SPECIAL TOPIC: PERSEVERANCE

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 poles are biblical. Western Christians have tended to choose one truth and ignore or depreciate the opposite truth. Some examples:

1. Is salvation an initial decision to trust Christ or a life-time commitment to discipleship?

2. Is salvation an election by means of grace from a sovereign God or a faith and repentant response on mankind's part to a divine offer?

3. 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 starts with seemingly conflicting passages of the NT:

1. texts on assurance

a. statements of Jesus in John's Gospel (John 6:37; 10:28-29)

b. 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)

c. statements of Peter (1 Pet. 1:4-5)

2. texts on the need for perseverance

a. statements of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels (Matt. 10:22; 13:1-9,24-30; 24:13; Mark 13:13)

b. statements of Jesus in John's Gospel (John 8:31; 15:4-10)

c. 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)

d. statements of the author of Hebrews (2:1; 3:6,14; 4:14; 6:11)

e. statements of John (1 John 2:6; 2 John 9; Rev. 2:7,17,26; 3:5,12,21; 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 sin problem of the fallen creation!  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 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 addresses two different problems in this area: (1) taking assurance as a license to live fruitless, selfish lives or (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 of perseverance! Which group are you in?

There is a historical theological controversy involving Augustine versus Pelagius and Calvin versus Arminius (semi-Pelagian). The issue involves the question of salvation: if one is truly saved, must he persevere in faith and fruitfulness? 

The Calvinists line up behind those biblical texts that assert God's sovereignty and keeping-power (John 10:27-30; Rom. 8:31-39; 1 John 5:13,18; 1 Pet. 1:3-5) and verb tenses like the perfect passive participles of Eph. 2:5,8.

The Arminians line up behind those biblical texts that warn believers to "hold on," "hold out," or "continue" (Matt. 10:22; 24:9-13; Mark 13:13; John 15:4-6; 1 Cor. 15:2; Gal. 6:9; Rev. 2:7,11,17,26; 3:5,12,21; 21:7).  I personally do not believe that Hebrews 6 and 10 are applicable, but many Arminians use them as a warning against apostasy.  The parable of the Sower in Matthew 13 and Mark 4 addresses the issue of apparent belief, as does John 8:31-59. As Calvinists quote the perfect tense verbs used to describe salvation, the Arminians quote the present tense passages like 1 Cor. 1:18; 15:2; 2 Cor. 2:15.

This is a perfect example of how theological systems abuse the proof-texting method of interpretation.  Usually a guiding principle or chief text is used to construct a theological grid by which all other texts are viewed.  Be careful of grids from any source.  They come from western logic, not revelation.  The Bible is an eastern book. It presents truth in tension-filled, seemingly paradoxical pairs.  Christians are meant to affirm both and live within the tension. The NT presents both the security of the believer and the demand for continuing faith and godliness.  Christianity is an initial response of repentance and faith followed by a continuing response of repentance and faith.  Salvation is not a product (a ticket to heaven or a fire insurance policy), but a relationship.  It is a decision and discipleship.  It is described in the NT in all verb tenses:

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