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Perseverance

January 23, 2018

“If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints” – Revelation 13:10.

Hebrews 11:6 explained a feature of the believer’s salvation that brings pleasure to God when Paul wrote, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” Faith is pleasing to God because God recognizes His work salvifically in the life of those who are truly His children. Faith is from God and is placed in a person at regeneration. Regeneration precedes faith. Faith is not a prerequisite for regeneration. In other words, one cannot have real faith in God, that is believing in Christ unto salvation, unless God the Holy Spirit has indeed previously regenerated the person before they trusted in Christ to be saved from the wrath of God. This means that the faith to trust in Christ unto salvation came chronologically after one was born again, indicating that real salvific faith has its origin from God (cf. Acts 3:16 – “. . . and the faith which comes through Him. . .;” Ephesians 2:5-6; 8-10; Hebrews 12:2 – “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. . .”). Any other claim that evokes a faith which precedes regeneration is false and a pseudo-salvific faith that has its origin in the flesh. Faith that has its origin in the flesh, and as such is in the realm of the flesh, falls under the category of that which does not please God because the Apostle Paul wrote, “and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8).

True faith in Christ is an inseparable feature of perseverance in the Christian life, and as such, those who have repented unto salvation and believed in Christ continue to repent and continue to trust in Christ. Thus, they never fall away into apostasy. No matter what difficulty the saints might endure the saints will persevere – equally those who live and suffer through the great tribulation whom truly exemplify this great doctrine (cf. Revelation 13:10). This article is interested in explaining from the Author’s intended meaning of the Scripture the sound doctrine called the perseverance of the saints.

To accomplish a sound description of this important doctrine from the Word of God one must expound from Scripture that God is sovereign over the perseverance of His children. In harmony with God’s perseverance in the saints, one must also expound the commands in Scripture where the believer is exhorted to persevere in the faith. This article is rightly outlined as such to present both of these features of perseverance which are unified. To introduce the topic further, in the words that follow there will be a short introduction concerning the certitude that the child of God cannot lose their salvation. After that, there will be a topical exposition of the Scripture showing the Sovereignty of God over perseverance – namely, all three Persons of the Godhead are actively involved with the perseverance of the believer. To end, there will be a topical exposition concerning the Scriptural mandate for the believer to persevere for the entirety of their Christian lives – that is all the way to physical death and into glory. The Word of God commands the child of God to persevere and the Word of God reveals the certitude that the child of God will persevere.

Outline

  1. Introduction
  2. The Sovereignty of God over Perseverance
  3. Scriptural Commands for the Believer to Persevere

By way of introduction, it must be established that a person who has been regenerated by God and given the gift of faith by God and has trusted in Christ unto salvation to be saved from the wrath of God – cannot lose their salvation. This is because those who have been joined to Christ by faith have been justified. The Word of God teaches that those having been justified by faith stand in the grace of God in a completed sense with the results being continuous, because Paul wrote in Romans 5:1-2, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.” The Greek term ἑστήκαμεν that was translated into English “we stand” found in verse 2 is a verb in the perfect tense which denotes a completed action with the results being continuous. Likewise, the Lord Jesus said in John 5:24, “truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” The clause “he who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me” was accompanied by the Greek verb ἔχει (has) and the words ζωὴν αἰώνιον (life eternal). The verb “has” is in the present tense and indicative mood – therefore, it is the kind of action that is a present reality at the event of truly believing. There is no sense of “if”, or “might”, or “might possibly have eternal life” but instead the indicative mood has the sense that there is no doubt in the mind of the writer or speaker concerning eternal life for the believer in Christ at present. The feature in Greek verbs called mood has to do with the certainty of the verbal action. Also, for Greek it was only in the indicative mood that the present tense in itself showed time. What is more, the next clause “and does not come into judgment” was accompanied by “but has passed out of death into life.” The governing verb μεταβέβηκεν “has passed” from “but has passed out of death into life” is in the perfect tense indicative mood, and as such denotes that salvation happened in a completed sense and the results continue. Therefore, when a person has been regenerated and trusts in Christ to be saved from the wrath of God, at the time of believing they are eternally secure in Christ in a completed sense and therefore will not come into judgement and will not fall away from the faith.

