What is the doctrine of the “Perseverance of the Saints?”
WHAT DOES THIS DOCTRINE MEAN?
This doctrine answers the question, “Can I lose my salvation?” And the good news of this doctrine is that the answer is “no.” You cannot lose your salvation. Once saved, always saved, indeed.
SALVATION IS GOD’S DOING
This doctrine explains that all who truly trust in Christ for salvation can never lose their salvation, but will certainly and assuredly persevere to the end. Scripture assures us of this by explaining that our salvation is not our “own doing; it is a gift from God” (Eph. 2:8). It’s God’s doing, not ours! Indeed, “Salvation belongs to the Lord!” (Ps. 3:8). And if we didn’t do it, then we can’t undo it. The salvation of souls ultimately belongs to God, not us.
CHOSEN, PREDESTINED, CALLED, JUSTIFIED, GLORIFIED
Our salvation is something that God decided long before we ever chose him: “he chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). Before we even existed, God “predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:5). And he did this “in love” (Eph. 1:4); God loves us! And God loved us and chose us for salvation before we ever loved him or chose him.
“God loved us and chose us for salvation before we ever loved him or chose him.”
He predestined us for this before we existed, before we made any choices or did anything good or bad. And “those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:30). Everyone whom God predestines he glorifies. All those whom God chooses for salvation will be raised in glory. Period. No one slips through the cracks; how could they? God won’t let that happen.
JESUS LOSES NO ONE
Jesus said himself: “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:39). God chooses, Jesus loses no one, and all who are chosen are raised on the last day. All of our sins are paid for by Jesus. He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). What sin could be greater than the finished work of Christ on the cross? There is none. We cannot out-sin the grace of God; the cross is sufficient to cover all our sin and reconcile us to God fully and forever. This is amazing grace!
This is something Paul was sure of: “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” (Phil. 1:6). Between now and the day of Jesus, we are “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (Eph. 1:13-14). The Holy Spirit in us assures us of our inheritance of eternal life; we’re sealed by him! Done deal. Guaranteed.
There’s nothing we can do that can remove God’s salvation from us or separate us from his love. There’s nothing anyone can do to separate us from his love! As Paul said, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39). Marvel at that, and worship God for his grace and goodness toward us! Nothing can separate us from his love.
WHAT ABOUT PEOPLE WHO WALK AWAY?
This doctrine means that when someone says he used to be a Christian but no longer believes, then either 1) he truly is a Christian and is straying, but God will bring him back at some point, or 2) he never really trusted in Christ in the first place. You can’t lose your salvation, but sometimes suffering or trials can reveal that you never actually had faith in Jesus. So it is true that “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13). Those who don’t endure to the end, but walk away, reveal they never truly trusted Jesus and therefore do not receive salvation.
“Those who don’t endure to the end, but walk away, reveal they never truly trusted Jesus and therefore do not receive salvation.”
As the Apostle John said, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19). Those who truly belong to Christ by faith will continue in faith. Those who don’t continue, who don’t persevere, reveal that they are not “of us” (not genuine Christians).
THE PURPOSE OF WARNINGS
So there are many people who say they are Christians but don’t really have faith in Jesus, but there’s also the reality that every genuine Christian walks through times of doubt, serious battles with sin, and periods of straying from God. These complex situations are why there are warnings about falling away from God. For instance, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:12-13).
If we can’t lose our salvation, then how are warnings like this meant to function? God uses warnings like this to move genuine believers away from sin and back to himself (after considering the seriousness of their sin), and also to challenge false believers to examine their heart more deeply (and question whether or not they have really believed in Jesus). Warnings like this are tools that God uses to bring wandering believers back, and also to reveal to unbelievers that they are not truly believers, calling all of us to repent and believe.
John Piper explains it like this,
“Take a simple example. Suppose God has predestined that a nail be in a two-by-four with its head flush with the surface of the board. It is certain that this will happen. God is God and he has planned it. Does that mean he is indifferent to hammers? No. In fact God has also ordained that the way the nail will get in the board is by being struck with a hammer. Similarly, the elect will certainly be saved in the end with eternal glory. Does that mean God is indifferent to the ministry of the world in getting them there? No. God has made it essential. And the reason that does not undermine the certainty of salvation is that God is just as sovereign over the means as he is over the ends. . . God will not let any of his elect ‘fall away’ into destruction. But the way he will keep us from falling is by mutual exhortation of other believers in our lives.”
For genuine believers whose salvation is secure, God desires to bring us to glory through (not apart from) his own warnings and promises in Scripture, and through (not apart from) the encouragement and exhortation we get from other Christians in community. He sustains our faith through his word, through community, through corporate worship, and through the Spirit-filled discipleship of other believers who invest in us.
PAUL BELIEVED IN PERSEVERANCE AND WARNINGS
We have already seen that Paul is sure of the perseverance of the saints; God finishes the work of salvation that he begins. Our salvation belongs to God. But at the same time, Paul devoted all his energy toward warning and teaching believers in Christ: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Col. 1:28-29). Also, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thess. 5:14). Paul knew that genuine Christians would truly persevere, and one of the ways they would persevere is through the ministry of himself and other Christians who warn, admonish, and encourage.
BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER
If you’re in Christ, you can’t lose your salvation. Rejoice! You will persevere. Take heart. And also, don’t be foolish. The victory is promised but there’s still a fight to engage in by faith. You can't lose your salvation, but you can still live in a way that is unhealthy and harmful to yourself or others. You shouldn't presume on your salvation because you recited a prayer when you were a child, but rather “be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election” (2 Pet. 1:10). Be zealous to press into God and pray that you see fruit in your life! Our perseverance is something that God sovereignly works through (not apart from) our grace-driven effort and through (not apart from) the gospel ministry of our church community.
“Our perseverance is something that God sovereignly works through (not apart from) our grace-driven effort and through (not apart from) the gospel ministry of our church community.”
So the Apostle Jude says we are “kept for Jesus Christ” by the power of God (Jude 1:1), and also commands others to “keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 1:21). God keeps us in his love by calling and empowering us to keep ourselves in his love through the means of his grace: trusting his promises and heeding his warnings, as well as encouraging and exhorting one another in community to turn from sin and love God whole-heartedly.
GREAT HOPE AND GOSPEL-COURAGE
So we fight to persevere, but we fight by the power of God within us and the sure promise of God that he will finish what he began, and this gives us great hope! It gives us gospel-courage that God never quits on us, and he will never leave us or forsake us. It motivates us toward grace-driven effort for God’s glory and grace-filled rest in Christ, looking ahead to the certainty of our inheritance in heaven. The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is good news!