- Our salvation does not rest on our performance in sanctification
- We were not saved, in the first instance, because we were better than others, and we will not be saved, in the last instance, because we improved ourselves on the way
- God’s grace to us is his promise that we will continue in the state of holiness and righteousness to which he has called us through the work of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit until we are brought to final glory
- This does not mean that we will be so strong in faith that we will never stumble, but it means that the evil one will never have the last say over our lives
A concise summary of the Reformed understanding of the Bible as we teach in the Presbyterian Church is called the Five Points of Calvinism. Some refer to it as TULIP, which is an acronym using the first letters of the five points. They are:
- Total depravity – man can do good works, but he can do nothing to save himself: sin has corrupted his soul and robbed him of a free will
- Unconditional election – God does not save man because of anything good in man; we are saved by grace alone
- Limited atonement – Not all people will are saved and will go to heaven. Christ died to be an atonement for those whom the Father gave Him
- Irresistible grace – God calls by the Holy Spirit who works in the hearts and minds of the elect to bring them to repentance and regeneration whereby they willingly and freely come to God
- Perseverance of the saints – Because the Father has elected, the Son has redeemed, and the Holy Spirit has applied salvation, those thus saved are eternally secure
There are scores of Christians, and many theologians, who might call themselves Four Point Calvinists. They can live with total depravity, unconditional election, some have a problem with limited atonement, some have a problem with irresistible grace, but when it comes to perseverance, they bail out.
For us humans who everyday faces unfaithfulness and broken promises, it is hard to believe that man cannot lose his salvation. This comes from a wrong understanding of sanctification. We touched on the idea of sinless perfection in our previous section and the burden that train of thought can leave on the mind of a Christian.
Discussion: How can God still look at me as his child when I know about the imperfections, and even gross sins, in my life?
Discussion: Is it not so that God who is holy and perfect will one day give up on me and say, “I gave you plenty of opportunities to grow in your spiritual life to attain some sort of standard of Christian living, but you just don’t get it. I had enough of you. You will not inherit my Kingdom.”
This is a scary thought. On the surface, there are some examples in the Scriptures.
- What about king Saul? The first king of Israel was an impressive man. He seemed to start out well, but things started to change along the road. In the end, he enquired not of God, but of a witch.
- What about Demas who deserted Paul and loved the world? What about Ananias and Sapphira? These are real people whose lives are recorded in the Bible. Were they lost, even from the beginning? Of course, there is a point that man should not probe into the mind of God, but we need to understand what the Bible teaches about our eternal salvation.
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. (1John 2:19)
So, is the phrase “Once save, always saved” a Biblical one?
Perseverance: a definition
- According to the Word, a saint is one who is both separate and separated.
- A saint is one chosen by the living God from all eternity through Jesus Christ our Lord.
- He was no better than others but is lifted out of that miry clay of sin and death by undeserved grace only.
- He is regenerated, called, converted, begins to repent from his sin so that now he lives in conscious union with his Lord Jesus Christ.
- He is separated then from this world because God declared him righteous and holy.
- By faith in Christ alone, he is numbered among the saints.
- By God’s grace, led by the Holy Spirit, he perseveres, and he continues in the state of holiness and righteousness to which God called him based on the work of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit.
- He continues in this state until he is brought finally to glory.
- Perseverance speaks about God’s safeguarding against dangers or threats to that new life which one has received. The enemy of the soul seeks to drag one down, to destroy, to take away that living faith which he confesses, but God’s safeguards him (preserves) for Jesus’ sake.
Armenian and Roman views of Justification and Sanctification
We can observe these two views as if they are basically the same. Those in the different camps, however, will say they are very different.
