A Case of Missing the Point…
Recently, I read a post and subsequent comments at a weblog that reveals how some persist in misunderstanding the biblical doctrines of Perseverance and Preservation. The tenor of the article was this: God preserves us, but there is no scriptural promise of or mandate for our perseverance in the faith. The misrepresentations of what “perseverance of the saints” means, the logical fallacies of strawmen, false dilemmas, etc. paint a picture of perseverance which is sadly distorted. Frankly, I do not understand the motivations of those who write articles like this, and the comments which follow; it is as though the critics haven’t read, or at least understood what “perseverance” writers have actually written.
When we teach that God preserves Christians from the day of trust in Christ until they are in His presence, it means that God will fully accomplish our salvation. The obligation is upon Him to uphold the promises in which we have trusted–this is His preserving work.
But, this preservation does not happen in some unknowable, invisible fashion. Part of the way God keeps us is by providing means which we take part in–essentially the Christian graces: Bible Intake, Worship, Prayer, Outreach, Service, Fellowship w/ the Saints, etc. These graces are meant to continually remind us, and thus empower us to obey–to express faith. Faith is not faith if it is not resting on the promises of God, and faith is not faith if it does not move from attitude to obedience. We are corrected, warned, exhorted, encouraged, rebuked, and taught by the ministry of the Spirit in the graces I mentioned above.
If we profess faith in Christ, and consistently and persistently rebel against partaking of these graces and obeying the Spirit’s truth embodied and taught by them, then we had better wonder if we have the salvation we claim to have. In wondering this, and beginning our self-examination, it is not as though we can mutter “well, regardless of my anti-Christ rebellion, and my wanton disobedience to known commands of the Lord, at least I can rest in the delight that I am saved.” Peter, Paul, James, our Lord, and the author of Hebrews would all warn exuberantly to “examine yourself to see if you are in the faith”–or themes similar. If after this investigation of character and belief, we confess our sin, and begin a path of sincere obedience to the Scriptural corrective, it is not that somehow we have contributed to our own salvation, or even somehow maintained our salvation, or even single-handedly muscled ourselves back on the path of sanctification. Rather our God’s power has come to work in our lives in such a fashion as to achieve His final preservation of us. His power is displayed through the Truth which the Spirit brings to bear on our hearts by the graces I mentioned earlier. Our response to these means is not some works-based effort on our part, it is the proper, nominal response of a disciple of Jesus Christ. Any such return to obedience (both in attitude and action) can only be properly attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit. As before our salvation, and now in our life of sanctification, we can only obey our God through His righteous, alien intervention–first by His regeneration, and now as a consequence of His indwelling, etc.
A life of repeated instances of obedience, over time, is a marker of our salvation. While there will be sinful straying, both aware and unaware (at the time), the pattern is obedience–submission to Christ’s Lordship. At the end, when we see Him, we will not say “O Lord, how delightful that I, in my own power and capability persevered!” No, rather, we will rejoice in His upholding His promises–to keep us, and to keep us by providing the means and power to keep going through the agency of the Holy Spirit. Will there have been human effort in our attempts to walk in obedience? Of course, but Who empowered it, Who provided all the means to know how to choose right, Who jealously, passionately desired the good things of God for us, within us (James 4)? Our God! And then, as now, we would and could take no credit for the work of perseverance–for such obedience could only be prompted by and empowered by God–as He preserved us.
This is not works-based salvation or sanctification–it is the faith of the Gospel. Do not let others deter you from a biblical understanding of the Spirit’s work in us. Their efforts demean the power of the Gospel, pointing to man-centered, diluted Gospel understanding. Our hope rests only in God’s preserving and persevering power! I will post a Scriptural defense of this some time, but this is an acceptable and proven understanding of God’s power in our lives, as defined in the Scripture.