“Blessed Assurance”: What Does The Bible Really Teach About The Perseverance Of The Saints?

Perseverance of the Saints

Do you know if you’re saved right now? If the Lord came today and you stood before Him in judgment, do you think you would be saved? In other words, if you suddenly died right this moment, do you believe you’d go to heaven? If one is assured of his or her salvation, the answer to any of these questions would be, “Yes.” But why do Christians, of all people, frequently try to “hem and haw” their way through questions like these? And where is the pleasure that is derived from the “blessed assurance” (E. J. Crosby, “Blessed Assurance,” Hymns for Worship (revised), 2000, p. 4) that we sing about on Sunday throughout the rest of the days of the week? Why are some Christians so timid or even negative about their salvation?

I’ll tell you one of the big reasons why: too many Christians have heard so many sermons criticizing denominational doctrine, like the Calvinists’ “once saved, always saved” doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, that they have very little idea what the Bible really says about salvation and the Christian’s joyous hope of persevering to the end. Nevertheless, in Hebrews 10:22 and 23, the Scriptures say: “Let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of hope, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” Consequently, this passage, along with others, flies in the face of the tenuous “maybes,” “I hope sos,” and “I don’t knows” that Christians all too frequently mutter.

Yes, Christians who are not being faithful to the Lord should have no false assurance that they will persevere to the end and experience the joys of heaven. In fact, such should know that the only thing that awaits them in their present condition is “a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:27). But if this is the actual condition of most Christians today, then in the context of the Lord’s assurance to His disciples that He would speedily avenge His elect, is it any wonder that He asked, “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8b).

Let there be no doubt that the faith He mentions here is not the mental assent so many think about when they contemplate faith. You know the kind I’m talking about, the kind that says, “Oh, I believe, all right!” But do they? Do they trust in, rely upon, and obey the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Will they do this no matter what? If not, they do not have the faith that saves—that real nitty-gritty faith that says, “I will serve the Lord no matter what happens” (cf. Daniel 3:17-18), for this is the only kind of faith that can “cut the mustard,” if you catch my drift. It is only this kind of faith that thinks (heart, soul, and mind) like Paul in Romans 8:31-39:

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Gospel Is More Than Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

So, the good news of the gospel is not just that Christ died for us, which was totally undeserved and, therefore, unbelievably magnanimous and magnificent in itself, that is “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” but that in His resurrected state “He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He ever lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25), which is, if I may be permitted to say so, “absolutely super-supercalifragilisticeexpialidocious!” As such, Jesus, our Savior and High Priest, serves as our “Advocate with the Father,” being Himself “the propitiation for our sins” (1 Peter 1:1-2). The term “propitiation” literally means “an offering that turns away wrath.” Jack Cottrell, in his excellent book, The Faith Once For All, explains this nicely:

In pagan circles these terms [speaking of the several Greek words from which is derived “to propitiate,” “a propitiation, a propitiatory offering, that propitiates God”] had the connotation of appeasing or placating angry deities. This crude pagan connotation must not be carried over into the biblical usage, however, not because the term means something different in the Bible, but because the God of the Bible is different from the false heathen deities. He is not merely a God of wrath but is also a God of love and grace who takes the initiative in providing the offering that turns away his own wrath. He does not wait in an angry pout until the anxious sinner brings him an offering he deems suitable, nor does the kindhearted Son “win over” the hard-hearted, angry Father through his death on the cross. We must not think the term “propitiation” carries only such primitive connotations. The terms are used often in the Septuagint, where they do not have “the usual pagan sense of a crude propitiation of an angry deity,” something which “is not possible with the God of Israel” (In pagan circles these terms [speaking of the several Greek words from which is derived “to propitiate,” “a propitiation, a propitiatory offering, that propitiates God”] had the connotation of appeasing or placating angry deities. This crude pagan connotation must not be carried over into the biblical usage, however, not because the term means something different in the Bible, but because the God of the Bible is different from the false heathen deities. He is not merely a God of wrath but is also a God of love and grace who takes the initiative in providing the offering that turns away his own wrath. He does not wait in an angry pout until the anxious sinner brings him an offering he deems suitable, nor does the kindhearted Son “win over” the hard-hearted, angry Father through his death on the cross. We must not think the term “propitiation” carries only such primitive connotations. The terms are used often in the Septuagint, where they do not have “the usual pagan sense of a crude propitiation of an angry deity,” something which “is not possible with the God of Israel” (2002, p. 265. Further note that the quoting Cottrell does here is from Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, 1960, p. 155, with Cottrell’s observation that Morris’ treatment of propitiation in this volume is simply unsurpassed).

This is well said, for one must not think of God and our redemption in such primitive terms. We must know that the idea involved in the use of this term is the idea of a sacrifice that turns away wrath, and if the God who has revealed Himself to man were not a God of wrath, then there would have been no need for a propitiation of that wrath. That Jesus was, through the work He was sent here to do, which culminated in His death on the cross, the propitiation for our sins is the beginning of the good news of the gospel, as was mentioned earlier. Nevertheless, our blessed assurance and hope must not focus on His earthly work alone, for He lives now, in His glorified state, ever to make intercession for us as we serve Him here on this earth. Praise God for the sacrifice of His only begotten Son for us on that cruel cross of Calvary! Praise God that Jesus ever lives to make intercession for us at the right hand of the Father on high! Praise God, that Jesus, who was and is Himself God, came to this earth and lived and experienced death as a man, and that in addition to being the perfect and complete sacrifice for our sins, He is able to make sympathetic intercession for us at His Father’s right hand! Indeed, praise God!

