EXPLORING THE WORD
TULIP Part 6
Perseverance of the Saints
I have heard from many Christian ministers, stories of people who have started down the path of Christian ministry only to turn away from the ministry and reject the faith they once embraced. For example, one of Billy Graham's ministry partners, Charles Templeton, once was a highly sought after evangelist. After struggling with doubt for many years, he eventually rejected his Christian faith and embraced agnosticism. On his death bed, Templeton reaffirmed his agnosticism stating there was no way to be sure about the fact that God exists, but he still yearned for the faith he once had.
What causes some people who embrace the Christian faith, and embrace it boldly, to reject it? More importantly, what causes some people who claim to be believers in Christ to endure in that faith their entire lives? This is the subject we'll be examining as we look at the last of the Five Points of Calvinism, The Perseverance of the Saints.
As we look at this subject of the Perseverance of the Saints, the issue revolves around this crucial question: Can a true Christian permanently fall away from the faith? On the face of it, it would appear that the answer to this question is "yes." We can look at anecdotal evidence, such as the life of Charles Templeton, or we can look to the many biblical exhortations that exhort believers to persevere to the end (e.g., Matthew 24:13). Furthermore, consider Jesus' Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13) in which two responses to the preaching of the word result in initial conversions, but those conversions wither due to persecution or distractions from the world. It would seem that one who does profess a faith in Christ can turn away and die in unbelief.
However, the Protestant Reformers taught quite the opposite. The doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints teaches, in essence, that those who have been elected by God and irresistibly drawn by God's efficacious grace will not fail to persevere in their faith until the very end. Perseverance of the Saints flows logically from the other four points of the Doctrines of Grace. So strong is the logic on these points that if one accepts the other four points, one is forced to accept the fifth and final point.
As we have been doing throughout this series, we will consult the Canons of Dort to lay out the official statement on the Perseverance of the Saints:
- Because of these remnants of sin dwelling in them and also because of the temptations of the world and Satan, those who have been converted could not remain standing in this grace if left to their own resources. But God is faithful, mercifully strengthening them in the grace once conferred on them and powerfully preserving them in it to the end.Notice the key element in these quotes from the Canons of Dort: God. If left to ourselves to persevere to the end, we would not; we would most assuredly turn away in sin and unbelief. But God is faithful in strengthening us with the grace with which he saved us and preserves us in our faith until the very end.
- For God, who is rich in mercy, according to the unchangeable purpose of election does not take the Holy Spirit from his own completely, even when they fall grievously. Neither does God let them fall down so far that they forfeit the grace of adoption and the state of justification, or commit the sin which leads to death (the sin against the Holy Spirit), and plunge themselves, entirely forsaken by God, into eternal ruin.
- So it is not by their own merits or strength but by God's undeserved mercy that they neither forfeit faith and grace totally nor remain in their downfalls to the end and are lost. With respect to themselves this not only easily could happen, but also undoubtedly would happen; but with respect to God it cannot possibly happen. God's plan cannot be changed; God's promise cannot fail; the calling according to God's purpose cannot be revoked; the merit of Christ as well as his interceding and preserving cannot be nullified; and the sealing of the Holy Spirit can neither be invalidated nor wiped out.
Furthermore, it is God, who is rich in mercy, according to his immutable plan in electing us who preserves us from completely falling away or committing the unpardonable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The reason we persevere to the end is because God's purposes cannot fail – those who he elected unto salvation will be brought to the end.
Those who believe that Christians can lose their salvation do not have a firm grasp of the purpose of God in salvation. They teach that salvation is accomplished solely by the free will of man, and thus man must persevere in his faith until the end to stay saved. This is a synergistic view of salvation. Synergism is just a fancy way of saying that God and man cooperate in the work of salvation. God does his part in making salvation available, but man must choose to be saved and must remain in faith until the end. From beginning to end, it's all up to man.
As well meaning as most of these people are, I firmly believe that the view that suggests a true Christian can lose their salvation is not just unbiblical, it's sub-biblical. Unconditional Election teaches us that it is God and God alone who chooses those who will be saved. He makes this choice according to the kind intention of his will from before the foundation of the earth. Those whom God has elected unto salvation, he atones for their sins through the death of his Son, Jesus Christ on their behalf. Those whom God has elected and atoned for he irresistibly draws by the working of his Holy Spirit because of their deadness in sin and the hardness of their hearts. If God has done all of this, does anyone think he will fail to see efforts through until the end? Would those whom God elected, atoned for and effectually called be left on their own to remain in their faith? This is absurd on its face! Which is why the Apostle Paul writes, "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" (Philippians 1:6).
Soli Deo Gloria!
Image Credit: Thomas Totz, Germany; "5 tulips"; Creative Commons
Introduction: What are the Doctrines of Grace and what is their historic importance?
Total Depravity: Are we all as evil as we can be? What about the good that people do?
Unconditional Election Part 1 | Part 2: Does God choose those who are going to be saved ahead of time?
Limited Atonement Part 1 | Part 2: Did Jesus die for the sins of the whole world or only for the elect?
Irresistible Grace Part 1 | Part 2: How does God draw people to himself? Can we resist?
Perseverance of the Saints: What does it mean to persevere in faith? What about apostasy?
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