Preservation and Perseverance: Part I
Not only is that term loaded with so much baggage and misunderstanding (If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard a person incorrectly refer to a person who is passionate about Calvinism as a “hypercalvinist”…), but also because, like most “Calvinists,” I do not believe everything John Calvin taught.
On the other hand, I am reasonably comfortable with the term as well, because when most people employ it they are simply referring to a person who believes the so-called “Five Points of Calvinism (‘TULIP’),” which, interestingly, are not even Calvin’s own. The “five points” are actually the responses of Calvin’s students to the five objections of Jacob Arminius’s students (hence “Arminianism”) to Calvin’s teaching. Got that?
Leslie’s and my Sunday school class has recently taken up the topic of the “Perseverance of the Saints,” one of the “five points.” This is the doctrine that teaches that for those who are truly regenerate, who have placed their God-given faith in Jesus Christ, and who are converted, God will infallibly preserve their salvation through to the end of their life, despite the occasional backsliding and disobedience that is inevitable in sinners. In other words, all whom God saves, He saves to the end (Heb. 7:25). And while my inclination (since I am a pastor in the church and do not lead this class) is to hang back in Sunday school discussions and reserve comments and questions I might otherwise have so as not to give off an authoritative, haughty, heavy-handed vibe, I am strongly considering jumping into this one because I think there is so much at stake.
I do not hold to the “five points” equally, actually. The doctrine of limited/definite atonement, in particular, is not a hill I’m willing to die on. I also think that total depravity is often articulated poorly and somewhat unbiblically by Calvinists (and probably even by Calvin himself). However, the doctrine of the perseverance/preservation of the saints is a hill that I am more than willing to die on for at least two reasons—neither of them being some sort of hard-headed love for Calvin, Augustine, Jonathan Edwards, John Piper, Wayne Grudem, Don Carson, and Mark Driscoll, combined with a willingness to disregard Scripture, as I’m sure some would love so to accuse me. Far from it.
First, and most importantly, it appears to me to be beyond question biblically. I do realize that there are well-intentioned, believing Christians (whom I love very much) who would fervently disagree, but I simply do not believe that those who would deny this doctrine have a biblical leg to stand on. I am fully convinced that in order to deny this doctrine, a person has to ignore what is overwhelmingly clear in Scripture, and cultivate an awkward and forced interpretation from what is unclear (i.e. Hebrews 6 and 10) in order to preserve the concept of ultimate self-determination (“free will”), which is nowhere taught in the Scriptures. So, on the one hand, I believe that this teaching is bound up with the authority and integrity of the Bible and biblical interpretation.
Second, and most importantly (yes, I realize I said that twice), I believe that this doctrine is at the very heart of the gospel and of the promises of the New Covenant. What sort of news is it that tells me that salvation is available to me, but whether or not I am actually saved, in the end, depends on me—a broken, weak, prone-to-wander sinner? It certainly isn’t good news! The good news is that Christ has purchased me by his blood and refuses to let go any the Father has given him, including me. That is the only assurance I have that I will still trust him tomorrow morning, let alone when I am 80. For be it from me to resort to melodramatics, but if this doctrine is not true I ought to pray for a heart attack while I’m writing this, so as not to lose what is infinitely more valuable than earthly life—the eternal life that I am certain I have at the moment!
Throughout the week, I’ll be posting some biblical meditations on this doctrine, as I work to polish and strengthen my own biblical understanding of it. Please stay tuned.
“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, O, take and seal it! Seal it for thy courts above!“