Perseverance of the Saints, also known as Preservation of the Saints. This is the teaching that God’s people will be kept through His power and pledge, and so, they will continue to walk in holiness, though not perfectly, and shall never be lost, nor shall they perish:
Psalm 37:28; 89:24-37; 121:7-8; Proverbs 2:8; Jeremiah 32:40; John 6:37-44; 10:27-29; Romans 8:28-30; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; Ephesians 1:13-14; Philippians 1:6; 2:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24; 1 John 2:19; 3:6-10; Hebrews 7:25; Jude 1:24-25.
I intend to teach on the perseverance of the saints in three important sections:
Firstly, the perseverance of the saints is, I think, the most crucial of the five points of Calvinism, because the consequences of rejecting this point are far more dangerous than the consequences of rejecting the other points of biblical soteriology; a fact which I intend to explain and prove in this article, whilst both refuting and showing the foolishness of the notion that a truly saved Christian will not definitely be preserved by God blameless unto the coming of the Lord.
Secondly, it is so important to focus on the perseverance and preservation of the saints because there is a counterfeit version of it. This twisted form of the true doctrine, even from the very name of it, shows a lack of theological depth and caution which has lent itself to the softening of standards by which we are to measure the genuineness of a profession of faith, both in ourselves and in others. This counterfeit is known as “once saved, always saved” (OSAS); which, although true in essence, yet it is lacking in crucial emphases which would confront the consciences of hypocrites; but instead, their consciences are anesthetized against any fear of their faith proving false, and thereby, the duty to examine themselves (as Scripture commands) is left by the wayside; and so many false professors will deceive themselves until the day of judgement, and cause the Name of God to be blasphemed (Isaiah 52:5; Romans 2:24) rather than glorified (Matthew 5:16). Such a lack of confrontation of carnality also leads to churches being filled with goats whose presence is catered to by entertainments, whilst the sheep begin to starve.
Thirdly, I intend to positively establish and prove the doctrine of the perseverance and preservation of the saints from the Word of God.
(i) The danger of a damnable heresy:
All false teaching is dangerous. Insofar as any of us believe false doctrines, we hold beliefs that are dangerous to us and we ought to repent of anything that is not in complete alignment with Scripture. But damnable heresy is a category of false teaching which is much more important to guard against for the sake of the souls of men. If my heart holds to a damnable heresy then I am still in darkness and will die in sin if I do not repent of my soul-damning false beliefs. The word damnable means subject to or worthy of divine condemnation. There are heresies that are far less severe, in that, believing them does not keep a soul dead in sin because they do not replace essential saving components of the Gospel with lies that negate saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Damnable heresies, however, do replace saving knowledge with spiritually fatal falsehoods, which, so long as they are held to in heart, make salvation impossible.
I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-9)
We learn from this passage the solemn truths that it is possible for the saint to stray somewhat from truth; that any other message put forth as the gospel which differs from the one taught by the apostles (as recorded in Scripture) is false and damnable; that some people actually “would” (want to) pervert the Gospel; that no source of any teaching, no matter how lofty and spiritual, or else authoritative and commanding, is to be believed, if it is in disagreement with the Gospel of Scripture; and that we are to consider those who bring such a gospel as accursed from Christ, and not as brethren, for they are teaching a message of salvation which God has not given and will not honour, and which does not save.
Having said that, I do not hold to the notion that all who believe that true saints can apostatize are necessarily damned. In the same way, I do not believe that a Calvinist is necessarily saved by virtue of him having all of his points of soteriology correct. I believe that a man can hold to any amount of correct doctrine in a shallow and unsaving way, and I believe that a man can hold to the notion that a true saint can apostatize, yet in his heart so cling to Christ and Him crucified that he is definitely saved. In both cases, there is a disagreement between what is consciously believed on a surface level, and what is held to in the deepest part of one’s being.
What is most important to understand concerning this particular point of heresy is the fact that the five-point Arminian is holding to a doctrine that encourages men to rely upon themselves in a manner that is at odds with the faith which justifies; which faith is complete and sole reliance upon Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and upon Him alone; that faith never being divided between Christ and any creature, whether it be ourselves, or (as the Romans Catholics believe) dead saints. Apart from Christ’s substitutionary life and death, anything upon which we rely to justify ourselves before God will carry us to hell; and we must reject anything that might, in any way, stand in the place of the saving grace of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone.