First, God is completely sovereign over perseverance. In fact, God gives perseverance to the believer as stated from Romans 15:5 which reads, “Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus.” The Lord Jesus Christ explained the certainty of eternal perseverance by how God the Father and God the Son hold the Christian in this salvific state when He said:

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, 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. I and the Father are one (John 10:27-30).

God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are one in Essence, Nature and Being but distinct in Personhood. Perseverance of the saints is a Trinitarian work. To start, God the Father is the “He” who began a good work referenced by the Apostle Paul when he wrote, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). There was no doubt in the Apostle Paul’s mind that the believer would persevere until the end because God perseveres inside the believer. Paul was absolutely convinced and sure that God would persevere in the believer until the end because God is Sovereign over the perseverance of the saints. To this effect, the Greek participle πεποιθὼς rendered in English “I am confident” from Philippians 1:6 literally means “being persuaded of” and is in the perfect tense in Greek. Therefore, Paul’s assurance that God would bring about the complete perseverance of the saints was a completed confidence with ongoing confidence. Furthermore, the Greek word ἐπιτελέσει was used in Philippians 1:6 for “will perfect it” is a verb in the future tense from the Greek word ἐπιτελέω (epiteleó). Epiteleó is a compound word from the preposition epi which means upon and the verb teleó which means I finish, I complete, I pay. Teleó was used by the Lord Jesus Christ in the perfect tense (i.e. Τετέλεσται) just before He died on the Cross recorded in John 19:30 when He said, “It has been finished.” God the Father imputed all the sins of the elect to the account of the Lord Jesus Christ’s account when Christ was on the cross. And Christ satisfied the righteous wrath and anger of God the Father for all eternity when Christ died as the innocent substitute on the cross for the sins of the elect. His cross work was a complete and eternal payment that was accepted by God for all eternity. Eternal life means living for all eternity. Therefore, how can time undo what has been settled for all eternity by God? How can those who have been given eternal life not persevere? God gave proof and approval to the active obedience of Christ’s life and the perfect sacrifice of Christ’s satisfactory penal-substitutionary death on the cross by raising Christ from the dead for our justification. Moreover, Paul continued to explain God’s Sovereignty over perseverance in the sanctification of the believer when he wrote, “. . . work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12f-13). This means that the believer works out what God has put in them because He gave them a new heart and the believer is a new creature. Therefore, God is working perseverance inside the believer which the believer manifests from their new nature. It is God who enables the Christian to completely live out what God has started and continues to enable the Christian throughout sanctification to completely live out what God has worked in the Christian. God is not like men. Men usually fail to complete their work. However, God never fails to finish what God has begun (cf. Romans 8:28-30; Isaiah 14:24; 55:11). It is God essentially not man who perseveres. And God brings about the whole perseverance of everyone whom the Father has predestined and elected unto salvation – “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30). The elective purpose of the Father is inseparably constrained to perseverance.

The Second Person of the Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ, is active in the perseverance of the saints. For instance, the Lord Jesus Christ is the mediator between God and the believer (cf. 1 Timothy 2:5-6) who serves as the priest for the believer, making continued intercession for the children of God before God the Father. To this effect, Hebrews 7:25 showed how Christ’s mediatorship and the perseverance of the saints are inseparably constrained to one another when Paul wrote, “Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” The Greek word for Christ’s ability used in Hebrews 7:25 was δύναται from δύναμαι (dunamai) from which we derive the English term dynamite (also used to describe how no one has the ability to snatch the believer out of God the Father’s hand from John 10:29). Christ’s ability to save a person forever is the power of God and Christ is always living to make intercession for Christians because Christ is God in human flesh. Likewise, Hebrews 10:12-14 emphasized the Lord Jesus Christ’s finished cross work as the perfect sacrifice and perfect priesthood that has completely saved everyone who would ever believe in Him for eternal life when Paul wrote, “but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” The verb “He has perfected” is in the perfect tense – therefore, it has the kind of action that is completed with continuous results. To this effect, we can conclude from all these evidences from the plain sense of the Scripture that the believer will persevere because God has willed it so through Christ. If you are a Christian, God is holding on to you forever in a completed eternal powerful reality. There is nothing or even no one who can take your salvation from you because there is no one more powerful than the living God as the Scripture teaches in Romans 8:35-39:

