February 3, 2014

Keep keeping on – Perseverance of the Saints

by Clint Archer

AcquariThe sun was setting at about 7pm one balmy Summer day during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. The stadium was emptying after a day of track and field events. The 20 mile marathon’s gold medal had been awarded about an hour earlier. Suddenly the sound police sirens caught everyone’s attention. They were clearing traffic for a lone figure to enter the stadium.

John Steven Acquari was the last runner in the marathon. Wearing the colors of Tanzania, he was grimacing in agony as he hobbled onto the track for the final 500 yards.

He had taken a serious fall in the race and had ripped a hamstring and badly grazed the skin off his legs. He was bleeding and cramping, but tenaciously shuffled around the field toward the finish line. The crowd quickly gathered to cheer him on. They were clapping and shouting encouragement to him as he finally collapsed over the finish line in sheer exhaustion and pain. After he had recovered somewhat a journalist asked him the question on everyone’s mind: “You were so seriously injured, why didn’t you just quit running?’

 

Acquari said with feeling, “My country did not send me 7,000 miles to start the race, but to finish it.” There is something about dogged determination and perseverance that inspires us.

What would you have done? Quit, or keep on keeping? The honest answer for most of us would be: I have no idea what I would do. I know what I would want to do. I know what I wish I would do. But it all depends on the severity of the injury, the remaining distance, the support I’d have, etc.P

Personally, I like to think that I would persevere to the end, no matter what. But in the case of my salvation, I’d like better assurance than what I think I’m capable of doing. Thankfully, the BIble teaches that as a believer in Jesus, I don’t have to worry about my own tenacity and stick-to-it-ness. I can rest in the faith that Jesus will get me into glory, if he has to drag me himself!

Philippians 1:6 “For I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.”

Yes, I am confident that I will get to Heaven, but it is not a confidence that rests on my experience, or my proven track record of always finishing what I start. It is an assurance based entirely on my knowledge of Jesus and his power to save.

2 Timothy 1:12 “For I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.

This is the doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints. 

Westminster Confession:

They whom God hath accepted in his beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.’

Or put more simply: true believers can be sure they will get to Heaven, no matter what, because Jesus takes responsibility to get them there no matter what. snatched

For those of you who have persevered through the last five Mondays, you will recognize that this is the final of our five points of Calvinism. And you will hopefully glean that it is not only a clear Scriptural proposition, but also a logical necessity of all the petals of the TULIP, especially Election and Irresistible Grace.

Lorraine Boetner:

This doctrine does not stand alone but is a necessary part of the Calvinistic system of theology. The doctrines of Election and Efficacious Grace logically imply the certain salvation of those who receive these blessings. If God has chosen men absolutely and unconditionally to eternal life, and if His Spirit effectively applies to them the benefits of redemption, the inescapable conclusion is that these persons shall be saved ‘

But theological consistency is not our primary litmus test. Scripture is the touchstone. So see if any alternative interpretation could be attributed to these clear verses…

1 Thessalonians 5: 23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

1 Corinthians 1: 7-9 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

John 10: 27-29 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. 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.

Jude 24-25 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

What’s not to like, right?

So why do Arminians object? Because they think we are saying “Once saved always saved; I prayed a prayer when I was six, so even though I am now an atheist axe murderer, I will still go to Heaven.”

Yeah, I’d object to that too. But that is not what we are saying. We all agree that a believer must persevere to the end to be saved. But we would point out that profession of faith is not the same as true faith.

We all know of that worship leader who ran off with the church secretary, or the pastor who is now a Buddhist monk. We know of people who were involved at every level of the church and cried when they prayed and raised their hands when they sang, and now are not walking with the Lord. Paul even experienced this…

persevere1 Tim 1:19-20 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith,  among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.

Are we saying those who make a shipwreck of their faith and are handed over toe Satan are nevertheless guaranteed to get to Heaven because of their former profession of faith? No. Please don’t make Calvin cry in his grave.

Unrepentant sin and/or lack of faith in Jesus, is not an evidence of losing one’s salvation, but of not being a true believer to begin with.

This is explicitly explained by Jesus in the parable of the soils, where some spring up initially, but are later choked out by riches and worries (Mark 4). And Jesus warned that there are some tares indistinguishable at times from the genuine wheat.

And the Apostle John says it as bluntly as any Calvinist:

1 John 2: 19 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.

It is a sad reality that some fall away from the faith. But the hard truth is that they were never children of God. He does not “unadopt” us, “unsave” us, or allow us to escape his love.

