Perseverance of the Saints
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 they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.
~ 1 John 2:19
Most of us know people who have made a profession of faith in Christ and who have perhaps even made a strong display of faith, involving themselves deeply in the life and ministry of the church, only to later repudiate that faith and become spiritual dropouts. Such evidence always raises the question, can a person once saved lose his salvation? Is apostasy a clear and present danger for the believer?
The Roman Catholic church teaches that people can and do lose their salvation. If a person commits a mortal sin, such sin kills the grace of justification that inhabits his soul. If he dies before being restored to a state of grace via the sacrament of penance, he is in danger of hell. There are some differences within Catholicism on the issue, but they are a bit complex for this brief discussion.
Many Protestants also believe that it is possible to lose one's salvation. The warnings of Hebrews 6 and Paul's concern about becoming “disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27), as well as the examples of King Saul and others, have led some to conclude that people can fall fully and finally from grace. On the other hand, Reformed theology teaches the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. This doctrine is sometimes called “eternal security.” In essence the doctrine teaches that if you have saving faith you will never lose it, and if you lose it, you never had it. As John writes, “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 they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.” (1 John 2:19).
On the other hand, many Protestants believe that salvation, once achieved, cannot be lost. This group includes all the Calvinist denominations and many evangelical and other groups, such as “free will” Baptists. The doctrine of “perseverance of the saints” or “eternal security” does not rest on the ability to persevere, even if we are regenerate. Rather, it rests on the promise of God to preserve us. Paul writes to the Philippians, “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). It is by grace and grace alone that Christians persevere. God finishes what He begins. He insures that His purposes in election are not frustrated.
The “golden chain” of Romans 8 gives further testimony to this hope. “Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” (Romans 8:30). “Paul goes on to declare that nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39).
Christians who believe in perseverance explain the apparent apostasy of some people — apparently strong Christian who for some reason become unfaithful and reject Christianity — as a failure to undergo the actual transformative experience of rebirth in Christ and reception of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Such persons do not lose their salvation; rather, they were never actually saved in the first place.
Whatever you might think about this issue, there are two things that are important to keep in mind. First, practice your belief and be faithful to it. Second, do not think to judge whether any other person has been saved or not. Christ is not the best judge of our righteousness; He is the only judge of our righteousness. And He did not authorize us to have disputes over what constitutes “salvation”. He most certainly did, however, command us to live in unity and love with other Christians. (John 17:20-21; 1 John 2:7-11)
Heavenly Lord, lead me by your Holy Spirit to find salvation in your Word. Amen.
~ Mason Barge
Editor, Daily Prayer