DOCTRINES OF GRACE
5. Perseverance of the Saints
Now we shall turn our attention to Ephesians 1:13, in which we read, “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise.” From the words, “after ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, ... ye were sealed with the holy spirit of promise,” we learn that, from God’s point of view, once a person is saved, he need never fear that he will lose his salvation because he is “sealed by the holy Spirit.” This is a statement that once God’s people are saved, they are always saved. This teaching is sometimes called “the perseverance or preservation of the true saints of God.” The road to salvation is a one-way street. In other words, it is certain that God will save His people and nothing will cause them to be separated from His love, nothing can take them out of the care of their great Shepherd, Jesus Christ. They will persevere until the end of time because they are sealed by God. The reason that they know they will not lose their salvation is that they “heard the word of truth.” Their salvation is as true and firm as God’s own Word.
God has sealed His believers and so marks them out as saved (John 6:27). God’s seal is His stamp of ownership that reads “Holiness to the Lord” (Ex. 28:36, “signet” = “seal”). It is a seal that is tamper proof, that is, it is as strong as God’s promise to keep His people in Jesus and no one can separate them from that love (Rom. 8:39). The Holy Spirit testifies to God on our behalf that we are saved and belong to God (Rom. 8:16). Not only that, the Holy Spirit prays for us (Rom. 8:26) and since He knows the mind of God (I Cor. 2:10,11), we can be assured that His prayers on our behalf are always answered. The teaching of the preservation of the saints is also supported by John 3:16 (“eternal” does not mean “a long time,” but “everlasting”), 6:39, 10:27-29, Romans 8:39 and Philippians 1:6.
The doctrine of the preservation of the saints is a natural result of the doctrine of election inasmuch as, if salvation is all in God’s hands and is as strong as God’s promise, it is a work that is eternally unbreakable. It is a natural result of the fact that Jesus paid for our sins with His blood (verse 7). If our sins have been paid, then they have been paid and the debt cannot be owed again. God alone has the authority and power to condemn us and send us to hell. But according to Ephesians 1:3, God has “blessed us”, that is, He has said good things about us, namely He has declared us righteous in Christ. In the words of Romans 8:1,31, God has not condemned us so “if God be for us, who can be (effectively) against us?”
Ephesians 1:13 answers a very important question, which is, “Is it possible to be certain of going to heaven? Can a believer be sure that they are saved?” According to verse 13 , the answer is “Absolutely yes!” However, that is not the answer that is taught by many teachers of the Bible. The view of many people is “We cannot be fully positive of our salvation. We could lose our salvation.” It is their view that only the spiritual condition of a person at his death determines his eternal destiny. Such a notion is terribly wrong. We must discuss the idea of the perseverance of the true saints of God a little to be sure that we are thinking correctly about what the Bible teaches.
First of all, to the questions “Is salvation secure? Can we know we are saved?” The answer is “Yes.” In contrast to that many people say, “We can’t know because it is not secure. Many can and have fallen away.” But the Bible is clear. We can know. We have just read Ephesians 1:13. To that we can add John 10:27,28, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” as well as Jude 24,25 “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.”
Salvation ceases to be a certainty if it “depends upon me, upon my work in any way.” For who could be sure that they have done enough? If salvation depends upon a person’s decision to accept God’s grace, if it depends upon even a little upon a person’s will, then salvation is not certain at all. But salvation is totally a work of God, independent of anything a man does. The contribution of a person to his salvation is zero, nothing. Since it is totally dependent upon God, it is as strong as God’s wisdom and ability to keep His people, as we read in Romans 8:38,39, “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
People who object to this teaching say that experience shows sometimes a person, who makes a Christian commitment, falls away into grievous sin. “After all,” they say, “some very fine church members have fallen away even after many years of faithful service to the Lord. Some people have fallen in the last lap of the race.” They point out that the Bible teaches some of the gospel seed springs forth in some peoples’ lives but then withers away, which shows people can fall from grace.
Let us briefly answer this objection. One answer is that the person who falls away never was a true believer and was only pretending to be. That person associated with believers for his own purposes, even being self-deceived, thinking that he is saved, even though he really does not want to turn from his sin and trust in God. We must remember that we can not know the hearts of men. Some people play a good Christian game for a long time but do not have the power of God in their lives because they are not really saved. Such people tire of the effort and succumb to the desires of their flesh. These people have not lost their salvation because they were not saved in the first place.
Another answer is that, if a person is truly saved, then in time, he will repent from his sin. God may allow a believer to temporarily pursue a sin in order to teach him hard some spiritual lessons. But if he is truly saved, he will wise up and resume a life of obedience and faith. Some people sin grievously after taking a public stand for Christ and joining a church but, after a time, repent of their wickedness and return to the faith. If they are true believers, God will chastise them and eventually guide them back to the flock. God is more patient than we are and it is not our place to make conclusions about another person’s spiritual condition.
People who object to the teaching that a person cannot lose his salvation say that it will result in a careless or reckless life. They ask, “Won’t that teaching allow people to live as they please since they believe that they are saved no matter what?” But would a person who is really saved think, “I can live as I please because I am saved?” No, they never would think that because the salvation program of God includes a changed heart that greatly desires to please God. A true believer wants to and can obey His Lord out of gratitude and love, as well as out of a concern for his witness to others.
People who object to the doctrine of the preservation of the saints use John 15 for their support. They say that Jesus “cuts off” every branch that does not bear fruit. The answer is that the branches which are cut off are part of the vine only in the sense that they represent people who attach themselves to Jesus in an outward show but have no real spiritual connection to Jesus. They do not bear the fruit of the Spirit as a saved person would. The confusion of Hebrews 6:4-6 and II Peter 2:1, which seem to imply that people can lose their salvation, can be answered in the same way. For example, in Hebrews 6:9, we read, “we are persuaded better things of you (who are really saved), and things that accompany salvation,” which means the hard words of verses 4 through 6 do not apply to a true believer. The verses only apply to someone who has a superficial Christianity, trusting in his association with the church and in his own works. In each case, the Bible is talking about people who have a “false” or outward identification with the people of God but are not really saved. These verses say that those who fall away, so to speak, are not really believers, for God is able to keep His own as He has promised.
The value of the teaching found in Ephesians 1:13 is that a Christian does not have to fear that sometime in the future he will commit some grievous sin which will separate him from God. If his salvation depended partially upon himself, he would wonder if he had done enough. But salvation is as strong as God. He never fails. God, who chooses His own, and saves them in Christ, will keep them in all circumstances. God always completes what He begins (Phil. 1:6).
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