The Perseverance and Preservation of the Saints — Michael Horton

amazingbackintograceMichael Horton explains that when teaching the biblical doctrine of eternal security for the Christian, The Perseverance (or Preservation) of the Saints is a more accurate term than “once saved, always saved”:

Some who believe that Christians are eternally secure give their doctrine the slogan “once saved, always saved,” but that slogan is very misleading. The slogan suggests that once persons make a decision for Christ, they can then go off and do their own thing, fully confident that no matter what they do or how they live, they are “safe and secure from all alarm.” That simply is not biblical.

The new birth, to be sure, is an event. In other words, at some point in your life, the Holy Spirit moves and creates new life in your soul. But salvation is more than that. Justification, too, is a one-time declaration, but salvation also involves a process of, over time, becoming righteous, which is called sanctification.

Sanctification is the Christian life, the daily pursuit of God and the transformation of the heart, mind, and will. Our priorities and our view of life are drastically altered, revolutionized, and reversed. We did not cooperate in our justification. But we must cooperate with God in our sanctification.

Some Christians have the idea that they must sit back and let the Spirit do everything. But…the process toward maturity in Christ is not based on a passive view of life. Another way of saying sanctification is “taking the bull by the horns.” We do not wait for the Holy Spirit to perform some supernatural number on our lives: he already has done this for us! We actively pursue holiness and Christ-centeredness in our lives, recognizing that the same One who commands us to work, persevere, and obey gives us the supernatural ability to do so. Just do it! You do the work; but recognize that, if the work is done, God has done it in and through you.

So then, when we speak of “once saved, always saved,” we are not taking into account the full scope of salvation. We have been saved (justified), we are being saved (sanctified), and we will one day be saved (glorified). You cannot claim to have been “saved” (justified) unless you are being sanctified. Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord.

Jesus made it plain throughout his ministry that one could not become his disciple (and, therefore, could not receive eternal life) unless that person was willing to “take up his cross daily” and follow Jesus. The New Testament emphasizes denying yourself, dying to sin, and deferring to others.

These terms identify a concept that is not in vogue today. When even many church leaders are telling people to “believe in yourself” and are preaching a gospel that is more concerned with fulfilling our desires than God’s, we have difficulty falling unreservedly into the arms of the Savior in whom we find our only confidence. But of course, we cannot ever tailor-make the gospel to fit our self-serving expectations.

Romans 8:30 makes clear the chain of salvation, a chain whose links cannot be broken: “And those he predestined, those he also called; those he called, he also justified; he justified, he also glorified.” Can one be predestined, called, justified, and lost? This verse teaches us that when God starts something, God finishes it. Did you grant yourself salvation? Did you gain it yourself in the first instance? No, salvation was a gift. Remember, God justifies and condemns: “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? (Rom: 8:33-34).  God never plants trees that do not bear fruit: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last” (John 15:16).  And the conclusion we can draw from James is, if you don’t have the fruit, check the root!

Since God initially gives us the grace to believe in him and to turn from self, why would he not give us the grace to keep on trusting in him?  One simply cannot believe in the possibility of losing salvation through moral failure and in salvation by grace at the same time.

We have the responsibility to “go onto maturity” (Heb. 6:1). So we are responsible to persevere, but not for our perseverance. We are responsible to be saved, but not for our salvation.

To lose our salvation, we would have to return to a condition of spiritual death. Of what sort of regeneration would the Holy Spirit be the author if those whom he has resurrected and given eternal life are capable of dying spiritually again? “Well, can’t you commit spiritual suicide?” one might ask. Not if we take seriously the claim of 1 Peter 1:23: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable.”

Michael Horton, Putting Amazing Back into Grace (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), pp 170-174.

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The Inconsistent Synergism of ‘Eternal Security’ – Michael Horton

charles_stanleyToday, many within the American Church speak of ‘Eternal Security’.  Charles Stanley is one key example that teaches this doctrine.  In this system, Charles Stanley actually is Arminian in the other four points of Calvinism and because a person “makes a decision for Jesus”, well Jesus is just kind of stuck with them, regardless of the lack of fruit or evidence of true faith in Christ.  This doctrine of ‘Eternal Security’ is inconsistent with the Reformed Protestant view known as ‘Perseverance of the Saints’ (or the ‘P’ in TULIP).  In the Reformed understanding of the five points of Calvinism, salvation is all of grace from beginning to end.  Michael Horton in his recent book, For Calvinism very thoughtfully engages the ‘inconsistent synergism’ of the doctrine of ‘Eternal Security’ commonly taught by Charles Stanley among many others.  Sadly, Reformed folk get a bad wrap for holding to ‘Eternal Security’ even though it is a view inconsistent with our system of doctrine and Reformed Confessional standards.  ‘Perseverance of the Saints’ is an altogether different doctrine than what has become known as ‘Eternal Security’ or ‘Once Saved, Always Saved’.  Reformed Protestants are not ‘Antinomians’ as the Assemblies of God would have us to believe as they lump Charles Stanley in within the pale of Calvinism and leave Reformed Protestants impaled.  Just take a look at our Reformed Confessions such as the Heidelberg Catechism or the Westminster Standards.

