Tiptoe Through the TULIP: Perseverance of the Saints

Here we are at long last at the final letter in the TULIP acronym. This one is the “P”, which stands for Perseverance of the Saints. Those who are brand new to this series (and you are late, young man!) can start with my very first post and work their way on forward, as I tend to assume I’ve already established certain ideas or dealt with certain objections already in past posts. You can also just click on the “TULIP” keyword. On a side note, please try to keep things organized, and please only respond with objections or questions in the relevant posts (ie., don’t ask something about Total Inability in this post, etc.). Any way, let’s move on…

Perseverance of the Saints is often confused with “Once Saved Always Saved” or even “Easy Believism.” Many people misinterpret that this doctrine teaches believers are free to sin as they please, or that after their confession of faith there is no further responsibility placed upon them. I once had a person ask me, if I believe I’m elected, then why don’t I go out and kill someone then? The idea is, if I’m justified before God, then I don’t need to worry about hell or judgment.

This is a complete misunderstanding of what the doctrine teaches. For one, part of the Perseverance aspect is not only that a person elected by God is secure from losing that election, but that the individual will be perfected and sanctified throughout their election. For another, it would violate the commands of scripture that believers forsake their sins, and that, because we are saved, we should strive to obey God all the more. A believer is not sinless, but they are striving to sin less. They are never what they ought to be, but they are striving to separate from what they used to be. This leads into a discussion that deviates from this topic, so for the sake of time I’ll refer to those who are more curious to this post here.

For our scriptural discussion on this topic, I am going to return to Paul’s epistle to the Romans and review the last section of chapter eight. This will perhaps be the longest of my TULIP posts, but I believe it will be well worth it. First, however, some back story:

In chapter seven Paul had been discussing the state of the matured believer, torn between what he knows he should do and what he desires to do. He opens up chapter eight with the beautiful words: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (v. 1). He then launches into a wonderful Trinitarian discussion on the nature of man’s salvation. That is, God the Father sends God the Son as an offering for sin, so that the law might be fulfilled in us who are marked walk according to God the Holy Spirit (v. 3-4). Those who are in the flesh – that is, non-Christians – cannot please God (v. 5-8). However, those who are not in the flesh but the Spirit – that is, Christians – belong to God, and Christ will give us life through the Spirit dwelling within us (v. 9-11). We (believers) are hence led by the Spirit of God, and those led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God (v. 14).

Paul then gives very clear Trinitarian language in this manner: God the Holy Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are children of God the Father (v. 16), and if we are children of God the Father, then we are fellow heirs with God the Son (v. 17), provided we suffer with him so that we may be glorified in him. Paul elaborates this last point by saying that the present sufferings are not worthy to be compared with the future glory (v. 18), talking about the “groaning” of creation (v. 22) and the future coming of our glorification, for which we likewise groan. He states that “we hope for what we do not see,” and “we wait for it with patience” (v. 25).

Thus having discussed suffering and patience, Paul then writes:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. [Romans 8:26-30]

In regards to the Spirit’s help for our patience and suffering, Paul states that the Spirit intercedes for us for our flawed prayer, and does so with groaning (which shows the Spirit is personal, not impersonal). The Spirit performs this for the saints according to the will of God the Father (v. 26-27). Paul adds that we know “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (v. 28). Many people, in attempting to refute Reformed theology, will only quote the first half of this verse (“those who love God”), as if it depends upon us – not seeming to realize the second half (“those who are called according to his purpose”) completely refutes it. It is the same notion as what Paul speaks of in his epistle to the Ephesians, where he speaks of those who have “been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1:11).

Having established the sovereignty of God’s will and His strength within us, Paul then writes what has become known as the “Golden Chain of Redemption,” which I’ll highlight by requoting its fullness below:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. [Romans 8:29-30]

The “golden chain” is seen in the transition of a person from one state to another: those foreknown by God are predestined; those predestined are called; those called are justified; those justified are glorified. The context of “those” doesn’t change in between the actions – they are all one of the same “those.” It is a continuous chain of events by God, which are all done by Him and seen through by Him. I talked about this a bit more in this post here.

Many will attempt to get around this by honing in on the word “foreknew” and declaring that God simply had foreknowledge of those who would believe and those who wouldn’t, and hence no real election is going on here. However, they forget two things: 1) “foreknew” here is a verb, not a noun – it is something God is doing, not something He is relying upon; 2) the direct object of the foreknowing is not the individual’s actions, but the individual themselves. Likewise, if God “foreknew” someone would believe or accept salvation, then the predestination, calling, and all that followed (things done by God, not the individual) would be unnecessary. The fact here is that “foreknew” is a personal verb, referring to the fact that God foreknew those whom He would predestine, call, justify and glorify.

