No one who is truly united to Christ can ever be snatched from the hand of God. Today, Barry Cooper examines an encouraging truth: when God gives someone the gift of saving faith, He will preserve that faith to the end.
Full disclosure I may not be the best equipped to talk about perseverance. I have an unfortunate habit of ordering books and never getting around to reading them. And then I order more books before I’ve started reading the books I ordered previously. And sometimes, even when I do start reading them, I don’t make it to the end.
But thankfully, the kind of perseverance we’re talking about today is more about God’s perseverance than ours. It’s the biblical doctrine known as “perseverance” or “the perseverance of the saints.” It’s the idea that once a person is saved, they cannot fall away finally from that salvation.
In the opening lines of Paul’s letter to the believers in Philippi, he says:
I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
In other words, what God starts, He finishes. People who are saved cannot lose their salvation. It is possible for true believers to fall into grievous sin and even to walk away for a time. But the salvation of all those whom God has truly regenerated and united to Christ will be brought to completion. No one, not even ourselves, can snatch us out of the hand of God if we belong to Him.
But of course, for that to be any comfort, you’d need to know that you are in fact saved in the first place. And dangerously, when some of us hear the phrase “once saved, always saved,” we think it means “because I once prayed a prayer or once went to the front at a meeting, then regardless of how I live in the meantime, I’ll always be saved.”
That is categorically not what the Bible teaches, and if you’re resting in that idea, please don’t. First Corinthians chapter 15, verse 2 is clear:
You are being saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you.
Jesus says something similar in Mark chapter 13:
You will be hated by all because for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
We have to endure in “holding fast” to Christ in order to be saved. That means more than just paying lip service to Him; it means obeying Him.
The Apostle John puts it like this:
By this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
Now that doesn’t mean that only people who perfectly obey all His commands all the time are true believers. Even the true believer will be engaged in an ongoing wrestling match with sin.
But the wrestling is the point. If a person isn’t interested in wrestling with their sin, and wrestling to the very end, then it’s questionable whether that person is a believer at all. They would have no grounds to confidently say, “He who began a good work in me will carry it on to completion,” because it’s not clear that God has begun a good work in them at all.
Some have pointed to Hebrews chapter 6 as a challenge to this idea that true believers cannot lose their salvation. Hebrews says this:
It is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance.
So is Scripture here talking about believers who lose their salvation? Jesus’ parable of the soils in Mark chapter 4 sheds some light on the situation. There are people, says Jesus, who immediately receive God’s word with joy. They look just like genuine believers. They endure—for a while. But when they face opposition for what they believe, they fall away. Those people seem to be the ones that the author of Hebrews has in mind.
It’s also important to say that the reference to “sharing in the Holy Spirit” doesn’t mean that these people who fall away had previously been regenerated by the Spirit, as happens to all true believers. The Greek phrase means literally that they “have become [merely] companions of the Holy Spirit.” In other words, they’ve witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit in the church and have perhaps even done apparently miraculous things themselves. But the Spirit hasn’t indwelt them the way He does the believer. And sooner or later, they walk away.
First John speaks of the same kinds of people when it says:
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.
To put it another way, if their faith had been genuine, they would have stuck around. But they didn’t.
Or we might put it like this: If you have faith, you will never lose it. If you “have it” and then lose it, you never really had it. Saving faith is not the kind of thing you can lose, because what God starts, He finishes.
The truth that God finishes what He starts ought to be a great encouragement to those who love and seek to obey Christ. It is a sweet thing to understand, in the thick of suffering or persecution, or even in battling personal sin, that none of it can rob you of your salvation.
To know, as Jesus says in John chapter 10, that “no one is able to snatch [you] out of the Father’s hand”—that has the power to replace our anxiety with the deepest assurance.
As the Bible tells us, God the Father really is “able to keep you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy.”
“He who calls you is faithful, [and] he will surely do it.”