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Perseverence vs. OSAS

Years ago, the doctrine of “once saved, always saved” was a big stumbling block for me as I approached the doctrines known as “Calvinism.” Having read and heartily agreed with The Gospel According to Jesus (ironically, I thought, by a Calvinist), I abhorred the notion that one could “accept Jesus” and be secure in his salvation while living an unchanged life; and I still do. The doctrines known as “Free Grace Theology” are no less than anti-gospel heresies. But isn’t that the logical conclusion of Calvinism?

imgIf you have been taught the “once saved, always saved” doctrine, you may think that there is no difference between that teaching and the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. But while it is certainly true that those who are once saved will always be saved, the concept of the perseverance of the saints encompasses a vitally important truth that is rarely emphasized by people who teach the “once saved, always saved” view. That missing emphasis is the fact that a person is saved through perseverance, not apart from it. The “once saved, always saved” view may lead those who hold it into quietistic thinking. That is to say, they may think that they have little or no part to play in maintaining their salvation, but that God does it all for them. While a person is not saved by works (as Romanists believe) and does not remain saved because of works (as the Churches of Christ believe), God saves only those who persevere in the faith.
   In a section of the Institutes of the Christian Religion titled “Perseverance is exclusively God’s work; it is neither a reward nor a complement of our individual act,” Calvin writes:
imgPerseverance would, without any doubt, be accounted God’s free gift if a most wicked error did not prevail that it is distributed according to men’s merit, in so far as each man shows himself receptive to the first grace. But since this error arose from the fact that men thought it in their power to spurn or to accept the proffered grace of God, when the latter opinion is swept away the former idea also falls of itself. However, there is here a twofold error. For besides teaching that our gratefulness for the first grace and our lawful use of it are rewarded by subsequent gifts, they add also that grace does not work in us by itself, but is only a co-worker with us. [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.3.11.]
Perseverance is the result of the work of the Spirit in believers’ hearts. Nevertheless, it is a work that enables them to keep on believing, as Peter says. God does not believe for them. Rather, they are “guarded” through faith.
   In John 15, we read about the sanctification that is necessary for a believer to be saved. [I.e., the sanctification that is always present, giving evidence of the fact that one is saved.] A so-called “abiding” condition, which some Higher Life adherents take to mean a special sort of holiness, is not taught in the passage. That idea distorts the apostle’s teaching. The Greek word meno, which the King James Version translates as “abide,” means “remain, continue, stay.” It does not refer to some special state of “resting” in Christ that only super saints achieve. Rather, this abiding is equivalent to persevering in the faith. And it is true not of a select few, such as the apostles only, but of all Christians. Indeed, persevering in one’s faith in Christ is necessary not only for bearing “much fruit,” as the passage teaches, but also for salvation.
   Unless one remains in the vine, “he is thrown away like a branch and withers,” eventually to be burned up (v. 6). Jesus, therefore, commands, “Abide [or remain] in my love” (v. 9b). The apostles had to persevere in their faith or be cast aside like a branch broken off the vine, and the same is true for all believers. Christ, the Vine, requires every professed Christian to remain in Him by genuine faith or eventually be thrown into the fire.
   So perseverance is the result of true faith, nourished and maintained by the Spirit. But the believer himself must continue to exercise it. He may never sit back and say, “I’m saved, I may do as I please, since I can never be lost.” To think that way indicates either that he has received very faulty teaching or that he is not a believer. No one who is truly converted can think that way for very long, if at all. True Spirit-given and Spirit-nourished faith leads to biblical thinking. A professed Christian must persevere—remain, continue, stay—in the Vine.
   Jesus spoke not only of believers remaining in Him, but also of His “words” remaining in believers (v. 7). Moreover, in verse 14 He said, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” After justification, by means of divinely guarded faith, one remains in salvation by the work of the Spirit, who, through that faith, enables him to continue obeying Jesus’ words and commandments. That is perseverance.
   This precious doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, coming down to us from the Reformation, must be preserved at all costs. We may neither abandon it nor compromise with those who would do so. The certainty of salvation, which Calvin so dearly wished his congregation to know and which he bequeathed to subsequent generations, must not be lost.

—Jay E. Adams, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 187–189.

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Posted  in: Church History · Jay Adams · John Calvin · John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology
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