Faith in Focus

Being reformed : Just Five Points (part 5)


A pastor was calling on an aged parishioner who was seriously ill. When asked how he was feeling, the sick man replied, 'I feel very weak. In fact, pastor, sometimes I'm too weak to pray. And I worry about this. I'm afraid - so afraid - that one of these days I may in my weakness let go of Christ and be lost.'

The pastor then quoted Jesus' words, in John 10:28, 'I give them (my sheep) eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.'

'What keeps us secure to the end,' the pastor then went to to say, 'is not finally our hold on Christ but Christ's hold on us. And, praise God, He will never let us go!'

The little story is told by the late Anthony Hoekema (he was for many years a professor at Calvin Seminary in Grand Rapids, USA) in his Book Saved by Grace, and you could say that it is a pastoral application of the fifth point of the Five Points of Calvinism: Perseverance of the Saints. Or maybe a better term is: Perseverance of true believers. Or should it be: Preservation of true believers?

Perseverance or Preservation?

When we use the word Perseverance, the emphasis appears to fall very much on man. He has to do the persevering, he has to be active.

But when we use the word preservation, the emphasis falls on God; He preserves the true believer. And it may give the impression that the believer is somewhat passive in all this; he is being preserved.

Which word is the better one to use: perseverance or preservation?

It is of value to note the fact that the Canons of Dort uses both words, when it states: 'Concerning this preservation of those chosen to salvation and concerning the perseverance of true believers in faith ...' (V,9).

Thus is one sentence both aspects are highlighted, and both are true.

John Murray makes a strong plea for the word perseverance rather than preservation, he says, it guards against the idea that believers are spiritually secure regardless of the extent to which they may fall into sin or become careless about their way of life. True, it is only through the power of God that believers are able to persevere, but they do persevere! The security of believers is inseparable from their perseverance. Did not Jesus say, 'he who stands firm to the end will be saved'? (Matthew 10:22).

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What is meant by that expression: Perseverance of true believers?

It does not mean that Christians are immune to sin.

It does not mean that it is impossible for true Christians to make a frightful mess of their lives at one stage or another.

It does not mean that the new llife implanted in the Christian automatically produces fruit.

It does not mean that a Christian can - just by himself/herself - guarantee the growth of spiritual life.

But it does mean that God, having given new life in Christ to a person, never forsakes the work of His hands!

It does mean that the Holy Spirit, having once selected your heart, my heart, as his workshop, never leaves or goes on strike.

Think of a man who is heir to a million dollars. The money is put in the bank for him, so that he will get it at the proper time. But the bank of course cannot guarantee that he will get it. All the bank can do is keep the money, it cannot keep the man. He may die before the time of inheritance is there! He could be in a fatal car accident on his way to the bank to claim his inheritance, and he will never get his money!

The bank was only keeping the money for him, but it had no way of making sure that he would arrive to claim it.

Now God says that our salvaion is not only ready to be revealed in the last time, but that the true Christian is so well guarded on his journey through life, that he will most certainly arrive one day at the 'bank of heaven' to receive his inheritance.

To know that is of vital importance.

It is one thing to know and believe that Jesus died for me, and that His merit is more than enough for my salvation, and that the full glory of eternal life is stored away for me waiting for the day when the heavens open, but ... if I never get there, all that will not do my any good whatsoever.

To begin the journey of faith is one thing, but I must be able to finish it too! We need a Saviour who not only tells us that He has everlasting life for us, and persuades us to believe that, but who will actually see to it that nothing in this life will stop us from receiving it!

The Bible says

I think of quite a number of the Psalms, where very confidently the Psalmist sings: Your steadfast love endures forever!

And that conviction we find worked out throughout the New Testament.

* John 3:16 - For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

* John 4:14 - Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

* John 5:24 - I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternalI life.

* John 6:51 - I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.

* John 10:28,29 - My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; not one can snatch them out of my hand.

* Romans 8:30 - And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

* Romans 11:29 - for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable. (The King James says: without repentance; and J.B.Phillips paraphrases: For once they are made, God does not withdraw his gifts or his calling).

* 1 Corinthians 1:8 - He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

* Ephesians 4:30 - And do not grieve the Holy Spirit, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

* Philippians 1:6 - He who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

* 2 Timothy 4:18, where Paul writes to Timothy - The lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.

* 1 Peter 1:5, where we read of believers, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

The Bible makes it abundantly clear. If Christ has paid for the believer's sin - and He has - then he cannot be lost eteranlly, and having to pay for his sins in hell. That wourld mean double payment, and it would mean that Christ's work is without any value whatsoever.

But there's something else in Scripture too!

However, there appears to be another side to the matter. Reading through Scripture we fiind statements which seem to prove the very opposite.

I think of statements that warn against too great a confidence as regards our final security; as well as actual warnings against apostasy. We also come across people in the the New Testament who actually have fallen from grace, or so it seems.

It would like to leave that till the next issue of Trowel and Sword, otherwise this article will become a little too long.

In concluding this article I would like to quote again from the Canons of Dort (V.8):

So it is not by their own merits or strength but by God's undeserved mercy that they neither forfeit faith and grace totally nor remain in their downfalls to the end and are lost. With respect to themselves this not only easily could happen, but also undoubtedly would happen; but with respect to God it cannot possible happen since His plan cannot be changed, His promise cannot fail, the calling according to His purpose cannot be revoked, the merit of Christ as well as His interceding and preserving cannot be nullified, and the sealing of the Holy Spirit can neither be invalidated nor wiped out.

To which God 's people say: Amen, and Amen.

Keith V Warren

(Dr Keith V Warren is the Principal of the Reformed Theological College, Geelong)

(Reprinted by permission from the Trowel and Sword.)

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Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / gmilne@ihug.co.nz / revised March 96 / Copyright 1996