Every pastor, at one point or another, stands in a similar position to the Prophet Elijah—looking at the enemies that surround us, the sheep that bite us, and the weakness within us, we often cry out, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the LORD” (1 Kings 18:22). The trials of the Christian life can feel overwhelming and, when coupled with the dangers of pastoring, it is little surprise that many ministers and stewards of the gospel sometimes feel the crushing weight of despair. Our strength can seemingly fail, our hope grow dim, and our joy dissipate.
Often, we find ourselves like Peter. As the Lord calls us to minister in some extraordinary way (all ministering, at its heart, is extraordinary, whether it be seen by thousands, hundreds, tens, or one), we find ourselves sinking in the waves of fear and doubt. We are like Peter in Matthew 14:29–30 wherein, “[Jesus] said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’”
If it were up to us as Christians to keep ourselves saved, we would daily fail. We would be eternally lost. If it were up to our faith or our works to secure the continuance of our salvation, then none of us would ever prevail. We do not have the strength or power within ourselves to either be saved or stay saved.
Praise the Lord, then, that as tightly as we cling to Christ, he clings even more tightly to us still. If salvation hinged at all on our efforts, then we would not be strong enough to uphold our salvation. But salvation depends not on us. Salvation depends on Christ.
It is not the extent of our faith that saves, but the object of our faith—the Lord Jesus Christ—who both saves and secures us to himself. It not the number of our works that save or secure us, but the finished work of Christ that saves us eternally (Jn 19:30).
The doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints promises that our salvation in Christ is secure, that eternal life is ours and will never be lost, and that God will finish the good work he began within us (Phil 1:6).
Perseverance of the Saints and the Everlasting Certainty of Salvation
Perseverance of the Saints is the final letter of the TULIP acronym, and it outlines for the believer the certain and comforting truth that we who belong to Christ will never be lost by Christ. We who are saved are saved eternally.
Perseverance itself is a word that describes the everlasting continuance of something. It explains how those who have repented of their sin and trusted in Christ, who have been washed by the blood of Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, been forgiven, redeemed, and saved, will continue within that salvation.
Philippians 1:6 provides one of the most encouraging verses in this regard, as it comfortingly promises, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” God not only began the work of salvation within us, but he will complete the work. The Golden Chain of salvation will never be broken. “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom 8:29–30). The promise is that God, who foreknew and predestined us unto salvation before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4), elected us to an everlasting salvation.
Indeed, Perseverance of the Saints is the culmination of the other four letters of the TULIP acronym. We are born into this world as totally depraved sinners, dead in our trespasses and sins and absolutely incapable of saving ourselves or coming to saving faith on our own. Yet, God, by his gracious and sovereign will, unconditionally elected a number of sinners unto salvation. Those whom God has unconditionally elected—according to his providential purposes within predestination—he sent Jesus, the Son of God, to this earth to die for. At the cross, Jesus limitedly atoned for the sins of those whom the Father had elected and promised to him. At the time appointed by the Father, the Holy Spirit now effectually applies salvation to elect sinners through the preaching of the gospel by drawing them to Christ with an irresistible grace. Those who are irresistibly drawn to Christ will be kept and preserved by this same sovereign and amazing grace of God.
This means that our salvation, from beginning to end, is a Trinitarian work of God. The Father planned our salvation, the Son purchased our salvation, and the Holy Spirit now applies our salvation. As Jesus promised in John 10:28–30: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.I give them eternal life, 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. I and the Father are one.”
Because of these promises, we can know with absolute certainty that we who are saved are never in danger of losing our salvation. We will be kept by God because we are triply and eternally secure in Christ. Held in the hands of the Son, whose hands are wrapped in the hands of the Father, we are also filled and sealed by the Holy Spirit.
Objections to this most glorious doctrine typically follow this pattern: “If we continue in sin after being saved, won’t we eventually lose our salvation? Doesn’t Perseverance of the Saints, or eternal security, make it so that Christians can just go around sinning without a care in the world? Doesn’t the Bible say, ‘For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins’ (Heb 10:26)?”
The refutations to these objections are quite simple. First, those who continue in a pattern of habitual sin without repentance were never Christ’s to begin with. As John warns in 1 John 2:19, “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.” There are some who, for a time, come into our churches and fool just about everyone—sometimes including themselves—into believing they have been saved. This is the warning of Hebrews 10:26. But “we will know them by their fruit” (Matt 7:16–20) and their sinful behavior and rejection of biblical Christianity will be the indication they never belonged to Christ.