The problem with conditional security, as this point of Arminian theology is sometimes called, is that believing a true saint can apostatize necessarily carries with it the idea that we, by our own ability and working, are preserving ourselves in grace, and we must, by our own effort, persevere in a good standing with God or else be lost. If I can lose my salvation then it follows that I can and must do something in order to keep it. If God will not preserve me in Christ except I persevere, then it is inescapable that, by my own doing, I am still in Christ; which is utterly foreign to Scripture:
“But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31)
If your heart firmly holds to the idea that by your own doing you entered into Christ, and by your own doing you remain in Him, then you neither understand the holiness of God, nor have you any idea of how much you need the grace of God, owing to a view of man that is far too flattering; not seeing man as morally bankrupt to the uttermost degree. These things are the Spirit-wrought realizations of every soul in whom God works His glorious salvation. It is that genuine apprehension of the awesome holiness of God coupled with that intimate and deeply penetrating knowledge of our own depravity which forges the incessant, exigent, and heartfelt need for faith in the grace and mercy of Christ, which necessarily puts to silence every boast in ourselves and empties us of every last ounce of faith in our good works, curing us of the notion that we are, in and of ourselves, even to the least degree, righteous before God. If you do not have this heartfelt understanding of the holiness of God, and of your own unworthiness before Him, then He has not worked in your heart; and you are yet as Paul before his conversion, vainly imagining that all is well, and reckoning yourself to be innocent of breaking the commandments of God; or at least not so guilty of breaking them that it warrants any displeasure of God which is not so easily forgotten by Him. Paul said of his spiritually insensible state before his conversion: “For I was alive without the law once” (Romans 7:9). But one of the things which the Spirit of God works in those whom He saves is a true hearing of the law of God in a manner that cannot be communicated by the mere external recitation of it, but can only be given by the Spirit:
“…but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.” (Romans 7:9; see Romans 7:7-13; cf. John 3:8; Acts 16:14)
And so, those who are converted see their absolute need for grace alone, and feel deeply in their souls that they cannot merit one ounce of Gods favour; but this truth is so readily eclipsed by the notion that a man must rely upon his own strength and must to continue to repent and believe well enough to merit his standing in the good favour of God. But this prideful tendency is an absurd contradiction, and it is merely the remnants of the flesh warring against the inner man; see Romans 7:14-25.
(ii) Two supposed proofs for this heresy refuted:
(a) Hebrews 6:4-6:
This text is commonly cited as proof that a saint can apostatise. But we will quote a larger section of this passage than the Arminian tends to, for the sake of context:
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned. But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.” (Hebrews 6:4-9)
The assumption of the Arminians, Pelagians, and Roman Catholics here is that the elements mentioned in vv.4-6 (“once enlightened”, “tasted of the heavenly gift”, “made partakers of the Holy Ghost”, and “tasted the good Word of God, and the powers of the world to come”) are necessarily speaking of genuine converts. There are however other interpretations of each of these elements, and what convinces me of their veracity is the fact that the synergistic interpretation is an impossible one, for it contradicts many other verses in Scripture, and it completely ignores things actually stated in this passage, which I will show, and for which cause I quoted as far as v.9.
v.9 states very clearly:
“But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.”
Our interpretation of vv.4-6 must be consistent with v.9, which begins with the word “but” which means:
Used to introduce a phrase or clause contrasting with what has already been mentioned.
This is crucial because the next thing the writer says is “we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.” This demands that we interpret vv.4-6 in a manner that accommodates this. The elements of vv.4-6 are undeniably magnificent privileges, yet there are other elements beyond those of vv.4-6 that accompany salvation which are better. Therefore, these elements are most definitely possible to be enjoyed by the unbeliever; for how can things that, by contrast, uniquely accompany salvation, be better than things which also uniquely accompany salvation? The contrast drawn by the author of Hebrews is redundant and absurd if conditional security is correct. It is clear that those who hold to conditional security are eisegeting this passage.
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened”
“Enlightenment” refers to the understanding of spiritual things, but in a manner that does not necessarily save. The Gospel message is remarkably simple, albeit the most profound message that ever was, or ever will be. Men who reject it can and often do understand the logic of it. “Once enlightened” speaks of those who, in spite of their comprehension of the Gospel, have shunned that saving knowledge.
“tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come”
These elements speak of those who sat under the ministry of the Word, which ministry was empowered by the Spirit of God working through ministers preaching the inspired Word of God. The grace and Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God were preached to false converts and true converts alike, and only the false brethren fall away. This is confirmed by 1 John 2:19 which reads:
“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.”
This is also confirmed by vv.7-8 of our present text:
“For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.”
