Perseverance of the saints is the Calvinist doctrine that those who are truly saved will persevere to the end and cannot lose their salvation. It doesn't mean that a person who is truly saved will never lose faith or backslide at any time. But that they will ultimately persevere in faith (inspite of failures) such as not to lose their salvation.

The doctrine of perseverance is rooted in God's unconditional election and predestination. That is, since God is the One who chose and predestined the elect to salvation, therefore the elect will be saved. They might turn away from faith and give appearance of losing their salvation, but if they really are elect they will repent and ultimately return to faith, because God is the One ensuring their salvation.

This doctrine is also closely related to the doctrine of justification and adoption. Because God is the One who justifies the elect, no one can bring any condemnation on them. In the same way because those who truly believe in Christ are adopted as God's sons, they cannot be condemned to eternal punishment (although subject to God's loving discipline as a Father).

See Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 17.

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History of the doctrine

The traditional doctrine is one of the five points of Calvinism that were defined at the Synod of Dort (1618-1619) during the controversy over Arminian teaching, which objected to the general predestinarian scheme of Calvinism.

The doctrine of perseverance is articulated in the Canons of Dort (chapter 5), the Westminster Confession of Faith (Chapter XVII), the London Baptist Confession of 1689 (Chapter 17), and may also be found in other Reformed Confessions.

Eternal Security

"Eternal security" is often seen as synonymous with "Perseverance of the saints." That is, a person who truly trusts in Christ, may have assurance of eternal life with God, and thus be eternally secure. Historically, this comes from a biblical, Calvinistic framework, wherein salvation is secure because the perseverance of the saved person is certain.

Today, however, the doctrine of eternal security is usually expressed without the reference to the perseverance (or continuance) and other means of grace indicative of true saving/justifying faith. This mind-set goes hand-in-hand with the "easy believism" and "carnal Christianity" so prevalent in the evangelical church today. It is characterized by the trite phrase "once saved, always saved", suggesting that one may continue in a life of willful sin and be confident of salvation because he has made a profession of faith in the past. This goes against biblical exhortations, warnings for final salvation and qualifications of true saving faith. For example :

  • John 15:6 "If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned."
  • Heb 12:14 "Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord."
  • Eph 5:5-6 "For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience."
  • 1 John 2:3-4 "By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, "I have come to know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him;"
  • 1 Cor. 10:1-6 "For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness."
  • 2 Cor 13:5 "Test yourselves {to see} if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you--unless indeed you fail the test?"
  • James 2:14-17 "What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself."

Definitive wandering is deadly and maybe a sign that one is not truly saved. Christians in the bible are warned and encouraged over and over again to not give up, but to persevere in faith in order to be saved. "Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial," as James says, "for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him." (James 1:12)

Quotes

"We do not teach that any man is entitled to believe that he is justified, and therefore shall not come again in condemnation on the proposition "once in grace always in grace," although he be now living in intentional, willful sin. This falsehood of Satan we abhor. We say, the fact that this deluded man can live in willful sin is the strongest possible proof that he never was justified, and never had any grace to fall from. And, once for all, no intelligent believer can possibly abuse this doctrine into a pretext for carnal security. It promises to true believers a perseverance in holiness. Who, except an idiot, could infer from that promise the privilege to be unholy?" (R. L. Dabney, The Five Points of Calvinism) "How preposterous and irrational must it be in a man who thinks himself to be a child of God, and believes he shall persevere to the end, from this consideration to indulge himself in all manner of sin, as if resolving that he will persevere no longer!" (John Gill, The Cause of God and Truth, Part 3, section 6)

Biblical support

These passages show God's ability to save completely those He had chosen to save.

  • Romans 8:29 "For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren"
  • Jeremiah 32:40 “I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me."
  • Romans 14:4 "Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand."
  • Philippians 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."
  • Jude 1:24 "Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy"
  • 1 Peter 1:3-5 "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time"
  • John 10:28-29: "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand."
  • Romans 11:29: "For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable."

In the following passages, the point is that one has been truly saved (past tense/ past event), if he perseveres to the end. Otherwise, he proves he had never been truly saved.

  • 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 - "Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain."
  • Hebrews 3:14 - "For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end"
  • Hebrews 3:6 - "but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end."
  • Col 1:22-23 "yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach— if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister."

Other passages that affirm the need to endure to the end to be saved.

  • Matthew 24:12-13 "Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved" (cf. Mark 13:13)
  • Matthew 10:22 "You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved."
  • Galatians 6:9 - "And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up."
  • James 5:19-20 - "My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins."

Arminian Objections

Arminian objection to this doctrine is primarily centered on the concept of man's free will (in the Libertarian sense). That is, God does not predetermine or influence the individual's choice, but He lets them choose freely their destiny. In such an understanding, God neccessarily cannot ensure the final salvation of anyone because they always have the free choice to turn away from faith.

Arminians generally have their own interpretation of Calvinist proof texts for the doctrine of Perseverance. Arminians will appeal to a conditional election or corporate election understanding of Calvinist security verses. While there are different ways for Arminians to interpret Calvinist proof texts, but the bottom line is that they will always put the final decision for salvation on the free choice of individuals, not on God.

Arminians will also use verses that give warnings against falling away from faith, to argue against the doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints. They also argue from verses that appeal for a decision on the individual to persevere. That is, the individual has to make the decision to persevere, and God cannot make them persevere if they don't want to.

It should be noted however, that historic Calvinism affirms the need to persevere to be saved, and the need for the individuals to actively believe and persevere. This creates an antinomy (or paradox) since Calvinism equally affirms that God is completely sovereign in the affairs of men, including human decisions. For example :

  • Phil 2:12-13 "So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure."
  • Acts 4:27-29 “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence".
  • 2 Tim 2:24-25 "The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth"
  • 2 Sam 17:14 "Then Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.” For the LORD had ordained to thwart the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the LORD might bring calamity on Absalom."
  • 1 Sam 2:23-25 "He said to them, “Why do you do such things, the evil things that I hear from all these people? “No, my sons; for the report is not good which I hear the LORD’S people circulating. “If one man sins against another, God will mediate for him; but if a man sins against the LORD, who can intercede for him?” But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for the LORD desired to put them to death."

Calvinists also argue that if God is not sovereign over the decisions and choices of individuals, then it would be pointless to pray for the salvation of anyone, or repentance of someone in sin. Furthermore, all the verses that promise protection or security to the believer would be pointless, because God will apparently not prevent someone from falling from faith. The power of God's new covenant promises would be pointless and ineffective, the blood of Jesus insufficient to complete the purchase of individuals.

Resources

  • Thomas R. Schreiner & Ardel B. Caneday (2001). The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance. Inter-Varsity Press. (ISBN 0830815554)
  • D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Romans 8:17-39: The Final Perseverance of the Saints. Banner of Truth. ISBN 0851512313
  • A. W. Pink (2001). Eternal Security. Sovereign Grace Pub. ISBN 1589601955

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