by Mike Ratliff
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. John 5:24 (NASB)
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 couple of decades, 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 offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, 5 in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 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 1:3-6 (NASB)
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, these testify of Me. 26 But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, 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 (NASB)
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 emphasize 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 will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 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.”
37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 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. Romans 8:35-39 (NASB)
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 After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. 1 Peter 5:10 (NASB)
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 “perfect” 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 “establish” 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.
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 hearts 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 keeps us from falling away.
Soli Deo Gloria!