesus. Some people may be dragged into heaven kicking and screaming. C.S Lewis said it best:

 “You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape?”

Ephesians 4:30: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
Paul warns the Christians here not to grieve the spirit with outward actions that are not in line with what has taken place on the inside. If we are sealed in Christ till the day of redemption we need to give evidence of that to the world and the body of Christ. We need to deal with Anger and Bitterness. We need to talk in a wholesome manner. But again we can only do this because it is Christ who has sealed us by His blood.

Phillipians 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.”
Not only is God the author of the good work which was begun in us, he is also the one who completes the good work. He has not left us to our own devices and said “maintain yourself” or else… He had begun a good work in us and will not let up until it is completed. This is a great hope because in times of trial or times when we may fall away it is God who is constantly renewing us, enabling us and encouraging us to go on and be a part of what he has done and is doing.

Jude 1:24: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy….”
God is the only one who is able to keep us from stumbling, our own effort will never remove the temptation and desire to sin. It is only Jesus through his work on the cross who is able to present us to the Father as blameless and spotless. Not only that He does it with Joy!

Phillipians 2:11-13 “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”
While we are responsible to work out our salvation in daily life, we are also keenly aware that we are not alone and it is Jesus who dwells inside us and walks alongside us to enable us to complete the task we have at hand.

Now there are a couple of things we need to note from this doctrine. First off it does not negate human responsibility in salvation. I think the above scriptures are clear in advocating that we are to show some fruits of being saved. I am always doubtful of the sincerity of some Christians who claim to be saved yet display blatanly un-christian lifestyles. E.g. A person cannot claim to be a Christian and openly profess to be a homosexual. This is clearly inconsistent with being a Christian. We would have to question the sincerity of their faith and honesty of their conversion. While I do not doubt that some people struggle with these things from their past, the struggle they feel is indication enough to know that something is changing. We need to be very careful to judge someone else who has fallen into sin as someone who has fallen away entirely. In doing so we may be eating and drinking judgement on ourselves.

I have friends on all sides of this arguement. I have friends who were the most vocal and involved at Churches I went to. They always spoke about how great their relationship with God was, and yet after they came back from an overseas holiday they decided to start dating and move in with an unbeliever, and stop going to church altogether. Now in that case I seriously doubt whether the person was saved in the first place. I have friends who are so afraid that they may fall away that they have become so legalistic it frightens me. Where is the freedom that the Christian should have “Whom the Son sets free is free indeed” Where is the Joy and appreciation in life? I have other friends who claim to be Christians  but get drunk consistently. How you read this doctrine will certainly affect how you live. We need to understand this doctrine correctly, it does not advocate sinning like there is no tommorow because God will love you regardless. That is a total rejection and misunderstanding of the Gospel. Shall we sin more so that Grace shall increase? By no means as Paul the Apostle said.

The Arminian perspective is to say that these people will be welcomed into heaven if they turn from their ways and repent, but that runs into problems. We all have uncofessed sin in our lives, and we will all die that way. Imagine someone looking lustfully at a semi naked woman on a billboard, crossing the road and getting hit by bus dying instantly. Are we to say that this person did not repent of their sin so they now are on their way to hell? Are we saying that what Jesus did on the cross did not cover that sin? Again we must be very careful to judge. The correct response to the Gospel is Gratitude and humility.

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2 responses

2 07 2008
mslater

I agree that Calvinism is the stronger system, and a better attempt at understanding the Scriptural teaching on salvation than Arminianism is. However, I would be concerned that the portrayal of Arminianism that I often see from Calvinists and peeks through at times above is not exactly fair to the system. I mean yes, many popular expressions of Arminiansim work that way, and the logic of the system may result in quite a lack of assurance as to if one is saved or not, but… I think the more articulate proponents of the system at least believe they can deal with those issues in a more nuanced and Biblical way.

Also, for Calvinism or any system, I think we should be really careful about making assumptions that certain groups of people. People with homosexual tendencies, people who get drunk, legalists, etc, can’t be saved. Certainly they are disobeying and displeasing God, I have no interest in arguing that any of those things are ok, they are all clearly sin. So are a lot of things that many other Christians do though, like neglecting the poor, endorsing certain types of cultural and war obsessed imperialism, or the exploiting of people in other nations to make cheep Nike’s to fuel our materialism etc. All these things are wrong, and certainly this includes those in the first camp I listed, but we ought to be cautious of ruling out the possibility of them being saved, that is for God to know not us.

2 07 2008
aworthydiscussion

Full agree with you mate – its not our place to go around accusing people of being unsaved (in the context of being part of the church community) – we certainly can go as far as not condoning the behaviour and not allowing those types of people into Church if they persist in that behaviour. But its not our place to judge their hearts, that is God’s job.

Sometimes Calvinists make a straw man out of Arminianism, and I hope by presenting both sides of the arguement we can get a better understanding of theology and what the bible says. The more I study the doctrines of Grace the more I am humbled by what God has done and continues to do in my life. He is faithful even when I am faithless.

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