The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
1 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.