God sends His rain and shines His light upon the just and upon the unjust, (Matthew 5:45); but like the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-9;18-23), it is the different soil being watered from the same sky which produces different results; and like good trees which cannot bear bad fruit, and bad trees which cannot bear good fruit (Matthew 7:16-20); even so, here we see that the blessing of God’s rain produces two different results in two different parcels of earth. One “bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed”, and the other “beareth thorns and briers”.
And so, there are no exegetical grounds upon which to conclude that the things spoken of in vv.4-6 are uniquely the attributes of saints. Rather, this passage contradicts the notion that those spoken of in vv.4-6 were ever saved, as do other passages of Scripture. Therefore, this is absolutely not a prooftext for conditional security.
(b) John 8:31:
“Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;”
I will be much less extensive here as this one is very easy to explain. The Arminian, Pelagian, and Roman Catholic all assume that this verse means that is possible for a genuine Christian to apostatize; while the exact opposite is proven by this verse, and by others like it. They see the phrase “if ye continue in my word” and call it a checkmate against Calvinism. But notice what it actually says:
“Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;”
I will state it negatively to highlight what I am pointing out:
If ye continue not in my word, then ye are not my disciples;
The grammatical structure of this verse proves the Arminians wrong and proves the Calvinists right. It is vital to pay attention to the grammar of any verse of Scripture and to allow it to control our interpretation of the verse; otherwise, we cannot rightly divide the Word of Truth. What is being declared here is that you are (presently) Christ’s disciple, only if you continue in His Word. In other words, if from now until your death you continue in Christ’s Word, then it is true that you are presently a true disciple of Christ. If, however, you do not continue in His Word, or else continue only for a time and then fall away, then you are presently not a true disciple of Christ. Only in a shallow and illegitimate way have you ever been any kind of disciple of Christ if at some point you apostatize. A false disciple is an unconverted man; and a disciple indeed, that is, a true disciple, is necessarily converted; for no carnal man receives the things of the Spirit, because they, being unspiritual by nature, cannot discern the things of the Spirit as being anything but foolish; and such people as are in the flesh (that is, every sinner born of Adam; John 3:6) are at bitter enmity against God, and cannot be subject to His law, and cannot please Him; (John 3:19-20; Romans 8:7-8; 1 Corinthians 2:14).
In Matthew 7:21-23 we are told that many will try to justify themselves before Christ by pointing to all of their devotions and works, about which He will not argue, but He will say unto them “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” See also 1 John 3:6,9-10.
Those who will be cast out were never at any point savingly joined to Christ; and thus, you cannot lose your salvation, for salvation actually saves, it does not merely make one savable. You cannot come to Christ and be in anywise cast out. Those who come will be raised up at the last day; see John 6:37-44.
Once saved, always saved: a dangerous half-truth:
I do of course agree that once a sinner is saved, he will remain saved never to be lost; and yet I reject the position of once saved, always saved. I know that this might sound like a contradiction, but I will explain what I mean. I reject this position because it waters down and obscures important information for knowing the genuineness of one’s conversion. The importance of the following command is completely ignored by so many who believe in once saved, always saved:
“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.” (2 Corinthians 13:5)
The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints communicates something which has largely been forgotten by the majority of those who hold to the counterfeit version of the doctrine. Saints persevere in the very things which marked their entry into fellowship with God: repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The commands to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ are not given as one-off commands, but are repeatedly phrased in the present tense; that is, the verbs repent and believe are things which we must continually practice. We are not merely to do them once and then forget about them. We thank God alone for our continuance in these things, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). Through trials and tribulations, famine, nakedness, distress, peril, sword, poverty, and all manner of temptations, the saint will persevere in repentance and faith, and will grow in both of them as his walk with Christ continues; and he will do so because God will continually work in His chosen people, performing that work from its beginning until the Day of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:35-39; Philippians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).
This is of course so very far from the false notion that one can be saved who reckons he has at some point repented and believed, even though there is now no evidence at all that he is walking with Jesus Christ today.