Views on Justification and Sanctification
|Christ’s work or righteousness is infused to those who receive the sacraments, beginning with baptism||Man is depraved, but not entirely or utterly corrupt|
|Christ and the Holy Spirit help the lost through the use of the sacraments||God provides salvation to all of mankind in Jesus Christ|
|Sinners add their own good works to the infused righteousness of Christ||The choice is solely in the hands of man to decide for or against Christ.|
|Sanctification is a continued effort to attain a state of acceptance to get to heaven. There is no distinct difference between justification and sanctification.||The work of Christ is complete, but only a provisional possibility until accepted|
|There is a distinction between venial and mortal sins: venial sins do not erase grace, mortal sins do erase grace||The work of Christ only comes to fruition after the sinner’s decision to receive his grace.|
|Restoration from mortal sins is through the sacrament of penance||The work of Christ comes to nothing when the sinner chooses not to receive it|
Where Roman Catholics and Armenians logically agree
|God is not the sovereign author of salvation but depends on our cooperation. We complement Gods’ acts of mercy by adding something of our own to assure us of salvation.|
|Man is not sinful, only a sinner.|
|God does not declare us righteous despite our inborn sinfulness. God makes us righteous based on our decision to receive Christ’s righteousness and be forgiven from our sins.|
|Sanctification adds to justification and necessarily includes good works as a condition for salvation. The Holy Spirit assists in doing good works.|
|Because our salvation partly depends on us, the eternal outcome stands on shaky ground.|
|Because our salvation partly depends on us, it is possible to fall from grace, making void the righteousness of Christ.|
This way of thinking does not represent Biblical teaching. Opposing the acronym of TULIP, it instead suggests something like DAISY: He loves me, He loves me not!
One can understand why Armenian theologians, of which John Wesley was one, make this statement:
“… those who are sanctified by the blood of the covenant, may nevertheless fall from God and to perish everlastingly.” (Emory, John: The Works of the Reverend John Wesley (in seven volumes), ‘An Dialogue between an Antinomian and his friend’; John Collard; New York; 1831)
Begin at the beginning
God is God: this means He is sovereign—He is not driven be anything else but his Divine will, council, decree and power.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counsellor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33–36, ESV)
Election: From all eternity the Divine Council it was decreed that there will be a church for his Son, Jesus Christ. This is referred to in the Scriptures as divine election:
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, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight (Ephesians 1:3–8, ESV)
Sin: No person on the face of the earth can ever say that he has not sinned, and therefore he is not a sinner. And because of the fulness that causes him to sin, he is spiritually dead.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8, ESV)
Therefore the Bible teaches:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins … carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1,3, ESV)
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. (Isaiah 64:6–7, ESV)
God’s sovereign mercy: Without our input, pleading, searching, influence or intention of any kind, God acted on account of his eternal decree in Jesus Christ, based on his unfathomable grace towards sinners who defended his mercy. He sent his Son:
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:6–9, NIV)
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, ESV)
Jesus Christ: Christ came into this world to seek and to save the lost. He declared:
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:37–40, ESV)
I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture… My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. (John 10: 9, 27–29, ESV)
In his priestly prayer He prayed:
While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. (John 17:12, ESV)
We come to this conclusion:
- God called us while we were sinful sinners, dead in our trespasses.
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17, ESV)
- The Word is about God’s eternal plan to call a church together for his Son, redeemed and saved by his blood.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, ESV)
- God provides the righteousness—which we can’t work out by ourselves—in his Son Jesus Christ. We have no righteousness of our own. We …
… are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:24–26, ESV)
- By grace, God declares us not guilty. Through the work of the Holy Spirit who applies the redemption of Jesus Christ to our hearts we are adopted into the family of God, not be what we have done:
And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:6–7, ESV)
Jesus Christ prays to his Father:
Sanctify them in the truth; your Word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:17–19, ESV)
… I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. (2 Timothy 1:11–12, ESV)
Can we now just carry on with life regardless?
It’s a bit of a silly question. Paul answers this:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1–2, ESV)
Let’s get some help from the Canons of Dordt (a document drafted in Dordrecht in 1618-1619 to expose the errors of Arminianism):
- Those people whom God according to his purpose calls into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord and regenerated by the Holy Spirit, He also sets free from the reign and slavery of sin, though in this life not entirely from the flesh and from the body of sin.
- God’s Spirit convicts us of our sin and sinfulness and brings us to humble ourselves before God. We flee for refuge to Christ crucified. By the Spirit, we put the flesh to death more and more by holy exercises of godliness. We strain toward the goal of perfection until we are freed from this body of death and reign with the Lamb of God in heaven.
