Why I Love the Doctrine of The Perseverance of the Saints
March 13, 2020 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
This is part five of a five-part series where I explore the goodness of what is commonly known as the Five Points of Calvinism, summarized by the acronym TULIP. Historically, Reformed churches have looked to this acronym as a summary God’s work in our salvation. While we believe the truths are rooted in Scripture, the “five points” often solicit strong reactions. Let’s consider each, seeking to deepen our delight in the God who saves.
Once again, in this series, we see that the name of a doctrine can mislead one’s understanding of the doctrine. The Perseverance of the Saints has often been confused as teaching something akin to “once saved, always saved… (so do whatever you want).” Even the wording of the name centers our attention on what “the saints” do, which also is misleading. So, let’s clear up the confusion first, and then consider why someone like me might love this doctrine.
I like the name The Preservation of the Saints better than the perseverance of the saints. Not only is it more biblical (more on that in a moment), it also directs our attention on God’s gracious work. This doctrine teaches that those whom God has elected, called, and justified will surely be glorified in God’s presence for eternity (i.e. eternal salvation). The assurance of this is rooted in God’s work, not our ability to keep the faith. Consider this biblical support:
In Romans 8:30 Paul explains the logical order of salvation: from election to calling (i.e. irresistible grace) to justification to glorification. “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Paul does not qualify this logical order at all. Every person who is predestined will be glorified for eternity. And this is God’s work; he is the active subject for every verb in that verse.
In Philippians 1 Paul is celebrating the work of the gospel among the Philippian believers. Verse 6 records Paul’s confidence in God’s complete work: “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.” Paul’s confidence is rooted in the God who is doing the work.
As Peter celebrates the power of the gospel, he explains that believers “by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:5). Believers in Christ are guarded by God’s power through faith. God is the active agent who sustains our faith.
And Jesus gives assurance of his and his Father’s complete saving work on behalf of believers. He says in John 6:37, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” The words “all” and “never,” in particular, undergird our understanding of the preservation by God. And then Jesus says in John 10:27-28, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” The assurance of perseverance is rooted in Christ’s preserving of his sheep. They will persevere because Christ holds them in his hand.
One point of clarification. This doctrine does not give license to “do whatever we want,” as if saying a prayer as a child gives us a “get out of hell free” card and nothing threatens that security. God’s calling and justification of a believer are transformative. Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Those who are truly saved will persevere with faith; and true saving faith is evidenced by this transformed life and the good works accompanying it, however small they may be.
Why do I love the doctrine of the preservation of the saints?
- It undergirds assurance. As a song by Caedmon’s Call says, “my faith is like shifting sand.” I believe, yet I still have moments of doubt and unbelief. I stumble and grow weary. If my eternal security was dependent on my ability to maintain faith, there would be nothing secure about it. But, praise God! My security is not rooted in me, but God! And the Scriptures are clear that he will uphold me through faith.
- It sanctifies. The process of growth in holiness is a “work of God’s free grace” (WSC #35). As we behold and delight in Jesus, God’s grace, and God’s work, like preservation, “we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God” (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18). Celebrating God’s work does not make us lazy but transforms us to be more like him. I have confidence to “fight the good fight of faith” because it ultimately is God who sustains me in faith.