Perseverance of The Saints
The main sources I used for this page in addition to Scripture are:
'Foundations of Pentecostal Theology' by Duffield and Van Cleave.
'An Exposition of The Westminster Confession of Faith' by Robert Shaw.
I also read the chapter 'The Perseverance of The Saints' in the book 'The Five Points of Calvinism' by Herman Hanko, Homer Hoeksema and Gise J. Van Baren.
For this page I also used the many commentaries at 'World Wide Study Bible' run by the 'Christian Classics Ethereal Library' at Calvin College.
Arminians generally say that we can fall from Grace. But this is not agreed upon by all Arminians. John Wesley in answering a question on this said (quoted from "Elements of Divinity', P455 Ralston and 'The Five Points of Calvinism'):
1. A child of God - that is, a true believer - (for he that believeth is born of God,) while he continues a true believer, cannot go to hell.
2. If a believer makes shipwreck of the faith, he is no longer a child of God; and then he may go to hell, yea, and certainly will, if he continues in unbelief.
3. If a believer may make shipwreck of the faith, then a man that believes now may be an unbeliever some time hence; yea, very possibly tomorrow; but if so, he who is a child of God today, may be a child of the devil tomorrow.
For, 4. God is the Father of them that believe, so long as they believe; but the devil is the father of them that believe not, whether they did once believe or no.
The sum of all is this: If the Scriptures are true, those who are holy or righteous in the judgment of God himself; those who are endued with the faith that purifies the heart, that produces a good conscience; those who are grafted into the good olive-tree, the spiritual, invisible Church; those who are branches of the spiritual, invisible Church; those who are branches of the true vine, of whom Christ says, "I am the vine, ye are the branches;" those who so effectually know Christ as by that knowledge to have escaped the pollutions of the world; those who see the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and who have been made partakers of the Holy Ghost, of the witness and of the fruits of the Spirit; those who live by faith in the Son of God; those who are sanctified by the blood of the covenant, may nevertheless so fall from God as to persih everlastingly.
Arminianism holds that those who believe and are truly saved
can lose their salvation. It holds that the many Christians in our church that
are leaving shows that we are living in the time which Paul talks about in 2Thess
2:3 "Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come,
except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the
son of perdition."
Arminianism teaches that Salvation comes from God but it has to do with man. God has made us free moral agents and we have a part to play in our Salvation (as well as every other spiritual transaction). There are two sides to Salvation, God's and Man's, and both must play their part. Passages such as Romans 8:38-39 and John 10:28-30 which teach that no-one can separate us from God's love should be understood in relation to other passages such as James 1:13-15 and Hebrews 6:4-8 which they interpret as describing men who partook of Salvation, but fell away, and if they don't return to Christ they will suffer damnation. So no-one can draw a believer away to damnation, but the believer himself can turn away to damnation.
It also teaches that we cannot dismiss all Christians who fall away in a simple way saying: 'They were never really saved in the first place.'
Arminians say that God does not save or keep someone in Salvation against their will. Faith and repentance are not only necessary for us to initially receive Salvation, but a continuous faith, and us continuing to come to God in repentance is necessary for us to continue in Salvation. We believe, God keeps us. We can't keep ourselves in the power of the flesh no more than we can save oursselves in the power of the flesh. We must continually take advantage of God's Grace, continually submit to God's keeping power (Phil 2:12-13) THROUGH faith (1Pt 1:5). Our faith and obedience keeps us in fellowship with Christ who then is faithful to "keep that which (we) have committed unto Him" (2Tim 1:12; Rom 11:17,21-22; 1Tim 1:18-19)
NOTE: The Roman Catholic Church has an Arminian view towards Perseverance of
The Saints. The Council of Trent decreed:
"If any person shall say that a man who has been justified cannot lose grace, and that, therefore, he who falls and sins was never trully justified, he shall be accursed." (Decret. of Justificatione, Canon 13)
Calvinism claims that those whom God has called and sanctified by the
Holy Spirit can not completely or finally fall away from the state of Grace
God brought them to. This security is restricted only to these people and extended
to all of them. They were brought to their state of Grace by being called and
in agreement with their will - which is not violated, in fact it is freed. They
hold that the elect shall persevere to the end and have a guarantee of their
eternal salvation. (Phil 1:6; 2Pet 1:10; Jn 10:28-29; 1Jn 3:9; 1Pet 1:5,9)
They are saved not of their own strength, free will, or to any measure of grace they have already received, but solely due to divine Grace - for we are weak and our strength is completely insufficient to withstand everything that will come our way.
