Last time, we looked at the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints and how it fits logically with the doctrine of unconditional election. This time, I would like to start looking at the classic texts upon which this doctrine is founded.
First, let me give you a definition of the doctrine, which I forgot to do last time. Wayne Grudem’s definition is a good one: The perseverance of the saints means that all those who are truly born again will be kept by God’s power and will persevere as Christians until the end of their lives, and that only those who persevere until the end have been truly born again.
If I were asked to make a case for this doctrine using only one book of the Bible, I would choose the Gospel of John in a heartbeat. Just as John provides clear teaching on the doctrine of unconditional election, so also it clearly teaches the perseverance of the saints.
If I were further pressed to present a case for this doctrine based on only one chapter in the Gospel of John, it would be chapter 6. The context of the passage is important. Early in the chapter, Jesus performs the famous feeding of the 5,000. The next day, the crowd finds Jesus on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus reads their motive in seeking Him – they simply want more to eat. He challenges them not to seek perishable food, but to seek the Bread of Life, that is, to believe in Him. The scene comes to a head in v36: “But I said that you have seen me and yet do not believe.” In the following verses, Jesus explains why it is that they have not believed in Him even though they have seen Him and His signs.
37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.
39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.
40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day."
The first key to understanding this text is to know what Jesus means by “comes to me.” What does it mean for someone to come to Jesus? V35 tells us: Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Here Jesus is using a common rhetorical device called parallelism, which states one truth in two different ways. So, “whoever comes to me shall not hunger” is stating the same truth as “whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” That is important because it shows that “comes to me” and “believes in me” are two different ways of stating the same truth. To come to Jesus is to believe in Jesus.
We can then go to v37 and better understand what is being communicated. There Jesus teaches that all who the Father gives Him will believe in Him, and the one who believes in Him He will never cast out. In other words, there are none who the Father has given the Son who will not also believe in the Son. Further, there are none who will believe in the Son who will be cast out.
In v38, Jesus affirms that His purpose in coming to earth was to do the will of the Father. This shows Christ’s single-minded focus on accomplishing what was given Him by the Father to do. And what was the will of the Father? V39, that Christ would lose none of all that the Father gives Him. This is stated in a negative way – there are none that Christ would lose. Jesus then delivers the same truth in a positive way in v40 – everyone who believes in Christ will have eternal life and Christ will raise him up on the last day.
Those two verses, vv39-40, are simply two restatements of v37. The entire four verses – vv37-40 – communicate one truth: All those whom God has given the Son will certainly believe and will certainly be raised on the last day by Christ. V44 then puts an even tighter vice on this truth, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws Him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” With that verse added into the mix, we can also rightly add an additional element to the truth being communicated: All and only those whom God has given the Son will certainly believe and will certainly be raised on the last day by Christ. Therefore, it is not possible that someone can believe in Christ, that is be saved from sin, and then not persevere to the end. The group of individuals given to Christ by the Father is identical to the group that will believe in Christ and is identical to the group that will be raised by Christ.
The case is bolstered by John 10:26-29 –
26 but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock.
27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.
29 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.
This passage is similar to chapter 6 in that Jesus is talking to Jews and explaining to them why they do not believe in Him. They do not believe because they are not of Christ’s sheep. Who are these sheep? V29 identifies them as those whom the Father has given to the Son. Therefore we have a parallel passage to John 6:36-40. There is a group chosen by God and given to the Son. The only difference is that in chapter 10 this group is referred to as a flock.
Those who are of the flock believe, or follow, Christ. Those who follow Christ are given eternal life, v28. By way of restatement Jesus says, “they will never perish,” AND “no one will snatch them out of my hand.” This verse contains the strongest negation in the Greek language. A more literal way to render it would be “they will never, ever perish.”
Ch6 showed that Christ is the one who will see to it that those who believe will be raised on the last day. This is reiterated in 10:28 in that Christ states that no one will snatch them out of Christ’s own hand. But we get an expansion of the believer’s security in v29 where we find that the Father also prevents them from being snatched away. What is the point? It is impossible for those who are not of Christ’s flock to believe, and it is impossible for those who believe to not receive eternal life.
This gives us two assurances. First, someone who has truly believed will inevitably persevere to the end. It is impossible for them to lose their salvation. Second, the perseverance of those who believe is not achieved by one’s own will power, but by the power of God in Christ – Christ will raise them up on the last day, they are guarded by the hands of the Son and Father.
Praise the Lord that I do not enter Christ by my own power and I do not stay in Christ by my own power. It is all of grace and by God’s power alone.
Next time we will look at some further passages, including one that teaches that the Holy Spirit also is contributing to our security, which means that the perseverance of the saints is a Trinitarian endeavor!