Michael Horton writes in For Calvinism:

Neither the Roman Catholic and Orthodox nor the Arminian view is Pelagian . Both insist on the necessity of grace, but this grace is regarded as making final salvation merely possible; it becomes effectual only to the extent that the believer cooperates with its infused powers.

If these rival views of perseverance represent a consistent synergism, another important view can be identified as inconsistent synergism. Generally known as eternal security, this view seems in some respects indistinguishable from the perseverance of the saints. However , at least as it is articulated by many of its leading proponents, this view locates security in the believer’s decision to accept Christ. 25 Although genuine Christians may fail to grow in their sanctification and persevere in their faith — in fact, they may never even begin to bear the fruit of righteousness— they are assured of eternal life. Such “carnal Christians” may leave the church, even deny Christ , and thereby lose the blessings of living as “victorious Christians” as well as the rewards in the next life for faithful service, but they will be saved, though “only as through fire” (1 Cor. 3: 15). 26

Although advocates often represent this position as moderate Calvinism, it is more appropriately identified as moderate Arminianism. This is why I have identified it as “inconsistent synergism.” After all, it denies that human beings are incapable of responding to God in faith apart from a prior regeneration, bases election on foreseen faith, rejects the particular scope of the atonement, and maintains that the Spirit’s sovereign call may be resisted. Even its teaching of eternal security is based on the believer’s decision to accept Christ, which renders this view actually closer to Arminianism than to a Calvinist interpretation of perseverance of the saints.

Over every form of synergism, Confessional Lutheranism strongly affirms a monergistic soteriology: God alone saves; it is not a process of human cooperation with God’s grace. Nevertheless, from a Reformed perspective the Lutheran system represents an inconsistent monergism. Confessional Lutheranism affirms total depravity and unconditional election while nevertheless holding with equal rigor to a universal atonement and the possibility of resisting the Spirit’s inward calling through the outward gospel. Lutheranism affirms with Reformed theology that the elect will persevere and “those who still take pleasure in their sins and continue in a sinful life do not believe” (Augsburg Confession, Art. 20); yet also holds that it is possible that (1) the elect may lose their salvation for a time (e.g., David, Peter), but not finally; and (2) others might once have truly believed, been regenerated and justified, but then lose all of these gifts through apostasy. 27

According to some Lutherans, salvation can only be lost through unbelief, while according to others it may also be lost due to mortal sin. 28 How can one say that God alone saves, from beginning to end, while also affirming the possibility of losing one’s salvation? It seems undeniable that this gift depends in some sense on the sinner’s nonresisting, although this conclusion is rejected by Confessional Lutherans.

The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints reflects a consistently monergistic view of salvation as entirely due to God’s grace alone from beginning to end. With the writer to the Hebrews, we can acknowledge the tragic reality of apostasy or falling away from the covenantal sphere of the Spirit’s activity through Word and sacrament without concluding that these visible members of Christ’s body were actually regenerated branches of the vine. Although some professing members may be devoid of saving faith, those who receive the reality that is promised to them in Word and sacrament are assured that they will continue to trust in Christ. In spite of the weakness of our faith and repentance, we are “more than conquerors through him who loved us,” so that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8: 37, 39). Now that is a message that takes command of our hearts and minds, leading us to worship and out to our neighbors with the best news that they will ever hear!

Horton, Michael S. (2011-10-25). For Calvinism (Kindle Locations 2129-2162). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.  (pp. 122-123 in the paperback)

Is Perseverance of the Saints Different from Eternal Security

The Perseverance and Preservation of the Saints — Michael Horton

Assemblies of God Position Paper on the Security of the Believer (Backsliding)

The Covenant of Grace – Sacred Bond

sacred_bond_coverThe covenant of grace is the historical outworking of God’s eternal plan of salvation in the covenant of redemption. As we learned in chapter 1, the covenant of redemption was made in eternity among the persons of the Trinity and fulfilled in time through Christ’s active obedience and atoning death. It was for Christ a covenant of works . Just as there was a covenant of works with the first Adam, there was also a covenant of works with the second Adam, Christ. His obedience under this covenant is the foundation of the gospel and the covenant of grace. The covenant of grace is essentially the application to sinners of the benefits earned by Christ through his fulfillment of the covenant of redemption. In this covenant, because of Christ’s obedience, God brings his people into communion with himself and promises them, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” His promise is not on the basis of their obedience, but on the basis of Christ’s obedience. It was works for Christ so that it is grace for us. “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5: 19).

Like the covenant of works, the covenant of grace is made between God and humans. One of the chief differences between these two covenants, however, is that the latter has a Mediator between God and his covenant partners, whereas the former does not. Christ is that Mediator (1 Tim. 2: 5). This makes the nature of these covenants very different from one another. As was shown in chapter 2, the covenant of works is based on law and requires perfect , personal obedience. Its condition is , “Do this and you will live” (cf. Lev. 18: 5; Gal. 3: 12). The covenant of grace, on the other hand, is based on God’s promise to save sinners. Its condition is, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16: 31; cf. Rom. 10: 6– 13; Gal. 2: 16). In the covenant of grace, God pronounces sinners justified and righteous on the basis of the righteousness of Christ imputed to them and received through faith alone.

Brown, Michael G.; Keele, Zach (2012-05-29). Sacred Bond; Covenant Theology Explored (Kindle Locations 885-900). Reformed Fellowship, Inc.. Kindle Edition.