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written,

“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Third Person of the Trinity God the Holy Spirit is active in the perseverance of the saints. For example, the Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment (cf. John 16:7-11). The Holy Spirit regenerates and calls the elect (John 3:1-15; Titus 3:4-7). He indwells those He has regenerated (cf. Acts 1:8; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 4:16; 6:16 ; Romans 8:9-14; Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:30; 2 Timothy 1:14). Once again, the Apostle Paul used language that expressed the absolution of being sealed for redemption when He wrote in Ephesians 1:13-14, “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.” Likewise, Paul explained the complete preservation of the saint by God the Holy Spirit from Ephesians 4:30 when he wrote, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” The Greek word ἐσφραγίσθητε rendered in English as “sealed” from Ephesians 4:30 was derived from the Greek word σφραγίς (sphragis) has the sense to mean a signet ring seal which testifies as the proof of authenticity. Therefore, if a person was sealed by God for the day of redemption then how can they be unsealed? What is more, God the Holy Spirit calls the elect and confirms the assurance of salvation to the children of God. For example, in the epistle of Romans the Apostle Paul explained the internal witness of God the Holy Spirit who testifies to the believer’s spirit that they are children of God – “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ . . .” (Romans 8:16-17c).

In summary perseverance of the saints is a Trinitarian work. All three Persons of the Godhead are actively involved with the perseverance of the believer. Therefore, it would be a contradiction to suppose that those who are in a state of eternal perseverance by means of God’s sovereignty will not persevere unto the end and by consequence lose their salvation. Scripture has revealed that God continues to preserve His children throughout their Christian life and into glorification when they finally fall asleep and enter into eternity. As a final point, the Scripture has revealed that God will completely persevere in the believer in such a way that the believer will persevere throughout all of their Christian life when Jude wrote:

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24)

Second, the correct designation to describe this doctrine is “perseverance of the saints” in preference to “eternal security.” Although many have referred to this doctrine as “the eternal security of the believer” this phrase is not a biblical phrase. It is true that the Word of God teaches that the Christian is eternally secure in Christ, even so the biblical terms used for this particular doctrine are “perseverance” and “eternal life.” For example, the word “perseverance” also “endurance” or “patience” [in Greek – ὑπομονή (hupomoné)] has many occurrences in the NT (see – Luke 8:15; 21:19; Romans 2:7; 5:3, 4; 8:25; 15:4, 5; 2 Corinthians 1:6; 6:4; 12:12; Colossians 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:4; 3:5; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 3:10; Titus 2:2; Hebrews 10:36; 12:1; James 1:3, 4; 5:11; 2 Peter 1:6 x2; Revelation 1:9; 2:2, 3, 19; 3:10; 13:10; 14:12). The Greek word προσκαρτέρησις (proskarterésis) was translated into English by the NASB “perseverance” in Ephesians 6:18 which reads, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.” From Ephesians 6:18 the word for perseverance has the sense to mean “steadfastness.”

God commands the believer to persevere and God preserves the believer from apostasy. The overall context of 1 Timothy 4:1-16 is apostasy in the later times and how to avoid it. For instance, Paul began the immediate context of 1 Timothy 4:1-16 with the warning from God about apostasy – namely, “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith . . .” (1 Timothy 4:1a). Paul ended the immediate context with God’s instruction how to avoid apostasy when he wrote, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16). In 1 Timothy 4:16 the word translated into English “persevere” (NASB) is from the Greek word ἐπιμένω which means “I continue, persist, remain.” The Greek word ἐπιμένω is a compound word with the preposition ἐπί which means “on” and the Greek verb μένω which means “I remain, abide.” Therefore, ἐπιμένω literally means “I remain on.” In 1 Timothy 4:16 the verb ἐπιμένω “persevere” from the phrase “persevere in these things” is in the imperative mood. In Greek verbs the imperative mood is the mood of command. The apostolic command to persevere in the Christian faith is inseparably constrained to sound living and sound teaching together with no dichotomy. This is because the “these things” which Paul commanded Timothy to “persevere in” referred to “yourself and to your teaching.” So Paul wrote, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching.” The heart of the sound doctrine of perseverance of the saints is sound doctrine and sound living. The phrase “Pay attention” is also a verb in the imperative mood in Greek. What is more, the imperative verb persevere from ἐπιμένω is in the present tense, therefore it mandates continuous action. It is not enough to just pay close attention to yourself and the teaching once or once in a while but rather you must stay consistent in sound doctrine and sound living. One must persist, remain, and continue in sound doctrine and living it out. The overseer at a church is responsible to be faithfully expounding sound doctrine from the Word of God and living it out by God’s power. If such is the case at a church, then the church will persevere and be protected from apostasy (cf. 1 Timothy 4 – entire context).

