Persevering Grace

by Mike Ratliff

24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24 ESV)

As many of you know, I grew up as a Southern Baptist. I’m not quite sure what I am now, but I am a Baptist at heart. I have heard the statement, “Once Saved, Always Saved.” comment more times than I could ever count. My theology has changed much in the last few years, but one thing that did not change was my firm belief in the security of the believer. In Reformed Theology it is called the Perseverance of the Saints. However, I prefer the term, “Persevering Grace.” The former makes it seem as if the believer is eternally saved by his or her own merit or ability. The latter, however, states that it is God who preserves His saints by His grace.

Let’s look at some passages from scripture that speak of this.

3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:3-6 ESV)

People may be inconsistent and have feet of clay, but not God. He finishes what He starts. We contend that our salvation is God’s work not ours. We affirm that salvation is Monergistic not Synergistic. That means that since we did not do anything to be saved, because we were spiritually unable to do so, God did it all. He regenerated us so that we are able to repent and believe. Through saving us by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) he then justifies us. Since it is His work, He will complete it. God never leaves anything incomplete. Salvation produces regenerate people who still require God’s gracious, sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in their minds and hearts. Since God finishes what He starts, He will not leave this work unfinished either. That of course is making His elect mature unto Christlikeness.

25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 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. 30 I and the Father are one.” (John 10:25-30 ESV)

In this passage we see nearly all five points of Calvinism. Jesus identifies His sheep as those whom the Father has given to Him. They are the gift of God’s electing love. Jesus died for for these sheep. (John 10:15) These sheep are the special objects of the tremendous atoning work of Christ on the Cross. He died for these sheep specifically. He bore their sin. These sheep respond to the effectual call by the Holy Spirit which is God’s Irresistible grace. Also, these sheep not only listen to Jesus’ voice, they follow Him as well. While all of that is wonderful and those of us who are Reformed rejoice in each point, the emphasis in these verses is God’s persevering grace.

Notice in v28 that there is a danger that someone will try to snatch these sheep from our Saviour’s hands. That is, to snatch them away from salvation. However, that danger is an illusion for Jesus emphatically states their eternal security. What is the basis of this eternal security? The first is that He has given His sheep eternal life. That life lasts forever because it depends entirely on the perseverance of God’s grace. The second is that His sheep will never perish. Even though that sounds like the same thing it isn’t, but it still depends upon God’s persevering grace. The third is that Jesus states that no one can snatch them out of His hand. To emphasis how secure this is, Jesus then states that His Father’s hand is wrapped around His. This emphasis tells us that this is a done deal. There is no power in the Universe that can overpower the creator of it.

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39 ESV)

Some may argue that this is speaking of deliverance from tribulation, but since death is included in those things that cannot separate us from the love of Christ, this is speaking of eternal life and eternal victory. All who are in Christ are in a position of security where nothing can ever separate them from God’s love. Paul lists 17 things that appear to our temporal vision as barriers to salvation. However, none of them even come close to threatening a believers eternal security. We should look at this promise not with eyes to overcoming these things temporally, but as a list of things that have no power over the eternal security of God’s elect.

10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5:10 ESV)

Peter was writing to believers from every part of Asia Minor. He refers to them as God’s elect exiles of the dispersion. (1 Peter 1:1). These same believers had been suffering all sorts of trials . (1 Peter 1:6-7;3:13-17;4:12-19; 5:9) They were suffering malicious slander from unbelievers, persecution from Roman authorities along with Satan’s spiritual attacks against them. One of the purposes of this epistle was Peter’s desire to encourage these Asian believers by speaking of the certainty of a glory yet to come. In 1:3 he speaks of their “living hope” through the resurrection of the Jesus Christ from the dead. In 1:4 he speaks of an “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…” In 1:7 he tells them that their tribulation has come so that the “tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” In 3:18 he tells them, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God…” In 4:13 he tells them to “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” Then we come to 5:10.

1 Peter 5:10 encourages the believers Peter is writing to by reminding them of the glory which is theirs when they complete their earthly journeys and are then with Christ in Heaven. Until that time, however, God will strengthen and keep them. Perseverance does not mean that Christ’s sheep are automatically delivered from tribulations, tests, trials and suffering. In fact, it is seen clearly in these verses that suffering comes to those who seek to live godly lives separated from the world unto God.

In 1 Peter 5:10 we see four things God will do for all believers. He will restore, confirm, strengthen and establish each and everyone of His. The word restore in this verse is translated as “make you perfect” in the King James. It carries with it the idea of bringing something to completion or fulfillment. Since Peter was speaking of a “restoration” after intense suffering he more than likely meant that after suffering God would graciously restore them to spiritual wholeness or perfection. The word confirm is translated as “establish” in the KJV. It speaks of being “established” in a firm, defensive position so that no matter how intense Satan attacked them, they could not be dislodged from where God has “established” them. This is a promise that God will continue to use stresses, and pressure in our lives in order to build our faith. He will keep us and not let us fall when the pressure is on. The word “strengthen” in v10 is the only usage of this word in the New Testament. This is simply a statement that we can resist the devil in God’s strength, not our own. It is a promise that He will give us that strength when we need it. Lastly, the word “establish” is translated as “settle” in the KJV. It means “to be made to rest securely.” This is speaking of being set on a strong foundation as when erecting a building. Our enemy desires to topple us off of our firm foundation, Christ. That is his goal. However, God’s purpose is to set us on Jesus Christ, allow the attacks from our enemy, not to dislodge us, but to make us even more firmly attached to Him.

