Perseverance Of The Saints Part 1: Definitions

My next several posts will be dealing with the topic of perseverance. Perseverance of the saints is represented in Calvinism by the P in TULIP. Most Calvinists rest their understanding of perseverance on the certainty of unconditional eternal election. Those who have been elected from all eternity to salvation cannot fail to persevere to the end and reach the destiny of eternal life that God decreed for them. Some Calvinists also rest this doctrine on the nature of the atonement. This foundation is problematic and I intend to explore it in future posts.

A distinction is necessary with regards to the different ways in which perseverance is understood among various doctrinal viewpoints. I believe that these viewpoints fall into three main categories as follows:

Perseverance in Arminianism: Arminians believe that it is necessary for the redeemed to persevere in saving faith in order to attain to eternal life in the age to come (final salvation). We maintain that true believers who have experienced genuine regeneration can yet fall away from the faith and perish everlastingly. We take Jesus’ words in Matt. 10:22 both literally and seriously: “The one who endures till the end shall be saved”. We maintain that it is the believer’s responsibility to continue in saving faith, while acknowledging dependence on God’s grace and power to do so.

Perseverance in Calvinism: Calvinists, like Arminians, believe that it is necessary for the redeemed to persevere in saving faith in order to attain to eternal life in the age to come (final salvation). They believe that one who is truly saved cannot fail to persevere in saving faith. God is solely responsible in preserving His elect and ensuring that they reach their final destination. They do not deny that some appear to fall away, but maintain that the truly regenerate will never finally fall away from faith and salvation. They would say that apostasy only proves that one’s profession of faith was not genuine and that the “apostate” had never truly been regenerated in the first place. The “apostate’s” defection simply reveals that his or her initial conversion was spurious. The Calvinist, then, would understand Matt.10:22 as meaning: “Those who are [truly] saved will [of necessity] endure to the end”. For this reason I prefer to call the Calvinist understanding of perseverance: “inevitable perseverance”.

Perseverance among “moderate” Calvinists: I am here referring to those who essentially discount the need for perseverance of any kind with regards to final salvation. This position is held by a wide spectrum of evangelical Christians today. It is hard to say what they should be called. While many call themselves moderate Calvinists, many others would likely object to that label. It is generally held by those who would consider themselves Arminian in every other significant area of soteriology. We could call them 1 point Calvinists (holding only to P) or 4 point Arminians. This view is especially prominent among Southern Baptists and is heavily promoted by well known teachers such as Charles Stanley, Chuck Swindoll, and Tony Evans. This understanding of perseverance teaches that once a person puts saving faith in Jesus Christ, nothing can change that person’s eternal destiny. It maintains that a true believer can return to a life of wickedness, die in a state of unrepentance, and still be saved in the end. This view even maintains that a true believer can later repudiate the faith, die in unbelief, and still be guaranteed entrance into God’s eternal Kingdom (with considerably less or no heavenly rewards). This view of perseverance coined the phrase “Carnal Christian” which is defined as Christians whose lifestyles cannot in any way be distinguished from the wicked lifestyles of the unregenerate.

In my next several posts I will be examining important Scriptures to determine which of the above definitions of perseverance best fits the Biblical record.

Go to Part 2