However, in American churches today, for the most part, such is not the case. Many in leadership in American churches have not payed close attention to themselves and to the teaching. Many in leadership have cultivated a spiritual environment of apathy towards sound doctrine and by consequence lulled their “flock” into a sense of false security. If a church is apathetic to sound doctrine it will not persevere. Apathy to sound doctrine is the road to apostasy. Not living out sound doctrine is the road to apostasy. Many need to wake up in the evangelical consensus today. But if the overseers at a church are paying attention to themselves and the teaching and if the overseers at a church are persevering in sound doctrine and sound living – then there is a promise found at the end of 1 Timothy 4:16 in the future tense indicative mood (i.e. the mood of certainty) – namely, “for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.” Paul did not suggest here that a believer can lose their salvation. Moreover, Paul did not teach here that salvation is by human effort. Instead, the conjunction “for” indicated the reason why Timothy was to pay close attention to himself and the teaching and by application the reason why the Christian is to do the same. What Paul taught here has the future aspect in the indicative mood (i.e. the mood of certainty) – literally “you will save.” Its aspect looks forward to the end – namely, that one persevered and was faithful because God saved that person and their life changed by the power of God and that person was faithful in ministry in both life and doctrine. Later in 1 Timothy 6:11 Paul commanded Timothy to pursue perseverance. The Greek word for pursue (pursue is in the imperative mood) is from διώκω (diókó) and has the lexical value to denote an aggressive pursuit. Therefore, Timothy was commanded to aggressively pursue perseverance. Although Timothy was uniquely the Apostle Paul’s delegate and there are no apostolic delegates today in the sense Timothy was, nevertheless this apostolic command to aggressively pursue perseverance from 1 Timothy 6:11 is normative and applicable to every Christian throughout the entire church age.

It is God who protects the believer from apostasy and one of the means God uses is faithful expositors of the Word of God who live out what they proclaim. As a final point, one of the tests of biblical assurance of salvation is that the child of God will exhibit perseverance in sound doctrine. This test is found from 1 John 2:24-25 which reads, “As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life.” The person who is consistent in sound doctrine is the person who perseveres.

Unfortunately, many have used the phrase “once saved always saved” as a justification for loose living. For instance, “if one is eternally secure because Christ has secured for all-time one’s eternal life,” the antinomian contends, “then doesn’t one also have the freedom to live however one wished?” After all, if one is “once saved always saved” there is nothing that one can do to lose eternal life because Christ’s finished work cannot be undone by anyone in space and time. It is true that Christ’s finished work cannot be undone in space and time, however, concerning the perseverance of the saints – the Word of God does not teach that this doctrine means a Christian is saved no matter what they do or practice in their life. Many in evangelicalism have misunderstood this doctrine and used it to be pacified into a state of false security. True perseverance is not a doctrine that can be manipulated by man as a justification for sin or an insincere assurance. Instead, the Word of God teaches that the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ perseveres in such a way that they practice righteousness and thus bear fruit. For instance, Jesus said that the believer bears fruit with perseverance – “But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance” (Luke 8:15).

