The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, sometimes referred to as “eternal security,” speaks to questions such as “Can I lose my salvation?” or “How do I know that I will remain a Christian to the end?” Isn’t that what Jesus says in Matthew 24:13—“The one who perseveres to the end will be saved” (BSB)? These are real questions that pose real challenges to many people.
When studying salvation, it is always helpful to consider the context. The doctrines summarized in the acrostic TULIP outline the condition of man, and God’s loving work and answer to man’s greatest problems. The story of redemption shows that man’s condition is that he is totally sinful—yet God intervened. It is important to stop and emphasize for a moment that the rest of the story of redemption unfolds from the foundation of “yet God.” In other words, we are the object of salvation, not the subject. Salvation was accomplished and applied by God. What this tells us is that when we ask the questions: “Can I lose my salvation?” or, “How do I know whether or not I will remain a Christian?”, we cannot forget who the object of salvation is (man) and who the subject of salvation is (Jesus Christ).
The word perseverance might be somewhat confusing because it could seem to communicate that God has started something, and now it is your turn: you must persevere. The biblical teaching, however, is that God has done something; God is doing something; and God will do something. The God who starts is the God who finishes. That is what Paul says in Philippians 1:6: “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” The historic Westminster Confession of Faith reminds us of this doctrinal truth when it says, “They, whom God has accepted in his Beloved [Jesus Christ, His only Son], effectually called, and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally, fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved” (17.1). Notice the repeated pronoun “His,” for it tells us who is the subject of salvation is and how certain the results are. The reason that this doctrine at times creates tension and opposition is that the Bible reveals that not everyone who claims to be a Christian is in fact a Christian (Matt. 7:22). As difficult as that is to hear, is it not also a greater comfort to those who are in fact, followers of Christ?
As He is circled by enemies, Jesus reminds us in John 10 of the confidence and comfort we have in being united to Him in salvation. John records for us that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and that He knows His sheep, and they know and follow Him (John 10:1–16). Jesus provides a striking and clear statement on our security in salvation. Jesus says, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28). This is a claim worthy of consideration because Jesus is making a promise of eternal life, not simply temporal life. What hope is there apart from the promise Jesus makes? If Jesus doesn’t give eternal life, then the best perseverance we can have is a present effort in this present life.
The teaching of Jesus is further explained by the Apostle Paul. The comfort that we derive from reading Romans 8 would be ruined apart from the promise of eternal perseverance. If there is a chance that Christians might not totally and finally (WCF 17.1) be saved, then we would need an adjustment to such claims. As one author suggests, Jesus would have to say: “No one will snatch them out of my hand . . . although they might snatch themselves by a failure to persevere” (see John 10:28). Or imagine Paul saying, “Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord . . . except for our own weakness”1 (see Rom. 8:38–39). The promise of perseverance, if not eternal, would provide a cruel and false hope of an impossible reality. The truth of the matter would be that we are sovereign rather than God.
Yet, the song that Scripture sings is that Jesus paid it all and upholds it all by the word of His power. Peter’s life gives us an example of this hope. Having put his trust in Christ, we see it waver over and over throughout the earthly ministry of Jesus. Yet in the end, we learn that Peter doesn’t persevere because he tried harder or had more passion, but rather, because he was always held tightly by His King. The one who was saved by Jesus shows that in the end, he is sustained and secured by Jesus. The one who was sifted by Satan, yet secured by his Savior, says, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” because “the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (2 Peter 3:18; 1 Peter 5:10). To Him be the dominion forever and ever, amen.
This article is part of the What Is TULIP? collection.
- Paul D. Wolfe, “Perseverance: The Hope-Full Gospel that Encourages Abiding Faith” in Theology for Ministry: How Doctrine Affects Pastoral Life and Practice, ed.s William R. Edwards, John C.A. Ferguson, and Chad Van Dixhoorn. (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2022), 307.↩