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Herman Bavinck:

Whatever apostasy occurs in Christianity, it may never prompt us to question the unchanging faithfulness of God, the certainty of his counsel, the enduring character of his covenant, or the trustworthiness of his promises. One should sooner abandon all creatures than fail to trust his word. And that word in its totality is one immensely rich promise to the heirs of the kingdom.

It is not just a handful of texts that teach the perseverance of the saints: the entire gospel sustains and confirms it. The Father has chosen them before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4), ordained them to eternal life (Acts 13:48), to be conformed to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29). This election stands (Rom. 9:11; Heb. 6:17) and in due time carries with it the calling and justification and glorification (Rom. 8:30).

Christ, in whom all the promises of God are Yes and Amen (2 Cor. 1:20), died for those who were given him by the Father (John 17:6, 12) in order that he might give them eternal life and not lose a single one of them (6:40; 17:2); he therefore gives them eternal life and they will never be lost in all eternity; no one will snatch them out of his hand (6:39; 10:28). The Holy Spirit who regenerates them remains eternally with them (14:16) and seals them for the day of redemption (Eph. 1:13; 4:30).

The covenant of grace is firm and confirmed with an oath (Heb. 6:16-18; 13:20), unbreakable like a marriage (Eph. 5:31-32), like a testament (Heb. 9:17), and by virtue of that covenant, God calls his elect. He inscribes the law upon their inmost being, puts his fear in their heart (Heb. 8:10; 10:14ff.), will not let them be tempted beyond their strength (1 Cor. 10:13), confirms and completes the good work he has begun in them (1 Cor. 1:9; Phil 1:6), and keeps them for the return of Christ to receive the heavenly inheritance (1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Thess. 3:3; 1 Peter 1:4-5).

In his intercession before the Father, Christ acts in such a way that their faith may not fail (Luke 22:32), that in the world they may be kept from the evil one (John 17:11, 20), that they may be saved for all times (Heb. 7:20), he is to behold his glory (John 117:24). The benefits of Christ, which the Holy Spirit imparts to them, are all irrevocable (Rom. 11:29). Those who are called are also glorified (8:30). Those who are adopted as children are heirs of eternal life (8:17; Gal. 4:7). Those who believe have eternal life already here and now (John 3:16). That life itself, being eternal, cannot be lost. It cannot die since it cannot sin (1 John 3:9). Faith is a firm ground (Heb. 11:1), hope is an anchor (6:19) and does not disappoint us (Rom. 5:5), and love never ends (1 Cor. 13:8).

Excerpted from Reformed Dogmatics 4.269-70 (paragraph breaks are mine)

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13 thoughts on “Does the Bible Really Teach the Perseverance of the Saints?”

  1. DM Heebner says:

    Thank you so much for posting this portion of RD. This topic has re-emerged among Christian friends of mine, many of whom don’t agree with the perseverance of the saints being a theme carried out through Scripture. I’m definitely going to point a few of them to this text.

  2. Justin says:

    Some of these are misleading. I don’t think people who believe in conditional salvation would argue that love ends. I think they’d insist that God’s love never ends, but it is still the responsibility of the person to keep themselves in it. The Ephesians passage doesn’t teach that marriage is unbreakable, as we all know couples who were made one flesh, only to be separated later. Yes, faith is a firm ground … as long as someone continues to stand on it.

    I agree with the perseverance of the saints, but some of the points listed above feel like caricatures of the other side’s position.

  3. Stephen Shead says:

    Don’t get me wrong – I believe in the perseverance of the saints. But I’m not convinced that is the most helpful way to express it.

    Part of my concern is that, as a summary phrase or point of orthodox doctrine that is repeated endlessly, it takes on a life of its own – becomes a sort of theological catch-cry, an absolute and stand-alone truth, devoid of context or nuancing.

    I have two specific difficulties. The first is that the phrase “perseverance of the saints” only expresses one side of the biblical teaching – the other side being, for instance, the “if you remain…” of Col. 1:22-23, or the famous warning passages of Hebrews 6 etc. Is this side of the gospel less important?? (I fear that, even for raising it, some will label me as a closet Arminian.)

    Of course, this is a matter of balance – and doctrinal catch-cries don’t always help us to maintain a balance. If we’re using the “perseverance” phrase to maintain the biblical balance and make sure we’re proclaiming both the assurances as well as the warnings, Amen! But if it makes me take the warnings less seriously, or if I stop preaching them, then something is awry. Can’t we add another catch-cry, like “the life-and-death importance of persevering”? (OK, not very catchy…)

    My second concern is that “perseverance of the saints” puts the emphasis on us, on our strength and ability to continue. But on a quick scan of the (fabulous) list of verses above, in almost all cases the subject is God/Christ – or the believer is the passive subject (the implicit active agent being God). I think if we are going to use a summary phrase, “the preservation of the saints” better expresses the biblical emphasis.

  4. Justin says:

    “I fear that, even for raising it, some will label me as a closet Arminian.”

    Wow, really? Did someone accuse you of this before?

    It doesn’t surprise me if someone did. One time, I was with some friends in a Catholic church and they were complaining about the “idolatry” there. I said something along the lines of “You think there’s not the same kind of idolatry in our church?” Later that day, someone asked if I was a closet Catholic.

  5. Mark Rimmer says:

    Thank you

  6. Dan says:

    Actually, I think Stephen makes valid points.

    Firstly, we are not all fully along the road in learning theology, and upon passing Col 1:22-23, the newbies among us might raise our eyebrows a bit. It should at least push us to include this passage in texts for consideration, expecting that the consistency of God’s word will enable us to bring seemingly conflicting texts into harmony.

    Secondly, I also find “preservation of the saints” to be more helpful, at the very least complementary to “perseverance”; I don’t think that any Arminian – from a closet or elsewhere – would agree with the premise that God is sovereign over our ability or will to persist in the faith, if indeed He first granted faith and sealed it.

    If I am misunderstanding something, I’m open to further explanation from those who are further along the path in theological learning than I may be.

  7. Justin says:

    After re-reading my response to Stephen, I realized I might not have been very clear. I think Stephen makes valid points, too. What I was trying to say is this: The very fact that someone would be worried of being accused of being a “closet Arminian” (as if being an Arminian were a sin) is a sign of how poorly some people have conducted themselves in these debates.

    Sorry about that.

  8. Dan says:

    Justin: Funny, but prior to being notified of your post, I had re-read it and it dawned on me that I might have misunderstood you! Yes indeed, I did.

    I can certainly see your point; sometimes things we say are interpreted beyond the immediate statement we’re trying to make (a truism for all married people!).

  9. Justin says:

    Hey Dan,

    That’s mostly my fault! We’re on the same page now. :)

  10. jeremiah says:

    John 17:6,12 is speaking specifically about the 11 disciples.

    1 cor 10:13 says that God will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear by making a way of escape. We do not take that path all of the time, true?

    Yes we are sealed, but seals are broken in scripture.

    the prayer of Christ for Peter’s faith to not fail is a specific prayer, how can that be applied to the masses of believers? The Lord is interceding for us, I do not doubt that, but I know people who’s faith has failed and they entered into gross sin that has torn apart their lives and the lives of those close to them.

    Believers are heirs of eternal life but an inheritance can be disowned, you see that in scripture.
    Also the warnings to continue in faith and God’s kindness or else we too will be cut off, the warnings in Hebrews, 1 Cor 10, Rev. 2,3

    You can proof text any doctrine, the first to present their argument seems right.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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