December 3, 2011

The Perseverance of the Saints

We Baptists are fond of using the phrase “once saved, always saved.” And rightly so! No one will snatch Jesus’ sheep from His hand (John 10.28). God will surely finish the good work He began in us (Philippians 1.6), all the way until Jesus returns. So it is true that once a person is saved he is always saved … and will never lose his salvation.

But “once saved, always saved” is not the whole truth. It’s not only true that once a person is saved, he will always be saved … but that, once a person is saved, he will go on living like he is saved as well! The benefit of being a Christian, in other words, is not simply that God delivers us from sin’s penalty at the last day, but also that He delivers us from sin’s power in the present day. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature” (2 Corinthians 5.17). If anyone is in Christ, therefore, he is surely different than he was before. If anyone is truly in Christ, he will surely grow, and change, and become more like Jesus. He will surely persevere and press on in the faith. That’s what new creatures do!

Yes, true Christians sometimes struggle, and may even have periods of ‘backsliding.’ But if we are genuine, those periods will not be the norm in our lives. If we are true Christians, the overall tenor of our lives will be one of continuing in the faith and growing in Jesus. True Christians do not make a profession of faith, go through the waters of baptism, and then largely disappear from the life and service if the church! No! True Christians are “new creatures” … and their lives show it! This is why the Bible constantly uses the word “if” in relation to our assurance of salvation. Let me give a few examples:

*John 8.31: “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of mine.”
*Colossians 1.22-23: “He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach – if indeed you continue in the faith”
*Hebrews 3.6: “Christ was faithful as a Son over [God’s] house – whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end”
*Hebrews 3.14: “For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end”

What gives with all the “if’s”? Are the New Testament authors saying that we keep ourselves saved by holding fast, and continuing on in the faith? Do we have to do something to stay saved? No! It is Jesus, remember, that holds tight to His sheep, not the other way around (John 10.28). It is God, not we ourselves, who will finish the work He began in us (Philippians 1.6). And yet the Bible is constantly telling us that we are truly Christians, and that we have been reconciled to God, only “if” we continue or persevere in the faith. How can that be?

The answer is simple: The “if” clauses in the Bible do not signify conditions we must keep to stay saved. They simply signify evidence in our lives that God has already saved us! If God has really saved you, in other words, He will ensure that certain things will be true of you. You’ll continue in God’s word (John 8.31), and in the faith (Colossians 1.21-23). If God has really saved you, you’ll hold fast your confidence in Christ (Hebrews 3.6). You’ll love the brothers and put away sin (1 John). These are the marks of a “new creature”! And it is only “if” we demonstrate the marks of a “new creature” that we can be sure that we are “in Christ.”

Again, let me be clear. The Bible does teach that once we are saved, we are always saved. But it also teaches that, once we are saved, God will demonstrate His work in us by enabling us to persevere in faith and growth and steadfast hope in Jesus. And if we don’t see these demonstrations of God’s handiwork, then we have every reason to doubt whether He has yet begun the good work of salvation in us. For, whenever God begins a good work, He completes it!

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