“Those whom God has accepted in His Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved” (Westminster Confession of Faith).
“Perseverance may be defined as that continuous operation of the Holy Spirit in the believer, by which the work of divine grace that is begun in the heart, is continued and brought to completion” (p. 546, Systematic Theology, Louis Berkhof). (see: Mt. 10:22; Jn. 8:31; Heb. 6:9; 10:39; I Jn. 2:19)
The two primary marks of a true believer are obedience to Christ’s word (Jn. 8:31) and chastening by the Lord (Heb. 12:5-12 – cf. also Mt. 7:20; I Jn. 3:9).
Profession vs. possession
The problem many people have with teaching on eternal security (the perseverance of those whom God has saved) results from confusing profession of salvation with possession of salvation. Jesus clearly taught that not everyone who said to Him “Lord, Lord” shall enter the kingdom of heaven. Many people claim to be Christians who have not genuinely responded to the gospel. The issue is not about possibly losing salvation, but whether or not it was ever truly possessed.
7 points of clarification – In considering the teaching of perseverance, the following points of clarification are important:
- All faith is not saving faith – (James 2:14)
- There will be superficial and temporary responses to the Word of God (Mt. 13:1-9, 18:23).
- Profession of salvation does not always equal possession of salvation (Mt. 7:15, 21-23)
- The Bible does not justify identifying every person who makes a verbal profession of faith as a genuine believer. Please note that Jesus said, “Many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ . . .But I will say to them, depart from me….”
- True faith produces fruit or good works (Mt. 7:15-20; 13:23; Ja. 2:17; Eph. 2:10).
- The Scripture recognizes a distinction between temporary backsliding and real abandonment of the faith. Peter’s denial of the Lord is the best example of backsliding in the NT. (Lk. 22:31-32 NASB or NIV). Thomas, as well as the other disciples, serves as an example of this after the crucifixion.
- Although we cannot know a person’s heart, we are not left without any ability to evaluate the condition of another.
Millard J. Erickson wrote, “. . . our understanding of the doctrine of perseverance allows no room for indolence or laxity. It is questionable whether anyone who reasons, `Now that I am a Christian, I can live as I please’, has really been converted and regenerated. Genuine faith issues, instead, in the fruit of the Spirit” (p. 996, Christian Theology).
“The Lord will not save those whom He cannot command. He will not divide His offices. You cannot believe on a half-Christ. We take Him for what He is Christ the anointed Saviour and Lord who is King of kings and Lord of all lords! He would not be who He is if He saved us and called us and chose us without the understanding that He can also guide and control our lives” (A.W. Tozer, pp. 18-19, I Call It Heresy!).
* Ultimately the words of II Timothy 2:19 should be our position: “God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”