Doctrine of Perseverance
William R. Cunningham
November 18, 2007
Can a Christian lose their salvation? If so, then what would it take for a Christian to lose their salvation. Sometimes Christians wonder if they have committed a sin that was so great that it severs their relationship with God. However, others say that we cannot lose our salvation no matter what we do or what sins we commit in the future. How can we know?
Is it possible to lose your salvation and if so can we get it back? I have always held the position that the question and this topic in general are irrelevant. Jesus gave a parable stating that we should just be ready (Matthew 24:32-44). So I have always been of the opinion that we should just live a righteous life and the end would not matter. I have always believed that a saved person wants to do the will of God and strives to live the righteous live and eternal security is of no concern.
However, there are many who struggle with the assurance of their salvation. There are Christians that wonder if they are indeed saved and if they have done something or will do something that would cost them that salvation. Therefore, I have decided to provide some information about the topic. I have consulted various sources and present my findings here. The primary source used for this particular study is “The Doctrine of Perseverance (Eternal Security) by Michael Patton found at http://www.bible.org/page.php?page_id=3168. Other sources include the following.
- The Faith: A History of Christianity by Brian Moynahan
- Foundations of the Christian Faith: A Comprehensive & Readable Theology, by James Montgomery Boice
- Basic Theology by Charles C. Ryrie
I would like to distinguish two terms regarding this topic.
- Assurance—Knowing that I you are saved. This is the confidence that I have of my salvation
- Security—the reality of my salvation. This is the act of God and does not depend on how assured we are that we are saved. Therefore, a person could not be assured of his salvation and be eternally secured.
There are different reasons that our assurance may be affected.
- Sin—Sin may cause us to question our salvation thinking that committing a particular sin or a bad enough sin could jeopardize our salvation.
- We may not be able to pinpoint the time of conversion
- We may question the method we were saved
Now I would like to introduce a term that is very important to the understanding of perseverance. Let’s look at “election.” There are actually three primary views of election, which are given below.
- Foresight election: God election is based on his foresight. In other words, God looks in the future and sees who will choose him and he elects those people to salvation.
- Corporate election (evangelical): God has elected the church and those who become members of the church become the elect (Eph 1:4).
- Individual, pretemporal election: God chooses people for salvation based on his own will and not based on any merit of the recipient. Those whom God chose form the church.
There are four major views of the doctrine of perseverance.
- Roman Catholic
- Traditional Lutheran (Martin Luther)
Some basic questions that can distinguish the different views are given below.
Can a regenerate believer commit apostasy and incur damnation? The Roman Catholics, Arminians, and traditional Lutherans believe that the answer is yes. However, the reformed believe the answer is no, a regenerate believer cannot turn away from the faith.
What can cause someone to lose their salvation? The Roman Catholics and Lutherans believe that committing a mortal sin can cause someone to lose their salvation. The Arminians believe that only apostasy can result in someone losing their salvation. The Reformed believes nothing can cause a person to lose their salvation.
Are the elect eternally secured? The Roman Catholics and Arminians believe that the elect are not eternally secured. However the Lutherans and Reformed believe that they are. It is interesting that the Lutherans distinguish between regenerate believers and the elect.
What are mortal sins since some believe it committing one can cause the loss of our salvation. Mortal sins are those sins against God’s law that destroy the grace of God in the heart of the sinner thereby cutting of his or her relationship with God. There is no list of mortal sins, but there are at least three conditions for them.
Three conditions of a mortal sin
- It must be a grave sin
- It must be committed with full knowledge of its grave nature
- It must be voluntary
Again, there is no real list of mortal sins. However, here are some sins that are commonly considered to be mortal.
- Birth Control
- Premarital Sex
- Breaking of the ten Commandments
- Blaspheme the Holy Spirit
Summary of the Different Views of Perseverance
- The Arminian View: A believer can only lose his salvation by apostasy. The central tenet of the Arminian view is that believers are preserved from all external forces that might attempt to separate them from God but that these same believers can themselves willingly repudiate their faith. Thus, their salvation is conditional on remaining faithful.
- The Roman Catholic View: A believe can lose their salvation by committing a mortal sin or apostasy.
- The Lutheran View: A non-elect believer can lose their salvation by mortal sin. The elect believer will be given the gift of perseverance.
- Reformed View: True believer will persevere until the end and cannot lose their salvation since it is eternally secured by the power of God. This includes Reformed, Baptists, Presbyterians.
A non-traditional view – There is nothing that can be done by an individual to lose their salvation. Also, the lifestyle of the person and their reborn state are independent. Therefore, salvation in this case may not lead to sanctification whereas the Calvinist view that true salvation always leads to sanctification.
Defense of conditional security
- God gives us the ability to accept or reject him even after becoming believers.
- Response – There are two things wrong with this argument
- It is based on a faulty notion of free will. Our “free will” is limited by ability, and no one has the ability to choose God on their own (Romans 3:11).
- Even the conditional security advocates believe that in eternity we will not be able to reject God
- The scriptures teach that we can lose our salvation through mortal sins
- 1 john 5:16-17
- Mark 3:28-29 - is thought to reveal the sin that could cause you to lose your salvation. However, no one knows what blasphemy of the Holy Spirit really is. Would God define that for us (similar to 1 John 5:16-17)
- Hebrews 10:26-27 – We all go on sinning willfully. All sin is done with the will. So this would mean that no one has hope of salvation. This is dealing with continuing in unbelief. There is no sacrifice for you since Jesus Christ is the sacrifice that you have rejected.
