Article 11: Perseverance of the Saints
We believe that such only are real believers as endure unto the end (1); that their persevering attachment to Christ is the grand mark which distinguishes them from superficial professors (2); that a special Providence watches over their welfare (3); and they are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation (4).
This is one of the prominent controversies among Christian circles today. I almost abhor the question, because what is the questioner trying to get at with this appeal? Are they looking for a reason to stand still? Is this person seeking to find a reason to drift from their pursuit of holiness and succumb to stagnancy in the honor of Christ? If that is indeed the aim, then I would have to descend the depths of explaining what true salvation actually entails. The quick answer is found in a parable of Jesus noted in Matthew 21:28-31:
“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.
Jesus reveals that it is in the true and final action of submission where one finds entrance into the Kingdom of God. We can profess that we believe in Christ, see Him as true, etc., but if our end is not an act of submission to that command and revelation, we gain nothing. In full, if we are seeking a way to not pursue God’s will, we must first analyze our hearts to see if we are slaves to sin or God; therein lies our submission and true nature of our professed dependance on Christ. For further study on this imperative truth, analyze these scriptures: James 2:19-26, Philippians 2:13-14, Romans 6:1-12.
However, if the question is rooted in seeking the hope of one’s salvation and full assurance of belief, this is naturally a good and most necessary pursuit. In my recent readings of Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections, it becomes evident that full assurance of salvation is the great river of the Christian life by which all cardinal spiritual affections flow: hope, peace, joy, etc. Without the possible comforting knowledge of one’s secured salvation, there is an imminent reversal into a restless struggle of one’s place and son-ship – a wrestle that ought to be secluded to a lost soul, not a regenerated new creation found in the grace of God. Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as a great “comforter” and “seal” of our faith, and therefore we acknowledge communion with the Spirit as means of full assurance.
Now regarding the primary question: can one lose their salvation? Arguments surround this article of faith quite frequently, but the evidence of the opposition always seems to be experiential rather than Biblical. The Confessional’s cited verse that is best suited to elucidate the apparently contrasting reality of this perseverance of saints is found in 1 John 2:19. Proposition 1: “They went out from us…” – We see that people do indeed leave the fellowship of the church body, for it is well noted in the scriptures, and does not call for doctrinal alarm. Prop. 2: “…but they were not of us…” – Here is an important distinction to chew on; one can be from what they are not of. Fellowship does not constitute factual authenticity. Prop. 3: “…for if they had been of us…” – Notice John’s revisit to of, the latter preposition, which is most likely purposed in enforcing the already made distinction. Prop. 4: “…they would have continued with us…” – Would have expressed the inevitable perseverance forsaken upon the departed’s leaving from the church, all the while affirming that continuation is an absolute for those of the church, whereby John also inserts us into the passage as a possible dedication of sorts. Prop. 5: “…But they went out that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” – To its ultimate end, the purpose was to edify the church body in exposing the false and shallow apes of the faith.
Support for this article would have been stronger if the article had also cited Hebrews 12:2, whereby Christ, in His faithfulness, is depicted as responsible for our faith’s perfection. If we divert our attention unto Christ as the rightful instigator of our faith, in His faithfulness, we find security that he will complete that good work started in us (Phil. 1:6). Furthermore, 1 Corinthians 1:22 proclaims that we are “sealed” by the power of the unfaltering Spirit and given God’s trusted pledge and promise.
Biblical Citation of the NHC:
- John 8:31; 1 John 2:27-28; 3:9; 5:18
- 1 John 2:19; John 13:18; Matt. 13:20-21; John 6:66-69; Job 17:9
- Rom. 8:28; Matt. 6:30-33; Jer. 32:40; Psa. 121:3; 91:11-12
- Phil. 1:6; 2:12-13; Jude 24-25; Heb. 1:14; 2 Kings 6:16; Heb. 13:5; 1 John 4:4