Perseverance of the Saints: John 6
The wonderful thing about the grace of God is that the grace that saves is the grace that causes perseverance in the saint. That may take some clarification. Perseverance of the saints (or believers) does not mean that the saint will never stumble in sin, nor does it mean that the saint may not for a period of time backslide in the faith. As the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it the believer “may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins; and, for a time, continue therein” (27.3). God’s grace does not abandon us but will draw us back.
This truth should not make us callous in sin nor should we continue in sin with the presumption of grace. In fact, we are reminded in 2 Timothy 2:19 “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” Therefore, if one finds themselves wallowing in sin, we are to heed the warnings of Scripture and return in repentance to the Lord.
God's unconditional election and His irresistible grace are logical and practical forerunners of the saints perseverance. We see this in John 6:37-40:
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
Given to the Son are those who belong to the Father by eternal election. The Father draws them. As the Father draws, the sinner comes in repentance. Christ will never cast this sinner out. In fact, it is the promise that if the father has given them to the Son and the Son grants them eternal life through belief, the Son will also “raise him up on the last day”. The promise of redemption accomplished and applied will become the redemption completed.
John 6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
This entails saving faith and participation in Christ. In fact, the genuine believer is described in John 6 as one who ‘eats the flesh of Christ’ (6:53). This is connected the Christ being the ‘bread of life,’ a greater bread than the manna given the wilderness generation (6:48-49, 58). While in the original context of John 6, this ‘eating Christ’ and ‘drinking Christ’s blood’ probably is not a direct reference to the Lord’s Supper, but a reminder that the believer by faith participates in Christ. Christ could no more cut off His own arm than cut off those who truly belong to Him.
There is a connection between feeding on Christ, being in union with Christ, and finally being raised up in the last day:
Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. (John 6:54-57)
The promise is that those who feed and drink on Christ, those having His body and blood applied to them through saving faith, will be raised up on the last day. If we participate in Christ, He abides in us and we in Him.
This is also a reminder though that saving faith will continue to be an active faith. Jesus here does not envision someone who simply walks down an aisle or prays the words of a prayer and then bears no fruit. In fact, in Matthew 13 He warns of those who make empty professions and then fall away from the faith. True faith will bear fruit. But the reason true saving faith bears fruit is that those who are truly saved have Christ in them.
John 6 reminds us that when it comes to saving faith, I do not by my own strength remain in Christ, rather as I have trusted in Christ I have the promise that he will raise me up on the last day. Those who belong to Christ are caused by Him to persevere and continue in their faith. Even as the Westminster Confession puts it “perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will” (27.2). It goes on to remind us that perseverance in faith comes from the manifold grace of God that flows from the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Since the Father elects us and gives us to the Son, we will continue. Since the Son dies for us and intercedes, he will raise us up on the last day. Since the Holy Spirit is implanted in us and seals us for the day of redemption, we are assured that we belong to Christ.
Those who are truly saved will persevere because of the grace of God. God does not lose those who belong to Him. Just as he began a work of grace in us, He will carry it through to completion (Phil. 1:6).
Tim Bertolet is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College and Westminster Theological Seminary. He is an ordained pastor in the Bible Fellowship Church, currently serving as pastor of Faith Bible Fellowship Church in York, Pa. He is a husband and father of four daughters. You can follow him on Twitter @tim_bertolet.