Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS IS BETTER THAN ETERNAL SECURITY”

 

Of course, every sermon from God’s Word should be applicable to daily living and of practical benefit. However, there are some times when it is needful to be a bit more theological, a bit more foundational, and a bit removed from the daily grind. Tonight is such a time.

Before we turn to the subject of tonight’s message, allow me to briefly speak to a fairly well recognized principle that is important to know in the marketplace of ideas and in the arena of life. In the great dialogues of life, in those great debates in which clearer understanding of truths are hammered out, terminology is very important. Why is terminology important? Terminology is important because words have meaning. Imagine your sister calling you up and telling you that something terrible happened and your mom lost her kidney. Oh, you were very upset and rushed over to your mom’s house and found her distraught. “Mom, I am so sorry you lost your kidney.” “My kidney! It wasn’t my kidney I lost, but my purse, with all my credit cards and money.” Just then, your sister walks in and you say, “What do you mean, telling me mom lost her kidney? It wasn’t her kidney, but her purse,” and she says, “Whatever. I knew she lost something.” So, we are agreed that terminology is important because words have meaning, and if you mess up on the meaning of a word, you could have a wrong idea about something that affects you that is very important. This evening I want to refine and mature your use of words with respect to an important Biblical doctrine. Some people have chosen to use the phrase “eternal security” to convey what they think is a Biblical concept, while others have chosen to use the phrase “perseverance of the saints” to convey what they think is a Biblical concept.

Allow me to describe the concept and then we will forge ahead. When a sinner comes to saving faith in Jesus Christ, a relationship that has never before existed is miraculously created. From the moment of your conception, there is a relationship between you and God based upon Him being your Creator, Sustainer, and Judge. However, it is only through the means of faith in Jesus Christ that a person becomes a partaker of the divine nature, First Peter 1.4, and an entirely new form of relationship with God is established. That sharing of God’s nature with Him (which is the underlying cause of the Christian life) is thought by some people to be never-ending and perpetual, but is thought by other people to be capable of being terminated in some way and for some reason. To put it another way, some people believe the eternal life that comes through Jesus Christ is actually eternal and unending under any circumstances, while other people are persuaded that eternal life is eternal only so long as nothing is done by the Christian to bring it to an end. In short, they believe you can somehow lose your salvation.

I do not want to address that error at all this evening, except in passing by it on the way to a consideration of how an eternal life which really is eternal is best described. We are a congregation of people who embrace the conviction that a saving relationship that is established with God through faith in Jesus Christ is a permanent and never-ending relationship. While I have no intention of speaking directly to the substance of that conviction this evening, I would like to deal with the best way of describing it. Over the last two hundred years, this unending relationship that exists between a child of God and the heavenly Father through the mediatorial work of Jesus Christ has been described in two general ways. On one hand, it is referred to as “eternal security,” and essentially means that the believer’s salvation is secure in Christ and cannot be broken either in time or in eternity. Others refer to it as the “perseverance of the saints,” thereby drawing attention to the conduct that is associated with this unending relationship.

The “perseverance of the saints” is a better description than “eternal security.”

 

WHAT IS WRONG WITH LABELING THIS RELATIONSHIP “ETERNAL SECURITY”?

 

I will answer this question in three ways:

 

