We are going to look at the Reformed doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints. First of we, we should define our terms. Perseverance of the Saints is not equal to the once-saved-always-saved (OSAS) doctrine held in certain evangelical circles. The latter lends itself to antinomian, that is, lawless behavior. The former does not. Let me explain. Both teach the impossibility of one’s salvation being lost, but the emphases are different. OSAS is easily perverted into a license for sin because the basic assumption underlying it is this: No matter what I do, I am and always will be saved. Once I have accepted Christ, that’s it. My salvation does not hinge on my actions, thus they don’t matter. So OSAS seems to frequently look at ‘me’ and discount my life altogether. Perseverance of the Saints, on the other hand, strives to emphasize God’s preserving power over the salvation of His elect. Perseverance of the Saints also strives to emphasize the doctrine of sanctification. God does not save anyone He does not intend to sanctify. Therefore with the Reformed presentation of the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints there is no question of antinomianism. We believe that behavior matters, but we also believe that God sovereignly brings trials into our lives to mold our character. Hence what matters is that our character is being molded into the image of His Son. Salvation depends on what Christ has done, not on what we do.
Having said that, let’s look at the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints. We will assess it from five different angles.
The first line of reasoning or form of argumentation for the Perseverance of the Saints is the express teaching of scripture. Although we will present numerous passages demonstrating this doctrine, we will first look at two main foundational passages.
I. The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand. Psalm 37:24
This Scripture speaks of a righteous man both walking and falling. The only presumable reason God casts anyone away is because of sin. Yet this verse explicitly tells of a man who God does not cast away because of his sins.
Much that passes for Christian teaching overlooks the basic underpinning of this passage of Scripture. Salvation from sin and regeneration do not guarantee a life of sinless perfection. This is not to say that we do not strive against sin. But we are not to expect sinless perfection in this life. God does not expect it either. He did not save us because of our moral uprightness. Many Christians profess to believe that salvation is by grace, that is the initial accepting of Christ and repentance of sins, but after that, you’re on your own. Salvation is not earned by works, they will profess. But they live as if they believed that salvation is maintained by works.
A second relevant passage is:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? ... For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor 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, 38-39
I have heard raving Arminians claim that this passage does not say the word “sin,” hence this is not a statement proving the Perseverance of the Saints. Of course, this is idiotic exegesis. The point of the passage is that there is NOTHING anyone can possibly imagine that can separate God’s people from his chesed love. Either sin is a thing or it does not exist. If it is a thing, then it cannot separate us from God’s love.
Moreover, Arminians always fail to take into account the extent of the atonement. I know that sounds like a crazy thing to say since they are the purveyors of the so-called universal atonement. But what I mean is this: Christ’s death paid for all of the sins of the elect. If all my sins: past, present and future are covered by the death of Christ, then of course my sins cannot separate me from the love of God!