According to Article 6 of the Canons of Dort, the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints can be summed up as such: “But God, Who is rich in mercy, according to His unchangeable purpose of election, does not wholly withdraw the Holy Spirit from His own people even in their grievous falls; nor suffers them to proceed so far as to lose the grace of adoption and forfeit the state of justification, or to commit the sin unto death or against the Holy Spirit; nor does He permit them to be totally deserted, and to plunge themselves into everlasting destruction.”
Every believer is “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (I Pet 1: 5). If we confess Christ with our mouths and believe Him in our hearts, we are sanctified or set apart by God and adopted into His family. When this happens, we are freed from the penalty and bondage of sin. From hereon, the process of sanctification begins.
Sanctification is man cooperating with God to conform himself to the image of Christ. The apostle Paul exhorts us to “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” (Philp 2: 12-13). Thus, through sanctification, man can still mature fully in faith although he falls far short of God’s perfect and holy standard.
The doctrine of perseverance, however, does not focus on man’s responsibility, but on God’s sovereignty and faithfulness in preserving him: “But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil” (II Thess 3: 3). Our Lord Jesus Christ declares in John’s gospel: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand” (Jn 10: 27-29). As the Good Shepherd Who watches over the souls of His flock, the Lord will never allow them, for the slightest moment, to be given over to the possession of evil.
Thus, the salvation of man never depends on his merits, but on Christ’s. “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Tit 2: 13-14). Salvation is the work of God from start to finish, providing believers with the privilege of working out their salvation for their own assurance and for the blessing of others.
Finally, glorification is the completion and climax of the order of salvation. Our salvation is perfected as we pass into the presence of God at our mortal death, freed from the presence and pollution of sin in us. “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Rom 8: 29-30). The believer’s glorification is also highlighted
in Colossians 3: 3-4: “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.”
Those who have died in Christ await the day when both the glorified body and soul reunite at the first resurrection that will take place at the rapture of the saints: “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (I Cor 15: 52).
Since God has promised that He will preserve His elect until he attains glorification, a born-again believer cannot therefore lose his salvation no matter how grievous his sins are. Yet this is no excuse for a Christian to continue in his sinful ways and unwillingness to submit to God’s will. Rather, he should be filled with gratitude at the assurance of his eternal security. “For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise” (Heb 10: 36).
In the same chapter that deals with the assurance of salvation, the Apostle Paul warned of the fiery judgment awaiting a professing believer who does not possess true saving faith nor repent of his sins: “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries” (Heb 10: 26-27).
Dear brethren, indeed “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10: 31). Let us not delay in repenting of our sinful ways. Strive to please our Creator and the ultimate Judge of our souls. May we take heed to the warning of our Saviour and be reconciled to God while there is yet time, lest He finds us lacking: “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt 7: 22-23). May we not take God’s grace for granted. Rather, let us make sure of our salvation (II Pet 1: 10).
– Pr Kelvin Li