First, referring to the unending nature of this relationship a believer in Jesus Christ has with God as “eternal security” has the effect of disconnecting a believer’s assurance of salvation from his obedience. Though most professing Christians you will know in your lifetime have likely never given much thought to it, there are both a true kind of assurance of salvation and a false kind of assurance of salvation.[1] The proof that this false kind of assurance exists is seen in the difficulty most professing Christians have when they are called upon to distinguish between the doctrine they refer to as “eternal security” and the assurance they have of their salvation. They typically tend to see the two as one, though the former is said to refer to an objective fact taught in the Bible and the later is a properly understood to be a subjective conclusion referred to in the Bible. Allow me to explain: Suppose you use the phrase, “eternal security” to describe the unending relationship a genuinely converted believer has with God through faith in Jesus Christ. What possible bearing can the fact of a Christian’s relationship with God being permanent have on that same person’s assurance of salvation? “Eternal security” is a fact whether or not that person is saved or lost, so to derive comfort from that fact is illogical. Assurance, on the other hand, is rightly related to the obedience of a believer, as First John 2.3 clearly shows: “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” Thus, if you do not keep His commandments you no longer know that you know Him, but you will wonder if a real Christian would behave as you are now behaving. The phrase “eternal security” results in many people falling into a logical trap of assuming that because a believer’s relationship with Christ is never-ending, he should therefore be comforted by the application of that truth to himself, even though that truth does not in and of itself have anything to do with whether or not he has ever come to Jesus by means of saving faith. To put it another way, it is possible to be very happy about the permanence of the salvation that is found in Jesus Christ without actually being a Christian yourself. A doctrine can be a true doctrine without you truly being a Christian. That, my friend, is not assurance of salvation! Many people think of it as assurance of salvation, but only because they are confused and draw wrong conclusions from the inappropriate (in my opinion) use of the phrase “eternal security.” Assurance of salvation is a present reality that is partly based upon one’s obedience. It helps no one to be convinced he is a Christian in the midst of great personal sinning, because his mind is fixed on the permanence of a believer’s relationship with Christ. It is far better for that person to wonder in the midst of sinning if he even is a Christian, because his great sinning may be indicative of the reality that he never really was saved in the first place.

Next, the phrase “eternal security” is consistent with Pelagianism. Pelagianism, so-called after the British monk named Pelagius who lived from 354-415 AD, is the erroneous notion that human effort and merit can bring about salvation without divine grace.[2] So, how can “eternal security” be consistent with Pelagianism, in light of the fact that Pelagianism embraces the notion that you can lose your salvation? It seems like a contradiction on the surface. We know God’s Word declares that salvation is all of grace, Ephesians 2.5: “by grace ye are saved.” Biblical assurance, therefore, being the confidence one has concerning that relationship established by God’s grace, is also established and maintained by God’s grace. Pelagianism, therefore, constantly works to push both salvation and the assurance of salvation out of the realm of grace and into the realm of works. This is accomplished when the label “eternal security” is used, because it draws attention away from God’s present work in a person’s life and points to a supposed conversion experience in the past, thereby diminishing the significance of God’s gracious work in the believer’s present life experience. God does not favor such an approach for the Christian. His desire is for His children to live in the present while anticipating the future. As Paul wrote in Philippians 3.13-14: “. . . forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

Third, the phrase “eternal security” is also consistent with antinomianism. Antinomianism, rarely referred to these days, primarily because it is so widespread in what we normally think of as fundamentalism and evangelicalism, denies the binding nature of any supposedly absolute or external laws on individual behavior. Some would argue that Christians need not preach or practice the laws of the OT because Christ’s merits have freed Christians from the law. Although Christians are not saved through keeping the law, we still have a responsibility to live uprightly, that is, in obedience to God’s law of love in service to one another (Galatians 5.13-14) as we walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5.16) Who continually works to transform us into the image of Christ.[3] So, how is the phrase “eternal security” consistent with antinomianism (anti = against and nomoV = law)? Simple, it accomplishes completely what Pelagianism strives for, the complete dissociation of accountable personal conduct from the Christian’s life. Allow me to illustrate by providing some tragic examples:

 

·               I know a pastor in Georgia, who claims he was saved at the age of sixteen, joined the Navy at the age of seventeen, lived a promiscuous lifestyle for six years, rededicated his life after his discharge from the Navy, and is presently the pastor of a Baptist church. His antinomianism allowed him to live the life of a whoremonger for six years without depriving him of any assurance of salvation, because he is committed to the “eternal security” of the believer.

·               I know a pastor in Texas who served in the United States Army for three years, during which time he told me that he got drunk every weekend and committed adultery against his wife every weekend. He then rededicated his life, went to Bible college, and seemingly successfully pastored two churches before his retirement from the pastorate.

