It’s Christ’s Word that warns, guides, teaches, and encourages us as we persevere in faith. We may think of Peter, who, after having fallen away for a time, was restored to Christ on the strength of His truth spoken to him (John 21:15–17). If we wish to endure, it’s imperative we become children of the Word. And so, we look to Christ. We listen to His Word. And finally, we situate ourselves among His people.
Few things burden the Christian more than when a person who once professed Christ wanders from the Gospel. If you take inventory of your own experience, you may come up with a list of names of those who once mentored you in the faith, led your church in worship on Sundays, or even taught the Bible to you yet ultimately (it seems) left the faith. Tragically, the world is filled with people who once apparently walked the path of obedience but didn’t continue on it.
This phenomenon isn’t new. The author of Hebrews warned those to whom he wrote against matters like drifting, rebellion, and disobedience (Heb. 2:1; 3:16). He even at times presented these warnings in conditional terms: “We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Heb. 3:14).
When it comes to the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, we must recognize that these warnings in Hebrews are real warnings, directed toward Christians. There’s no sense in which they are to be ignored on the basis of self-proclaimed security. Instead, as Sinclair Ferguson notes, “the New Testament warns us by precept and example that some professing Christians may not persevere in their profession of Christ to the end of their lives.”1
We must be careful that we don’t grow careless or prideful when it comes to persevering in the faith. In fact, the doctrine should produce in us a careful urgency to heed the biblical warnings concerning apostasy. When we come to the Scriptures, we discover that the perseverance of God’s people in their salvation is a truth that is biblical, practical, and Christ-centered.
A Biblical Doctrine
What do we mean when we talk about the doctrine of perseverance? Louis Berkhof gives a helpful definition, describing it as “that continuous operation of the Holy Spirit in the believer, by which the work of divine grace that is begun in the heart, is continued and brought to completion.”2 Strictly speaking, perseverance has more to do with God’s work than with our own. It’s because God perseveres in His love for us that we’re able to continue in our love for Him. A more apt name for this doctrine, in fact, might be the preservation of the saints. God preserves, keeps, and guards His people.
With the definition in mind, we can locate the doctrine all throughout Scripture. Indeed, the Bible emphasizes the absolute certainty of the believer’s preservation. The opening verses of 1 Peter are among the clearest on the matter:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3–5)
Three truths concerning God’s preservation of the saints arise from this passage.
First, God “has caused us to be born again” (v. 3).