- 2 Peter 2:19-22 -
- Gal 5:1-4 – “falling from grace” refers to sanctifying grace. We are saved by grace and sanctified by grace. This is a very important to remember. We aren’t saved by grace and sanctified by the law.
- Matt 18:34-35 – We don’t really know what this means. We can’t base a doctrine on scripture that the meaning is really not known.
- Response – None of these really teach that people can lose their salvation. They have to be interpreted with the presupposition of conditional security.
- Scriptures teach that we can lose our salvation by apostasy
- Heb 6:4-6 – this is a difficult passage. This does not indicate that a true believer can lose his salvation, but that if he did there would be no way to get him back.
- The scriptures teach that we must continue to believe
- Matthew 24:10-13
- Heb 3:6
- John 10:26-27
- Didache 16 (AD 70)
“Watch for your life’s sake. Let not you lamps be quenched, not your loins unloosed, but be ready; for you do not know the hour in which our Lord comes. For the whole time of your faith will not profit you if you are not complete in the last time.”
- Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians 10 (AD 110)
“And pray without ceasing in behalf of other men’ for there is hope of repentance that they may attain to God. For he that falls cannot arise again, and he may not attain to God.”
- Response – These scriptures (and writings) stress the importance of persevering, but they do not suggest that we can lose our salvation. This encourages people to evaluate themselves to see if they are merely professing Christians or true believers. See 2 Cor. 3:15, 2 Peter 1:10, 1 John 2:19, Matthew 7:21-23)
Notice in Matthew 7;21-23 that Jesus didn’t say “I don’t know you any more,” which implies that he knew them at one point, but they fell away. He said that he never knew them, which indicates that they were never believers.
Zane Hodges believed that those who walk away from the faith are still saved. However, we believe that they were never of the faith in the first place (See 1 John 2:19).
Defense of Eternal Security
- Eternal security is a necessary and logical outcome of total depravity and unconditional election. If one were to deny eternal security, he or she would also have to deny the clear teaching of Scripture on both of these doctrines.
- If we could lo lose our salvation then that would mean that scripture contradicts itself since the teaching of it is so clear in the bible
- The bible teaches that a true believer can never be lost
- John 10:25-29 –If we could lose our salvation then this scripture is contradictory to that belief. The Arminians would say that this scripture only means that no one can take our salvation from us, but that we can give it up. However, most people are not worried about someone taking their salvation. We are, for the most part, worried about doing something that would result in us personally giving up our salvation.
- Romans 8:29-30 – This is presented in such a way that it highlights the certainty of the claim. If we could lose our salvation then this scripture would be irrelevant because, for example, all whom God called would not be justified—only some of them.
- Romans 8:38-39 – Some would say that this scripture refers to the affection of God, i.e., the love of God and not necessarily to salvation and the sureness of it. However, that is out of the context of what Paul is writing. Paul is presenting a case for salvation so this verse deals with salvation not merely the love or affection of God. Nothing will be able to separate us from the salvation of the Lord.
Some would argue that God has not kept his promises to the Israelites since some of them are not walking in those promises to this day. Therefore, the same could happen to us. God makes these promises about never letting us go or eternal security in general, but it is possible that he won’t keep those promises in the same way he didn’t keep his promises to the Israelites. So we cannot depend on the promises of God.
Paul shows us in Romans 9 – 11 that God’s promises are only made to certain people. These people turn out to be the remnant. We make the mistake of thinking that God made the promises to everyone in Israel, but he didn’t. The promises were only made to the remnant. The remnants are those that God chose.
- Romans 11:29
- Ephesians 1:13-14 – the Holy Spirit is like a down payment securing our salvation.
- John 6:39-40
- John 5:24 – Notice the present tense (has)
- John 5:13
- 2 Cor. 5:6-8
- Phil 1:6
The bible seems to show that a Christian cannot lose his or her salvation. According to the conditional security position, we can never be sure if we are saved until when at death we die with all sins confessed (Roman Catholics) and in believing state (Arminians). But this contradicts many statements in Scripture that clearly teach we can be confident of our salvation (John 5:13).
God will protect the true believers and keep them until the end. Those who are really believers will persevere to the end. Those who were saved by faith will be kept by faith. If we could lose our salvation then that means that God would have to take the gift back. Our salvation is protected by the power of God. We are to persevere in our faith.
I must say again that to me, all of this is of no consequence. I believe that a true Christian wants to do the will of God because he or she has been reborn from the inside out. It is hard for me to comprehend a born again believer who has the Holy Spirit abiding within choosing to deny the very God that is living inside.
I also believe that we cannot put formulas on human beings. The human being is a very complex creature and to say that because a person does this or that, or because a person lives this way or that, is not necessarily enough to conclude that he or she is saved or not. Therefore, it is not our place to judge anyone regardless of what we see, because the human being is very complex. Will a man who cheated on his wife lose his salvation? Will someone who snaps emotionally lose her salvation? It is not for us to say. We never know what is in the heart and mind of a person. Therefore, I find myself right back at the beginning. I believe that we should live righteously after being saved.
It is not our place to try to keep our salvation because we cannot. We did not become justified because of what we did and it seems reasonable to believe that we cannot stay justified by what we do. We are justified by faith because of the grace of God and it is the grace and power of God that keeps us. Just be ready. Amen.