·               I know a guy who lives here in the state of California who has left his wife to live with a woman half his age. Despite this ongoing adultery, he insists that he is a born again Christian.

 

Whether they are familiar with the term antinomianism or not, these men are three examples of antinomianism. All three embrace the notion that once saved always saved, or “eternal security.” However, they have no response to the Apostle Paul, First Corinthians 6.9-11:

 

9      Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,

10     Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

11     And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

 

Ephesians 5.3 is another of several other verses along the same line: “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints.” Then there is Hebrews 12.14: “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.”

The real problem with the phrase “eternal security” is not the enduring nature of a believer’s relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. The real problem with the phrase “eternal security” is that it completely divorces from consideration the conduct of the professing believer as being responsible to provide an ongoing witness of the fact that he is a child of God. It is, therefore, a weak phrase for use by a Christian in a responsible and meaningful way.

 

WHAT IS RIGHT ABOUT LABELING THIS RELATIONSHIP THE “PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS”?

 

I know from my many years as an independent Baptist that many in my camp object to the phrase “perseverance of the saints” because of their familiarity with the usage of the phrase by paedo-baptists, and by their lack of familiarity with the usage of that same phrase by Baptists of old. However, it should be noted that “perseverance of the saints” was the phrase adopted by the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689[4], by the Philadelphia Baptist Confession of 1742[5], and by the New Hampshire Baptist Confession of 1833.[6] What could be wrong with the phrase if the great and godly writers of those confessions made prayerful and considered use of it?

Therefore, for reasons that I believe to be consistent with the message I bring you tonight, Baptists of past centuries have not used the term “eternal security” but “perseverance of the saints” to label their view of the topic. Notice the balanced reflection of Biblical truth that results from the phrase “perseverance of the saints.”

First, the word perseverance calls attention to the perseverance of the Trinity. Can enough attention be paid in the maintenance of the believer’s relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ to the perseverance of the Father’s good pleasure toward His own? Consider that “God is angry with the wicked every day,” Psalm 7.1. Yet He is still longsuffering toward even the lost, Second Peter 3.9. As well, how tender and patient is God the Father with His blood-bought children? Perseverance rightly has to do with steady persistence in a course of action. Perseverance commonly suggests activities maintained in spite of difficulties, or long-continued application.[7] Is this not a fit description of God the Father’s dealings with His children, Hebrews 12.5-6?

 

5      And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:

6      For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.

 

Yes, our heavenly Father patiently deals with His children, demonstrating His perseverance toward us as He gently and in determined fashion brings us along in our Christian experience.

Cannot the same be said concerning our Lord Jesus Christ? How would you describe His advocacy on our behalf, First John 2.1, making constant application throughout our lives of His own precious blood, shed for the remission of our sins, First John 1.7? Do Christians grieve and disappoint their Savior? Do believers oftentimes break His heart and disappoint Him? Yes, to both questions. However, does He ever abandon us? Does He ever let us go? Does not Hebrews 13.5 show us that “he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee”? As well, did He not declare to the multitudes, in John 6.37, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out”? Persistence and continued determination sounds like perseverance to me, does it not to you? Therefore, as the Father perseveres in the maintenance of the relationship He has with His children, so does the Lord Jesus Christ whose shed blood makes that relationship possible for those who trust Him.

Finally, there is the Holy Spirit’s perseverance. We know the Spirit of God indwells every believer in Jesus Christ, because Romans 8.9 declares; “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” Notice, then, how God through His indwelling Spirit in each Christian works to accomplish His grand purpose of conforming us to the image of His Son Jesus Christ and to deliver us faultless. Philippians 1.6: “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

It is because of the perseverance of the Trinity that genuinely converted believers persevere. Notice what the “perseverance of the saints” is said to actually mean, according to the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689:


Chapter 17: Of The Perseverance of the Saints

 

1._____ Those whom God hath accepted in the beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, and given the precious faith of his elect unto, can neither totally nor finally fall from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved, seeing the gifts and callings of God are without repentance, whence he still begets and nourisheth in them faith, repentance, love, joy, hope, and all the graces of the Spirit unto immortality; and though many storms and floods arise and beat against them, yet they shall never be able to take them off that foundation and rock which by faith they are fastened upon; notwithstanding, through unbelief and the temptations of Satan, the sensible sight of the light and love of God may for a time be clouded and obscured from them, yet he is still the same, and they shall be sure to be kept by the power of God unto salvation, where they shall enjoy their purchased possession, they being engraven upon the palm of his hands, and their names having been written in the book of life from all eternity.

