SPECIAL TOPIC: PERSEVERE
The biblical doctrines related to the Christian life are difficult to explain because they are presented in typically eastern dialectical pairs (see Special Topic: Eastern Literature [biblical paradoxes]). These pairs seem contradictory, yet both are biblical. Western Christians have tended to choose one truth and ignore or depreciate the opposite truth. Let me illustrate.
A. Is salvation an initial decision to trust Christ or a lifetime commitment to discipleship?
B. Is salvation an election by means of grace from a sovereign God or mankind's believing and repentant response to a divine offer?
C. Is salvation, once received, impossible to lose, or is there a need for continual diligence?
The issue of perseverance has been contentious throughout church history. The problem begins with apparently conflicting passages of the NT:
A. texts on assurance
1. statements of Jesus (John 6:37; 10:28-29)
2. statements of Paul (Rom. 8:35-39; Eph. 1:13; 2:5,8-9; Phil. 1:6; 2:13; 2 Thess. 3:3; 2 Tim. 1:12; 4:18)
3. statements of Peter ( 1 Pet. 1:4-5)
B. texts on the need for perseverance
1. statements of Jesus (Matt. 10:22; 13:1-9,24-30; 24:13; Mark 13:13; John 8:31; 15:4-10; Rev. 2:7,17,26; 3:5,12,21)
2. statements of Paul (Rom. 11:22; 1 Cor. 15:2; 2 Cor. 13:5; Gal. 1:6; 3:4; 5:4; 6:9; Phil. 2:12; 3:18-20; Col. 1:23; 2 Tim. 3:2)
3. statements of the author of Hebrews (2:1; 3:6,14; 4:14; 6:11)
4. statements of John (1 John 2:6; 2 John 9)
5. statement of the Father (Rev. 21:7)
Biblical salvation issues from the love, mercy, and grace of a sovereign Triune God. No human can be saved without the initiation of the Spirit (cf. John 6:44,65). Deity comes first and sets the agenda, but demands that humans must respond in faith and repentance, both initially and continually. God works with mankind in a covenant relationship. There are privileges and responsibilities!
Salvation is offered to all humans. Jesus' death dealt with the fallen creation's sin problem. God has provided a way and wants all those made in His image to respond to His love and provision in Jesus.
If you would like to read more on this subject from a non-Calvinistic perspective, see
1. Dale Moody, The Word of Truth, Eerdmans, 1981 (pp. 348-365)
2. Howard Marshall, Kept by the Power of God, Bethany Fellowship, 1969
3. Robert Shank, Life in the Son, Westcott, 1961
The Bible is addressing two different problems in this area: (1) taking assurance as a license to live fruitless, selfish lives and (2) encouraging those who struggle with ministry and personal sin. The problem is that the wrong groups are taking the wrong message and building theological systems on limited biblical passages. Some Christians desperately need the message of assurance, while others need the stern warnings! Which group are you in?
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