You know the indecisive type – his mind bends this way and that; he is irresolute, unsteady, unsure. He’s never able to commit to one way or another but constantly changes course. You can’t take him at his word, and you certainly wouldn’t entrust your well-being to someone so unstable.
Thankfully God is not like that. He is the Rock (Deut. 32:4) – immovable, unchanging, and unchangeable (Heb. 13:8; Job 23:13) – who never fails to carry out his plan (Is. 14:27). With God there is “no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17), and his “steadfast love endures forever” (Ps. 136:1).
For that reason you can trust God with your very soul. If you belong to Christ by faith, he gives you his word that your salvation is as secure as his character is unchangeable. This is the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. Simply put, it means that no true Christian can ever fall from a state of grace. Depend upon it – if you are in Christ, you cannot lose your salvation: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).
Perseverance doesn’t mean that every single person who makes a profession of faith in Christ, or who has prayed the sinner’s prayer, or who has been baptized, or who is a church member, will be saved. Both experience and Scripture teach us otherwise. We all know sad stories of seemingly true Christians who apostatized and never returned to the faith. The author of Hebrews writes about those who, in some ways, share in the Christian faith yet fall away and cannot be brought back again to repentance (Heb. 6:4-6). The problem is not that they lost their salvation, but that they were never saved in the first place. John writes about them: “They went out from us, but they were not of us” (1 John 2:19).
However, for those who are genuine believers – who truly have been regenerated by God’s Spirit and are united to Christ by faith – God promises to preserve them in his grace until the day he brings them to their heavenly home. The Scriptures teach this so emphatically it is surprising there is any doubt about this truth. Jesus says his Father’s will is that he should lose nothing of all that he has given him (John 6:39). And he declares later that no one can snatch his sheep out of his hand or out of the Father’s hand (John 10:28, 29). Peter says those who have been born again are by God’s power being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:5).
And Paul establishes the truth of the perseverance of the saints beyond all question when he grounds it in the eternal decree of God: “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:30). Can God fail to bring to glory those whom he has chosen to save? Impossible! Christian, can you lose your salvation? Again, impossible!
At the deepest level, perseverance of the saints is rooted in the character of God. This is wonderfully demonstrated in the prayer of Moses in Numbers 14. When the Israelites sinned against God and the Lord threatened to destroy them all and start over with just Moses, the man of God interceded on behalf of his countrymen, saying: “Now if you kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard your fame will say, ‘It is because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to give to them that he has killed them in the wilderness'” (Numbers 14:16, 17). In other words, Moses appealed to God’s character and reputation: if he destroyed the Israelites, that would have meant he failed to bring to salvation those whom he set out to save. In the same way, if a Christian could lose his salvation, God would not be the all-powerful God he reveals himself to be. How can you fall away from grace when God’s own glory is on the line?!
To be sure, perseverance of the saints means it is the believer who perseveres. And he perseveres through faith (1 Peter 1:5), a faith that trusts in Christ and seeks to obey him. A Christian cannot enjoy any assurance of his salvation if he lives in unrepentant sin. So this doctrine is no comfort to those who harden their hearts and reject the Savior in their thoughts and flaunt his commandments in their lives.
But this teaching is meant to comfort ordinary Christians like you and me who want to please the Lord but struggle with sin and unbelief. At times – depressingly, at far too many times! – we give in to temptation, we think and act more like unbelievers than children of God, and we grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30). Then dark thoughts creep into our minds: Will God reject me for my sin? How can I expect to find a welcome in heaven when I am so far from the holiness he demands? When those thoughts torment your conscience, remember God’s promise to you in Christ: you will never fall away from his love and grace.
Here in Alaska we are blessed to be surrounded by mountains. There is nothing so immovable and stable as the mountain peaks around us. You can be sure they will be there long after you’ve left the earth. Yet in Christ your salvation is even more sure, because God himself guarantees it: “‘For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,’ says the LORD, who has compassion on you” (Isaiah 54:10).
Image courtesy of puttsk/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net