If God has predestined to save some from the foundation of the world, if he stepped into human history and shed his own blood to purchase them as a prized possession, and if he irresistibly applies that saving work in the miracle of regeneration, it follows that those individuals will faithfully reach the end of their lives and will be glorified. A sovereign God–one who controls whatsoever comes to pass–who means to save a people for himself, will save a people for himself. In other words, this last question of whether or not a saint will persevere–or be preserved–until the end is really a question of whether or not God’s plan can be thwarted. To ask the question is to answer it (Job 42:2).
Before I dive into this doctrine, a word needs to be said about my apparent cowardice in refusing to take a side on (in my estimation) a rather silly, in-house debate: should our “P” stand for Preservation or Perseverance? I have chosen to include both, because one is the end, the other is the means. God will hold fast to his own (preserve) by enabling his own to hold fast to him (persevere). So yes, I refuse to pick a “P,” but only because one “P” doesn’t adequately describe the what and how of the Christian’s faithfulness to the end.
The Christian “Preserved”
So what do we mean when we say that Christian’s are preserved? This is the aspect of the Christian life that deals with God sustaining work. More specifically, this concept is answering the question, “Can a Christian lose his salvation?” Interestingly enough, Jesus answers this question directly, though he frames it in different terms:
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 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. I and the Father are one. (John 10:27-30)
So apparently, the question, “Can a Christian lose his salvation?” is poorly phrased. The question should really be, “Can a Christian ever perish?” or better yet, “Can a Christian be snatched out of the hand of Christ, or the hand of the Father?” Jesus doesn’t leave a lot of guesswork. It can’t be done. To be a Christian means to be a sheep of the Good Shepherd. To be a Christian means to be a gift from the Father to the Son; it means that the Christian’s salvation isn’t something to be lost, it would need to be snatched out of the hand of God, and that will never happen.
Another helpful place to look is the conclusion of Romans chapter 8, in which Paul brings up a seemingly intimidating list of potential enemies of the Christian, to see how big of a threat they pose on Christ’s saving love for his own (Romans 8:35-39). Now, before I became a Calvinist, I tried pretty desperately to poke holes into the holy logic of this text; I wanted to preserve the possibility of losing my salvation (… yeah). Most of the “loopholes” I came up with are so lame they aren’t even worth mentioning; but non-Calvinist Sam’s crown jewel zinger went something like this, “Ah, the text says any other created thing, which doesn’t include my free will!” To which Calvinist-Sam has two responses. (1) If the human will isn’t “a created thing,” it must therefore be “uncreated.” But this poses a huge problem, because if my will is uncreated, then it takes on the characteristic of “eternally existing,” which is something that, as a Christian, I can only say of God. Human wills are mirrored creations of God’s will, bound by time and space, ontologically derivative of God himself. So throwing human volition outside the scope of Paul’s sweeping statement (any other created thing) is philosophically unacceptable for Christians who understand the “Creator/creature distinction.” (2) The text leaves no room for volitional caveats; it’s concerned with the question, “What can separate us from the love of God?” And the answer it gives is “Absolutely nothing!” To slip in some sort of loophole into this passage is to obstruct Paul’s intent, which is to give the Christian absolute confidence in God’s love; his Never-stopping, Never-giving up, Always and Forever love (as Sally Lloyd-Jones puts it in The Jesus Storybook Bible). In other words, the text is concerned with God’s role in sustaining the Christian through things that threaten to harm his soul, which is precisely why this passage comes on the heels of that breathtaking description of God’s activity in salvation found in verse 30 (He predestines, He calls, He justifies, He glorifies).
This should really come as no surprise when we think about the nature of salvation. To be saved is to be declared righteous by the imputation of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21, Romans 3:22, 5:1). To be saved means to be adopted as a child of God through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:5), it means to be raised from spiritual death (Ephesians 2:4-8), it means to be qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints of light by the Father, who delivers from the domain of darkness and transfers into the kingdom of Jesus (Colossians 1:12-14). Need I go on? Are we to believe that the Christ’s righteousness imputed to us can possibly be removed? Or that our Father will turn back on his decision to adopt us? Or that we who have been raised from the dead will once again become dead in our trespasses? Or that the qualifying work of the Father can be undone, and that we might possibly be taken back to the domain of darkness? To answer in the affirmative is to contradict God’s promises.
If this is true, does it mean that Christians don’t have to do anything? Is the Christian life like cruising down a lazy river in an inner tube? The short is answer is “no.” The longer answer will come next week.