If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. (1 John 1:6-7)
In these two verses, we see that those who are cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ are those who walk in the light, and that means that they do not walk in sin. It is not our walking in righteousness that secures our salvation however, but the reverse: we are caused to walk in righteousness by virtue of the salvation which God works in us, which is seen in 1 John 3:6,9-10 which I quote from the ESV, which Bible translation I rarely quote, but it is helpful for these verses because the present tense participle of the Greek is much more apparent in the ESV than in the King James rendering:
No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him… No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:6,9-10)
These verses prove a number of things. Firstly, that anyone who continues walking in sin has never at any point known Christ, and has never been saved. This reminds us of 1 John 2:19 which clearly says that no one who apostatizes was ever of us, that is, they were never saved; for if they were truly saved, they would have continued with us rather than departing from us. Secondly, these verses prove that the reason why a true Christian is unable to continue sin in (which includes the sin of unbelief), is because he has been born of God’s Spirit, and God’s seed remains in him. Continuing in sin refers to the deliberate and ongoing indulgence in and enjoyment of the lusts of the flesh, which is the disposition of a lost sinner, but is antithetical to the new nature of the saint. Thirdly, we learn here that this is true not only true of the inner man, which no one else sees; but that the outward visible conduct of a man declares to the brethren whether he is of God or of the devil; a man’s works justifying him (declaring him righteous) before his fellow man, or else condemning him in their eyes, for faith without works is dead, (James 2:14-26). And so, those who understand this passage as speaking solely about the inner man being unable to sin have an interpretation which is a blatant contradiction of v.10.
God preserves the saint in perseverance:
If one’s interpretation of a verse explains it as saying the exact opposite of what it plainly says, then regardless of what arguments were made in order to draw such a conclusion, the arguments and the conclusion are simply erroneous. For example, the following Scripture promises that God will definitely preserve His people blameless unto the coming of the Lord:
“And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
There are, however, many professing believers who appeal to other texts in order to say the opposite.
But it is God which works in His people both to will and to do of His good pleasure, (Philippians 2:13). He is long-suffering toward us (the beloved; i.e. Christians) not willing that any (of us) should perish (2 Peter 3:9). He puts His fear in our hearts for the purpose of making sure that we will not depart from Him (Jeremiah 32:40); and so it is sure that if we are in Christ, we will never apostatize, for God cannot fail, and Christ is the Good Shepherd. Do not dare charge God with failure.
How dare any of us presume that Gods salvation is contingent upon anything in a sinner. The Arminians, Pelagians, and Roman Catholics presume that He can save us from many things: the world and the devil, and from those He can most definitely save us; but they also suggest that He can only save us from our worst enemy, which is our own corrupt nature, if we let Him. Imagine, the almighty sovereign King, frustrated by a lump of clay which He could not mold without its permission! Utter foolishness, bordering on blasphemy.
Ye who reckon that your continuance in grace ultimately hinges upon you (a contradiction altogether), you do not believe 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, nor Psalm 89:24-35. There are so many parts of Scripture which you do not believe, except insofar as you understand them through the lens of man-centered tradition.
1 John 3:6,9-10 reveals, with unmistakable clarity, that anyone who abides in Christ (by virtue of the fact that he has been born again, and the fact that God’s seed remains in him), cannot continue in sin, that is to say: a true saint cannot practice sin. He cannot indulge in and enjoy sin, nor walk in it. He, therefore, cannot walk in unbelief; nor in open, deliberate, intentional, on-going sin of any kind. To put it another way, the elements of apostasy cannot be indulged in or practiced by anyone who was ever born of the Spirit of God, because His seed remains in them. Sin battles against the saint, but his new nature, empowered by the never-failing Spirit of God, fights back; and “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)
Also, if Satan can tempt us to unbelief and sin, which are the essential elements of apostasy, and a true saint can practice those things and apostatize, as conditional security teaches, then Paul’s inspired persuasion “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39) was a misleading falsehood and God must be the author of confusion; for, in such a scenario, Satan both cannot snatch us from God’s hand, yet he can cause us to apostatize, which is what is meant by snatching us from God’s hand. God says it is impossible for Satan to do what the Arminian, Pelagian, and Romans Catholic all necessarily imply Satan can do.
God will preserve His people in perseverance and He will not fail to save any one of us from any creature, ourselves included, for the Good Shepherd not only saves us from the mouths of wolves, but He saves the wandering sheep too. It is a substandard and useless shepherd who does not save the wandering sheep. Everyone whom God ever saves remains saved unto the end, for that God has saved them!
“For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5:4)
“And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:19-20).
How can a man apostatize who has been born again if Scripture declares that he, by virtue of the new birth, is completely unable to walk in sin, which includes unbelief? Unbelief is the sin of calling God a liar (1 John 5:1), which therefore means that a true saint cannot possibly apostatize, for he cannot continue in sin. Only a hypocrite, a false professor of Christ, can walk away from the faith (1 John 2:19). Every last one of those whom Christ will send to hell, including those who have called themselves by His Name, the Lord declares that He never knew them (Matthew 7:23), and they never knew Him (1 John 3:6,9-10).
Soli Deo Gloria can only be said unfeignedly by those who hold to the true view of salvation, which depends wholly and solely upon God, who alone works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure. For those of you who think otherwise, may God give you “repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;” (2 Timothy 2:25).