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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Perseverance of the Saints - Part 3

This is now the third installment in a series on the blessed doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.  As a reminder, let me again give our working definition of this doctrine, taken from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology
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.
Last time we saw that both the work of both the Father and the Son ensure that those who believe will be kept in Christ.  This time I would like to start out by looking at a couple of passages that reveal the Spirit as well working to make certain the future salvation of those who believe.
The opening chapter of Ephesians begins this way: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.  This is a call to worship God because of the inheritance He has given us in Christ, and it is important to note that these are heavenly realities.  Although these things are spoken of as being given to us in the past tense, they are being kept for us in heaven (1Pet 1:4).  The text then goes on to list some of the blessings that make up our inheritance: election (v4), predestination (v5), adoption (v5), and redemption (v7). 
In light of the fact that these blessings are part of our future inheritance, it would be natural to ask, “how sure are these promised blessings?  How do we know we will receive these things?”  This concern is addressed in v13, In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory.  The word “guarantee” is an important one.  The underlying Greek word is defined as the “payment of part of a purchase price in advance,” and can be translated first installment, deposit, down payment, or pledge.
The word “sealed” is also an important word to understand.  The Greek verb is defined “to mark with a seal as a means of identification.”  It is a mark of ownership and also carries the idea of the protection of the owner.    
So when a sinner hears the gospel and believes, that person receives the Holy Spirit, who serves two functions pertaining to the security of our salvation.  First, the Holy Spirit is the seal of God, God’s mark of ownership on our lives.  All those who have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit are owned by God, who according to Jesus will not let go of them (John 10:28-29).  Second, the Holy Spirit represents a down payment on the believer’s inheritance, which is being held in heaven.  The Holy Spirit is God’s earnest money, so to speak, guaranteeing that the promise of glory will be kept.  The two terms “sealing” and “guarantee” communicate an iron-clad certainty that the inheritance given us in Christ and held for us in glory will be in our possession some day.  (See 2 Cor 1:21-22 where Paul uses the same two terms to describe our being established in Christ.)
So far, we have seen teaching from John and Paul on the issue of perseverance, but there is also a wonderful passage in 1 Peter that clearly points toward the certainty of believers attaining their future salvation.  1 Peter 1:3-5 is similar to the passage we just looked at in Ephesians in a couple of ways: it begins with the exact same words – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” – and it tells of our heavenly inheritance in Christ. 
As many of you know, 1 Peter was written to exhort believers to be faithful and holy in the midst of persecution.  It is fitting then that Peter would begin the epistle by calling attention to our future inheritance, which he describes as imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1:4-5).  Here we see two layers of certainty that we will receive this inheritance – the inheritance is being kept for us, and we are being guarded for salvation.
And it is not simply human grit and determination that secures this inheritance.  Rather is it the “power of God through faith.”  It is God’s power working through personal faith that guards us for salvation.  God Himself is energizing our faith until we have possession of all the blessings of our inheritance.
With the context of the whole epistle in mind, let me ask this: what comfort could these words be to a person suffering persecution if there was the possibility that he or she could fall away from the faith and lose his or her salvation?  The very reason that Peter starts the letter by speaking of the believer’s inheritance is because of the comfort that comes with the certainty of our salvation, especially in the context of the doubt so often caused by suffering.  The recipients of the letter stood to lose everything in their lives at the hands of their persecutors – everything but the inheritance of their salvation.  There is great comfort in knowing that though all else may fail us, God by His own power is guaranteeing that when this life is over an imperishable, undefiled, and unfading inheritance will be ours. 
Next time, we’ll begin to look at some of the objections to this doctrine.  In the meantime, I encourage you to take a close look at all the volatility in the worldwide economy right now.  The job market, the stock market, the housing market…all of it would seem to be saying there is no such thing as a sure thing.  With that in mind, meditate on 1 Peter 1:3-5 and consider where our hope should be placed – on earth? Or in glory?

Posted by Greg Birdwell

1 comment:

Brian Jonson said...

This has been a good series, Greg.

I have a question.

There are a number of early church quotes which seem to indicate a general belief that true salvation could be lost. Specifically, Hermas and Irenaeus had some strong comments. Irenaeus said this, for example, "Those who do not obey Him, being disinherited by Him, have ceased to be His sons." Tertullian said he who returns to his sins after baptism is renewed in his sins.

Why do you think these early fathers didn't grasp the biblical teaching of eternal security? Do you think part of it has to do with the fact that the early church climate undoubtedly emphasized the importance of good works more than today's?