Perseverance of the Saints (PotS) is the fifth head of doctrine in the Canons of Dort. It was the last teaching the Reformed churches in the Netherlands asserts during their 1618-1619 Synod. These pastors were defending the gospel against the Five Articles the Remonstrant wrote as followers of Jacobus Arminius. Back in 1610, the Remonstrant insists that true believers can lose their salvation by willful negligence and disobedience. And this presumes free will, of course, and these “true believers” choose to neglect their previously blessed status and choose not to obey the who “saved” them initially. This results to Christians failing to persevere in the end.
The Remonstrant wrote the original five articles on 1610 and supplied an extended explanation as Opinions of the Remonstrants on 1618. Specifically they state their thesis about perseverance under Article 5 and Paragraphs 3 and 4:
- True believers call fall from true faith and can fall into such sins as cannot be consistent with true and justifying faith; not only is it possible for this to happen, but it even happens frequently.
- True believers are able to fall through their own fault into shameful and atrocious deeds, to persevere and to die in them; and therefore finally to fall and to perish.
Again, this means Christians can lose their salvation and this historical document clearly teaches it. Now while most churches knowingly and unknowingly follow such doctrine, there is another doctrine I think often understood without any qualification as PotS, and sadly there are churches today affirm a kind of eternal security often misunderstood as the reformed doctrine of perseverance. It is called “Once Saved, Always Saved” or OSAS.
OSAS teaches a kind of mentality that equate mere profession of faith to its possession, and it tolerates a licentious mindset which thinks that since I have said the sinner’s prayer, I have walked the aisle, raised my hand, and uttered words of receiving Christ, regardless of whether or nor, I have progressed in sanctification, or even sin against God and his law, since I have been saved (by my “profession” in the past), my salvation is guaranteed and eternally secure. This caricature is not the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints and actually wrong.
Contrary to both the doctrine of the Remonstrants and OSAS, Perseverance of the Saints (PotS) means “They, whom God hath 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.” We can read this from Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 17, Paragraph 1. This doctrine
This explain how PotS does not depend human will nor simply equated to profession of faith only but more so, it is related to election, effectual calling and sanctification. It means the saints persevere because our election from God stands and this is because regeneration precedes any conversion. It leads to actual possession of true and saving faith. This also means the saints persevere because it relates to sanctification and it is a result real and personal growth in holiness as the fruit of regeneration. It means even when the saints temporarily fall away because of remaining sin, they never lose their state in grace but in fact restored and persevere in the end. All these results to the saints assurance of salvation which God provides along with perseverance, and it only comes to those who are saved. They are assured by God’s Word and Spirit.
This is the summary of our preaching this morning/study this evening. We will examine PotS in relation to election, sanctification, and assurance. We look at Scripture and argue for the soundness of the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. We have three sermon points: 1) Perseverance and Election; 2) Perseverance and Sanctification; 3) Perseverance and Assurance.
Before we begin, let us pray….
Perseverance and Election
PotS assumes the sovereign work of God in the application of God’s redemptive work in Christ as it personally affects an elect, by the Holy Spirit, to believe and repent. All these work comes from God’s prior regenerating work in an elect believer. This means we can rest assured that completely saves a believer in Christ by the Holy Spirit. Our Triune God orders every detail of our salvation in him from beginning to end.
Our biblical support for this guarantee comes from the revelation of God’s character in Isaiah 46:8-10. It reads, “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ In context, God wants Israel to know that despite of their transgressions of idolatry, he will make sure to redeem his elect. He emphasizes that He alone is God and he is sovereign in all things that comes to pass. In His providence, he will accomplish every single detail of his purposes.
In the New Testament, God revealed in Scripture through the epistle of Paul in Romans 8:28-30 his redemptive purposes for the elect. It reads, And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. This means God appoints the means as well as the end that God’s elect love in accordance to his purpose will prevail (verse 28). The pronoun “those” as the subject verses 29-30 are God’s elect who are not only predestined, called, justified, but guaranteed to be glorified. It means the great chain of our salvation will never be broken and God assures us that his divine redemptive purposes will prevail.
Jesus himself guarantees the same promises to us as he reveals to us the will of his Father when he said, My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, 0 they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one (John 10:27-30). Again, God grants eternal life to his sheep, specifically the elect and guarantees to preserve them in the midst of troubles, temptations, and sin. And this relates Pots with Sanctification which is our next sermon point.
Perseverance and Sanctification
PotS is tied with the believers growth to holiness. As explained in our introduction, PotS is not the same OSAS as often understood today. We heard from the Remonstrant fifth article that a person who started with true faith can neglect his salvation and eventually lose it. It happens by his own free will. OSAS on the hand, commits the same error but its opposite, and asserts that a professor of faith maintains their state of grace simply by their own free decision for it. It maintains a kind of independent human factor in salvation.
