Monday, January 26, 2009

PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS, 2

Regarding Sherry’s question on my previous post: “Do you think Calvin meant it the way it has been taught (you don’t know if you’re saved unless your works show you’ve persevered) or do you think he meant that we will persevere because ‘God’s choice of those whom He will save is not due to anything in them’?” I said that I’d have to go back and re-read Calvin.

Well I did do a little study on the writings of my old friend and have to say that though he wrote quite a bit on the topic he doesn’t seem very clear. So my answer to the questions would be yes, both of the above.

Calvin speaks of perseverance in at least three places in his Institutes:
• In Book 2, chapter 3, paragraph 11: “Perseverance is exclusively God’s work; it is neither a reward nor a complement of our individual act.”
• In Book 3, chapter 22, paragraph 7: “Christ does not allow any of those whom He has once for all engrafted into His body to perish, for in preserving their salvation He will perform what He has promised.”
• In Book 3, chapter 24, paragraph 7: “Yet it daily happens that those who seemed to be Christ’s, fall away from Him again, and hasten to destruction … So then, let not such instances induce us at all to abandon a quiet reliance upon the Lord’s promise, where He declares that all by whom He is received in true faith have been given to Him by the Father, no one of whom… will perish … Paul does not discourage Christians from simple confidence but rather from crass and sheer confidence of the flesh.”
(All quotes are from Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, translated by Ford Lewis Battles.) This, of course is not all he has to say, but I believe it is a reasonable sample.

Though Calvin did not use the letters TULIP, they do briefly sum up his beliefs on salvation. Because man is so totally depraved that he is unable to even choose God, God himself has chosen out of the mass of lost humanity those whom He desired and it is for these that Christ died. Those whom He draws cannot resist God’s choice, but come to Him by faith and ultimately come to eternal salvation. It is all God’s doing.

Unfortunately, Calvin also seemed to look for external evidence as to one’s saved condition. And this set up a dilemma for later theologians and pastors.

With a rigid view of God’s sovereignty and the inevitability of perseverance, how does one deal with the fact that some of those who at one time give evidence of salvation, later give evidence of a lack of the same? We see this in the Scripture (“Demas has forsaken me, having loved the present age” – 2 Timothy 4:9) and we also see it in modern-day believers.

There are usually two solutions presented: either (a) these people were saved but lost their salvation (the Arminian view) or (b) they never were saved in the first place.

These both seem to be good ways of simply disposing of problem people. But what about the people themselves? Most of us will fail at one time or another! Does this mean I’m lost? Neither of the above solutions has an answer.

If we believe that God is the one who “perseveres” us, then we have to recognize that perseverance is an inward work. Thought there is a correspondence between the inward and the outward, it is not always clearly recognizable.

Our assurance of our salvation must rest, not on any perceived external acts, but on the promises of Scripture. “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). “By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not from yourselves; it is God’s gift (Ephesians 2:8).

See FREE GRACE and CHEAP GRACE.

Have you personally put your faith in Jesus Christ? If so, then you are saved!

Bill Ball
1/26/2008

3 comments:

Sherry said...

I personally have always found it hard to believe someone could lose their salvation: Christ's death ALONE can cover your sin before you're saved but you have to cover the ones afterwards? Just doesn't make sense.

BTL, nice lookin' blog there Bill!

Bill Ball said...

(I received this comment via e-mail from a friend who wasn't able to set up an account.)

Thanks for the blog!

My 2 cents: Many I've heard discuss this issue do so in one of two scenarios: they feel they are the ones who have fallen and are questioning their own security, or they are applying it to someone else wondering if they are *really* saved. I'll discuss the second one first.

It seems the pragmatic approach here is to encourage the one who has apparently fallen away (or never trusted) to actively trust Christ in the present. Whether or not they are truly saved is a matter of the heart, and since God alone sees hearts, it is difficult to know if a particular person has ever truly trusted Christ. While Christ stated that we would know false prophets by their fruits (Mt 7:16,20) and that others would know [we] were His disciples by [our] love (Jn 13:35), I don't know of any tests we can scripturally apply to others to know if they are saved...and we don't need to know. Encouraging those who do not appear to be walking with God to follow Him and to see things correctly in light of reality and eternity seems far more appropriate than spending time trying to discern if they are going to heaven. Praying for them to recognize who Christ is and what He's done for them could be an appropriate response for me whether they are saved and fallen away, or unsaved.

From a standpoint of self-examination, loss of security (knowledge that you are saved -- not loss of salvation) is a possible consequence of a sinful life. . .scriptures like 1 Jn 2:3, 1 Jn 3:18-21 give assurance to those who are loving in deed and truth, without condemning those who aren't. While those who aren't walking in truth may not have a personal assurance of salvation, God's word shows us a God who is faithful when we are faithless, who cannot deny Himself, and who has sealed us for the day of redemption. That God, is one worth trusting in the present for salvation, and is mighty to save.

Thanks again for your thoughts & research on the subject!

Bill Ball said...

Mike --

Thanx for your comments. I'll try to get them posted. I agree (see my post: FREE GRACE (12-8-2006).

I especially agree about encouraging "one who has apparently fallen away to actively trust Christ in the present." I have counseled persons who had doubts about their salvation to do just this, and not to be too concerned about whether a "conversion experience" in the past was genuine. I simply ask them, "Whom are you trusting right now?"

I hope you can get an account. Perhaps the web disagreed with your theology? :^)