(John 10:28, 29; Philippians 1:6; 2 Timothy 2:19; 1 John 2:19; Psalms 89:31, 32; 1 Corinthians 11:32; Malachi 3:6)

 

2._____ This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father, upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ and union with him, the oath of God, the abiding of his Spirit, and the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace; from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.

(Romans 8:30 Romans 9:11, 16; Romans 5:9, 10; John 14:19; Hebrews 6:17, 18; 1 John 3:9; Jeremiah 32:40)

 

3._____ And though they may, through the temptation of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins, and for a time continue therein, whereby they incur God’s displeasure and grieve his Holy Spirit, come to have their graces and comforts impaired, have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded, hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves, yet shall they renew their repentance and be preserved through faith in Christ Jesus to the end.

(Matthew 26:70, 72, 74; Isaiah 64:5, 9; Ephesians 4:30; Psalms 51:10, 12; Psalms 32:3, 4; 2 Samuel 12:14; Luke 22:32, 61, 62)[8]

 

I know that there are some who erroneously claim that the phrase “perseverance of the saints” suggests that the believer’s continuance as a child of God is based upon his works, as if some form of works righteousness is in view. However, that is an absurd claim. The Scripture verses referred to in the Second London Baptist Confession are John 10.28-29, Philippians 1.6, Second Timothy 2.19, First John 2.19, Psalm 89.31-32, First Corinthians 11.32, and Malachi 3.6. I defy anyone to find any reference to works righteousness in any of those passages. Rather, they are verses that attest to one’s behavior as indications of one’s true spiritual condition, even when a sinning believer is chastened by His heavenly Father.

 

Let me disavow any notion that any confession of faith has equal weight with Scripture. Not at all. I reference the Baptist confessions merely to show what Baptists of the past believed about “perseverance of the saints” in contrast to their complete silence about “eternal security,” and to show that “perseverance of the saints” was not held by our Baptist forbears to mean anything like works righteousness to maintain one’s salvation. What is so sadly true in these last days is a disconnect between the claim that one is a Christian and the corresponding behavior that God’s Word declares is evidence that a vital relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ actually exists. In other words, the Bible teaches that Christians walk the walk, rather than just talking the talk.

We conclude by turning to First Corinthians 15.10, where the Apostle Paul writes, “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” Four phrases comprise this verse: First, Paul gives glory to God for being the kind of Christian and servant of God he proved to be: “But by the grace of God I am what I am.” Aren’t you glad he did not write, “But by the grace of God I am what I am not?” Though Paul was not perfect, there was a God-given consistency in his life. Next, Paul shows the practical benefit of God’s grace to transform his life into a vital and visible testimony, rather than being some empty boast: “and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain.” Third, do you see the result of God’s grace in Paul’s life? There was fruit. Paul produced: “but I laboured more abundantly than they all.” My friend, this is perseverance. Finally, however, notice that it was not works righteousness, or any effort claimed by Paul that preserved his relationship with God. Rather, it was his relationship with God that resulted in his perseverance: “yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”

What about a final turning away? What about that person who does not persevere to the end? “Eternal security” does not properly speak to that person at all, but the Bible, and the phrase “perseverance of the saints” very clearly shows the real condition of that individual’s soul.



[1] Joel R. Beeke, The Quest For Full Assurance, (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1999), pages 120-121.

[2] Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki & Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), pages 89-90.

[3] Ibid., page 12.

[7]Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), page 1444.

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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org