They claim that if it were left to our faith and obedience (As Arminians claim) then our faith would soon fail. EG Peter trusted his own strength and told Jesus he would never deny Him (Matt 26:33,35; Lk 22:33), but the excersise of Peter's faith failed, but his faith did not fail as to its principle/habit. The principle of Grace in believers' souls is preserved, though it may decay a huge amount as to its excercise - A believer may partially fall and continue in sin for some time (described in Ps 51:14), incuring His displeasure and grieving Him (Is 64:5,7,9; 2Sam 11:27; Eph 4:30)- but God secures them from complete apostasy.
Believers are secured by God's decree of election, which is unchangeable, never susceptable to change (2Tim 2:18-19; Jer 31:3); the merit of Jesus' death and sufferings (Heb 10:10, 14; 13:20-21; 9:12-15); the persistancy and prevalance of Jesus' intercession for believers (Heb 9:12-15; Rom 8:33-39; Jn 1&:11,24; Lk 22:32; Heb 7:25); the constant inhabitation of the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:16-17; 1Jn 2:27; 3:9); and the unchangeable nature of the covanent of grace (Jer 32:40; Jn 10:28; 2Thess 3:3; 1Jn 2:19).
That God does not bring anyone to Salvation, thus conversely keep them in Salvation, against their will is established in the page on election and grace.
Having established that the previous four points of Calvinism are correct, then it very logically follows that this point is correct. No-one of there own can spritually do good which bring about a saving faith. So God in His Mercy chooses, through the council of His Will alone, some to be saved. God gives them the gift of His Spirit which frees them, enabling them to freely choose Christ. He draws the person to Christ without violating his will, making Salvation attractive so that the person will accept Christ. Having brought the person to Salvation, having sent Jesus to die for these people's sins, thus performing all that is needed to bring these people to a position where they can spend eternity with Him, is it logical that He would let them slip from His clutches and die an eternal death in Hell? He will keep them by His wonderous Grace in Him, not leaving them to their weaknesses, saying that it is up to them to keep the faith because the Devil will take advantage of this and try very hard to drag them away. The Devil does try very hard, and if God's Grace were not keeping the root of our faith alive in us then we would soon due to all the persecution lose our faith.
Scripture calls all believers to persevere. It is something which God demands of us. We must be immovable and steadfast in our faith until the very end. Jesus said to the Philadelphian church: "I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown." (Rev 3:11 NIV) etc..
Our confidence in what Jesus has done for us is very important, but can we have confidence that the salvation we have now, through the faith we have today, we will have tomorrow? We may be saved today, but Arminians claim that this does not give us confidence we will have faith tomorrow. On the other hand Calvinists claim that God will keep us in faith by His Grace so that we won't lose the gift of eternal life which He gave us. Paul was confident that God "who began a good work in you (believers) will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." (Phil 1:6 NASB) Peter said that believers "are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time... obtaining as the outcome of (their) faith the salvation of (their) souls." (1Pet 1:5,9 NASB)
By the will of the Father "we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all... For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified." - Those for whom Jesus died have been sanctified by His sacrifice and perfected by His Grace (Heb 10:10,14 NASB).
Jesus said: "I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my
Father's name, they bear witness of me. But ye believe not, because ye are not
of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and
they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish,
neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them
me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's
hand. I and my Father are one." (John 10:25-30)
And He prayed: "Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him... I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine." (John 17:1-2, 9)
Jesus gives to His sheep (those the Father gives him, the elect) the gift of eternal life and they shall not suffer eternal death. He prays for the elect, and His righteousness is imputed to them, and they receive eternal life. For God to take from those the Father gave the Son this gift would render God dishonest and imperfect.
