Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS”[1] Part 2

Philippians 1.6

My text is once again 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.”

Last week, if you were here then to remember, we zeroed in on the phrase used by Paul in our text, “a good work.” What this phrase means is extremely important, because whatever this “good work” is that God has begun, He promises that He will complete it in the day of Jesus Christ. Could this “good work” be the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of a sinner to convict him of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment to come? No. We ruled that out because such conviction oftentimes comes and goes, and there are many sinners who were once terribly convicted of their sins, awfully frightened of the penalty that awaits them when they step off into eternity, but who are quite indifferent to their fate today. Recall that we saw good evidence that the “good work” mentioned by Paul in our text refers to beginning with regeneration, and that we saw regeneration to be something that must be initiated by God. The “good work” must then be carried through by God, which is sanctification, and is brought to its necessary conclusion by God with the arrival in heaven of the saint, what is termed final perseverance.

There are a great many people in the Christian community who have distorted the implications of this verse into a clever little phrase, “once saved always saved.” Sadly, there are tons of Baptists who use this phrase. However, no matter who uses this phrase (and I used to use this phrase when I was a younger preacher), it does not strictly reflect scriptural truth. No wonder the Pentecostals, the Charismatics, and the Arminians of this world are opposed to what the Bible teaches about the security of the believer, since the phrase “once saved always saved” is usually used by people who think it refers to a blanket pardon from God that permits all kinds of wickedness under the guise of Christian living. It has been thought better by many good Baptist brethren of old to refer to the doctrine the Bible teaches as the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. I am in full agreement with them.

Recognizing that every genuinely saved person is termed in scripture a saint, the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, which we established to be a doctrine that is most certainly taught in the Bible, is correctly understood in the following way: God must begin a good work in the sinner, John 1.13: “Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” When God begins this “good work” in a person, his sins are forgiven, and he is set off on a new course of life, he begins to do good works as God continues His “good work” in the saint, Ephesians 2.8-10:

8      For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

9      Not of works, lest any man should boast.

10     For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

The indwelling Holy Spirit of God, Galatians 5.22-23, works these good works in his life:

22     But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

23     Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

If a man ceases for long to do good works it becomes evident that he was never truly converted, but instead entertained a false hope, such as Jesus referred to in His parable of the sower who went forth to sow.[2]

The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, then, recognizes that the child of God must do the good works in his life he was saved to do to show forth his life in Christ. However, showing forth his new life in Christ is not really something he is capable of doing himself. God must do it in His life. Therefore, it is rightly understood that the perseverance of a saint does not depend upon the saint, but upon God, the One Who began the “good work” in him, the One Who continues the “good work” in him, and the One Who must finally deliver him safely and securely to glory, having completed the “good work” in him.

There is something else that we saw when we firmly established the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints last week. It was the connection between present belief and future salvation. Is there a connection between one’s present faith in Christ and his future salvation? Think about it now, if perchance that relatively new to you point did not sink in deeply enough in your thinking last week. If there is any possibility of a saint of God not persevering, would the angels of heaven, could the angels of heaven, rejoice over the salvation of sinners? No, because there could be no certainty that one now forgiven would then finally reach heaven. How about sinners rejoicing with joy for sins forgiven? If it was possible for you, once saved through faith in Christ to finally be lost, would you and could you rejoice now for the forgiveness of your sins? No, you could not, for there would be no certainty that your present faith in Christ would mean your future deliverance.

I am reminded of a story that tells of a conversation that might very well take place between Satan and a one-time Christian who lost his salvation, if the saints do not persevere. The former Christian dies and goes to Hell. In Hell, he is approached by Satan and asked, “Aren’t you the one who used to be a Christian, who used to believe in Jesus Christ?” To that question the new arrival in Hell, with some embarrassment, answered, “Yes, I am.” Whereupon Satan then asked the fellow, “Then, when you were saved, what were you saved from?”

This is the whole point of the perseverance of the saints, beloved. The Bible teaches us that Jesus saves people from their sins. Therefore, the only reason a person ultimately goes to Hell instead of heaven is if his sins are not forgiven, and never were forgiven. Therefore, for a variety of reasons, we are assured that the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is firmly established as being true to the Word of God, and is the proper consequence of God’s “good work” in the life of a believer. We can, therefore, agree with Paul and be confident, as he was.

That portion of this issue settled; let us now proceed to the second portion of our study of the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints:

INFERENCES FROM THE DOCTRINE OF THE PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS

The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints being established, we draw the following four inferences:

