The One Who Endures: Perseverance and Counseling
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.
I have benefitted greatly from the teaching ministry of the late R.C. Sproul. Years ago, God used Dr. Sproul’s teaching to open my eyes to the surpassing greatness of the gospel. The gospel grew in “size” and beauty as I began to embrace Reformed Theology. I remember listening to Dr. Sproul teaching on John 10:29 – a “universal negative”. No one, taught Dr. Sproul, has the power or ability to take a believer from the hand of the Father. He continued: “was I a someone?” If so, “I was in the category of the “no-one” … even I couldn’t take myself out of His hand! And so my eyes were further open to the power, majesty, and GRACE of God. I soon was introduced to the wonderful summary of Christian Doctrine, one of the three forms of unity from the Reformation: the Westminster Confession of Faith. Now I had a well developed statement of the doctrine of Perseverance:
“They whom God hath accepted in His Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally, nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.”[i]
Over the years, I have continued to grow in my appreciation for the comfort and practical use of this doctrine. Although knowing that you are secure in God’s hand is comforting, it can never be used as justification for living in sin. The gospel is not a patchwork of ideas or benefits given to the believer, it is a beautifully woven tapestry in which each constituent doctrine is inter-twined with others making one cohesive beautiful whole. Speaking of Perseverance, Alan Cairns writes:
Thus it is an aspect of the Spirit’s sanctifying grace; it is perseverance in holiness. It is what is popularly known as the eternal security of the believer. But to avoid the idea that a person who once made a profession of faith but has since lived in sin with no marks of holiness about his life, can comfort himself in being eternal-ly secure, the Reformed statement of the doctrine emphasizes the certainty of perseverance in holiness if we have truly believed – not the certainty of salvation if we once professed to believe. Possessors of eternal life are secure; mere pro-fessors have neither life nor security.[ii]
And so the doctrine of perseverance is a powerful tool when counseling…
The Westminster Confession acknowledges a believer may fall into sin.[iii] However, perseverance is woven together with other doctrines in the gospel. Jesus did not merely die to pay the debt of our sin or to give us eternal life, no, the gospel is a promise of real change … actual sanctification. We are being renewed in our inner man day by day.[iv] In the promise of the new covenant (the gospel) found in Jeremiah 31:31-34 God states:
I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.[v]
If the law shows us the character of God, and the law is written on our hearts in the gospel, God’s goal in the gospel is that we would “look like” God; that is His character would be demonstrated in our lives. As a result Paul is able to write about the predestined plan of God:
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.[vi]
God is a God of Covenant love and faithfulness. He will not lie – He cannot lie.
17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain,[vii]
If this is God’s goal in the gospel: that we would look like Christ, and He cannot lie, then perseverance is, as Cairns has noted: “an aspect of the Spirit’s sanctifying grace; it is perseverance in holiness.” So, when faced with counseling issues, struggles with sin, there is hope for the counselee: he/she will persevere in holiness. God will ensure the work of Christ is not wasted. They will be sanctified, there will be real holiness worked into the life of the counselee. This also gives hope to the counselor: the result does not depend on his or her brilliance. Yes, the counselor needs to be prepared to “rightly handle the word of truth”[viii], but he/she can be assured along with their counselee that: “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.[ix]
Martin B. Blocki has served since 2003 as the Associate Pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North Hills in Pittsburgh, PA since 2002. He is a counselor at the Biblical Counseling Institute in Pittsburgh. Rev. Blocki graduated from Indiana University, Bloomington (BME), Arizona State University (MM), and the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary (MDiv). Martin and his wife, Kathy, have two married sons, one daughter, and 2 grand children.
[i] Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 17, sect 1 & 2.
[ii] Alan Cairns, Dictionary of Theological Terms, p. 266
[iii] Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 17, sect 3.
[iv] 2 Corinthians 4:16
[v] Jeremiah 31:31-34
[vi] Ephesians 1:11-12
[vii] Hebrews 6:17-19
[viii] 2 Timothy 2:15
[ix] Philippians 1:6