That Man Would Need Redemption Was Something Foreknown By God Before The Foundation Of The World

Jesus, the One who turns away God’s wrath, is Himself God. Therefore, this is no pagan ritual, no heathen concept involved here at all. It is, instead, a scheme, a plan, conceived and designed in the mind of God before the very foundation of the world (cf. 1 Peter 1:20; Ephesians 1:4). Because He is who He is, He knew then (in eternity) what He knows now—namely, “The Lord knows those who are His” (2 Timothy 2:19; cf. Nahum 1:7 for the same idea). He knew/knows this because, as God, He has absolute foreknowledge of any and every future event or act, whether ordained by Him or not. In other words, and as has been pointed frequently in this study, God even knows the future, contingent, free will choices of His creatures. This foreknowledge is not limited, as some try to argue. In point of fact, God’s foreknowledge of these future, contingent, free will choices is perfect (i.e., absolute), which means there is not anything that has happened or will happen that God does not know, in that He is Lord of the then, now, and not yet.

Therefore, God knew before creating man that he would fall into sin and be in desperate need of a Savior. Deciding, then, that He would redeem fallen man, God, specifically the Father, chose to send the Logos (the divine Word) into this world that the world, by Him, might be saved, as John 3:17 points out. Did God, therefore, foreknow that man would sin? Absolutely! Did God devise a plan (or scheme) whereby fallen man could be saved? Most definitely! Did God focus on His Son’s death on the cross as the pivotal point in this plan? For sure! Did He know, then, in eternity and before creating this world, who would render obedience to Christ? Yes, for this is exactly what the Bible says in Ephesians 1:4. Did He not only predestinate the plan whereby man could be saved, but the actual individuals who render obedience to the gospel under this plan? Yes, for this is the clear teaching of God’s word in Ephesians 1:4, as already noted, also 1 Peter 1:2, and especially Romans 8:29 and 30, which says:

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

As I’ve pointed out elsewhere in this series of articles, in order to refute the doctrine of Calvinism, which teaches that individuals have been chosen/elected by God unconditionally, it is not necessary, as many think, to believe that God only predestinated the church/group/plan, but not the man. On the contrary, the key to not falling prey to the false, man-made system of Calvinism is to understand that God predestined the church/group/plan and the man, but that He predestinated the man conditionally—that is, dependent upon whether a particular person would, if given the opportunity (and such depends solely upon God’s grace), render obedience to the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, for those who, of their own free wills, would render obedience to the gospel, thus having their names enrolled in the book of life (cf. Philippians 4:3; Revelation 21:27), to continue having their names enrolled there (cf. Revelation 3:5; 20:19) depends upon their continued faithfulness unto death (See Revelation 2:10). Thus, if you were looking for a theme that sums up this chapter, it would be that God has done and will continue to do His part, and with God’s help, we can continue to do our part—which is to remain faithful and continue to meet the conditions of His grace—until death. As was pointed out earlier, this is not some impossible task, as some seem to think, but with God’s help (i.e., with God’s enabling power) man has the capacity to live a perfectly sinless life.

Thus, Man Does Not Have To Sin

Yes, that’s right, man, although suffering from human frailties and finite limitations, does not have to sin. This is to say, there is nothing inherent in being human that causes us, forces us, or compels us to sin, although this is a very prominent idea with many. In fact, Calvinists have camped out on this idea in order to sell their false ideas to the religiously gullible. But although man is not born totally depraved today, as the Calvinists teach, all men, and this point must not be missed, have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (i.e., “There is none righteous, no not one,” Romans 3:10). Yes, it is true that Jesus was a man who did not sin, but it must be remembered that He was not just a man. He was, instead, deity incarnate and, as such, was both the Placater and the One being placated. Praise God for His magnificent mercy! Thus, the cause of our ruin in connection with sin lies totally with us, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). At the same time, the means whereby man can be saved, and this in spite of his sins, is totally of God, for we are all “saved by grace through faith” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Does Man Live Sinlessly Perfect, Then?

The answer to this question is, “No.” The only man who lived sinlessly perfect was Jesus of Nazareth. In doing so, He was the only man who ever deserved heaven. But instead, He paid the price that was necessary to set us free from sin, taking the penalty that was our due upon Himself, as Isaiah 53 so wonderfully pronounced 700-plus years before Jesus actually died on that cruel cross just outside the walled city of Jerusalem some two thousand years ago. Praise God, the Father, for the magnificent, merciful, and loving sacrifice of His only begotten Son on our behalf! Praise God, that we, by obedience to God’s only begotten Son as the absolute Lord and Master of our lives, could experience that precious and everlasting life that is ours in Him because He was willing and able to taste (i.e., experience) death for each one of us! Once again, praise God!

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