How does Grace effect the life of the child of God? We look to the Christian in his journey to the Celestial City in what is commonly called "Perseverance of the Saints". Many in the church today, that have grasped part of the truth of this doctrine, erroneously term it "Eternal Security". We do not believe this term accurately supports this doctrine as taught in Scripture.
What does the doctrine of perseverance mean if it does not mean we are eternally secure? The way to Biblically present this is to ask the question: "Can one who possesses a vital saving union with Christ, through any action on their part, die separated from Christ and be lost for all eternity?" There are those who do teach that it is possible, even to the point where one does not know if, in fact, they are in a state of grace at any given time. Then there are those that go to the opposite extreme and say "once saved always saved" no matter how you live. Many reject the first four points that we have discussed regarding grace in the life of lost sinners on the basis of man's "free will", but have no problem with this erroneous interpretation of the perseverance of the saints. It appears from this view that man must somehow lose his free will when he gets saved.
An unscriptural interpretation of this doctrine, that results from a rejection of unconditional election, it that which is behind the heretical teaching of the "Carnal Christian". The easy believism of our day has produced this damning delusion because when no true heart repentance is evident, we must put some kind of label on the product. Hence, we have a person who lives just like the unsaved world, but somehow his decision makes him a Christian. This, of course, is the logical conclusion of this false doctrine that rejects the free and sovereign grace of God.
The thing that must be clarified is the that the proper use of the term is the "perseverance of the saints". This is an important distinction in terms because perseverance emphasizes grace working in the life of the child of God and their responsibility to "press on". In contrast to this, "eternal security" puts an imbalanced emphasis on the biblical teaching of the security of the believer to the neglect of the responsibility of the Christian to mortify the deeds of the flesh (Romans 8:13) and to make his calling and election sure (2Peter 1:10).
The tendency of many in the church today is to think that because we are saved by grace alone and secure in Christ there is no need to deal with our sin. But as we try to emphasize, saving grace does not exempt us from the battle with remaining sin- it guarantees us victory in the battle. This is a principal all through Scripture. When God promised Joshua that Jericho was his if he just followed His instructions in Joshua 6, did he still have to proceed in the battle?. Yes, of course! But wait, God said in verse 3 I have given you Jericho... Why didn't Joshua just lie back and relax since it was certain that it was his. The principle is that the certainty of a promise of God does not cancel out the means God uses to bring it to pass.
The apparent contradiction of these two things is expressed in Scripture in Philippians 2:12-13 this way Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. The co-action of the believer and the Spirit are expressed here with the focus of our attention on our working not the Spirit's working; otherwise, there would be no need for the command. If God is working in us, then we are commanded to work that out.
In Philippians 3:13-14, we see another picture of the pursuit of holiness that should characterize all true Christians. Paul says forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead I press toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
A third picture of this pursuit used by the apostle Paul is in 1 Corinthians 9:26-27. There we read Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. Two things are worth noting in this verse. First that the word translated "discipline" which is "hupopiazo" carries with it he meaning to beat the face until it is black and blue. Of course Paul is speaking figuratively not a literal beating. The second thing to note is that the word translated "disqualified" is "adokimos" which is translated elsewhere as "reprobate".
Our main emphasis in calling attention to these verses is to show the scriptural teaching that those for whom Christ died and have the regenerating work of the Spirit applied to their hearts will ultimately persevere. This doctrine teaches us that the child of God will follow after holiness because God is working in him.
This teaching sheds some light on the Scriptures that are presented as warnings to the Christian. Why does God warn us if we cannot lose our salvation? A father warns his child not to go near the curb because of the possibility of being struck by a car. If that child goes near the street, will the father say "well I warned him; so, too bad: he'll just have to get run over"? The father had every intention of saving the child even after he warned him. But the other side to the coin, is this: why didn't the father not warn the child but simply be there to protect him? The possibility did exist to get hit by the car, but the father was determined not to let that happen even if it was independent of the action of the child. The father is determined to teach the child of the dangers around him.
There are many objections to this doctrine, the main one being that it will breed a life of carnality if we know we cannot lose our salvation. This is a wrong conclusion for two reasons. First, this denies that in true salvation the heart of the believer has been changed so that... he delights in the Law of God according to the inward man. (Romans 7:22). Secondly, anyone who believes that true salvation can be lost must accept the fact that they do not know whether they will endure to the end. Since they cannot know this for certain, there can never be any real assurance of salvation without an element of carnal pride entering in. But the apostle John says in 1John 3:2-3 that Beloved, now we are the children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him like He is. And everyone that has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. It is the hope of eternal life, not grounded in the boastful pride that one will make it that is the motivation child of God to live a holy life. This hope that John speaks of is a confident and joyful expectation not a wishful desire as the world would define the word.