I’d like to close this mini-series with a majestic passage that puts all five petals into place, and leaves us breathless as we behold the beauty of our salvation, as planned, fashioned, executed, and consummated by our powerful Savior:

Romans 8: 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified… 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 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.

 

Clint Archer

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Clint is the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church. He and his expanding troop of Archers live near Durban, South Africa (and pity anyone who doesn't). When he is off duty from CGate, his alter ego blogs at Café Seminoid, clintarcher.com
  • bumbutcha

    The default or fall back position for any Calvinist in response to scriptures where it appears that believers can lose their salvation is that they were never saved to begin with. You reference Mark’s version of the sower as evidence of this. However please explain the Lukan version of the sower where it states that “they BELIEVE for a while, and in time of temptation FALL AWAY” (Lk 8:13). It seems to me that Jesus is indeed referring to believers who fall away from the faith.

    • http://www.clintarcher.com/ Clint

      Thanks for the question. I think the answer lies in understanding that there are different types/degrees of faith. E.g. James 2:19 says the demons believe, but not in a saving way. And in John 2:23-25 (pasted in below) John says some “believed in his name,” but on his part he didn’t “believe in them” (another rendering of the Greek).
      Also, the fallback answer is directly from 1 John 2:19. John says as explicitly as can be said that if they fall away that shows they were never “of us” or else they would have persevered. I know it sounds “convenient” but it really is biblical.

      Thanks again for the opportunity to clarify.

      John 2:23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

      • bumbutcha

        Thank you for graciously responding to my question. I understand your
        explanation but for me at least, it muddies the waters more, so to speak.
        The Jn 2:23 passage seems more obscure in meaning so to appeal to that
        passage unfortunately doesn’t necessarily lend itself to more clarity. If I examine the Luke passage in question, the meaning appears plainer so I
        must try to interpret its meaning on it’s plain literal level rather
        than appeal to something more obscure. With that being said, Lk 8:13
        says they believe for a while then due to testing/temptation they fall
        away. It seems to me that the fact that they fall away adds credence to
        the idea that they were indeed true believers as one cannot fall away from something
        that they were never a part of to begin with. I do not question the fact
        that there are those who were never of the faith to begin with but
        Jesus appears to plainly teach here the other alternative (which
        Calvinists exclude) – which is that someone can indeed truly believe but
        then later fall away.

        • http://www.clintarcher.com/ Clint

          I just don’t see how that view is compatible with the other doctrines clearly taught in Scripture (see the previous 4 Monday posts). How can God elect and then unelect, adopt and unadopt, call and then uncall. The point of Calvinism is to highlight God’s role in salvation; this undergirds God’s role in preserving His children to the end. I would suggest interpreting the Lukan version of the parable in light of the rest of the teachings in scripture. it is possible to believe in Jesus, but not in a saving way (like the demons do, like the thorny soil does, like those who fall away in Heb 6). That’s my take, anyway.

          • bumbutcha

            I agree with you that scripture interprets scripture and that among the best practices in hermeneutics involves amongst other things, interpreting the more obscure scriptures in light of the ones that provide more clarity, not the other way around. Our difference lies in exactly which scriptures provide the most clarity. Hence I say the Luke passage is clear whereas you would object based on your Calvinist leanings. You say that a true believer will persevere to the end which I totally agree with. You would also say that someone who departs or falls away from the faith was never really saved and spiritually alive to begin with. Such a person was always unsaved and never a son or daughter of God; that they were always dead in their sins; unregenerate. I concede
            that your system of theology does make sense but I don’t think it is
            biblical. I don’t think that is what Jesus himself taught. Allow me to
            illustrate.

            We know that Jesus’ employment of the parable was his most widely used method of conveying spiritual truth. We also know that anytime something is repeated twice or more times in a given passage of scripture, it is usually the
            emphasis or main point of the teaching. With that in mind let’s examine Lk 15:11-32. Most often this scripture passage is used to preach or teach about God’s unconditional love and his patient mercy, etc., and the primary focus is usually upon the father. However notice that v24 is essentially repeated again in v32. Verse 32 is also the concluding verse of this passage and summarizes
            this
            teaching. Thus it begs us to take notice of what these two verses
            emphasize. The focus rather is on the son and he is described as
            formerly being dead and now alive; lost but is now found. We know that
            these verses do not refer to physical death because the son does not die
            in the story. Therefore being dead can only refer to spiritual death.
            Furthermore, v24 describes the prodigal as being alive AGAIN. How can
            someone become spiritually alive again? The only explanation is that when the youngest son was abiding in his father’s house he was spiritually alive. When he rebelled and left his father’s house to pursue a
            lifestyle of sin, he became spiritually dead. When returned to his father and admitted his sins, he received his father’s mercy and forgiveness and was made alive AGAIN. Thus Jesus’ teaching is that an heir or child of God who is alive
            in Christ can indeed experience spiritual death if he/she sows to a lifestyle of unrepentant sin. If the prodigal had not taken action to repent, he would have remained dead in his sins. Fortunately, God’s mercy remains available IF
            the lost one seeks to return to God.
            I
            think Paul’s warning specifically to the brethren in Rome echo this
            view when he warns them that IF they live according to the flesh, they
            will die; but if by the Spirit, they put to death the misdeeds of the
            body, they will live (Rom 8:13).

