Perseverance of the Saints – TULIP Series

Perseverance – /pəːsɪˈvɪər(ə)ns/
:continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition


Preservation – /ˌprezəˈveɪʃn/
:the act, process, or result of preserving something

Introduction

The term Perseverance of the Saints was defined by Aurelius Augustine of Hippo in his book A Treatise on the Gift of Perseverance in AD 428 or 429. He defines perseverance as a gift from God. Reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin wrote on this topic heavily not because they wanted to copy him, but because he was right. Furthermore, The Synod of Dort discusses this as well. In the Canon of Dort, Fifth Head of Doctrine, Article 3, it says “By reason of these remains of indwelling sin, and also because of the temptations of the world and of Satan, those who are converted could not persevere in that grace if left to their own strength. But God is faithful, who, having conferred grace, mercifully confirms and powerfully preserves them therein, even to the end.”

When we think about what was written in the former, R.C. Sproul’s statement that Christians still fall into sin comes to mind. R.C Sproul says,

“True Christians can have radical and serious falls but never total and final falls from grace.”

True Christians are prone to fall and stumble into sin. We are not completely out of sin’s grasp. For example, King David was a man after God’s own heart (ref. 1 Samuel 13:14). He loved the things of God, and he was certainly a regenerated man. Yet his accounts of adultery and conspiracy to murder bring about the reality that true Christians can experience serious falls into sin (ref. 2 Samuel 11).

As Christians, we may be prone to have a puffed-up perspective of our own spiritual strength. Paul warns us of doing so in 1 Corinthians 10:12, to be wary of the impacts of pride in ourselves. We observe the example of Peter, one of the closest disciples to our Lord Jesus Christ, who rejected Him three times, despite being sure such a thing would never happen (Matthew 26:33). And yet after Peter’s fall into serious sin, we see in Luke 22:31-32 that Jesus intercedes for Peter. Peter fell into sin, yet was returned and restored to Christ again, stronger in his faith than before. That proves that our falling away to sin is only but for a season because Christ sits at the right hand of God, constantly interceding on our behalf (Romans 8:34).

To better understand the preservation of the saints, let us consider this. Christ is our great High Priest, who intercedes for all believers. Christ has provided us with this channel to rely on Him when we face hardships and trials. Therefore, for a believer (who is directly represented by Christ the High Priest), to be lost and fall away before they reach heaven would imply that the intercession of Christ is weak and powerless, which is completely paradoxical. The Bible gives us many reasons as well – Jesus Christ has been given all authority in heaven and on earth by His Father (Matthew 28:18). He is the great Shepherd that has laid down His own life for the sake of His sheep (John 10:28-29). Jesus is the one who asked of His Father to keep those that the Father has given Him (John 17:11,24).

On the other hand, there are those who were never truly saved from the beginning – they had outward appearances of being with the disciples, but they soon departed from them, not just physically, but in spirit, heart, and mind (1 John 2:19). In Matthew 5:8, it is possible for a person to be not what they profess. And when they come to Jesus and seek Him, questioning that they have done all in His name, Jesus will ultimately reject them (ref. Matthew 7:23). These so-called believers only honoured Christ with their lips, but their hearts are far away from Him.

Therefore, we observe two sides that demonstrate the differences between a lost believer whom Christ constantly intercedes for, and a person who from the beginning, was never truly saved, and will one day depart from God entirely.

A Change of Perspective

The term “Perseverance of the Saints” is somewhat misleading in the sense where it indicates something that believers can persevere in and of ourselves. Additionally, the phrase “once saved, always saved” has the misconception that man can be saved by Christ and still sins habitually, that he can do whatever he pleases, and still persevere till the end. To believe that one who is eternally secured in Christ can sin in any way he pleases and yet has grace abound is in fact untrue.

As youths of the Reformed Faith, we need to understand the essentiality and sufficiency of grace in salvation. Grace can enable and compel salvation, meaning those that have received the saving grace of God are able to persevere to the end and die in faith. Our salvation is not sustained by our own effort, but rather by our continual belief that God’s saving grace is effectual and assures perseverance for the sinner. This endurance of faith does not rely on our own strength or capabilities. When Jesus initiates salvation, we are confident that He will finish what He has started (ref. Philippians 1:6). In this, there is full completion of redemption to those whom redemption is given in Christ.

Hence, we need to hold fast in the confidence of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We have that eternal hope which binds us firmly to the end. And when we humble ourselves before the Almighty God and come before Him in repentance, there would we find a throne of grace and a seat of mercy (Hebrews 4:14-16). At times we may feel discouraged, and our faith falters. We grow anxious of our own salvation. But we can find comfort in that there is no such person who experiences conversion and justification, only to fall away fully from grace (ref. Romans 8:29-30). As we seen above, it is possible that believers will fall into diverse sins, but not a total and final fall from grace. God will keep and uphold us until our final redemption because of His great and never-ending love for us. This is known as the Preservation of the Saints.

God’s Preservation for His People

When we consider those who have been effectually called by God unto salvation and born again by the power of the Holy Spirit, they do faithfully persevere and endure till the end. This is because once they have accepted Christ as our Lord and Saviour, their hearts are regenerated by God to bear and show forth the fruits of salvation. Likewise, we endure onwards because of Christ and strive to sanctify ourselves as we are continually changed by Him. When we fall into sin, we are assured because of the incorruptible seed of regeneration that God has planted in our hearts, in that we may never be lost from Him completely (The Canons of Dort, Fifth Head of Doctrine, Article 7). We have been given the Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, to work in us (ref. John 3:1-16), and the unerring Word of God to build us up (ref. 1 Peter 1:23; Romans 8:38-39).

