A Defense of the Perseverance of the Saints - Part I
What it would mean for God the Father
if a true believer could fully and finally fall away
We will examine the issue of perseverance by noting what it would mean for each of the three members of the Trinity should it be possible for a Christian to fall fully and finally from salvation. This lesson focuses on the Father. The next focuses on the Son and Spirit.
What it would mean for God the Father
1. He would not be worthy of glory nor of our adoring praise and worship
Here it says God is able to keep you from stumbling (cf. Rom. 16:25; Eph. 3:20). Left to ourselves, we would stumble so as to fall finally and forever. But the issue at stake isn't whether you are able to persevere but whether God is able to preserve and keep you. Here we see that whereas we might be inclined to choose a sinful course of action that would ultimately lead to our stumbling, God is able to intervene and override our rebellious determination and to cause us to stand blameless before him with great joy (cf. 1 Pt. 1:19).
It is because God is able to do this that he is worthy of "glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time, now and forever." Our security is not dependent on our ability, but on God's. Our security is not dependent on feeling secure or saved. Security is an objective fact, not a subjective feeling.
Note finally the connection between vv.24 and 25. How do we know God is able? We know because he is the God of glory, majesty, dominion and authority. If God can't keep his own he is hardly worthy of such accolades. If God can't preserve his people he is to be pitied, not praised.
Romans 5:6-11; 8:32
See the notes on this text and the argument from the greater to the lesser. I.e., if ever there were a time God might forever turn his back on you it was when you were an alien, an orphan, an enemy, hostile and outside the kingdom. But if he loved you then, how much more so now that you are an ally, a child, a friend and a citizen of the kingdom and family of God. If God took the greatest step necessary to save you when you were his worst enemy, will he not take whatever lesser steps are necessary to keep you saved now that you are his child?
2. His purpose in redemption would fail and unravel
Romans 8:29-30; Phil. 1:6
See the notes on Rom. 8:29-30. Again, the objects of predestination are numerically identical with the objects of foreknowledge ("those whom He foreknew, He predestined"). The objects of calling are numerically identical with the objects of predestination ("those whom He predestined, He called"), and so on. Those who are, as it were, as good as glorified (note the past tense) are those who, in eternity past, were foreknown. Not one has been lost in the process.
This is another way of saying, as Paul does, that "He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 1:6).
3. His will would be frustrated and fail of fulfillment
The argument of Jesus in these verses must be carefully noted:
On several occasions in John's Gospel divine election is described in terms of God the Father giving certain persons to God the Son (6:37, 39; 10:29; 17:1-2,6,9,24). In each of these cases the giving of men to Christ precedes and is the cause of their receiving eternal life. Those who are given to the Son include not only the present company of disciples who believe in Jesus but also the elect of future ages who will come to faith through the gospel. Jesus looks upon them as already his (John 17:20-21; see also John 10:16; Acts 18:10), even though they have not yet believed in his name. They are his because they were given to him by the Father in eternity past.
What is of special importance to us is what Jesus says about how those whom the Father has given to him come to him and whether or not those who come can ever lose their salvation. It will prove helpful to look at this in terms of three impossibilities.
(1) The first impossibility. Jesus says that it is morally and spiritually impossible for a person to come to Christ apart from the "drawing" of that person by God the Father (6:44,65). May I strongly emphasize the words morally and spiritually. The reason people do not come to Christ is not because they lack a will, or a mind, or feelings, or even lack opportunity and occasion. Their not coming to Christ is due to their moral and spiritual refusal to do so, a refusal in which they willingly and freely delight. If they cannot come it is not because God will not let them. It is because it is their nature not to want to come. In sum, their not coming is not because of a physical defect but because of a moral refusal.
(2) The second impossibility. Jesus also says that it is impossible for someone whom the Father "draws" not to come to him. He says in verse 37, "All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me"' In other words, just as it is impossible for a person to come to Christ apart from the Father drawing him/her, so also is it impossible for a person not to come to Christ if the Father does draw him/her. Two crucial elements are involved here. On the one hand, if a man is to be saved he must come to Christ. An active, willing embrace of Jesus Christ in faith is essential. On the other hand, this active, willing embrace of Jesus Christ is guaranteed by virtue of the Father having given certain people to Jesus Christ. John Murray explains it this way:
"Jesus does not say: all that the Father giveth me are brought to me. He uses the term that denotes motion on the part of the person - 'will come to me.' Coming to Christ is the movement of commitment to Christ, coming that engages the whole-souled activity of the person coming. It is not that he may come, not that he has the opportunity to come, not that he will in all probability come, and not simply that he is empowered to come, but that he will come. There is absolute certainty; There is a divine necessity; the order of heaven insures the sequence" (59).
Therefore, it is impossible that an elect person, a "given-by-the-Father-to-the-Son" person, might fail to come to faith in Christ. Or to put it positively, all the elect shall come to faith in Christ. God's drawing of them is efficacious. The Father will never fail in drawing to salvation those whom he has given to the Son.
Before we move to the third impossibility, observe one more crucial fact. Since this drawing of people by the Father to the Son is always efficacious, it cannot refer to the so-called enabling grace of Arminianism. Do you recall what the Arminian believes? He believes that God restores in all men a power or an ability sufficient to enable them to come to Christ. Clearly this "universal enablement" cannot be the drawing that Jesus describes, Why not? Because millions and millions of men and women do not, in fact, come to Christ! And yet Jesus says that all who are given by the Father are drawn by the Father and shall come to Christ. There is no escaping the clear and unequivocal language of our Lord Jesus Christ: no one can come unless drawn by the Father; but if one is drawn by the Father he shall come .
