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Grudem-Perseverance - Chapter 40 The Perseverance of the...

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Unformatted text preview: Chapter 40 The Perseverance of the Saints (Remaining a Christian) Can true Christians lose their salvation? How can we know we are truly born again? EXPLANATION AND SCRIPTURAL BASIS Our previous discussion has dealt with many aspects of the full salvation that Christ has earned for us and that the Holy Spirit now applies to us. But how do we know that we shall continue to be Christians throughout our lives? Is there anything that will keep us from falling away from Christ, anything to guarantee that we will remain Christians until we die and that we will in fact live with God in heaven forever? Or might it be that we will turn away from Christ and lose the blessings of our salvation? The topic of the perseverance of the saints speaks to these questions. The perseverance of the saints means that all those who are truly born again will be kept by God’s power unit' will persevere as Christians until the end of their lives, and that only those who persevere until the end have been truly born again, This definition has two parts to it. It indicates first that there is assurance to be given to those who are truly born again, for it reminds them that God’s power will keep them as Christians until they die, and they will surely live with Christ in heaven forever. On the other hand, the second half of the definition makes it clear that continuing in the Christian life is one of the evidences that a person is truly born again. It is important to keep this aspect of the doctrine in mind as well, lest false assurance be given to people who were never really believers in the first place. It should be noted that this question is one on which evangelical Christians have long had significant disagreement. Many within the Wesleyan/Arminlan tradition have held that it is possible for someone who is truly born again to lose his or her salvation, while Reformed Christians have held that that is not possible for someone who is truly born again.1 Most Baptists have followed the Reformed tradition at this point; however, they have frequently used the term “etemal security” or the “etemal security of the believer” rather than the term ‘perseoerante of the saints.” A. All Who Are Truly Born Will Persevere to the End There are many passages that teach that those who are truly born again, who are genuinely Christians, will continue in the Christian life until death and Will then go to be with Christ in heaven. Jesus says, 1The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is represented by “P” in the acronym TULIP, which is often used to summarize the “five points of Calvinism.” (See full list at p. 679, n. 1].) 40 : PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINT S 789 I have come down from heaven, not to do my 0W1] will, but the will of him who sent me; 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 at the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:38740) Here Jesus says that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. He says that he will raise that person up at the last day—which, in this context of believing in the Son and having eternal life, clearly means that Jesus will raise that person up to eternal life with him (not just raise him up to be judged and condemned). It seems hard to avoid the conclusion that everyone who truly believes in Christ will remain a Christian up to the day of final resurrection into the blessings of life in the presence of God.2 Moreover, this text emphasizes that Jesus does the will of the Father, which is that he should “lose nothing of all that he has given me” (John 6:39). Once again, those given to the Son by the Father will not be lost. Another passage emphasizing this truth is John 10:27—29, in which Jesus says: My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to match them out of the Father’s hand. Here Jesus says that those who follow him, those who are his sheep, are given eternal life. He firrther says that “no one shall snatch them out of my hand” (v. 28). Now some have objected to this that even though no one else can take Christians out of Christ’s hand, we might remove ourselves from Christ’s hand. But that seems to be pedantic quibbling over wordsw—does not “no one” also include the person who is in Christ’s hand? Moreover, we know that our own hearts are fat from trustworthy. Therefore if the possibility remained that we could remove ourself from Christ’s hand, the passage would hardly give the assurance that Jesus intends by it. But more importantly, the most forcefisl phrase in the passage is “they shall never perils ” (v. 28). The Greek construction (ou me‘ plus aorist subjunctive) is especially emphatic and might be translated more explicitly, “and they shall certainly not perish forever.” This emphasizes that those who are Jesus” “sheep” and who follow 2Grant R. Osborne, “Exegetical Notes on Calvinist Texts,” in Grace Unlimited, pp. 170—71, does not give an alternative explanation for Jesus’ statement, “I will raise him up at the last day,” when he deals with this passage. But he does say that in this context v. 35 emphasizes the fact that eternal life is dependent on the individual person “coming and believing” in Christ (p. 171) and that the present tense verbs used for “believe” in these passages imply not merely an initial decision of faith, but rather continuing in that state. _I regret having to differ with my friend and colleague on this question, but there is something to be said in response: while no one would deny that it is necessary for people themselves to believe in Christ for eternal life, and while it is also true that Jesus here speaks not just of initial saving faith but of a faith that [continues over time, the verse does not go so far as to specify that “everyone who believes §0nttnuously until his or her death will have eternal life,” but rather simply says that “he who is presently m astute tfbelieving in Christ” will have eternal life and Jesus will raise him up at the last day. The verse Speaks about all who presently are in a state of believing in Christ, and it says that all of them will be raised up by Christ at the last day. No further objections to this specific verse are given in Osbome’s Econd essay, “Soteriology in the Gospel of John,” in The Grace of God, the Will ofMan, p. 248. 