Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Perseverance of the Saints

We resume our examination of the "Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation":
Article Nine: The Security of the Believer
We affirm that when a person responds in faith to the Gospel, God promises to complete the process of salvation in the believer into eternity. The process begins with justification, whereby the sinner is immediately acquitted of all sin and granted peace with God; continues in sanctification, whereby the saved are progressively conformed to the image of Christ by the indwelling Holy Spirit; and concludes in glorification, whereby the saint enjoys life with Christ in heaven forever.
We deny that this Holy Spirit-sealed relationship can ever be broken. We deny even the possibility of apostasy.


    When we come to Article Nine of the Statement we behold a remarkable spectacle indeed. Hitherto the authors of the Statement have been at great pains to limit the power of God in salvation. The sinner has a free will. There is no such thing as irresistible grace. God does not "cause" a person to respond to the gospel. But now, suddenly and inexplicably, the sovereign power of God reappears! God "completes the process . . . into eternity." " . . . the saved are progressively conformed to the image of Christ by the indwelling Holy Spirit." The authors go so far as to "deny even the possibility of apostasy."
    While it is a little hard to know exactly what the authors meant when they said that "this Holy Spirit-sealed relationship" can never be broken, , their position appears to be substantially the same as the Calvinist one they claim to be refuting. God is at work in the hearts of His children to ensure that they persevere to the end.
    If that is, in fact, what they intended to say, however, they are being grossly inconsistent. The plain fact of the matter is that if man has a free will, and there is no such thing as irresistible grace, then there is virtually nothing God can do to keep a believer from falling away from the faith and denying Christ.. And unless the authors of the Statement are willing to argue that atheists and scoffers can enter heaven in their state of unbelief, it is entirely possible for a Christian to lose his salvation. At least John Wesley was consistent on this point!
John Wesley

    It may come as a surprise to some of our readers that, of the so-called "Five Points of Calvinism," the Perseverance of the Saints (the "P" in "TULIP") is actually one of the more difficult ones to prove from scripture. The sovereignty of God, the depravity of man, and salvation by grace are all major themes of the Bible, and scripture explicitly discusses election and predestination. But it also contains dire warnings about the consequences of falling away from the faith.
    One such passage is Hebrews 6:4-12. The passage is sobering. The author has been writing to a group of Hebrew Christians who, in the midst of persecution, were tempted to renounce Christianity and revert back to Judaism. The passage in view certainly uses language that one would ordinarily think would describe a converted person: they have been "once enlightened," "have tasted the heavenly gift," "have become partakers of the Holy Spirit," and "have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come" (vv. 4,5; NKJV). It then goes on to say that if such a person were to "fall away" it would be "impossible" to "renew him again to repentance" (vv. 4,6). Thus not only is it apparently possible for them to fall away, but having done so their loss of salvation is virtually irrevocable. Similar language is found in Heb. 10:26-31; II Pet. 2; and the General Epistle of Jude.
    On the other hand there are other passages which imply that the elect are inevitably saved and therefore can never lose their salvation. The apostle Paul, in Romans chapter 8, lays out what theologians call the "ordo salutis" (the order of salvation – the successive steps that salvation takes). It begins with foreknowledge and predestination and ends with glorification, of which he speaks in the past tense, as though it were already an accomplished fact: "and whom He justified, these He also glorified" (vv. 29,30). This "glorification" refers back to verse 17, where Paul says that if we are children then we are also fellow-heirs with Christ, "if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together." He is speaking here of the future state of glory that awaits true Christians. Paul then goes on in verse 31 to ask the pointed question, "If God is for us, who can be against us?," and finally concludes by saying that nothing "shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (v. 39).
    How, then, do we reconcile the two passages? We think that the key to understanding Hebrews 6 is found in chapter 3, verse 14: "For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end." Our perseverance in the faith is the evidence of our already having been genuinely made partakers of Christ.
    It is obvious that there are many individuals who have made professions of faith in Christ, and have been baptized and joined churches. They gave every outward appearance of having been saved. Tragically, however, some of them fall away and disgrace their former profession. Some even go so far as to become outright atheists. One thing is absolutely certain: in their present state they give no evidence of being saved, and if they were to die in their present condition they would face an eternity without Christ. Were they ever really Christians in the first place? In a sense the question is purely academic. The only thing that really matters is their present state. There is no evidence now that they are really Christians. As for their past state, "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" (I John 2:19).
    One of the greatest blessings of the Christian life is to know that you are saved and the you always will be saved. No matter what trials or difficulties you may face in this life, a future glory awaits you. The church was deprived of this truth for many centuries, and the recovery of this truth was one of the most blessed benefits that emerged from the Protestant Reformation.
    But it is not a truth that should lull us into carnal complacency. If the evidence of spiritual life is not present we have no reason to presume. Let all take heed and beware!

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