First, we see why the angels rejoice at the repentance of one sinner.[3] If angels did not believe this doctrine, that by God’s good grace saints persevere, they would have no reason to rejoice. If angels did not believe this doctrine, they would have to wait until a sinner actually arrived in heaven before they could know if he had persevered. Thankfully, the angels assuredly know that the true believer in Jesus Christ will certainly arrive safe to his mansion in glory. A firm belief of this doctrine lays the only solid foundation for joy in heaven over a sinner’s repentance. If angels did not firmly believe this doctrine, their joy would be unfounded. Their language would be: “That sinner has truly repented. He is now a child of God and an heir of heaven. However, whether he will ever reach this happy place, whether he ever sings with us in glory, is a matter of great uncertainty. He may yet become a child of the devil and an heir of Hell.” “What a joyful thing it would be, if we knew that he would certainly arrive safely to heaven. Could we know this we might now tune our harps and sing glory to God in the highest. However, since we have already been disappointed so many times before, and devils and damned spirits are now triumphing over some of the saved who have already gone to Hell, it is best to wait and see how he holds out.” “Oh, Gabriel. And you, Michael,” Satan shouts out to heaven. “You can put your harps down; let your joy be turned into mourning. You see, the victory is mine at last. I got another one right at the end.” What do you think, folks? Has there been any joy in heaven over some who are now in Hell? If they so rejoiced at the news of his repentance, what messenger will have to carry back to the holy angels the horrible news that the sinner is lost after all? You see, my friends, if angels did not believe this doctrine, they could have no solid ground on which to rejoice. However, now their joy is well founded. At the repentance of one sinner, they know that another is on his way to heaven to join in the heavenly choir. On this ground, therefore, angels can safely rejoice over one sinner that repents.

Second, it is a great thing to be a Christian if the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is true. If this doctrine were not true, if a saint could stumble and fall away from the saving and keeping grace of God, then the state of the Christian would be no better than the state of the sinner. How so? Because a believer could then be no more certain of his final salvation than a sinner. Though he may be a Christian today, he can have no real confidence that he shall be a Christian tomorrow, or the next moment. He may be a Christian one moment and a sinner the next, if the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is not true. However, this doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is true. It is based upon the promise of God, the covenant of God, and the love of God. When we look upon a Christian what do we see? We see an inhabitant of another world, a child of God, and a joint-heir with Jesus Christ of heaven.

Third, because of the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints a revival is a joyful thing. I have never experienced a revival. I learn of pastors trying to schedule revivals, as if they were something on a menu to order, but no one in this church has ever experienced a revival. There have been no major revivals anywhere in the world since 1905, and only two regional revivals that I know of, one the Isle of Lewis in Scotland in the late 1940s, and another on the island of Timor in the early 1970s. Even so, we read accounts saying that revival is a wonderful thing, a wonderful blessing from heaven that results in a great ingathering of lost souls, and a reformation of society and culture where it occurs. If this doctrine of the perseverance of the saints were true, there would be good cause for rejoicing in an outpouring of Holy Ghost revival. God sent such a revival when Philip preached at Samaria, and we read that there was great joy on that occasion. “Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them . . . And there was great joy in that city,” Acts 8.5, 8. However, what if the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is not true? What if the saved can finally be lost? If this doctrine is not true, then all who believed on the day of Pentecost, all 3,000 of them, could very well now be in Hell. If this doctrine is not true, you could go ahead and rejoice in a great revival sent from heaven because sinners are brought out of darkness into marvelous light. Sadly, however, this would be no evidence that they will not eventually dwell in the blackness of darkness forever. However, if the saints do persevere when God has begun a “good work,” He will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. Being confident of this very thing, how joyful it is to behold sinners hopefully coming to Christ and giving evidence over time that they are genuinely saved. “Him that cometh unto me,” Jesus said, all who truly repent of their sins, will certainly meet in heaven.

Fourth, if this doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is true, then there may be such a thing as the full assurance of hope in this life. I know that almost everyone who falsely claims to be a Christian these days is greatly comforted by his supposed assurance of salvation. However, assurance of salvation that is not based on scriptural evidence of a genuine conversion (and most so-called Christians are not genuinely converted) is nothing more than self-deception at best, or Satanic deception at worst. Scriptural assurance of salvation, assurance that is described in God’s Word, is a confidence based upon God’s continuing “good work” in the believer’s life, which is not the same as being convinced you are saved because you “trusted Christ when you were a kid.” So you see, there is a vital connection between full assurance of hope in this life and the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. However, if this doctrine is uncertain, if there is no perseverance of the saints, then even the best Christian will be uncertain of heaven. It is surprising that some who deny this doctrine will still insist that they are certain of heaven. This is plainly absurd on their part. You see, if I admit that one sinner may fall away and finally perish, then another sinner may fall away and finally perish, and another, and another, and another, with another possibly being me. There was once a short conversation on this subject between a preacher and a man who thought he could lose his salvation. It seems that this person who denied this doctrine of the perseverance of the saints was somehow exhibiting his joy as a believer. So, the preacher interrogated him on the subject, asking, “Why do you rejoice, my friend? Do you think there is any certain connection between your believing now and your final salvation?” The guy realized that if he answered “Yes,” then he would have to admit that the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints was true, and so he replied “No.” The question arose again: “If there is no certain connection between your present belief and your final salvation, why then do you rejoice?” He replied: “Because my sins are forgiven.” The preacher then pressed him, “Why rejoice because your sins are forgiven? You say you have no evidence that you will not after all suffer in Hell for your sins. If that be true, then why rejoice because your sins are forgiven?” To that the man said, “Why, if I am faithful, if I persevere to the end, I shall be saved.” The preacher then said, “Very true. Unless you persevere, you cannot be saved. However, what reason have you to conclude that you shall persevere? What makes you so confident that you shall be saved? Do you trust in your own resolutions?” “No,” the man said. “Well, what then? What reason have you to think you shall persevere? Do you trust in the stability of your own will? Do you think that you are a person of such decision, such stability and firmness, that when you undertake the work that you shall go through with it? Is this the reason that you think that you shall persevere and be saved?” “No,” he said. “Well, what then? What reason have you to think that you shall be faithful, that you shall persevere and be saved? If God is not first faithful to you, you will not be faithful to Him.” That man came to realize that he had no reason why he should rejoice. In the end, he simply could not rest until he saw the foundation on which today’s text is based. “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.”