[1] The Word of God gives us many instances that only through the infallible work of Christ, there can be an inseparable union between the believer and Jesus Christ:

“And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.” (Jeremiah 32:40)

“And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” (John 10:28)

“Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.“ (1 Peter 1:5)


Furthermore, we consider question 79 of the 1647 Westminister Larger Catechism which asks, “May not true believers, by reason of their imperfections, and the many temptations and sins they are overtaken with, fall away from the state of grace?”

Answer: “True believers, by reason of the unchangeable love of God, and his decree and covenant to give them perseverance, their inseparable union with Christ, his continual intercession for them, and the Spirit and seed of God abiding in them, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.”

We see that only God can preserve His people and keep them in a state of grace, nothing else. Not through our own human strength or how resilient we think we are, but only through God. Our confidence in this should never depend on our own abilities as we endure, but instead we should shift our trust to the power, grace, and intercession of our Lord.

Trusting our Immutable God

If that was not enough, we are given this glorious hope because our Almighty and Loving Father never changes. We see it in His character, His promises, His Being and His Will which always remains the same. His characteristics dictate that this is true, for He is immutably holy, loving, and perfect (ref. James 1:17; Malachi 3:6). God is not capable of or susceptible to change, and nothing will ever be able to change that.

Charles Hodge, a Presbyterian theologian says,

“The confidence in the steadfastness and perseverance of believers is not founded on the strength of their purpose to persevere, nor the indestructible principle of religion in their hearts, but wholly and simply on the fidelity of God”.

God’s permanence spreads further into the everlasting Agape love that our Father has for His children, fully supplementing the final perseverance of saints. God’s people are loved constantly, perpetually, and forever (Jeremiah 31:3). His love was shown through Christ being the propitiation of the Father’s wrath, in the expiation of our sins, and in the eternal redemption of our souls (ref. Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:10). God had loved us even while we were still dead in sin (Ephesians 2:4-5).

A Christian’s Perseverance at Work

Nonetheless, we still refer to the perseverance of the saints because of the fundamental need for Christians to demonstrate true preservation through our outward conformity to God’s Word. When we truly realise that God has elected and saved us, this helps us to be accountable, mindful, and discreet as we walk in the ways of the Lord. Thus, as we persevere in our Christian walk, we portray the preservation of God, through Christ and by the power of the Spirit. In our perseverance, our obedience gives evidence that our faith is authentic, showing forth the sovereign work of God in our lives.

We do not endure in our fight of faith so that God can be for us completely, but instead we endure the fight as we are confident that God is already for us in all aspects of our lives. That should be the reason behind the necessity of our assiduousness in faith and obedience in salvation. Christ has made us His very own, and for that we should persevere (ref. Philippians 3:12).

[2] The Bible has mentioned several times about the perseverance of the believer and the faithful promise of God:

“All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.

For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.

And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.” (John 6:37-39)

“And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (2 Timothy 4:18)


As Christians, we are in a process of sanctification. Our desires have shifted away from what the world deems the most important. We are actively seeking to be holy and set apart, to live a sanctified life as we endure and persevere onwards. Our salvation is secured in Him. We have confidence that whatever God starts in us, He will finish it. He initiates the Christian’s life and provides us with the Holy Spirit to sanctify, convict, and help us as we persevere towards the end.

Therefore, we need to be zealous in our Christian duty. We need to constantly work on our spiritual wellbeing even as the wiles of the devil and temptations of the world distract and stumble us from our faith. We need God’s help to grow in faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, godliness, patience, brotherly kindness, and charity (ref. 2 Peter 1:5-7). We forego our sinful nature and focus upon the unbreakable promises of God so that our lives may show off God’s Agape love to others.

We also need to persevere together. We are called by God to endure together. We have to encourage, empower, and exhort our brethren in this fight of faith (ref. Hebrews 3:12-13). The BPilgrims community is a great place to start as like-minded B-P youths come together to learn and fellowship together. We have been blessed and provided with the tools and resources, are we ready and prepared to do our part in this Christian community?

Conclusion & Application

The doctrine on the Perseverance of the Saints is the greatest rallying call for Christians in the early ages, and even presently for us. It depicts the perfect assurance of salvation, allowing us to press on in good works, having grateful humility before God.

Dear friend, are you enduring and persevering for the right reasons today? Are you fixating all your efforts and concentration to pursue earthly treasures that are but for a season, or are you redirecting your hearts toward God and striving for heavenly things above? Have you been compromising your witness as a light for God been burdened by the doubt and anxiousness that flow through your mind each time you fall into sin? If so, I lovingly encourage you to remember God. Remember that He is your Creator. Remember the eternal covenant He has made with you and His people. Remember the finished work on the cross for your sins. Remember His lovingkindness and tender mercies in your life. Remember the times He has aided and sustained you, and the promises He has made and kept to those who trust and have faith in Him. Through our remembrance, our sovereign and unchangeable God, who has promised to uphold and preserve His people, will do the very same, until the very end. Let us never allow doubts to cloud our understanding and judgement, but to wholly trust in God’s Word, enduring the ongoing spiritual battles we face day by day, so that we may be confident in this very thing, that God which begun a good work in us, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).

If you have not truly received salvation and accepted Christ as your Lord and Saviour, your hardened hearts would not be opened to the truth, and all these would be passed as common knowledge. I pray that your hearts may be enlarged to receive the holy, infallible, and unerring Word of God, that is sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing the soul and discerning the heart (Hebrews 4:12).

Soli Deo Gloria.

[1] (ref. Jeremiah 31:3; 2 Timothy 2:19-21; 2 Samuel 23:5; 1 Corinthians 1:8-9; Hebrews 7:25; Jeremiah 32:40; John 10:28; 1 Peter 1:5).
[2] (ref. John 6:37-39, Philippians 1:6, 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, 2 Timothy 4:18, Ephesians 2:10)