790 40 : PERSEVERANCB OF THE SAINTS him, and to whom he has given eternal life, shall never lose their salvation or be separated from Christ—they shall “never perish.”3 D ‘c There are several other passages that say those who believe have eternal fife.» One example is John 3:36: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life” (cf, also John 5:24; 6:47; 10:28; 1 John 5:13). Now if this is truly eternal life that believers have, then it is life that lasts forever with God. It is a gift of_God that comes with salvation (it is put in contrast to condemnation and eternal judgment in John 3: 16—17, 36; 10:28). Arminians have objected that-“eternal life” 18 Simply a quality of life, a type of life in relationship with God, which one can have for a time and then lose. But this objection does not seem to be convmcmg in view of the clear nuance of unending time involved in the adjective eternal (Gk. 315nin “eternal, without end”).‘1 Certainly there is a special quality aboutthis life, but the emphasis in the adjective eternal is on the fact that it is theopposne of death; it is the opposite of judgment and separation from God; it is life that goes on forever in the presence of God. And he who believes in the Son has this “eternal life” (John 3:36). . - . Evidence in Paul’s writings and the other New Testament epistles also indicates that those who are truly born again will persevere to the end. There remains “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1); therefore, it would be unjust for God to give any kind of eternal punishment to those who are Christians—no condemnation remains for them, for the entire penalty for their sins has been paid. . Then in Romans 8:30, Paul emphasizes the clear connection between‘God’s eternal purposes in predestination and his working out of those purposes in life, together with his final realization of those purposes in “glorifi/mg’ or giving final resurrection bodies to those whom he has brought into union With Christ: “And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Here Paul sees the future event of glorification as such a certainty in God’s settled purpose‘that he can speak of it as if it were already accomplished (“he also glorified”). This is true of those who are called and justified—that is, all those who trulybecome Christians. Further evidence that God keeps those who are born again-safe forletemity is the “seal” that God places upon us. This “seal” is the Holy Spirit Within us, who 3The Greek word used here for “perish” is apolljmi, the same term John uses in John 3: 16 to say that “whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” A Grant Osborne, in “Exegetical Notes on Calvinist Texts,” p. 172,. says that this verse must not be interpreted apart from the teaching about the vine and the branches in John 15:1- 7, but he gives g3 alternative explanation for the phrase “they shall never perish,” and gives no reason why we should I to understand it to mean that these people will certainly have life With forever in heaven. In his subsequent article, “Soteriology in the Gospel of John,” Osborne again mentions John 10:23, but gives no alternative explanation for it other than to say that this passage emphasizes God’s sovereignty, but other passages in John emphasize the faith-response that works together With God 5 sovere1gnty- These articles do not seem to provide a reason why we should not understand these words in an ordinary sense, indicating that one who believes in Christ Will certainly never fall away. i d Of course, those who believe in the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints (such as myself) woill affirm that the way God keeps us safe is by causing us to continue to be11eve in Christ (see diSCiISSlm below), so to say that Scripture also emphasizes the necesmty of conttnumg in faith is not to objectttlo the doctrine of perseverance of the saints as it has been expressed by. Reformed theologians frcqtlfll Y in the history of the church. In other words, there is a way to believe in both sets of texts without concluding that people who are truly born again can lose their salvation. 43AGD, p. 23. 40 : PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS 791 also acts as God’s “guarantee” that we will receive the inheritance promised to us: “In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:13—14). The Greek word translated “guarantee” in this passage (awabfin) is a legal and commercial term that means “first installment, deposit, down payanent, pledge” and represents “a payment which obligates the contract- ing party to make fiirther payments.”5 When God gave us the Holy Spirit within, he committed himself to give all the further blessings of eternal life and a great reward in heaven with him. This is why Paul can say that the Holy Spirit is the “guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (Eph. 1:14). All who have the Holy Spirit within them, all who are truly born again, have God’s unchanging promise and guarantee that the inheritance of eternal life in heaven will certainly be theirs. God’s own faithfulness is pledged to bring it about.‘5 Another example of assurance that believers will persevere to the end is found in Paul’s statement to the Philippians: “I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). It is true that the word “you” here is plural (Gk. laymar), and thus he is referring to Christians in the Philippian church generally, but he is still talking about the specific believers to whom he is writing, and saying that God’s good work that began in them will continue and will be completed at the day Christ returns.7 Peter tells his readers that they are those “who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). The word guarded (Gk. phronreo‘) can mean both “kept from escaping” and “protected from attac ” and perhaps both kinds of guarding are intended here: God is preserving believers from escaping out of his kingdom, and he is protecting them from external attacks. The present participle that Peter uses gives the sense “You are continually being guarded.”8 He stresses that this is by God’s power. Yet God’s power does not work apart from the personal faith of those being guarded, but through their 5Ibid., . 109. “OsborfiJe, “Exegetical Notes on Calvinist Texts,” p. 181, answers this verse by saying that Paul also teaches personal responsibility, since “the Christian is warned not to ‘grieve’ the Spirit (cf. 1 Thess. 