What about you, my friend? What confidence do you have that you will persevere? How do you know that you will not grow weary of the struggle and fall away someday? Do you trust in anything other than God’s covenant, God’s promise, God’s power, and God’s love? If you do then you trust in a broken reed, and you build on a foundation of sand. There is depravity enough in your heart to sink you to Hell if the Lord leaves you to yourself for one moment. If you have not seen your own depravity, then you have never yet seen your own heart, or been thoroughly awakened to your sin. If you have not felt this awful truth, you have not been driven out of yourself, you have not yet left the stronghold of self-righteous deception, you have not yet fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before you.

It follows from what has been said last week and this evening that salvation is entirely of grace, from first to last. The believer is taught to place no confidence in his own strength or in any resolutions he might make. It is of free, rich, and sovereign grace, that God, having begun the work in you, has determined and will continue also to carry it on to perfection. However weak and feeble a Christian you may be, Almighty God has still said, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.”[4] He also said, “Fear not, . . . I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.”[5] What God has promised to do He is able to perform. Therefore, when the powers of earth and the gates of Hell combine to attack you, and you feel menaced with certain destruction, then the Name, the promises, the oath, and the attributes of God, are your strong tower, your impregnable fortress. Conscious of your weakness, you can run into it and be safe.

You who are intimate with God and familiar with His grace, and who bring forth the fruit of the Spirit can, with confidence, take hold of His promises. You see, those exceeding great and precious promises were made for you to have strong consolation. Of course, others can derive no consolation from this doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, or any of the promises of God. My friend, you may have been the subject of powerful convictions of sin once upon a time, and yet still be lost. Like the stony ground hearers Jesus spoke of, you may have received the Word with joy, and yet you may still be lost. If you bring forth no fruit, and have been declining for a long time, you have great reason to question, not the truth of the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, but whether the seed sown fell on good ground. You have great reason to fear that the good work is not yet begun in you. As well, let the true child of God take warning. God has never promised that you shall not fall into sin. However, in that case He is committed to correcting you as a loving Father. It is the nature of life for the Christian in this world that your communion with God will be frequently interrupted. This is sometimes the case with all His children. When that happens your confidence that a “good work” has been begun in you by God can be terribly shaken, if not lost for a season. In other words, you can lose your assurance of salvation. Such loss of assurance can wound your heart with such anguish that it is only after great watchfulness on your part, and many prayers and tears, that you will again be blessed with the smile of God’s countenance, and the joy of His salvation is returned to you.

The displeasure of your beloved heavenly Father is hard to bear. For correct you as His child He will, but He will not disinherit you. This is a part of His covenant with His children. I read Psalm 89.31-34:

31     If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments;

32     Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes.

33     Nevertheless my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail.

34     My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.

What about the merely professing Christian, who can live a long time without sweet prayer before the throne of grace, who enjoys all the good things of this life, and is never much alarmed about his fruitlessness, or anything else? Recognize, my friends, that it is a mark of rejection if the one who is lethargic and fruitless is not severely corrected, is not pruned, before he dies. If he is not severely corrected before he dies, it will be because he is not a child of God. Amos warned, “Woe to them that are at ease in Zion.”[6] However, Isaiah was told to say to the righteous “that it shall be well with him.”[7] My friends, a number of you do not know what you are, heirs to an eternal inheritance, reserved in heaven; heirs of God. And it does not yet appear what you shall be. However, if it is true that you are now the sons of God, we know that, when He shall appear, you shall be like Him, for you shall see Him as He is, First John 3.2. Before long, you will join the host of angels and unite in the song of the redeemed, because God has undertaken your deliverance.

All heaven was moved at your repentance. Angels are now joyfully expecting to see the work completed. “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.” Concerning this “good work.” If this “good work” is not yet begun, or does not seem to be continuing as evidenced by your “good works,” then I urge you to seek remedy the only place it can be found, the Lord Jesus Christ.



[1] Adapted from a sermon by Asahel Nettleton.

[2] Matthew 13.3-8, 18-23

[3] Luke 15.7, 10

[4] A promise tantamount to this was given to Jacob (Genesis 28.15), to Israel (Deuteronomy 31.6, 8), to Joshua (Joshua 1.5), and to Solomon (1 Chronicles 28.20).

[5] Genesis 15.1

[6] Amos 6.1

[7] Isaiah 3.10



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