The sound doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is related to the sound doctrine called the biblical assurance of salvation for the believer. The two doctrines are united and very closely related yet they are distinct. For example, the perseverance of the saints has to do with the believer’s eternal life now and forever whereas the biblical assurance of salvation for the believer has to do with the certainty of their assurance of salvation at present. The believer has full assurance of salvation and is called to never waiver from knowing they have full assurance of salvation at present, given the fact that they have truly been regenerated. If a person has been regenerated by God the Holy Spirit then they are a new creation with a new nature (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17). As a new creation with a new nature, the man or woman who has been born again will exhibit evidences of salvation at present. The standard to test this reality is the biblical tests of assurance of salvation found in the Word of God – namely 1 John. From these biblical tests one must examine one’s life for the purpose to know whether they have assurance of salvation at present (cf. 1 John 5:13 “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life”). From 1 John these tests of assurance of salvation at present include: (1) walking in the light; (2) honesty, understanding and confession concerning the doctrine of original sin; (3) confession to God of actual sins against God (cf. 1 John 1:5-10); (4) obedience to the Lord by keeping His commandments (cf. 1 John 2:3-4; 5:1-4); (5) not hatred for Christians but instead love for Christians (cf. 1 John 2:9-11; 3:10); (6) not having love for the world system nor the things of the world system (cf. 1 John 2:15-17); (7) consistent perseverance in sound doctrine (cf. 1 John 2:24-25); (8) not practicing sin (cf. 1 John 3:4-5); (9) a life of practicing righteousness (cf. 1 John 3:10); (10) understanding correctly and correct confession by God the Holy Spirit the doctrine of the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 1 John 4:1-6); (11) experience of the new birth resulting in a life of perseverance because of persevering protection from God (cf. 1 John 5:18). As a final point, the book of Hebrews teaches a test of assurance of salvation that is inseparably constrained to the doctrine of perseverance because God perseveres believers through God’s discipline when they persist in sin so that the believer will know they are not illegitimate children (cf. Hebrews 12:5-11). This also means that God keeps the child of God from the persistent practice of sin.

Lastly, the perseverance of the saints teaches that the believer will be blessed when they persevere no matter what trial they face in life. For example, James wrote by inspiration of God the Holy Spirit James 1:12 which reads, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” What is more, the Apostle Paul exhorted the believers at the church in Rome to be “. . . persevering in tribulation . . .” (Romans 12:12b). In both these instances, that is James 1:12 and Romans 12:12b, the same Greek word was used for “perseveres” and “persevering,” namely, ὑπομένω (hupomenó) which has the sense to mean “I stand my ground” or “I display endurance” or “I bear up against” or “I persevere.” It can have the sense of someone who is in intense difficulty spiritually or physically yet is patient under it. In fact, ὑπομένω (hupomenó) is a compound word comprised of the preposition ὑπό (hupo) which can mean “under” and the same root discussed above from persevere in 1 Timothy 4:16 – that is, μένω (menó) which means “I remain.” Therefore, the Greek word ὑπομένω (hupomenó) literally means “I remain under” in such a way to have the sense with the context discussed above where the word is found to mean “to remain under” trials. Pointedly, the Word of God instructs the child of God to persevere under trials of various kinds and God preserves His children under trials of various kinds – no matter the difficulty spiritually or physically (cf. Revelation 1:9; 2:2, 3, 19; 3:10; 13:10; 14:12).

This writer ends this article where he began. Consider it if you will like bookends. Faith! Faith! This writer ends with faith. But not faith as an undefinable esoteric apparition. No, reader! Instead, faith defined as the feature of the believer’s salvation that brings pleasure to God and as such an inseparable feature of the perseverance of the saints. Faith is a gift from God. When God gives a gift, He does not repent nor change His mind to take it back from the recipient who received the gift (e.g. Romans 11:29 – “for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable”). Irrevocable from Romans 11:29 is from the Greek adjective ἀμεταμέλητος which has the sense to mean “not to be repented of by a change of mind” (see Isaiah 45:23). The same word was also used as an adjective in 2 Corinthians 7:10 (i.e. translated “without regret”) which reads, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation . . .” In effect, all the promises of God are yes in Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:20). Therefore, may the elect who read this article continue to be exhorted to persevere in the faith and be reminded that God will finish what He began in your life. May you have the certainty of a life of perseverance that the Apostle Paul demonstrated when He wrote, “. . . for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Timothy 1:12c). This writer believes that you will persevere. Praise the Lord for His persevering love. Amen.

E.V. Powers

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