- Christians can be seduced into the lusts of the flesh; they must, therefore, be constant in watching and prayer, that they may not be led into temptation. By the righteous permission of God actually, we are sometimes drawn into these evils. Thus, the lamentable fall of example David, Peter and others.
- God, who is rich in mercy, according to His unchangeable purpose of election, does not allow them to proceed so far as to lose the grace of adoption and forfeit the state of justification, nor He does permit them to be totally deserted and to plunge themselves into everlasting destruction.
- Thus it is not in consequence of their own merits or strength, but of God’s free mercy, since His counsel cannot be changed nor His promise fail.
We began our study with Jeremiah 31. Israel’s sin stood against them. They rebelled against God. Let’s go to verse 29-30:
In those days they shall no longer say: “ ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ But everyone shall die for his own iniquity. Each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge. (Jeremiah 31:29–30, ESV)
However, God says in verse 20:
Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he my darling child? For as often as I speak against him, I do remember him still. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him, declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 31:20, ESV)
God promised a new Covenant, and as we have seen, this is filled in Jesus Christ. It is based on the mercy of God expressed in verse 34:
For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34, ESV)
Why does God do such things? Why does He still bother with us and display his mercy daily to us?
Thus says the Lord: “If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 31:37, ESV)
Bottom line: it’s God’s work, based on God’s mercies, maintained by God’s faithfulness, granted by God’s justice and righteousness in Jesus Christ.
And now I bow my head in shame and ask:
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23–24, ESV)
The question now is:
“If our justification rests upon the initiative and grace of God in Jesus Christ; if He adopted us as his children based on the righteousness of Christ; if He sanctified us to be holy because He is holy; can we or something/someone else undo his grace and be lost forever?”
Let’s go to where we began.
1. Read Jeremiah 31:35-37
1.1 Name the acts of the Lord Almighty listed in verse 35.
1.2 If astronomers can precisely predict the course of the stars and comets, what does it say about the sun, moon and stars?
1.3 How are the paths of the stars, moon and sun described in verse 36?
1.4 In the normal scheme of time, will the stars, moon and sun “vanish” or “depart”? Why/why not?
1.5 Let’s say the heavenly bodies would disappear (and they will at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will give us a new heaven and a new earth), what will never disappear? Read verse 36 carefully.
1.6 Do we know how big the universe is? Do we know all that can be known of the things God has made? Read verse 37.
1.7 Can we ever fathom the grace and faithfulness of God? What is it that He will never do? Read verse 37.
2. Read Jeremiah 33:20-26
2.1 Did Israel’s Covenant-breaking effect God’s faithfulness? What would the effect be if it did?
2.2 What does God say about his Covenant with his people?
2.3 Are these verses only and exclusively referring to the nation of Israel, or does it have something to say to us? Why?
3. Turn to Isaiah 59
3.1 Verse 1-4: Describe the spiritual condition of God’s Covenant people.
3.2 Read verse 15b-17. What was the reaction of the Lord upon this spiritual darkness of his people: did He reject them? Why/why not?
3.3 Read verse 20: What is required to restore God’s Covenant people? There are two things.
3.4 Read verse 21: Why do the people of the Lord receive grace and restoration?
4. Turn to Psalm 51
4.1 What happened in the life of David before he wrote this Psalm. Look at the heading.
4.2 Read verse 1: What was the basis for David’s cry for mercy?
4.3 Read verses 11-12: What did he pray about the Holy Spirit? What did he want to be restored?
David did not primarily pray to be saved, but to be forgiven: this was based on the grace of God even before he was born! If God did not forgive him, he would have been lost. God did forgive him and now he sings: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” (Psalm 32:1–2, ESV)
4.4 Read verse 14: What would David sing about after God forgave him?
5. Read Psalm 32:3-6
5.1 Verse 3-4: What happens if we do not confess our sins?
5.2 Verses 5-6: What happens if we do confess our sins?
6. Read John 10:28
What comfort does this verse give you, even knowing that you are a sinner?