Author: Ron Graham
This lesson examines the fifth point of Calvinism. This point is called "Perseverance of the Saints" to make the P in TULIP.
This name falls short of really describing the doctrine. It is known by other names, as shown below. The last two are the most descriptive of what the doctrine really says...
Whatever we call it, the doctrine involves a very simple question: Can a saved person cease to be saved and become lost again? The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints answers that question emphatically: No! The saints "can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace but shall certainly persevere therein to the end and be eternally saved". Is that answer correct?
The doctrine of Impossibility of Apostacy is the logical outcome of the other four points of Calvinism, and of the peculiar view of God's sovereign will which underlies all the points. If you hold to those points, and to that view, then you have to hold the "Once Saved Always Saved" doctrine as well, if you are to be consistent.
Suppose, for argument's sake, that you believe people are totally unable to contribute anything toward their own salvation, unable even so much as to desire or seek that salvation. Those who are saved, are saved by God's decision and God's power alone. The Father chose them, the Son redeemed them, and the Holy Spirit called them. The people themselves had nothing whatever to do with their salvation. It was all of God, wholly and solely by his will, his grace, his power. If you believe that, then it is inconceivable to you that any saved person could be lost, because God is invincible. If God has done it all by himself, then certainly nobody can ever cause it to be undone.
That is the philosophy behind "Once Saved Always Saved" or the "Perseverance of the Saints". Now let us briefly notice some specific arguments made by those who hold the doctrine.
This argument points out that Jesus prays for the saint's salvation (John 17:24).
Jesus "makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God" (Hebrews 7:25 Romans 8:27). It is then argued that if any saved person is lost in the end, then God has denied Jesus the answer to his prayers, and that is unthinkable.
REPLY Christ always prayed in submission to God's eternal purpose. For example, before he went to the cross, Jesus unashamedly expressed his desire to escape death upon the cross, while at the same time expressing his understanding of why his prayer could not be granted (Matthew 26:39). No prayer of Christ is granted simply because it is his prayer. Other factors must be considered. It is wonderful to think that Jesus died on the cross for me, and that Jesus prays for me. But I will be in glory not simply because Jesus died for me and prays for me. Other factors must be considered. My own personal commitment, my own daily cross bearing, is one of those factors (Matthew 16:24).
This argument points out that the saved are "sealed by the Holy Spirit" (Ephesians 1:13). It is argued that nobody could break the seal of Almighty God.
REPLY The seal is "the guarantee of our inheritance" (Ephesians 1:14). Three things are assured. Firstly, the God of the elect knows them as his own (2Timothy 2:19). Secondly, no enemy of the elect can snatch them from Christ's hand (John 10:28). Thirdly, the elect themselves can remain faithful to God (Revelation 2:10). This third guarantee is the scriptural version of the perseverance of the saints. It is one thing to guarantee people that they can be faithful till the end, and nobody can force them to lose their salvation. It is quite another thing to say they cannot fall regardless of what they do.
This argument points out that the saved already have eternal life (1John 5:11-12). The reasoning is that if the saved have been given life everlasting, then that life cannot come to an end, because if it did, it would prove not to have been everlasting after all.
REPLY When John said that we have eternal life, he did not mean that we have it outright in the final sense. He meant, as he previously explained, that we have it as a promise, and that promise is conditional (1John 2:24-25). If you would like more detail on this point, read Do We Already Have Eternal Life?
This argument points out that salvation is the free gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). It is reasoned that God would not be so fickle as to give a gift, and then later demand that it be returned to him.
REPLY God never changes his mind and retracts his promise, nor does God ever demand his gift back. By grace, he has given us the promise and hope of eternal life on the condition that we continue in the faith (Colossians 1:23). Eternal life is a free gift in the sense that it is unmerited, not in the sense that it is unconditional. If I gave you a holiday as a free gift, it would be conditional upon you actually making the journey to the retreat. If you decided not to go, or got half way and decided to quit, that would not mean I had changed my mind or demanded my gift back. It would be all your doing.
[Creed quoted: THE WESTMINSTER CONFESSION OF FAITH - 1646]