John wrote: "Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard
that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This
is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not
really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained
with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us."
Those who reject God and His offer of Salvation are 'antichrists'. John was writing to believers ('children' of God). He said that out of the church ('They went out from us'), they were among the believers and appeared to be true believers, they "might have a splendid profession of religion, and be possessed of eminent gifts" (Robert Shaw, Exp. West. Conf. P219) but they did not truly know the Grace of God. They did not have 'the root of the matter'. They had received the faith required and the indwelling of the Spirit. Arminians complain about Calvinists dissmissing those who permanently fall away as never being truly saved, and say that they were truly saved but lost their salvation. But here is John saying that many professing Christians who apostasised ('They went out from us') were never truly saved ('their going showed that none of them belong to us.') So what appears like a cop-out by Calvinists was also said by the apostles and is Scripture, so is correct.
Arminians agreee that God will not let anyone draw us away from Him (Jn 10:28),
that He will not let Satan's power and craftiness entice us out of His hands.
BUT they say that a believer may of his own "fall from God as to
perish everlastingly" (see above and The
Articles of Remonstrance). IE Once a person trully believes and accepts
Jesus as his Saviour, that person can then lose his faith. The believer draws
himself away - he gives up, stops believing, loses faith. But surely someone
loses his faith by either being tempted away or by losing heart.
We cannot be tempted away: "God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it." (1Cor 10:13 NASB). Temptations come not only from Satan, but also from within our own sinful heart and its evil desires (Jam 1:14). So the Arminians are incorrect in saying that God's protection of us being enticed away is limited only to external sources (Satan, others), but God will protect us from all temptation including when "one is tempted... by his own evil desire" (Jam 1:14 NIV). We will not lose heart because Christ is "able to keep us from falling" (Jude 24). God wants us to be faithful and trust in Him. We can trust in Him and know "that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus" (2Cor 4:14 NASB).
Salvation, faith and eternal life are all gifts from God. He gives His Spirit to the He chose without any pre-conditions and His Spirit draws those to accepting Christ. "For by faith you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." (Eph 2:8 NASB) "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out."(John 6:37 NASB) Paul writes that "the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable" (Rom 11:29 NASB), so nothing and no-one can revoke the gifts of Salvation, faith and eternal life which God gave us freely. In addition, the author of Hebrews calls Jesus "the author and perfector of our faith." (12:2)
Hebrews 6:4-8 "It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned." (NIV)
Arminians say that these 'partakers' are those who have experience Salvation - were saved - and fell away. This passage, they claim, clearly implies that saints can lose their Salvation. But they add that "this passage must not be used to teach there is no hope for one who falls away. The Scriptures make it clear that if one who has turned away from Christ, that is rejected Christ, will humble himself and return to faith in Christ, there is forgiveness." (Foundations of Pentecostal Theology P255) They use Hebrews 3:12-19; James 4:5-10; 5:19-20 to show that they can return.