1 Peter 5:10 isn’t speaking of eternal salvation in its message of deliverance, but it is speaking of how God works in our hears and lives with His Persevering Grace. This enables us to abide in our Lord and remain firmly attached to Him as our firm foundation which will keep us from falling away.

Let us press on, in patient self-denial,
Accept the hardship, shrink not from the loss;
Our portion lies beyond the hour of trial,
Our crown beyond the cross. – William H. Burleigh

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13 thoughts on “Persevering Grace

  1. “As many of you know, I grew up as a Southern Baptist. I’m not quite sure what I am now, but I am a Baptist at heart.”

    You’ll give thanks the day when you proclaim you are none of that nonsense, but only “ambassador for Christ” with the word of reconciliation to a lost and dying world. And, also to the many, many souls sitting right in all the denominational pews starving to hear the gospel of the grace of God, the gospel of Christ — for it is the power of God unto salvation. Of which, you are doing. Thank you for your work in the body.

    grace and peace in your work as a member in particular of THE church, the body of Christ.

    –paul

  2. Mike,

    It has to be true because He has done that for me. Even when I am not faithful He is. He will find you wherever you are no matter what your doing. He will lead you to truth no matter what you lose along the way. I lost a 21 year marriage and my first husband died. I know that they were nothing but a distraction to me. He even warned me ahead of time that I was getting a divorce , even though I didn’t want one.The warning came by a simple dream in Dec of 1999. I told my husband but he already knew, as he was having an affair and I had no idea. He didn’t tell me he already knew but later he told me that when I told him my dream he thought, how did she know that! I prayed for 3 years during that period of the divorce and asked if it was His will? The very next day I found my ex husbands Bible in the trash pile!! I stand today in such amazement of Him. I have stumbled and fallen since my divorce but He keeps putting me back on the path and lead me to that regenerating truth last year. Praise Him. I now recognize my biggest stumbling blocks myself as I was unable to before. He does remove the desires of the world that i once had. Now I only desire Him and salvation for others.I am still a sinner but he has changed me. I am still in shock of how He did all of that! He is such a powerful force . He loves us so much I can’t begin to even know how to thank Him as mere words are not enough. He is GOD. Amazing God. I just felt the desire to give my testimony. Thank you and bless you my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Deborah

  3. Deborah,

    Thanks for the testimony. Mine was a flesh-driven life as well until “I came to myself,” that is God drew me from darkness to light. I fall on my face before Him with a broken and grateful heart! He did it! Praise Him, O Praise Him!

    In Christ

    Mike Raltiff

  4. Mike,
    You said in one of your posts “saying a prayer to God at salvation is great, but it must come from the heart not simply reciting some words. . .” I’m raising an objection to this statement because the Bible says “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool” Proverbs 28:26. Also, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9.
    This sinner’s prayer teaching is heresy. Are you willing to make a break from it or not? We should expose false teaching with the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. You’re a Bible teacher. Are you willing to have your teaching tested by the Word of God? Revelation 2:2 “I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.” We shouldn’t blindly assume that each other are Christians, or we’ll be in danger of John 5:44 “How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?”
    With the sinner’s prayer, people try to put themselves in the place of God, taking their salvation into their own hands. This is against the Bible. “children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” John 15:16. A person is passive at the time of conversion. It’s a gift received from God, not something that we do. “Faith comes from hearing the message” Romans 10:17.

  5. Thomas,

    When I said that it was from the heart I did not mean from our heart of stone. What I meant by that, and could had stated better, was a “calling upon the name of God” with our will and reason engaged from our REGENERATE heart, not our old heart of stone. You also said we are passive, “It’s a gift received from God, not something that we do. “Faith comes from hearing the message” Romans 10:17.” Saving faith must be exercised, yes it comes from God, but we must still believe. We are justified by faith which comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. We receive salvation, but we must still repent and believe. That is not passive, but comes from our regenerate heart which is a gift from God.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  6. Mike,
    You’re still describing something that a person does at a time of their choosing. That’s not how the Bible describes conversion. “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.” Acts 10:44

  7. Thomas,

    Why to do you insist on stopping at receiving. I am describing what happens when saving faith is exercised. Faith is active. It is belief, not an inert condition. We are justified by faith and that faith believes God as Abraham believed God.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  8. Mike,
    I don’t mean to stop at receiving, but that is conversion, the moment a person receives saving faith. God then seals with the Holy Spirit too. I experienced it myself. After this there is confession. For me that meant putting “Jesus saves” on my door, and sending letters to my relatives telling them of my experience. Also, baptism in the local church.

  9. Thomas,

    You were converted at regeneration, you believed right after that. We aren’t justified by being converted, but by believing. The time span between the two is unknown, but for you and I it was probably pretty quick and you are right about using a prayer to be converted. Utter nonsense! It is as we see or hear the truth from the Bible or by good preaching that the Holy Spirit applies those truths to our hearts in regeneration. Then Boom! We are new creations, we believe and repent and do things the world doesn’t understand. Yes, I have been there. Yes, I was not saved by saying any sinner’s prayer. God saved me and I believed, repented and nothing has been the same since.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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