googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Predestination: A Series on Election, Part 6 – Preservation of the Saints

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Predestination: A Series on Election, Part 6 – Preservation of the Saints

The final point point, the letter “P” in the acronym, TULIP, stands for the Preservation of the saints or the Perseverance of the saints. It's the idea that once a person is saved, he can never lose his salvation and is sometimes referred to by the phrase, “once saved, always saved.” It's the single point in 5-point Calvinism that I absolutely agree with 100%.

This isn't exclusive to Calvinism and the idea of “eternal security” could be debated separately from the doctrine of Calvin. Many Christians who don't consider themselves Calvinists will still believe in the doctrine of eternal security. I've written about this subject on a few occasions and I'm sure I will write about it again in depth. However, in this post we will discuss the issue primarily from the perspective of Calvinism.

In the light of Calvinism, the key to eternal security lies in the fact that our salvation is entirely the work of God. That is, He elects us, He gives us the desire and ability to believe, and He preserves us in our salvation. Just like we could do nothing to come to Him, neither are we capable of turning away once we're saved. Such a notion is supported by more than a few Scriptures. Here are three examples:

Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 1:7-8)

Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: (Philippians 1:6)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

These verses seem to make it clear that God does not save us then send us on our merry ways. He saves us and then He keeps us.

Arguments that I've heard contrary to the doctrine of preservation all seem rather weak. Some of them, for example, will take a passage where God promises to not take away our salvation and then use them as evidence that we could lose our salvation. Consider this example:

He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. (Rev 3:5)

Now, when I read this passage, I understand it to mean that those who “overcome” (i.e. “are saved”) will not be removed from the Book of Life. However, one person commenting on this passage said the following:

Notice that God's pencil, which wrote your name in the Lamb's book of life, also has an eraser at the other end. The name can be erased from the book of life if you don't overcome.”

I think it's rather bizarre when God promises to not do something, some people understand it to mean He might do it! Yet these same people often take passages like this and use them to argue the reverse of what they're saying. They are making sort of a negative argument where they focus on what could have happened rather than what is being promised. Negative arguments aren't necessarily a bad thing. I've used them myself. For example, the Bible commands us to study to show ourselves approved (2 Timothy 2:15); I guess that means if we don't study, God doesn't approve. I'm arguing the negative of what the Bible says.

Here are similar, negative verses “free will” advocates use to defend that it is possible to lose our salvation.

But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end. (Heb 3:6)

For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end; (Heb 3:14)

These verses say that we are made partakers of Christ and are of His house. Yet some people focus on the negative of the condition and say our salvation is conditional. That is, we are partakers of Christ only as long as we continue in the faith.

Another person used this analogy:

Someone might argue and say, "You are teaching that salvation must be earned through good works." No, I'm not. Salvation is free, but keeping it is costly. Suppose a friend gave me a brand new car which he paid out of his own money, and simply gave me the title and keys and said, "It's yours, Tom. Enjoy it." All I can do is reach for the keys and title and say, "Thank you!" Let me ask you a question. Is the car a free gift to me or did I have to earn it? It's free, right! But let me ask another question. Is it going to cost me money to keep and maintain the car? Sure it is. I'm going to have to put gas, change the oil, give it tune-ups, wax the car, and so on. The car is costly to keep, but it was free when I received it.

First off, the analogy is flawed. If someone gives me a car, sure it costs me to maintain it; if I don't, then the car might stop running. However, even if it stops running it is still my car! If the giver could came back to me and take it away, then the car was never really mine, was it? But besides that, as we have already seen, God not only saves us but also keeps us. I am confident that I will continue in the faith because it is God who works in me and not anything that I'm doing.

Negative arguments and analogies are the first resort when people argue that we can lose our salvation. Since that is the bulk of their argument, I believe their position is very weak.  

As I've already said, I could write more about this but this post has already gone on long enough. I'm getting off the subject of Calvinism anyway. I'll conclude by saying that the preservation of the saints is not only the fifth point of Calvinism, I also believe it is correct doctrine.

1 comment:

Steven J. said...

The point, I think, is that there are also verses in the New Testament that seem to imply that salvation can be lost. Matthew 24:13, which famously declares that he who perseveres to the end shall be saved, is pointless if the world is divided without remainder into those who never become Christians and those who never fall away. Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 9:27 that he does not wish, himself, to be disqualified for the prize implies either that he isn't yet a Christian, or that he thinks one can be a Christian and still fall away. Hebrews 6:4-6 has often be declared to be discussing a purely counterfactual possibility (the spiritual equivalent of "what if the South had won the Civil War?", which doesn't imply that one thinks it actually did), but it at least equally reasonably can be taken as referring to actual converts who have left the faith. And of course Jesus' parable of the sower strongly suggests (at least to me) that sometimes the faith takes root in a person before dying out.

I've noted that several of these passages have alternate, Calvinistic interpretations. But it seems to me that so do some of the passages you cite. Revelation 3:5, for example, might imply that one does not overcome unless one not only starts to be but remains faithful, with no implication that everyone who does the first will do the second. The point of this, and 1 Peter 1:3-5 is less that one cannot lose one's salvation as that God will not renege on His promise or be unable to keep it if the believer does remain faithful.

Of course, the issue is untestable: the obvious converse of perseverance of the saints is that no one who does not persevere was ever really a saint, no matter how indistinguishable from true saints he might be up to the time of his apostasy.