In the previous post, we discussed the fourth letter of TULIP. If you haven't read that article, you can find it here. This article explores the fifth letter of the acronym, Perseverance of the Saints.
Perseverance of the Saints
Perseverance means that God will cause all his own to persevere in their walk with God until the day they die or until he returns, ensuring their salvation and everlasting life with him. The saints of God, once saved by God, will continue in their relationship with God, persevering to the end.
Many passages of Scripture teach this doctrine:
"And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." - Philippians 1:6
"I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. - John 10:28
"For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable." - Romans 11:29
Although this teaching is evident in Scripture, it's often debated.
Perseverance Means We Can't Walk Away
To me, this truth is a comfort, but it also means we don't have the freedom to walk away. If we have free will, as Jacob Arminius argues, then we have the freedom to come to Christ and the freedom to leave him. The problem with this idea is that it's not Scriptural. As we have seen, the Bible teaches that we can't come to God on our own and that we can't leave him either (John 6:44; Phil. 1:6).
But what about those who do walk away? Almost every Christian knows someone who was once on fire for God, but now they have walked away. Doesn't that indicate that people can walk away from the faith? To understand this issue, we need to understand it through the lens of Scripture rather than experience.
Jesus taught that when his word goes out, many people hear it, but everyone responds differently (Mat. 13:1-23). He compared the preacher to one who sows seed. Some of the seed falls on the rocky soil, some on the hard-packed path, some among the weeds, and some in the good soil. The seed in the rocky soil gains no roots and dries out in the sun. The seed on the path gets eaten by the birds. The seed in the weeds gets choked out, and the seed in the good soil grows and produces much fruit.
This is a picture of how people respond to the gospel. Some get excited but quickly fall away, the rocky soil. Some reject it outright, the hard-packed path. Some show signs of growth but ultimately get choked out by the world, the weeds. And some persevere to the end and produce fruit for God, the good soil.
Is this a picture of people losing their salvation? No. This is a picture of how people respond to the gospel. The only people in this parable who are genuinely saved are the seeds who landed in good soil. The apostle John addressed this issue in the early church when some who appeared to be Christians had walked away from the faith.
"They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us." - 1 John 2:19
John clarifies that the ones who "fall away" were never "of us." They only appeared to be saved, for if they had been, they would have persevered. But because they did not persevere, they were not truly saved. Below is a helpful table that shows this dynamic
Appearance of Salvation
Rocky, hard-packed, or weedy soil
Cannot lose salvation
Appears to lose salvation
Sealed by the Holy Spirit
Does not have the Holy Spirit
Will not fall away but persevere to the end
Will fall away
Cannot move to the "appearance of salvation" column
Can move to the "saved" column
Won't People Use the Doctrine of Perseverance as a License to Sin?
No. When God saves a person, he doesn't just promise to give them eternal life when they die. He makes them a new creation. He gives them a new heart and puts his Spirit inside them. He gives them the desire to love and serve God. A person who Christ has made a new creation will not use God's persevering grace as a license to sin. They will be thankful for his grace and seek all the more to love and serve him.
Yes, Christians will still sin. That is why we need his persevering grace. Without his grace, we would not make it to the end. We would be like the rocky or weedy soil. We would follow Jesus as long as it was easy, but when the going gets tough, we would shrivel up.
But because he has planted Christians in good soil, they will persevere through every trial. There may be times when a true Christian backslides. There may be times when a true Christian takes advantage of God's grace, but because the Spirit of God dwells inside him, he won't be able to continue in that sin. The Holy Spirit will convict him. He won't be comfortable in his sin, and God will give him the grace to repent.
Perseverance doesn't mean Christians will never struggle with sin. It means that God will cause them to persevere through every trial until the end. A born-again Christian will not see this as a license to sin but rather as the grace of God, for he knows that he needs grace every day to keep him going to the end.
How Much Sin Is Too Much Sin?
The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints gives Christians comfort and hope. It comforts them to know that God will never leave them or forsake them, even if they mess up badly. This is a comfort because genuine Christians desire earnestly to live holy lives, but they know they fail often. It is also a hope because it gives them the confidence to get back up whenever they fall.
Imagine if Christians could lose their salvation. They would live in constant fear. They would have to wonder how much sin is too much sin. And the answer is that one sin is too much sin. God cannot allow sinners into heaven, and if our getting into heaven depends on our personal holiness, then none of us would be saved. God cannot allow a single sin.
But because our getting into heaven depends on the holiness of Jesus, no sin is too much sin. Jesus paid it all, and Jesus causes his own to persevere. We are saved by faith from start to finish.
This fact does not give Christians a license to sin. It gives them the courage to get up every time they fall and persevere to the end.