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Monday, December 26, 2016

The Perseverance of the Saints?

Let me state at the outset that I believe the Bible teaches that anyone who is born again, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, whose sins are forgiven by the blood of Christ, and is raised to new life is saved for eternity. I don't like to use the phrase, "once saved, always saved." I think it can be misleading. It suggests that you can become saved and then live the most profligate life imaginable and it won't matter at all because you're always saved. I believe that the Bible teaches that the one who is born of God does not make a practice of sinning, that, in fact, he or she cannot make a practice of sinning (1 John 3:9). I believe that the Bible teaches that we must continue in the faith (Acts 14:22; Col 1:23) -- must work out our salvation (Phil 2:12) -- but that we do so because "it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Phil 2:13) That is, there are three certainties for the saved person. First, you will remain saved. Second, you must work. Scripture refers to it as "sanctification". It is the necessary result of a changed heart. Third, that work is the product of God at work in you. Therefore, it isn't by your effort but by His. In the end, then, I believe that genuine believers will persist in the faith, working until the end because God is at work, and, so, will surely be saved once that salvation has begun.

There are lots of people who argue against this. That's fine. I can't align their arguments with the Word of God. There are lots of people who argue for this and, while they are in agreement with my basic idea -- that those who belong to the Lord will remain saved until the end -- they disagree with the whole "work out your salvation" thing. That's fine. I still can't align their arguments with the Word of God. Many argue for "eternal security" with the explicit demand that there is nothing more required of us. "You know," they say, "'not of works', like the Bible says." I agree that we are not saved by works but by faith alone, but, like Martin Luther, I contend that Scripture teaches that it is faith alone but not a faith that is alone. So there are lots of arguments (by "arguments" I mean truth claims and lines of reasoning, not verbal battles, although there are lots of those, too), good and bad.

So it was interesting to me to run across a new one I hadn't considered before. Reading in Hebrews, I came across the familiar passage in Hebrews 8 about how our High Priest, Jesus, is superior to all others. The author tells that one way He is superior to other priests is that He is present with God instead of here on Earth, an immediate intermediary. As an immediate intermediary, it says that "Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant He mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises." (Heb 8:6) So there was the Old Covenant with Israel and now there is a New Covenant (Matt 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25). Then it makes this interesting observation about the Old Covenant.
For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. (Heb 8:7)
Okay, now, hold on. That first covenant was instituted by God. Is the author of Hebrews saying that the covenant instituted by God was faulty? Yes, he is. So in what way was that first covenant faulty?
For He finds fault with them when He says: "Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in My covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord." (Heb 8:8-9)
Oh, now, see? That makes sense. The fault was not with God or His covenant. It was with the "other party". The fault with the Old Covenant was that they did not continue in it. Thus, in order to correct this fault, the author of Hebrews is claiming, God has made a New Covenant. What is the New Covenant?
"For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the Lord: "I will put My laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more." (Heb 8:10-12)
So, here is the situation. There was an Old Covenant that was great, except that Israel didn't keep their side of it. In order to remedy that, God has made a New Covenant that solves the problem of the failure to keep it. In this New Covenant, God puts His laws into their minds and hearts and they don't merely know of Him; they know Him. In return, He is merciful and sets aside their sins.

Now, we understand that the new "Israel", according to Paul, includes "the children of promise" (Rom 9:6-8) -- all who come to Christ. With this "Israel" God has made a New Covenant that fixes the problem of the Old. The problem of the Old was that the ones with whom the covenant was made didn't keep it. The New fixes that fault. That is, God's New Covenant with believers includes provisions so that they will keep His covenant because He will make it so. This idea, then, includes both the eternal security of those who have been saved as well as the certainty that those who are in Christ will work. And it does so by basing the works believers do on God's provision, not their efforts.

That's not an argument I've seen before on the topic of whether or not a true believer can lose his or her salvation. That is, I don't believe it is new information; I just haven't seen it applied to that discussion before. So where am I mistaken? What have I misunderstood or misapplied? In what way have I strayed? I don't see it. Do you?


David said...

I had a teacher that liked to call it the preservation of the saints.

Stan said...

The subtle difference between the "preservation of the saints" (heard that from Sproul) and the "perseverance of the saints" is that in the latter the saints persevere by God's help and in the former the saints are kept without any of their own participation.