Just for Catholics

PERSEVERANCE

Do the saints persevere in grace to the end, or do some of them fall and become lost forever? Is the believer eternally secure? Can a child of God lose his salvation?

The Bible answers that Christians ‘are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time’ (1 Pet 1:3-5). We should therefore keep these two truths in mind: (1) God keeps us; and (2) Christians continue in the faith (for they are kept ‘through faith’).

Kept by God

We would quickly lose our salvation if we were left to our own resources. Thank God, our salvation is in the hands of a mighty and faithful Saviour. He assures us: ‘My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone 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 My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one’ (John 10:27-30; please read; Rom 8:38, 39; 1 Pet 1:3-5; Jude 1:24, 25).

Our salvation is secured by the Triune God: the Father (‘no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand’); the Son (‘neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand’) and the Holy Spirit (‘you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance’ - Eph 1:13, 14).

Our security is grounded on the purpose of God (‘This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing’ - John 6:39, 40); the omnipotence of God (we are ‘kept by the power of God’) and the promise of God (‘I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish’). God’s eternal purpose is immutable; his power is greater than all opposing forces; and his promises are sure because God is faithful.

God’s plan for his elect cannot fail: ‘Whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified’ (Rom 8:30). Can it be said that some of whom God predestined will eventually be damned? Is God unable to fulfill what he has determined beforehand? The chain of divine saving works, extending from eternity past to our glorification, is not broken and cannot be broken.

Nothing can separate God’s elect from his eternal love. ‘I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom 8:38, 39).

Kept Through Faith

The Bible’s teaching on our security in Christ is a great comfort to God’s children, yet others abuse this doctrine. They foolishly argue, ‘Since it is once saved, always saved, then sin doesn’t matter. I can live it up and still go to heaven at the end.’ The thought is as absurd as it is disgusting. Their mentality is proof positive that they are strangers to God’s grace. ‘He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him’ (1 John 2:4). They fool themselves with empty slogans, presuming to be ‘always saved’ when in fact they weren’t ever even ‘once saved’.

Just as the Bible teaches God’s protection and preservation of His people, it is equally emphatic that only those will be saved who endure to the end, abide in Christ and his Word, and continue in the faith (please read Matt 24:13; John 8:31; John 15:6; 1 Cor 15:1, 2; Col 1:22, 23).

Ignoring these and similar scriptures, some say that it doesn’t matter whether you continue to believe or not, for God will keep you saved forever. That is not true. We cannot accept half the Bible and ignore the rest. The total picture is this: God protects his children and therefore they remain faithful to the end. As Peter says, they are ‘kept by the power of God (that’s God’s protection) through faith (and not, as some say, with or without faith).’

As Christians we are painfully aware that our faith is often weak and faltering. We can only persevere in faith because of the intercession of Christ. Peter was overwhelmed by grief when he denied the Lord three times. Yet even then, Peter’s faith could not fail because his Saviour would never deny one of his own. ‘But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail’ (Luke 22:32). It is the same with every other child of God; Jesus ‘is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them’ (Heb 7:25).

Hypocrites Unmasked

What about those who leave the church and deny the faith? They had heard the gospel, believed in Jesus, received baptism, became active members of the church, participated in the Lord’s Table, witnessed to others about Christ, and for some time lived a decent moral and exemplary life, but now they deny Christ and want nothing to do with him or the church anymore. What does the Bible say about them?

They are hypocrites unmasked. They had played their part quite impressively - deceiving others, and perhaps even themselves, that they were genuine Christians. Their apostasy uncovers their counterfeit faith. The apostle John writes: ‘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 they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us’ (1 John 2:19).

These people were once considered true believers, but at one point they left the church. The apostle does not thereby conclude that genuine Christians can lose their salvation. On the contrary he judges that they were ‘not of us’. If they were true believers, he reasons, they would have continued; their departure is proof that in fact they were merely ‘professed’ believers – they claimed to be so, and even acknowledged by the church, but in fact they were never true believers at all.

There are serious warnings in the Bible to professed Christians who, after an initial response to the gospel, turn away from Christ back to the world, sin and error. Their defection reveals that their hearts were never changed. Peter compares them to a washed pig returning to the mud, and the author of Hebrews, to a cursed field that produces thorns and thistles after it receives the rain (See Heb 6:4-8 and 2 Pet 2:20-22).

It may be objected that the Bible speaks about being ‘fallen from grace’. Unfortunately this phrase is often taken out of context and given a different meaning from what the apostle Paul meant. ‘Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace’ (Gal 5:4 KJV). Paul is not speaking about a Christian who commits a grave sin and loses his state of justification. Paul is contrasting two ways of justification – by law and by grace. Justification is either by personal works or by grace (a free and unmerited gift of God). Those who seek to be justified by works, if it were possible, will not be justified by grace. In this sense they are ‘fallen from grace’. They have renounced the grace of God who attempt the impossible task of justification by works. They did not lose salvation; they were never justified at all for ‘by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified’ (Gal 2:16).

Eternally Secure

We can summarize the Bible’s teaching on eternal security by saying that, firstly, many people who profess to believe are not really saved (they have a counterfeit, temporary faith); they will be exposed in the Day of Judgment and sometimes even during their lifetime. Secondly, God’s people are kept secure by the almighty power of their faithful Saviour, and thus they continue to believe and persevere to the end–indeed, for all eternity.

© Dr Joseph Mizzi. 2008. Permission is given to reproduce and distribute this article in any format provided that the wording is not altered and that no fee is charged. Please include the following statement on distributed copies: Copyright Dr Joseph Mizzi. Website: www.justforcatholics.org. Used by permission.