The genuine Christian, on the other hand, will evidence their salvation through works of righteousness for “having been set free from sin, [we] have become slaves of righteousness” (Rom 6:18). Good deeds and righteous actions should not be confused with works done to earn salvation, for that would be impossible. Good deeds and righteous actions are, however, the necessary fruit borne from a heart which has been regenerated and saved by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Far from an allowance to sin, Perseverance of the Saints teaches “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:1–2). We who know that we are no longer under the condemnation of God (Rom 8:1) recognize that this is only possible because Jesus drank every last drop from the goblet of God’s just wrath. Jesus has effectively exhausted the wrath of God against us. How could we then think to repay him by living in sin? Perseverance of the Saints is an encouragement to be holy as God is holy, yet not to despair when we fall short for “if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim 2:13).
Besides all this, when Jesus promised eternal life in John 10:28, he really meant it. There is no fine print, or asterisk placed next to the word “eternal,” to explain away the promise. By definition, “eternal” means everlasting and unending. When Jesus said he would save us eternally, he meant that he would save us to a life that would never end.
Perseverance of the Saints and the Promises of God’s Persevering and Preserving Grace
Every Christian falls short of holiness and fails to keep God’s good commandments countless times throughout their walk with Christ. Opportunities to share the gospel are glossed over, evidences of righteous fruit are sometimes lacking, and we can become plagued by feelings of guilt over the things we did or didn’t do. We must, at times like these, trust that the perfect promise of God to cause his saints to persevere by his grace is sufficient to keep preserving each of us in our salvation. This grace is even sufficient to make us persevere in our ministries and callings, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10).
It is invaluable for the Christian, and especially for the Christian pastor, to remember that there is nothing we can do, or not do, that will separate us from the love of God in Christ. Romans 8:31–39 assures us of this glorious truth by stating that there is absolutely nothing in all of creation that can bring a charge against us. The elect of God have been saved by Jesus, and now nothing can condemn us. One may ask, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” but the answer is always, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35, 37–39).
Think of it this way: We have been promised to the Son by the Father. Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (Jn 6:37). If we were gifted to the Son, and the Son shed his blood for us, could he ever truly forget about us or throw us away? What a dishonor it would be, what a blight upon his reputation, if the Son was to actually lose or cast away a single soul that the Father has entrusted to him! No, he is far too perfect and far too holy to lose a single saint. Our preservation is guaranteed by his persevering grace.
Perseverance of the Saints and the Pastor’s Duty to Pray, Preach, and Praise
While all Christians should find comfort, joy, and security in these wonderful promises, the pastor is especially enabled by these promises to faithfully minister to God’s people with a renewed sense of vigor and joy in our hearts. When, like Elijah, we want to cry out, “I, even I only, am left!” We must remember the promise of God, ““I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:18). God will preserve us and his people. When we begin to sink in the seas of doubt and fear and we are crying out, “Lord, save me!” we must recall how, “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’” (Matt 14:31). Jesus will hold us fast.
So, we must be men of prayer. We believe that, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). Is it not Jesus himself interceding on our behalf in Heaven, before the very throne of the Father (Rom 8:34)? Is it not the Holy Spirit within who intercedes on our behalf when we know not what to pray for (Rom 8:26–27)? And has not God promised to supply all our needs according to his riches in glory, which are ours in Christ (Phil 4:19)? This God, “who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things” (Rom 8:32)? Oh, downcast and wearied saint, you must press on in your prayers, believing that God will answer your needs, the needs of your congregation, and the needs of his people at large.
So, we must be men who preach the Word of God. We believe that, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16–17) and so it is this very Word that is the very means of grace that strengthens and enables us to persevere. We must study it and live by it, and our people need this very same sustaining nourishment.
So, we must be men who praise our Triune God. He who is a “sun and shield,” who “bestows favor and honor” and “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Ps 84:11), has more than merited our praise; he alone is worthy of our praise and worship! We praise Jesus with our churches, week in and week out, because we know the unconquerable goodness of our salvation in Christ. We believe that “all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Cor 1:20). With hearts lifted in joy, let us continually worship our King of kings and Lord of lords.
Pastor-teachers, let us never forget this simple truth: It is the strength of the Lord that preserves and keeps us persevering. In this truth, let us also remember that it is “the joy of the Lord that is our strength” (Neh 8:10) and let us remain faithful to the Lord and his people wherever he has placed us. This, ultimately, is how Calvinism shapes Christian ministry.
Consider making a year-end tax-deductible gift to our ministry, a decision that supports vital work and helps provide resources for Christians around the globe.