Preservation and Perseverance: Part I

leatherbook.jpgI really am happy to take or leave the title of “Calvinist.”

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!

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19 thoughts on “Preservation and Perseverance: Part I”

  1. Great post Bryan. Please don’t hold back in class. There is a difference between taking over and offering a point of view from someone who is more studied than anyone else (or almost anyone else) in the class. I think that you would bring A LOT of value to the discussion. I look forward to Sunday.

  2. B.C. McWhite said
    “I do realize that there are well-intentioned, believing Christians (whom I love very much) who would fervently disagree”

    Someone once said (I can’t remember who, my paraphrase) “The differences between God honoring, Bible believing denominations is which parts of the Bible they choose not to believe”.

    I was raised in a Free Will Baptist church. About as Arminian as it gets (they kind of wear it on their sleeve) :) I remember my dad telling me we had disagreements with the local Southern Baptists because they believed in “Eternal Security”. What’s really ironic is that we believed in “Perseverance of the Saints”, which in that denomination meant that as long as you “persevered” you were saved, but if you “backslide” you’re gettin’ it!

    This comes from a great hesitancy to ever call anyone’s conversion into question, and with good reason! We cannot see the heart. So how do you exercise church discipline or call someone on a pattern of obvious unrepentant sin? You teach that salvation can be lost. (And there are a couple of scary verses which seem to back this up)

    Now, as a reformed/Biblical christian I thank God for the biblical doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints. There’s no way I can keep myself in the Father’s hand.

    However, the five point Arminians are consistent in so far as if it’s your choice (something good in you outside of God’s grace (which is given equally to all)) that get’s you “in”, it’s your choice(s) that can also get you “out”.

    Of course we can tie Definite Atonement in here too :) If Christ’s work on the Cross actually did save me (as opposed to just making it possible for me to be saved), then God’s wrath has been propitiated (once and for all) and one of his gifts of grace is to cause me to Persevere to the end. Hallelujah!

    James

  3. What does one do with a verse like Hebrews 6:6? Basically, it implies (rather explicitly actually) that you can fall away, but you cannot come back, as that would be crucifying the Lord all over again.

  4. James,
    Amen, bro. Thanks for the thoughts and for the former-FWB perspetive!

    Darius*,
    Patience, patience. You’re just going to have to hang out on my blog and see if I cover Heb. 6 and 10 before Sunday. It could be any second… you should hold your breath…

  5. Well, go ahead and slap my hand if I get out of line, I hope that I won’t take any wind out of anyone’s sails. And if I’m wrong, please question me or correct me!

    I will share at more length tonight because I have dedicated last night and tonight for researching and putting together a summary of verses thanks to our Precepts class on Romans 9.

    But to answer the question on Heb. 6:6, let me ask another question: if that person walks away from Christ and does not come back, were they *truly* saved to begin with? As soon as we say that that person *was* saved, then we are faced with the possibility that this verse says that you can lose your salvation, which John 6:44 and 65 (if I remember correctly) concretely *dispute*…

    If I believe those verses from John above as well as 2 Tim. 1:12 (great hymn, “I Know Whom I Have Believed”), then we *must* believe that he can preserve us until that day, staking our very life and faith on it. Indeed, I believe in it so strongly, I am staking not only my life on it, but my children’s lives on it as well, training them by it…

    Please forgive me if I am too bold… :)

  6. Oh, those verses, btw, are not in John 6 (although those are good ones too!), but John 10:26-29, vs. 29 in particular (“no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand”)…

  7. (1st-time poster) Funny timing to run into this blog post. P is the only petal on TULIP that I’m starting to get shaky on. 5-pointer for the longest time.

    Logically, biblically, theologically… “P” makes complete and total sense. It totally follows as a necessary consequence of the other 4 points.

    So why am I shaky? Because of the empirical evidence. And growing dissatisfaction with the response: “S/he wasn’t ever a Christian. You can’t fall away from something you never received.”

    Hypothetically, suppose our blog host (Sorry BCW) renounces his Christian faith 10 years from now! And before then he was a faithful servant-warrior for Jesus, ministering as an undershepherd, fulfilling the Great Commission, and obeying the Greatest 2 Commandments. Wonderful walk with the Lord, many folks discipled, and many of the lost now became saved because of BCW’s faithfulness.

    Then suppose either a Job-like experience or a “liberal theology awakening” occurs. And so much doubt creeps in poor BCW that he becomes an atheist or a gross heretic or a terrible apostate. (Heaven forbid! But this is just a hypothetical example, remember!)

    And this sad turn of events remain this way until the day BCW passes on. Although we are not to judge another person’s eternal destiny, let’s speculate on it anyways.

    Did BCW, a staunch 5-pointer in the beginning and middle of his walk, really persevere to the end?

    I’ve posed this question to others and they say that he was never a Christian in the 1st Place! And I’m like, “How can you say that?” And they say, “Did he persevere?” And I go, “Doesn’t look like it.” And they say, “Either he was never a Christian or you gotta lose the ‘P’ in TULIP.”

    And I’m like, “Awwww man, this finite brain just cannot process. It’s beyond my CPU cycles. I’m just trusting God cuz this mystery is beyond me.”

    This hypothetical example has real-life parallels. As I stated before, “P” has empirical difficulties for me. The theological, biblical, and logical aspects of why “P” must true make sense to me; it’s the empirical part that’s posing major difficulty for me.

    I look forward to the rest of the series.

  8. So Bryan, how would you address the issue of inerrancy with respect to different canons (best known in the difference between the Protestant and Roman Catholic Bibles)?

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