            Respectfully, my take is that given Calvinist theology vs. Jesus’ teaching – I gotta go with the latter.

          • Philip

            Is it possible that Clint’s interpretation of the passages that Clint cites (James, John) is correct, and that bumbutcha’s interpretation of the the passages that bumbutcha cites (Luke) is also correct?

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  • Eric Davis

    This has been an excellent series, Clint. Thank you for providing us all with this helpful resource.

    • http://www.clintarcher.com/ Clint

      Thanks for persevering with the whole series!

  • http://www.melissacollins.biz/ Melissa Collins

    Beautiful! Loved reading this today. THANK YOU!

  • Timothy Yakich

    Pastor Archer, how are we to understand Jesus (some say this may be the Apostle John) when He says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”
    And Paul in Romans 4 states, “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
    “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven,
    And whose sins have been covered.
    “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.”
    “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven,
    And whose sins have been covered.
    “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.”
    Now I ask you, whenever Abram laid with Hagar, was he a believer or a non-believer? Jesus says you can tell them by their fruit, but Abram didn’t trust God and the result was Ishmael. David didn’t trust God. He laid with Beersheba and the result was Absalom. This is where I get thoroughly confused. If I were to commit adultery today, the church which I belong would most likely ostracize me and my belief in Jesus would be questioned. I feel like no matter what we do that we cannot remove the plank from our own eyes because we are all sinners – we call God a liar if we say we do not sin!! Is there a “level of belief” that gets you into heaven, or is it as it states in John 3:16…whoever believes? If I truly believe that Jesus Christ is my Savior and it is credited to me as righteousness, but in a few years say that I am now a Muslim, am I then cast out? I hear the saying you can’t out-sin God’s grace. So is the sin of practicing the Muslim religion, or any other religion, the sin that God then decides is too much? I don’t want to live in fear every day that I may possibly lose my salvation, but I get so many different opinions that it’s difficult not to be concerned. Thanks for your help in this matter.

    • http://www.clintarcher.com/ Clint

      I think you need to understand the difference between committing a sin (even repeatedly) as opposed to continuing in a sin. As John says 1 John 3:9 “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.”
      David sinned, but when confronted, he repented.
      The purpose fo church discipline (Matt18; 1 Cor 5) is to discern true believers who sinned, but repent when confronted, and those who are unrepentant, continuing in sin, and are therefor “treated as a tax collector” i.e. an unbeliever.
      The definition of a Christian is not someone who never sins, but rather someone who always repents of their sin. I hope this helps.

  • george canady

    Can we know who has finally fallen away? Can we know who will remain?

    • http://www.clintarcher.com/ Clint

      Opinions differ on this, but I think not. Even if a person dies in unrepentant sin, only God knows if they are truly saved and if given time they would have repented. Ananias and Saphira maybe? I think if a person renounces Christ outright, that is different. The fact is that if a person is in unrepentant sin, they have no *assurance* of salvation; but they might still be saved. For example, what if david died 8 months into Bathsheba’s pregnancy, before Nathan confronted him?

      • george canady

        Thank you Pastor Clint for your thoughtful response. Since God dose not reveal to the Church who will be in heaven out side of those who have died in scripture and even if some believers seem to indicate that they do know, my understanding of the responsibility and the evidence of the love of true believers in the true Church described in the New Testament is; that as long as a person is still alive to respond, we believers are to plead with them privately and publicly, pray for them privately and publicly, to be saved. I believe that includes all those who seem to be God’s enemies; those who seem to have fallen away, false teachers, those who seem to have renounced Christ and any other enemy of ours or the cross this side of heaven… (man, what a run on) My English teacher would not be surprised. sorry.

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