(3) The third impossibility. To the previous two impossibilities Jesus adds a third. He has already said it is impossible to come to him unless the Father draws. He has also said it is impossible not to come if the Father does draw. Now he says that when a man does come through the drawing of the Father it is impossible for him to be cast out. Look again at verse 37: "and the one who comes to me I will certainly not cast out." The point is that those whom the Father gives to the Son, who therefore come to the Son, will be received by the Son and shall never perish.
The verb translated "cast out" in verse 37 is used several times in John (2:15; 6:37; 9:34f.; 10:4; 12:31) and always means to cast out someone or something already in. Thus the emphasis here is not so much on receiving the one who comes (although that is true enough in itself) but on preserving him. In other words, "6:37 argues not only that the ones given to Jesus will inevitably come to him, but that Jesus will keep them individually . . . once there" (D. A. Carson, 184).
Who would suggest that Jesus Christ would refuse to accept what his Father has given him? If the Father was pleased to make a gift of certain sinners to his most blessed Son, you may rest assured that the Son will neither despise nor deny his Father's gracious generosity. The certainty of ultimate and absolute salvation for those who come to the Son is reaffirmed in verses 38-40. Their life in Christ is eternal and irrevocable because that is the will of the Father; a will or a purpose that the whole of Christ's person and work was designed to secure, a will or purpose that shall ultimately be (Ps. 115:3; 135:6; Dan. 4:34-35; Eph. 1:11; Acts 4:28). What did Jesus come to do? He came to do the Father's will (v.38). What is the Father's will? The Father's will is that all those he has given to the Son be fully and finally saved (v. 39). Oh, what a glorious thought it is, that,
"My name from the palms of His hands
Etemity will not erase;
Impress'd on His heart it remains,
In marks of indelible grace."
And still again we sing:
"Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, I will still give thee aid;
I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my gracious, omnipotent hand."
"The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I'll never, no never, no never forsake!"
4. It would mean that the Father has refused to answer the prayers of His Son
5. God, supposedly all-powerful, would be exposed as impotent and helpless
John 10:28-29; Rom. 8:35-39
Jesus grounds his confidence in the safety of his sheep in the incomparable omnipotence of his Father. It is because there is no one greater or more powerful than God the Father that the sheep are secure. Was Jesus mistaken in his assessment of the Father's power and purpose?
Several observations regarding John 10 are in order:
a) "And they shall never perish" - Lit., they shall not, by no means ever, perish. This is an absolute, unequivocal, unassailable negative. Would Jesus have said this if in fact many of his sheep shall perish? If so much as one true child of God can ever perish, Jesus has deceived us.
b) "And no one shall snatch them out of my hand" - Not the attacking wolf (v. 12), nor the thieves and robbers (vv. 1,8), nor anyone. "No one" means "no one."
c) "My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand" - God the Father himself stands behind God the Son in keeping the sheep in the fold. Jesus holds us tightly. God holds us tightly. Who can steal from God? Who has the strength or the cunning or the power to outwit and outmuscle Almighty God?
d) In v. 28 Jesus says "no one will snatch them" whereas in v. 29 he says "no one can snatch them." Some may attempt to snatch them. But they cannot succeed because the Son and the Father are united in purpose and power to keep them secure.
e) "O.K., perhaps no one else can snatch me from God's hand. But what if I myself wriggle free and jump out of my own accord?" Is your power of choice greater than God's? Is your will more powerful than his? Look again at Jesus' words: "No one . . . " = all . . . me, others, you! If eternal security is false, then Jesus is saying: "No one can snatch them out of my Father's hand; oh, that is, except for every one of the sheep." PT: if you mean everyone you don't say no one! Jesus doesn't say: "No one except for the person himself." In Rom. 8:38-39 all creatures are excluded as a threat to loss of salvation. In John 10 the Creator himself is excluded as well.
If Jesus wanted to teach eternal security, how could he have done it better or more explicitly than the way he does it here? If you wanted to assert eternal security, how could you do it better than by using the words of Jesus in John 10?
(1) "They won't perish so long as they remain sheep." But:
a) The text doesn't say that.
b) The assertion of the text is precisely that sheep always do remain sheep! The point of the text is: "Once a sheep, always a sheep." If Jesus wanted us to believe that some of his sheep could cease being sheep and suffer eternal death, why did he say his sheep will never suffer eternal death and no one can snatch them from him or from his Father? Surely Jesus is not guilty of the crassest form of double-talk. In other words, “they shall never perish” = “they shall always stay sheep!”
(2) "What if some sin or failure or weakness or lapse of faith occurs repeatedly?"
a) How repeatedly? How much sin does it take to lose one's salvation?
b) See again the argument of Rom. 5:8.
c) What does a good shepherd do with wandering sheep? See Luke 15. He wouldn't be a good shepherd if he didn't restore them when they wander.
d) Our security is ultimately dependent on God's character, not ours. People say: "If we change, we lose our salvation." No. We can't lose it, not because we can't change, but because God can't.
6. God, supposedly righteous, would be exposed as a liar and an impostor
Hebrews 13:5-6 (cf. with 6:17-19)
7. God would prove to be faithless
1 Cor. 1:7-9; 10:13; 1 Thess. 5:23-24
Many argue that salvation is tenuous because of the potential for a believer to succumb to temptation, the ultimate fruit of which may be loss of spiritual life. But Paul's point in 1 Cor. 10:13 is that "they will be able to endure because God will not permit the testing to exceed their power of resistance" (Judith M. Gundry-Volf, Paul and Perseverance: Staying in and Falling Away, [Louisville: Westminster / John Knox Press, 1990], 72).