Tulip: Perseverance of the Saints

Think of a cup being filled to the brim—or inflating a children’s play castle or a basketball to its entire design.  The thing being pervaded is what it is, but it is in the process of functioning fully and living up to its potential and peak performance until completely full.

Such gets at the sense of the Hebrew for “perfect” in Psalm 138:a[1], which reads, The LORD will perfect that which concerneth me.  David takes consolation in the idea that God will completely fulfill him and accomplish His purposes in him toward his chief end.  The text teaches that our perfect God will perfectly perfect His people.  So Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:24, Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.

God never discards His people as unfinished projects.  First Corinthians 1:8 reads, Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What is the basis of this profound assurance that Christians will undoubtedly have fought the good fight and finished their race?  The second part of Psalm 138:8 tells us: … thy mercy, O LORD, endureth for ever.  God’s mercy, ḥesed in the Hebrew, is a word pregnant with promise expressing His covenant loyalty to His people.  It is used in Psalm 136 at the end of each of twenty-six verses as a corporate, antiphonal exclamation.[2]  God’s faithful covenantal mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23).  So Christian, you can never lose your salvation and you will grow in your sanctification into the perfect you in Christ.  In answer to the last part of Psalm 138:8, Jesus says He will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5)![3]

Have faith in the future consummation of God’s work in you, and thus the process toward the final product happening in you every day and daily pray Psalm 57:2: I will cry unto God most high; unto God that performeth all things for me.  God will give you perfect peace in His perfect predestination by His perfect providence. 

A word to you perfectionists: you cannot presently be perfect—but you can be assured that God will perfect you and thus that He is perfecting you, Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform [complete] it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6); and therefore … work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).[4]

This all speaks to the “P” in Calvinism’s acronym, TULIP, the "Perseverance of the Saints"; [5]  and it is a blessed assurance.  Because God is preserving and perfecting you, you will persevere unto the finish line into perfection.  By God’s grace, Philippians 1:19-20 is your ongoing testimony![6]

God acts with His eternal declaration (Ephesians 1:4) and final purpose (Romans 8:30) of you in view, so He is always developing all Christians in the whole of their middle. 

God never gives up on you. The Almighty finishes what He starts.  He never quits on you.  So dont quit on yourself or your brethren or His Church.  God’s leaven continues working within and with and through you all. 

When you feel incomplete as a person, with life, and in your growth as a Christian, recite Psalm 138:8a to yourself: “The LORD will perfect that which concerneth me.”

Your ongoing perseverance unto the Day of your perfection is like when you’re pumping your tire that works but is low until it reaches its PSI capacity and then looks and functions best.  Its similar to the inflatable “tube man” often used at car dealerships:  the wind generated from the fan erects the nylon form, but the air pressure decreases as a result causing collapsing kinks of temporary spastic constrictions until more airflow straightens it between contractions.  In the end, the Spirit’s motion and the change of force within you will reach holy equilibrium and you will unbendingly stay standing. 

Or said another way, like a sculptor with his rock and chisel, God is shaping the perfect figure of you into what will be your resurrected body and glorified soul.  You’ve been sanctified positionally so the sanctification of your person is sure to continue until it’s completion.  You will one day be perfect like your Father in heaven, because God is Always Perfecting You.[7]

 

Grant Van Leuven has been feeding the flock at the Puritan Reformed Presbyterian Church in San Diego, CA, since 2010.  He also serves the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals as community engagement coordinator as well as assistant editor for MeetthePuritans.org.  He and his wife, Fernanda, have six covenant children: Rachel, Olivia, Abraham, Isaac, Gabriel, and Gideon.  He earned his M.Div. at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA.



[1] Similar to the Greek word for “fulfill”, plēroō, which was considered in exegesis of the Hebrew word for “perfect”, gamar, in Psalm 138:8 and which was the impetus of these illustrations.

[2] For a sermon on this text by the author emphasizing this antiphonal repetition, visit https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=92710113394

[3] So you can pray verse seven of our text with certitude: Though I walk in the midst of trouble, thou wilt revive me: thou shalt stretch forth thine hand against the wrath of mine enemies, and thy right hand shall save me.  Just as you can sing Psalm 23:4: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

[4] See the author’s sermon on this text, “We Will Work Out God’s Will by His Working in Us”, at https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=5102123695111

[5] For further encouragement, read the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 17, “Of the Perseverance of the Saints.”

[6] Mark Garcia notes, “Perseverance and ‘eternal security’ are different in fundamental respects ...” He quotes John Murray: “The doctrine of perseverance is the doctrine that believers persevere; it cannot be too strongly stressed that it is the perseverance of the saints … It is not at all that they will be saved irrespective of their perseverance or their continuance, but that they will assuredly persevere.  Consequently the security that is theirs is inseparable from their perseverance.  Is this not what Jesus said? ‘He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.’”  Mark Garcia, “A Response to Michael S. Horton's ‘Law and Gospel’”, in The Confessional Presbyterian, Ed. Chris Coldwell (Dallas: Vol. 8, 2012), 174. Chad Van Dixhoorn writes, “Churches in the Reformation tradition have never taught a bare doctrine of preservation.  They affirm a biblical doctrine of perseverance.”  Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith: A Reader’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith (Carlisle, Pa.:Banner of Truth, 2014), 218.

[7] And thus, you can respond to the benediction of Hebrews 13:20-21 with confidence.  To listen to a sermon on Psalm 138:8a entitled “God is Always Perfecting You”, visit https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=102521548137691.  The author thanks Elder Nick De Troye of Reformation Presbyterian Church in Sheboygan, WI, whose brief family devotion after dinner (following a Presbytery meeting) with guests meditating on Psalm 138 (emphasizing verse 8 and its recurring personal edification) inspired both that sermon and this article.

 

Grant Van Leuven

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