Perseverance of the Saints: Receiving in Order to Continue

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” God is life. There is no life apart from God. For life to be, God must give it and sustain it. There is no such thing as life that God does not give or sustain. Among the many things this means, perhaps one of the most monumental is this: our choosing does not create or sustain our being; God’s choosing creates and sustains our being. Our being never occupies a realm of reality outside of God’s sovereign sustaining. God must sustain the life he gives or it dies. In salvation from sin the sinner is given eternal life by God (John 3:16; 17:3). What a glorious truth!

God is not merely the source of life, he is its sustainer and savior. As Paul clarifies regarding the Lord Jesus in Col. 1:16-18: “For by him all things were created both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things and in him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he himself will come to have first place in everything.” Jesus is the Source, Sustainer and Savior of life.  

This is why it is perhaps helpful to speak of the preservation of the Christian by God before speaking of the Christian’s perseverance. Yet, even as we do this we need to be clear about what the Christian is persevering in doing. Put another way, what does God’s preservation of his covenant people, the bride of Christ, the Church, result in them continuing to do throughout this lifetime? God’s preservation of his children means they persist in trusting in Jesus so that they mature and remain in obedience to Jesus, or God’s Word.

Jesus said, “If you remain in my word, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). When you note the verbs in the original Greek, as well as the very nature of salvation in Jesus as eternal life, you recognize that there is an ongoing condition that Jesus’ true disciples meet and it has a particular result. Remaining in Jesus’ word results in knowing the truth that sets us free from sin. The verses immediately following John 8:32 bear this out.

When the Jews to whom Jesus spoke heard him speak of freedom they expressed dismay over their apparent slavery. They had missed Jesus’ point so Jesus clarified: “Truly, truly I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son makes you free you will be free indeed.”

Using the illustration of a Jewish household and the place of slaves in it, Jesus affirmed that the slave differed from the father’s children. Slaves did not have a permanent place in the household, but children did. But sin makes us all slaves. All creation is God’s house. God is king over all the earth and heaven. Sin saddles us with slavery. But Jesus, the Son of God, sets some sinners free from sin. “If the Son sets you free you will be free indeed.” Note the condition and the necessary and rather obvious implication, especially in light of the rest of John 8 alone.

A few short verses later Jesus would respond to these Jews, who affirmed that God was their Father, with these words: “If God were your father, you would love me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on my own initiative, but He sent me. Why do you not understand what I am saying? Because you cannot hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father” (John 8:42-44).

One either has God or the devil for father. Notice that the inability to hear or understand Jesus’ word was not what caused one to have God as one’s father. Rather, having God as father causes one to understand or hear Jesus’ word. You see, being comes before doing, even while being and doing are inseparably united. And, yes, doing influences our being; our behavior shapes us or influences what we become. Yet, we cannot exercise a will that is not first given to us by God. Since our ability to choose is held captive to sin, we would never choose to trust Jesus for salvation unless he sets us free from sin. Our choice to trust in Jesus for salvation is the consequence, not the cause, of God’s choosing to raise us from the spiritual dead so that we are given the ability hear or understand God’s word.

You see, the very essence of all physical and spiritual life is that it is given by God. Consider this truth from the other side. The essence of all physical and spiritual life is that it is received. The biblical doctrine of salvation is that God gives, sustains and perfects the life he gives to those to whom he chooses to give it. God preserves the objects of his mercy, and in this he enables them to trust and obey him. He does this first and foremost through the means of grace through which he chooses to work—his word (first and foremost preached), the sacraments and prayer. God gives, we receive, and in receiving we are enabled to continue to love God by submitting to his means of grace whereby we continue to receive from God. God preserves his children so that they persevere to the saving of their body and soul.         

David P. Smith (Ph.D.) is the author of B. B. Warfield's Scientifically Constructive Theological Scholarship (Wipf & Stock) and co author with Ronald Hoch of Old School, New Clothes: The Cultural Blindness of Christian Education Wipf & Stock). David is Pastor of Covenant Fellowship A.R.P. Church in Greensboro, North Carolina.  

David Smith