Those who are 'enlightened' are those who are enlightened with the knowledge of the Gospel, they know of God's Grace from His Word and they know of all God has done for us. The have 'tasted the heavenly gift' - Faith, forgiveness of sins, eternal life etc are all heavenly, spiritual, gifts; but the gift intended here is that of Christ - God's gift of extraordinary love and mercy, the bread of life, from heaven. They have tasted the blood of Christ - a superficial taste - but not liked it and rejected it. They did not have any true love for and true faith in Him. Only a superficial taste as opposed to eating Christ's flesh and drinking His blood by faith like true believers. "The gust they have is but temporary, and arises from selfish principles." (John Gill's Ecposition of The Bible, Hebrews 6:4)
'Who have shared in the Holy Spirit' - They did not share in His person or in His special Grace, for those who do partake in the Holy Spirit are united with Him, regenerated by Him and kept by Him. But here it is meant the Gifts of the Spirit, all of them - both the 'ordinary', and the 'extraordinary'. Men may be said to be sharing or partaking in the Holy Spirit when the Spirit gives them gifts - These would include all: "wisdom and prudence in things natural and civil; the knowledge of things divine and evangelical, in an external way; the power of working miracles, of prophesying, of speaking with tongues, and of the interpretation of tongues" etc. (John Gill's Ecposition of The Bible, Hebrews 6:4) "WHAT!!??" I here some of my fellow brothers in Christ at my church exclaiming in shock. Can non-believers recieve these extraordinary gifts? Yes, have a look at the following two passages-
"On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.'" (Matthew 7:22-23 RSV)
"If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I knew all the mysteries of the future and knew everything about everything, but didn't love others, what good would I be? And if I had the gift of faith so that I could speak to a mountain and make it move, without love I would be no good to anybody. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; F64 but if I didn't love others, I would be of no value whatsoever." (1Corinthians 13:2-3 NLT)
So can a non-believer be Baptised in the Holy Spirit? (For my Reformed readers I am a Pentecostal Calvinist, I do believe these gifts are for today - I pray in tongues and have the calling as a prophet [among many other callings - most of which I have yet to learn]). As Baptism in the Holy Spirit is an outflowing, overflowing, of the Spirit I would say no. But many non-believers can give the appearance of being Baptised in the Holy Spirit, and speak in tongues.
A member of a church - charismatic or otherwise - who speaks in tongues, speaks true prophesy and even performs miracles could still be a nominal Christian, a non-believer. If these Christians fall away and are not drawn back to Christ, then they never were true believers despite speaking in tongues, performing miracles etc. I know my Pentecostal brothers would argue that their gifts are a sign that they were saved but lost that salvation, but Jesus declares to these people 'I never knew you!' He did not say in Matthew that He will tell them 'I know you no longer' but that He never knew them ie they were NEVER saved.
But what of the claim that the passage does not teach that there is no hope for believers who fall away? Well with their interpretation that Hebrews 6:4-8 is talking of true believers who fall away, then this is contradictory. It seems to that they are saying this: "A man is saved, but he falls away, he can't be renewed to repentance (Heb 6:6); but they can still return to Christ on their own accord." - "It is impossible for (them)... to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace" (NIV) but if he humbles himself before God he can be renewed (using passages such as James 4:5-10 [correct interpretation of Jas 4]) ? Does this not seem inconsistent? It certainly does to me. To make their interpretation work I would think what they are saying would have to be re-worded slightly to say: "A man is saved, but he falls away, he can't be renewed to repentance; but if he humbles himself before Christ he can return, so clearly they will be unable to humble themselves." Almost true! But a saved man cannot fall away, so the correct interpretation is: "A man knows the saving truth of the Gospel and experiences the Spirit's gifts, but he ultimately rejects Christ having never trully accepted; this man cannot return and then enter into fellowship with Christ and will never humble himself before Christ."
Hebrews 10:26-27 "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we
have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but
only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume
the enemies of God." (NIV)
Arminians say that these verses describe an apostate who has willingly turned from and rejects Christ.
The people talked about here is the same as the people talked about in Hebrews 6:4-8. These are people who have come into a 'knowledge of the truth', they are 'enlightened' like described in Hebrews 6:4-8. This passage does not say that these people were saved, that they had accepted Christ, but only that they knew of God's Grace and knew the truth of Christ. In verses 38-39 the writer states that true believers are not among those this passage is talking about:
"'And a righteous person will live by faith. But I will have no pleasure in anyone who turns away.' But we are not like those who turn their backs on God and seal their fate. We have faith that assures our salvation." (NLT)
For Paul wrote to the Ephesians saying:
"And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession--to the praise of his glory." (Eph 1:13-14 NIV)
Believers are those chosen by God according to His will (Eph 1:11), a believer is set apart from everyone else by being sealed with the Holy Spirit. The sealed believer has absolute assurance that he will inherit Christ, and will receive eternal life.
Hebrews 10:28-29"Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without
mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do
you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under
foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified
him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?" (NIV)
- This is a continuation of above (obviously). The people talked about here are the same people who are talked about in 6:4-8.
James 5:19-20 "My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth
and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error
of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins."