4:8)” and “the danger of apostasy is real, and he dare not ‘grieve’ the Spirit.” But once again this objection provides no alternative interpretation to the verse at hand, but simply refers to other verses that teach personal responsibility, a fact that a Reformed theologian would also be eager to affirm. Amiinian dieologians frequently assume that if they affirm human responsibility and the need for continuing in faith they have thereby negated the idea that God’s sovereign keeping and protection is absolutely certain and eternal life is guaranteed. But they often to do this without providing any other Convincing interpretations for the texts cited to demonstrate the doctrine of perseverance 0f the saints, 0! any explanation that would show why we should not take these words as absolute guarantees that those who are born again will certainly persevere to the end. Rather than assuming that passages on hunian responsibility negate the idea of God’s sovereign protection, it seems better to adopt the Reformed position that says that God’s sovereign protection is consistent with human responsibility, because it works through human responsibility and guarantees that we will respond by maintaining the faith that is necessary to persevere. 7Osborne rightly rejects the idea that this refers only to the fact that the church will continue. He sayS, “Paul does intend that the promise extend to the individual. He will be kept by God with a view t0 the final salvation, but this does not obviate the need for perseverance” (“Exegetical Notes on Calvinist Texts,” p. 182). 8The following three paragraphs are taken from W. Grudem, The First Epistle of Peter (Leicester: [liter-Varsity Press, and Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), pp. 58759. 792 40 .' PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS faith. (“Faith,” pitta}, is regularly a personal activity of individual belieVers in '- Peter’s epistles; see 1 Peter 1:7, 9, 21; 5:9; 2 Peter 1:1, 5; and commonly in the New Testament.) The parallel examples of God working “through” someone or something in Peter’s writings (1 Peter 1:3, 23: 2 Peter 1:4, and probably also 1 Peter 1:12; 2:14; 3:1) suggest that the believer’s personal faith or trust in God‘ is the means God uses to guard his people. Thus we might give the sense C.de j versc by saying that «God is continually using his power to guard his people by means of their faith,” a statement that seems to imply that God’s power in fact ' energizes and continually sustains individual, personal faith.9 This guarding is not for a temporary goal but for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. “Salvation” is used here not of past justification of of present sanctification (speaking in theological categories) but of the fiitm-c full . possession of all the blessings of our redemption—of the final, com let: i' fiilfillment of our salvation (cf. Rom. 13:11; 1 Peter 2:2). prepared or “ready,” it will not be “revealed” by God to mankind generally until the “last time,” the time of final judgment. 2 This last phrase makes it difficult if not impossible to see any end to Godu guarding activity. If God’s guarding has as its purp05e the preservation of believers until they receive their full, heavenly salvation, then it is safe to conclude .2 that God will accomplish that purpose and they will in fact attain that final salvation. Ultimately their attainment of final salvation depends on God’s power, Nevertheless, God’s power continually works “through” their faith. Do they wish to know whether God is guarding them? If they continue to trust God throng; Christ, God is working and guarding them, and he should be thanked. :- This emphasis on God’s guarding in combination with our faith provides a natural transition to the second half of the doctrine of perseverance. ' ? 8 “E— B. Only Those Who Pei-severe to the End Have Been Truly Born Again While Scripture repeatedly emphasizes that those who are truly born again persevere to the end and will certainly have eternal life in heaven with God, I are other passages that speak of the necessity of continuing in faith throu life. They make us realize that what Peter said in 1 Peter 1:5 is true, namely, _, -' God does not guard us apartfrom our faith, but only by working through our ' so that he enables us to continue to believe in him. In this way, those continue to trust in Christ gain assurance that God is working in them guarding them. ' One example of this kind of passage is John 8:31—32: “Jesus then said to _ Jews who had believed in him, ‘Ifyou continue in my word, you are truly disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ ”.J «i _ here giving a warning that one evidence of genuine faith is continuing in his that is, continuing to believe what he says and living a life of obedience to ElI'he translation by J. N. D. Kelly, “as a result of . . . faith,” is an extremely unlikely rendering L very common construction dia with the genitive (the few examples of this construction meaning result of” which are suggested in, BAGD, p. 180, IV, are all ambiguous, and Kelly mms€1f examples: see J. N. D. Kelly, A Commentary on the Epistle: of Peter and Jude, Black’s New T Commentaries [Londom Black, 1969), p. 52). - 40 .' PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS 793 c0mmands. Similarly, Jesus says, “He who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 10:22), as a means of warning people not to fall away in times of persecution. Paul says to the Colossian Christians that Christ has reconciled them to God, «in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard” (Col. 1:22—23). It is only natural that Paul and the other New Testament writers would speak this way, for they are addressing groups of people who profess to be Christians, without being able to know the actual state of every person’s heart. There may have been people at Colossae who had joined in the fellowship of the church, and perhaps even Professed that they had faith in Christ and had been baptized into membership of the church, but who never had true saving faith. How is Paul to distinguish such People from true believers? How can he avoid giving them false assurance, assurance that they Will be saved eternally when in fact they will not, unless they come to true repentance and faith? Paul knows that those whose faith is not real will eventually fall away from participation in the fellowship of the church. Therefore he tells his readers that they will ult...
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