Even more ironic, there are some who uphold “once saved always saved,” deny irresistible grace, and yet use the golden chain of redemption to verify their theology. This is because they chop it up into two parts: the foreknowing, predestining, and calling, all of which they believe man can reject at any point; then the justified and the glorified part, which they believe means any person justified will in the end be glorified. The problem is that this is an inconsistent handling of how the word of God is used. The apostle Paul is clearly giving an unbroken chain, and if you read backwards from the glorification part, you see that it continues backwards all the way to foreknowing.

Continuing on, the apostle Paul writes:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” [Romans 8:31-36]

Having established not only in the Trinitarian work of the Godhead in our salvation – as well as God’s supremacy in our salvation – Paul now asks a bold question: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (v. 31) He asks again, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies” (v. 33). By “charge” it does not mean a Christian cannot receive a traffic ticket because of some weird kind of divine immunity, but rather it refers back to what Paul said in verse 1: “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” As God has performed the act of justification and obtained for us that justification, granting it to us as a gift, who then can lay any charge against us, especially when it shall come to the great day of judgment?

Paul asks, in the same way, “Who is to condemn?”, adding “Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (v. 34). Meaning, of course, that it was Christ who died and was raised, and is interceding for us, as by his death and resurrection, as Paul stated earlier, “the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us” (v. 4). Having done this, then, the Law is fulfilled, and there is no one who can condemn God’s elect. In other words, our sins have been fulfilled in Christ. There is no longer room for any further justification. No prayers to saints, no charitable deeds, nor anything else can add to or complete what Christ started and did.

Continuing on with his bold questions, Paul asks: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” (v. 35) Paul illustrates this point by quoting Psalm 44:22, on how Christians realize that for the sake of God they are as sheep led to slaughter (that is, they will endure tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and the sword).

Moving on from this, Paul writes:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:37-39]

Despite the dangers presented in the previous section, we are conquerors – nay, more than conquerors! – yet it is not because of us, but rather we conquer “through him who loved us” (v. 37), that is, God. Paul then states, very explicitly, that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,” will ever be able to separate the true believer from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (v. 38-39). In other words, our salvation is secure – nothing, be it spiritual powers or natural, earthly powers, can cause us to fall away.

Generally I’ve received two kinds of responses for this section (especially verses 38-39):

1) Some people say, “This isn’t about faith, it’s about God’s love.” Under what context, however, is this love? Just a general love? On the contrary, it is love for God’s elect, whom Paul has been talking about since verse 1. He even made it clear he was talking about God’s elect as recently as verse 33, and every use of the pronoun “us” is in reference to Paul and his fellow believers. We even see this in verse 39, with the use of “the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Those not in Christ Jesus (believers) do not have the love of God spoken of in this section, and cannot receive the benefits therein (as explained in verses 9-11).

2) Some people respond to the words “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation” by saying: “Ah, but see – we can reject God separate ourselves from His love!” Therefore, according to their own logic, they, by themselves, are more powerful than death, life, angels, rulers, things present, things to come, powers, height, depth, and anything else in all creation. Aside from the fact this is impossible, it is also missing the point the apostle is trying to make here. Paul is literally belaboring the point (as he often does throughout Romans) that there is nothing – nothing, nada, zip, zero – which can separate us from the love of God. God’s elect cannot be taken away by him by any means, be it by death, by deeds, by force of arms, or by their own individual personal struggles.

What do we see in this chapter, especially in the last half? We see the very real power of God in the perseverance and endurance of the believer. God is at work in us, preserving us with the Spirit, keeping us in Christ, despite whatever obstacles may come before us. Those whom God foreknew will in the end be glorified. There is no chance of separation from God. With this revelation, let all believers rest easy in the knowledge that God is not a passive God, but an active God who is active in our life – every day, every hour, every second. We will never be perfect until glorification, but as we still draw breath on this side of resurrection, we shall always be loved of God.

At this point, my little series on TULIP has come to a close. As I said in my first post, I did not intend to “convert” anyone to Calvinism, and even if I indeed did not, I hope I at least gave a presentation that corrected misunderstandings, and gave the reader a more edified understanding of Reformed theology. I thank you for your time, and God bless!

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