1John 5:16 "If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this." (NASB)
Arminians interpret James as saying that as it was written to Christians (1:2, 5:19), then it is a Christian who sins, but if someone turns himback he shall save his soul from Hell. Therefore a believer's soul can die.
Yes it was written to Christians, and James is talking of a Christian who sins, but this Christian is not necessarily a believer. The person talked about is someone who embraced Christianity, entered the community of believers, professed to believe and walked in the path of truth and holiness, but has now fallen into error. If the sinner is turned from his error then he is a true believer and God has saved him from eternal death.
NOTE: The believers who turned the sinner back were instruments of God, not the ones who actually saved him.
This is the same for 1John 5:16. All sins lead to death, but th eone sin John is talking about is the Sin Against The Holy Spirit. As this is irremissable then John does not encourage praying for it, but he expresses it with caution as usually we won't know if someone has committed the sin or not. Needless to say a true believer will not commit this sin as God will keep him in Grace and not let him commit it.
Phillipians 2:12-13 "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always
obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work
out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both
to will and to work for his good pleasure." (RSV)
Arminians use this to show that a believer cannot keep himself in Christ, so must submit himself to the keeping power of God within him. The only way which a believer can work out his salvation is as God works within him. The believer must yield to God who then works in him.
An exhortation to do our best, to labour within our salvation. Paul is encouraging the Phillipians that their efforts shall not be in vain.
The "work out" is Paul exhorting them to carry out their Salvation to its full perfection. He is not encouraging them to save themselves by works, but telling them to go on to salvation with humility and submission to God for He is working in them.
Salvation is worked in believers by the Spirit, who enables them through faith to be justified once for all. Through the help of the Holy Spirit we are to progress, doing our utmost, through obedience unto perfection. Believers are not to sit back and do nothing, relying only on the actions of the Spirit to take them to heaven - for such people are not believers shown by the lacking of the fruit of the Spirit in their lives - but the working out of their Salvation is the fruit of the Spirit working in them.
Verse 12 is the external call, verse 13 shows that this is only made effective by the internal call of the moving of the Spirit working to carry out God's sovereign and gracious purpose towards the believer - an encouragement that the believer will persevere to perfection through the Grace of God and not by his own means.
Robert Shaw wrote: "Our best works, as they are good, proceed from the almighty agency of the Spirit of grace; and as they are not performed in our own strength, they merit no reward." (Exp. West. Conf. P214)
1Peter 1:5 Elect, "Who are kept by the power of God through faith
unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time."
Arminians seem to interpret the 'through faith' as meaning we are kept by God unto Salvation through us producing the faith and continually on our own allowing God's power to move in us.
We "by that faith which is of the operation of God, of which Christ is the author and finisher, and shall never fail, it being supported by the same power the saints are kept" (John Gill's Exposition of the Bible 1Peter 1:5) are kept by that power of God. We are kept in God's Grace through the faith God gave us, not through a faith produced by us - for then we would be holding to God partly by our own strenght, and through the attacks by Satan and our weaknesses this faith would fail.
2Thessalonians 2:3 "Let no man deceive you by any means: for that
day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of
sin be revealed, the son of perdition."
In light of the rest of Scripture, this is not saved people falling away, but unsaved yet professing Christians leaving the Church and renouncing their faith, revealing their true condition - people who have not accepted Christ.
Assurance for those in Christ is very important. This assurance is that the forgiveness that is in Christ Jesus is sufficient, and that those with faith in Him will receive this forgiveness and enter into heaven. But some Arminians in missing some of what Scripture teaches reduce this assurance. They say that a believer will enter into heaven, and that the forgiveness he receives from God through his faith is complete - but only if he were to drop dead right now. For they cannot guarantee that a believer will have sufficient faith tomorrow and thus be saved tomorrow. But Scripture shows that a true belirver has no need to fear that Satan will not overcome him causing his faith to fail, for God shall not allow that and will keep the believer in faith.
I will close with two passages:
"He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life." (1John 5:12-13 NIV)
"Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen." (Jude 24-25 KJV)
What a great assurance we have in Christ, and may all glory go to Him who saves and preserves us!
Copyright Steven Shaw 2001