Thursday, June 11, 2009

Revisiting the "Doctrines of Grace" -- Perseverance of the Saints

(Articles of Faith, 10)

This is a final blog in the series entitled the "doctrines of grace." In historical terms, this is the "P" in "TULIP" -- Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and now, Perseverance of the saints. The Westminster Confession of Faith puts this final category this way: "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." (Ch. XIX, Sec. 1) Not only are the elect redeemed by Christ and renewed by the Spirit, but they are also kept by the power of God. Nothing can or will separate them from the unchangeable love of God. They are assured of heaven.

What This Does Not Mean
"Perseverance of the saints" does not mean or imply that anyone who ever "professed" faith in Christ will be eternally saved, or is guaranteed a home in heaven. Many make professions of faith that are spurious, temporary or emotional, but not really transformational. True believers do fall into temptations, doubts, fears, may commit grievous sins, but they do not thereby lose their salvation in Christ.

This also does not mean or imply the popular teaching of "once-saved, always-saved." This is not "eternal security" as is popularly understood. That is why the confessional writers were determined to define those who endure to the end as people who are "effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit." The popular teaching of eternal security is often built on the faulty premise of PROFESSION of faith rather than REALITY of faith. Only those REALLY saved are eternally secure.

This teaching does not imply the popular misconception that once a decision is made for Christ a person can then live any way he or she so pleases, and does not need to pursue holiness of life and thought. That is a characterization that is false and misleading. Perseverance of the saints means those who believe will indeed and in fact persevere until the end. Their lives will reflect Jesus Christ. True believers persevere as they are preserved by God.

Biblical Basis
God's people are granted eternal life the moment they truly repent of their sins and trust Christ as their only Savior and Lord. God's love cannot be taken from them (Isaiah 43:1-3; 54:10; John 3:16, 36; 5:24; 6:35-40). Jesus said of his sheep that "they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:27-30). Jesus prayed for all believers that His Father "keep them from the evil one" (John 17:11ff). "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). In the Golden Chain of Redemption, those who are foreknown are those who are predestined, called, justified and will finally be glorified (Romans 8:29, 30). The great assurance given to true believers is that "nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:35-39).

The beauty of the doctrines of grace is that they systematically and systemically look at a believer's life before God. While the Remonstrants (see previous blogs) wanted to herald a more Pelagian system of thought, the Synod of Dort and others upheld the orthodox faith of the Scriptures. This very compact system of thought in referencing our relationship with God gives a full-orbed and God-centered approach that no other doctrinal system gives. Once truly understood, it is beautiful, satisfying, and most importantly, gives God all the glory.