Monday, April 12, 2010

P is for Perseverance

Perseverance of the Saints is not equivalent with "once saved always saved." This corruption of the doctrine has been popular in recent years, but has never been a true representation of the doctrine. Perseverance of the Saints teaches that once God has renewed the heart of a sinner through the application of the redemption wrought by Christ upon the cross, he will continue to be saved and show forth the fruits of that salvation. The sinner perseveres because of Christ, but he continually shows himself as one who has been changed by Christ. God has saved the individual and will sanctify him until the end when he is ultimately glorified, and in heaven. It does not mean man has a license to sin. Those who think they have a license to sin have not been changed and saved by grace; they are still in sin. Those who are saved by grace and changed, desire to show forth the fruits of that salvation.

The misrepresentation of the glorious truth of this doctrine that parades under the name “once saved, always saved” is more harmful to the cause of this truth than all the Arminian objections combined. The truth Scripture asserts and we proclaim is that a person who is unconditionally elected from all eternity is chosen to be “conformed to the likeness of His Son.” Perseverance of the saints is not inconsistent with the truth that the believer may nevertheless fall into grievous sin and continue therein for some time. However, it does affirm that though the saint may fall, God will not forsake him and according to the promise of God’s Word, death will not take him before he has been recovered from his lapsed state. “Once saved, always saved” implies that a man may sin with impunity so long as he has accepted Christ as his Savior and he will still go to heaven when he dies. We reject this perverse caricature. The hypothetical “Christian” who accepts the Lord as Savior and then proceeds to live a life of sin based on the assurance that once he is saved, he can never sin away his salvation, is no Christian at all. We would deny the very existence of such a person. Scripture categorically denies that those who willfully persist in sin were ever elected in the first place because we are elected through sanctification unto obedience. In his frequent debates with the Arminian Wesley brothers, George Whitefield said, “I cannot think that they are clear in the notion of Christ’s righteousness, who deny the final perseverance of the saints; I fear they understand justification in that low sense…as implying no more than remission of sins.”

I have sat in on and participated in many discussions and debates on this subject. Every Arminian objection to the doctrine of Perseverance I have ever heard sounded as if it carried a latent umbrage at the notion that the objector should be placed on the same footing as some “backslider.”

The Parable of the Hired Workers in Matthew 20:1-16 perfectly illustrates, in my mind, the feelings that Arminians have toward the doctrine of Perseverance. The whole gist of the Parable is the unreasonableness of the resentment of the workers who put in longer hours. Their “faithful service” would never have happened had the landowner not called and chosen them to work in the first place. They did not apply for the job. Their long hours in the hot sun did not entitle them to look down on the workers who came on board later in the day.

It appears to me, from my experience with Arminian objections, that there is more than a little resentment displayed toward the hypothetical backsliders or lapsed brethren. Both this parable and that of the Prodigal Son address this feeling of resentment. The unspoken sentiment is, “Why should he/she get the same reward of eternal life after being backslidden for many years while I have always been faithful?” In others words, “These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.” Or, “Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: but as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.”

St. Jude’s benediction becomes a malediction on the Arminian scheme. Jude is taunting us with an illusory and ephemeral assurance if he means that God is able to keep us from falling, but He won’t and our steadfast faithfulness “to the end” is entirely in our hands.

Jesus said, “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” There can hardly be any plainer statement. Yet the Arminians would like to suggest imaginary “Christians” who leap from Christ’s hand! First of all, is the individual in question covered by the words “any man” or not? If he is, then even he cannot remove himself from Christ’s hand. If he is not, then no one can ever have the assurance of salvation that Scripture promises. Secondly, what kind of “Christian” makes this hypothetical experiment to see whether or not he really can remove himself from Christ’s hand? The notion is simply asinine. This is like a pardoned death-row inmate trying to see whether he can still get executed! Foolishness! It reminds one of the Sadducees’ imaginary woman who was married to seven brothers. The theory is a straw man and the question is simply a trick question, invented purely for the purpose of attacking the opposing view.

It is a noble and praiseworthy sentiment that wants to see holiness in the lives of professing Christians, but it is a selfish sentiment that would bar from grace those who fail to meet one’s own external standard. The ultimate Arbiter is God and it is true that “without holiness no one will see God,” nonetheless the true measure of a man’s sanctification is only known to God, for we cannot see the internal condition of anyone’s heart.

Incidentally, here is one of the most notable contradictions and inconsistencies in the Arminian system. First, they complain against Limited Atonement and would fling open the gates of Heaven to every single creature, then they complain against Perseverance and lock Heaven’s gates against everyone who doesn’t attain to perfection.

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