Basic Reformed Theology 6
Non-Reformed believers embrace a doctrine called “once saved always saved.” Strangely, many Christians embrace this doctrine without having a firm biblical and theological foundation for it. Wesleyans and Nazarenes deny this doctrine because of their insistence on man’s sovereign free will. To their credit, they fear a doctrine that encourages disobedience and they believe a true believer can turn to a life of sin and disobedience and deny Christ. That disobedient person will perish in hell and lose his salvation. RT does not believe the person was a real born again child of God and his apostasy only revealed his true unregenerate state.
The “P” in TULIP is the “perseverance of the saints.” All true believers will persevere to the end. Jesus said, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Mt. 10:22; Mk. 13:13; Lk. 21:19) All professing believers are called upon to persevere through persecutions, afflictions, and difficulties. Paul encouraged the believers “to continue in the faith” saying to them “that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). In the parable of the Sower, Jesus said that tribulation or persecution will cause some to fall away (Mt. 13:21). The point is, the Bible calls believers to persevere but we know that not all who profess faith will. The parable of the sower (Mt. 13:1-23) teaches us what kind of circumstances will reveal the temporary faith of many. But we can be sure that the “elect” will persevere. Mt. 24:22 says that there will be a “great tribulation” (24:21) and had that time not been cut short “no human being would be saved.” Then Jesus adds, “But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.” (24:22) The elect will endure through the tribulation and God will ensure it.
Undergirding the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is God’s perseveration of His children. Jeremiah 32:40 (in reference to God’s new everlasting covenant) says this of God, “that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.” (Jer. 32:40) God will make sure His people will not turn from Him! Jesus said He will give eternal life to His sheep “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.” (Jn. 10:28, 29) Jesus’ people will never perish or be snatched away by another power! Jesus and the Father would have failed if His sheep perish! Remember, nothing can “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39).
If believers receive the “eternal life” promised to them (Jn. 3:16; 6:47; 10:27, etc.), then they could not lose it because it is “eternal life.” God did not promise them a temporary life, conditional life, etc. If a person truly believes, he has eternal life. He cannot have eternal life after he believes and then lose it. If he had it at the beginning then he’ll have it eternally. Not everyone who says they believe truly and savingly believed and therefore they did not receive eternal life. Since they believed temporarily, they never had eternal life to start off with.
Jesus prayed that believers would be kept in His name and that they would be kept from the evil one (Jn. 17:11, 12, 15). God the Father heard the Son’s high priestly prayer and therefore believers are kept so as to persevere. That is, “by God’s power “ we “are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:5). His power guards us, keeps us (Jn. 17), and ensures that we are not separated from Him (Rom. 8:39). God “is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 1:24). The “stumbling” does not refer to occasional falling into sins but a stumbling away from the faith — He will keep us and we’ll be “kept for Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:1).
Believers really do persevere and God uses the warning passages from Scripture to preserve them (like the exhortations in Hebrews). God’s true children heed the warnings and persevere. John makes a startling claim about those who end up departing from the faith: “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 it might become plain that they all are not of us.” (1Jn. 2:19) That is, their leaving and not continuing in the apostolic faith meant “they all are not of us”. Not persevering revealed that they were not truly God’s people. God requires perseverance in the faith, gospel holiness, remaining in Christ’s name, etc. He preserves His people so that they can persevere unto the end!
The child of God is born again (Jn. 3:5), has God’s seed remaining in him (1Jn. 3:9), declared to be a new creation (2Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15), has been adopted (Rom. 8:14-17; Gal. 4:4-7) and “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). Can this doctrine of regeneration be reversed? Will God send His Spirit into our hearts (Rom 8:14, 15) and make us His children and then fail to bring us to Him? Will God disinherit us, orphan us again, and re-make us into children of Satan? Most good earthly father would not do that and yet some believe our heavenly Father is capable of doing that! Can the hearts that truly cried “Abba, Father” cease to be God’s children? The very nature of new birth prohibits such a conclusion. We are born again to a living hope (1 Pet. 1:3) and as God’s children, He will keep us unto the end: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rom. 8:35) The answer is NOTHING!
Implications and Questions
• “I’ve seen genuine believers fall away from the faith.” Actually, the person saw how deceptive man can be and how deluded some professing believers are — their departure revealed that they were not truly part of God’s people (1Jn. 2:19).
• “If this is true, then we can do whatever we want – once saved always saved!” No, God’s children will act like His children. The Holy Spirit leads them unto holiness and they dare not grieve the Spirit of God (Eph. 4:30).
• “Doesn’t this encourage sloth, ungodliness, etc.?” True believers are humbled by this truth and feel compelled to live for Christ that much more (Gal. 2:20).
• Remember, there is difference between falling into sin, temporarily falling away, backsliding and apostatizing! All believers struggle with the first part but only those who are not true believers will fully fall away.