The Holy Spirit is the one who keeps the believer, ever uniting him or her to their Savior. And once united to Christ, there is nothing that can snatch them away. Of course, the Holy Spirit uses means to draw us into deeper communion with Jesus Christ, what are called the Means of Grace – Gospel preaching, the sacraments, prayer, Christian fellowship, etc. The continual intercession of Christ, who is seated at the right hand of the Father, also brings preserving grace, as we have a true and faithful high priest who ever lives and intercedes on our behalf.
I hope that you’ve read the previous four articles on the doctrines of grace: depravity, election, limited atonement, and irresistible grace. This 5th installment may not make much sense to you if you haven’t. The reason for this is because this final doctrinal summation of Reformed thought is the crown jewel that sits atop the other four. If you are familiar with Reformed doctrine at all, you will understand that the truths discussed are not independent of one another but in fact build upon one another. For example, one cannot understand unconditional election without first understanding the totally depraved state in which unsaved humanity resides. The final piece, and I dare say the pinnacle and climax of Reformed thought, sits atop the house that the other four have built. What then is the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints and why is it important for us to understand?
Simply stated, the doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints (“Perseverance” for short) teaches that all those whom God has justified will persevere until they reach heaven, that is, they will inevitably make it to heaven. Over-simply stated, it’s “once saved, always saved.”[i] There are some important elements to this doctrine that we need to discuss, however.
Firstly, to whom does this truth apply? As the name of the doctrine would suggest, it applies to saints. But who are saints? Saints are all of God’s elect, those to whom He has shown the light of His saving grace by effectually calling them unto faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ, justifying by His free grace through the forgiveness of their sins, uniting them to Christ by faith, reconciling them to Himself, and adopting them as sons and daughters. Saints are those who have repented of their sins and placed their faith and hope in the person and work of Jesus Christ. If this is you, then this doctrine of Perseverance applies to you.
But who is responsible for our perseverance? One may think that persevering unto the end is dependent on the saint. After all, it’s called perseverance, right? It’s the individual who is responsible for persevering in other aspects, so it should be no different in this doctrine, right? In one sense, yes, Scripture commands us to live a life of repentance and faith, working out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). Yet in reality, Scripture is clear that the ability for our faith to endure unto the end comes not from ourselves but from God Himself. Paul immediately says in Phil. 2:13, “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Even here Paul claims that it is God’s work that brings the culmination of our Salvation.