And proper biblical view of sanctification cures of these erroneous notions. First, Christ procures for us the double benefit of both justification and sanctification and the Holy Spirit applies them to an elect believer immediately (1 Corinthians 1:30). Scripture says, “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness (justification) and sanctification and redemption (glorification)…” Second, although justification is logically followed by conversion, sanctification comes as well but progresses in the believers life until their glorification. Paul exhorts us in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-3, Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification. Walking with God corresponds to our progress in sanctification. This means post conversion we may fall from sin or even receive temporal punishment because of it and surely left to our devices we can never sustain ourselves less even persevere so how can we do it?
Third, God preserves us and enables us to persevere in the faith. Saving faith is a persevering faith. Regenerate elect believers in Christ are preserved by God and sustained by his Spirit. Peter who himself was restored by Jesus even after he betrayed him speaks of God’s grace in the midst of our falling away, it reads: And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:10-11) And in the same way, the preacher of Hebrews exhorts us in Hebrews 12:1-2, Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. He concludes his epistle with an assurance that endurance comes from God and he provides it in Christ who will enable us to persevere in the end and this lead us to our last sermon point about Perseverance and Assurance.
Perseverance and Assurance
The pilgrims journey towards the Celestial city is filled with frustrations, despair and tribulation. One can only imagine who in the world can endure. Contrary to popular caricatures, this doctrine of PotS does not make one impervious to sin, making him proud, and neglectful of spiritual welfare, on the contrary, understand God’s electing work and his sovereign character makes one hopeful and at the same time watchful.
Our comfort comes from knowing that all thing work together for our good and nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:28; 39). We hope with firm conviction that the God who saves do so with the grace of perseverance. Paul exclaims, “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (verse 24).” This means that although we hope for something in the future and yet remained unseen, we patiently endure in the end. And God sustains us along the way by encouraging us and providing to us assurances coming from his Word and Spirit.
We do not teach self-assurance but an enduring assurance that comes from the promises of God. The Canons of Dort explains, “So it is not by their own merits or strength but by God’s undeserved mercy that they neither forfeit faith and grace totally nor remain in their downfalls to the end and are lost. With respect to themselves this not only easily could happen, but also undoubtedly would happen; but with respect to God it cannot possibly happen, since his plan cannot be changed, his promise cannot fail, the calling according to his purpose cannot be revoked, the merit of Christ as well as his interceding and preserving cannot be nullified, and the sealing of the Holy Spirit can neither be invalidated nor wiped out. (Fifth Heading, Article 8)” This means our assurance comes from God and not from ourselves.
PotS is actually a comforting doctrine for any regenerate elect because it affords us to look beyond ourselves and capability to sustain ourselves in the faith. It comes from God’s Word and this Lord’s Day we here again and again God’s redemptive plan is actually accomplished in Christ and applied fully by His Spirit. We hear all those promises of fulfilment and preservation from God’s own Word. The CoD further explains, “Accordingly, this assurance does not derive from some private revelation beyond or outside the Word, but from faith in the promises of God which he has very plentifully revealed in his Word for our comfort, from the testimony “of the Holy Spirit testifying with our spirit that we are God’s children and heirs” (Rom. 8:16–17), and finally from a serious and holy pursuit of a clear conscience and of good works. And if God’s chosen ones in this world did not have this well-founded comfort that the victory will be theirs and this reliable guarantee of eternal glory, they would be of all people most miserable. (Fifth Heading, Article 10). God assures us from his Word, the promise of the saving gospel, sealed by his Spirit, that we are his and he never eve lose us.
PotS also actually encourages godly living and an expression of our full dependence on God in prayer and for watchfulness, The CoD asserts, “This assurance of perseverance, however, so far from making true believers proud and carnally self-assured, is rather the true root of humility, of childlike respect, of genuine godliness, of endurance in every conflict, of fervent prayers, of steadfastness in crossbearing and in confessing the truth, and of well-founded joy in God. Reflecting on this benefit provides an incentive to a serious and continual practice of thanksgiving and good works, as is evident from the testimonies of Scripture and the examples of the saints. (Fifth Heading, Article 12).” So pastorally speaking, let us encourage another in the faith knowing it is God himself who preserves us and comfort one another with the assurance that comes from his Word and Spirit.
ZCRC(Imus), God elects, regenerates, calls, justifies, sanctifies, and even preserves until glory. Let us receive encouragement and comfort from knowing that God sovereignly rules over our lives in creation, and redemption. Let us take comfort from the assurances that comes his Word and Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Lance Filio is a minister of the Word and Sacraments at Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus). He finished his Bachelor Degree in Electronics Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and He is currently taking his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) at MINTS. He lives in Taguig City, Philippines with his wife and three children.