Before we proceed to examine additional objections to the doctrine of perseverance that also exists among professing Christians, it would be of help to briefly examine the question "What is salvation?" When God sets out to save a sinner, that salvation is first of all a salvation from self! It is not primarily a salvation from hell. As A.W. Tozer said, "You cannot just scare someone into the kingdom only by convincing them they are going to hell, because the moment someone convinces them there is no hell, they're gone." Hell is a part of the motive, but it is a result of the real problem: SELF! Self must be crucified. The average person wants to be saved from hell; he just does not believe in hell or does not believe he is bad enough to go there. He must see that he is a sinner worthy of eternal damnation.
The second point to consider is that salvation is spoken of as a past experience (Ephesians 2:8-9), a present process (1Corinthians 1:18) and a future reality (1Peter 1:5). This three-fold process is called justification (at conversion), sanctification (initially at conversion then continuous in our spiritual growth) and glorification (the final act of God conforming us into the image of His Son). There is no saving relationship with Christ without the ultimate presence of all three stages! Glorification can only take place following the first two stages. If glorification does not take place, then there was no initial salvation. Full salvation in Scripture is ultimate glorification of the sinner. That is why in Romans 8:30 we read, Moreover, who He predestinated, these He also called, whom He also called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
In the light of these scriptural truths, it behooves us to insist upon a conversion experience that produces a holy life. If God is conforming His children into the image of His Son, how then can we fail to enter into it? Any conversion experi- ence that does not produce a perseverance in holiness is a damning delusion from the pit. The question we need to ask ourselves is not only "What did Christ do for us," but "What is Christ now doing in us!" Anything less then this is not Biblical salvation.
What about all the verses in the Bible that apparently teach that salvation can be lost? No study of this would be complete without at least mentioning Hebrews 6:4-6. There we read For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again unto repentance, since they crucify for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame.
Two facts must be considered in these verses. First, if real conversion was being spoken of, then that person cannot be saved again. It clearly says that it is "impossible...to renew them unto repentance". This would be crucifying the Son of God afresh.
The second thing to note is that verse 9 is the key to whether or not this is speaking of salvation. There we read, But, beloved, we are confident of better things of you, things that accompany salvation. The things mentioned in verses 4-6, however, are not things that accompany salvation.
There are two qualifying statements that we must consider when studying this doctrine. The first is that a Christian's perseverance is not dependent upon their own works but on God's free and sovereign grace working in the life of the Christian. Although we are commanded to work out our salvation, nevertheless, it must be credited to the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.
The second qualifying statement is that although a truly saved person cannot be lost, he can fall into sin. If this does happen, the Christian will repent and ultimately be brought back into fellowship with the Lord. Martin Luther said this concerning the ultimate salvation of the elect: "God's degree of predestination is firm and certain; and the necessity resulting from it is, in like manner, immovable, and cannot but take place. For we ourselves are so feeble, that if the matter were left in our own hands, very few, or rather none, would be saved; but Satan would overcome us all". Any true child of God who falls into sin could not remain there long without a deep conviction by the Holy Spirit for God is at work in the lives of His children.
What practical importance does this doctrine have to us? First, this doctrine of the final perseverance of the saints should speak to our hearts about getting a clear understanding of the importance of holiness in the life of a Christian. The heart of this doctrine is the pursuit of holiness, for the true meaning of perseverance is a perseverance in holiness!
The second important application is that this should strip us of all self confidence and crediting ourselves for our ultimate glorification. If it is God working in us to persevere, then where is the boasting?
Thirdly, this doctrine should strip us of any attempt to deny the responsibility of the Christian to make his calling and election sure. As was said previously, saving grace does not exempt us from the battle; what it does is guarantee us victory.
Fourthly, this doctrine is really the backbone of the doctrine of assurance. In 1John2:3, we read By this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. The keeping of God's commandments is not how we obtain salvation, but it is instrumental in the child of God in obtaining assurance of salvation (John 14:21).
Finally, this doctrine should give us a deeper understanding of the greatness of our God, whose eternal purpose to save His elect will not be thwarted by all the devils of Hell. Meditation on this doctrine should humble us with a deeper reverence for our God and a greater boldness in our battle with the world, the flesh, and the devil. This should drive us with a holy vengeance to deal ruthlessly with our sin.
In the words of the Apostle Paul as he wrote to the Philippians from a Roman jail, ... being confident of this very thing, He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.