Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In August, we started looking at The Five Points of Calvinism, also called TULIP—Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. You can find the Link Articles covering each aspect of TULIP, for your review, on my website (rogermccay.org/link-articles/). This month we are looking at the doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints, what you might heard described as “Once saved, always saved.”
First off, notice that it is the saints that will persevere. Each and every one of God’s elect are a saint (Greek – ἅγιος – hagios), which means “holy one.” Accordingly, the Apostle Paul repeatedly refers to the members of various churches as “saints” (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:2; 2 Cor 1:1; Eph 1:1; Phil 1:1; Col 1:2, etc.; also cf. 1 Pt 2:9).
Perseverance of the Saints asserts that not one of God’s elect, his saints, can lose his or her salvation. This is an absolute. There is nothing we can do or anyone else can do to cause God’s elect to become damned (Rom 8:38-39). It is as Jesus said in Jn 10:28, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” The Westminster Confession of Faith (XVII.1) defines the doctrine as such:
They, whom God hath accepted in His Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.
This reality, that God’s people can never become “not God’s people,” is logically grounded in the doctrines of Unconditional Election and Irresistible Grace. God acts to ensure that by his grace his elect believe in Jesus and so are saved. God does not fail. He makes it so. It is his will. It is unchangeable. The Confession further states the logical grounding of the Perseverance of the Saints (XVII.2)
This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which arises also the certainty and infallibility thereof.
It is not that a believer perseveres in faith and godliness because of some inherent strength of will or luck. Believers persevere because we are preserved by God. Our perseverance is accomplished through his work. As the Scriptures say, “But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one” (2 Thes 3:3; cf. Phil 1:6, Jer 32:40). If God has established you as being saved and he guards you against the evil one, you are saved and protected. There is nothing more secure. Hence, Perseverance of the Saints is sometimes called Preservation of the Saints, which emphasizes God’s work.
Now, there are some who say a Christian can sin badly enough to lose their salvation (e.g. the Roman Catholic Church’s (RCC) concept of “mortal sins”). To become saved again one has to do something to get his or her salvation back, such as “Penance” in the RCC’s case. Yet, such an idea has no grounding in the Scriptures and betrays a woeful knowledge of what justification by faith actually consists.
Scripture teaches that justification is God’s work, not ours. We cannot possibly do a work and gain justification. Eph 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” God justifies his elect, and he cannot be thwarted (Rom 8:33-40). Because God justifies (as a gift, not a wage), justification is forever and permanent.
Hence, Paul gives us the “golden chain of salvation” of Rom 8:29-30:
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.
In these verses, Paul touches on each link of the chain beginning with God’s foreknowledge leading to the last link of glorification. Each link follows the other and there is no deviation from God’s plan of salvation in his work of salvation from link to link for any one of his people. Notice how the end of the chain, v. 30, finishes with “He also glorified.” That is not a typo. Glorified is in the past tense. How can that be? Simply, it is due to God’s purpose in redemption being so certain that he can speak of it as if it is already accomplished. Who can thwart the purpose of the all-powerful creator God? As Paul said in Phil 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.”