In the Ordo Salutis, the doctrine of Perseverance is of great significance because it is an assurance that God will do what He has promised; that no one can snatch us from His hands. The Westminster Confessions of Faith, Chapter 16 has written a great deal on the Perseverance of the Saints.
Perseverance of the Saints (WCF, 16)
- They, whom God has accepted in His Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.
- This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which arises also the certainty and infallibility thereof.
- Nevertheless, they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins; and, for a time, continue therein: whereby they incur God’s displeasure, and grieve His Holy Spirit, come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts, have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded; hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves.
Abandoning the Faith
Can a believer who has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and truly converted to Christ fall away from God’s grace and once again enter God’s wrath and eternal distraction? Absolutely not!
The WCF clearly state that one who has truly experienced faith in Jesus Christ, cannot and will not be subject to God’s wrath and enteral judgement because their sins have been washed by the blood of Christ (John 3:36 John 5:24). God has preserved the believer in such a way that when He began the good work in him, He will see it to completion at the day of the Lord’s return (Phil. 1:6). Because of this promise, a Christian can have confidence in their eternal security.
What of those who turned away?
What of our friends who showed great fervor for the gospel? Many of us have had friends who’ve come to know the Lord, confessing him as Lord and Savior, crossing through the waters of baptism and even taking of the Lord’s Supper. Although our hopes would be that they are saved, the reality is that they may have been part of the covenant community, but they did not belong to the LORD. Those who have turned away from the faith seem to have fallen from grace; but it only “seems” this way. The Apostle John wrestled with those who have turned away and contended that, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they were of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us (1 John 2:19). The Bible is clear that believers cannot fall from grace, but only that we can be misled by false appearances and professions. Even as believers, we are still susceptible to false expressions of faith. Our experiences do not always exhibit truth, but what is always true is the Word of God. True believers cannot fall away, because the power of God preserves them until the last day.
Now, the Westminster Divines also understood that believers are so often tempted by the Devil, this world, and by our own sinful nature. Thus, in sin we may neglect the means of grace (prayer, the preaching of God’s word, and the sacraments), fall under God’s discipline, and grieve the Spirit. But this is only for a time. A Christian might happen to sin for a time, but by God’s grace will not fall away to endure God’s eternal judgment. For the Christian has a mediator between him and God who is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the propitiation which satisfied the wrath of God and in believing this the Christian will repent, and once again find favor through Christ before God.
We may look at the Apostle Peter for this great display of God’s grace upon His elect. In the synoptic Gospels, we see that Peter, overwhelmed with fear, had committed a grievous sin by denying the Lord not once, but three times. Yet despite Peter’s denial of Christ, we see the grace of God in the reinstallation of Peter into the Apostolic ministry by the very person he denied. Peter was preserved by God and persevered in faith till the end (and if the historical accounts are accurate, enduring the same death as the Lord).