Perseverance of the Saints v Eternal Security

The Baptist doctrine of Eternal Security is often confused with the Calvinist doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints, especially since there are many Calvinist Baptists. While the two doctrines are similar and share the same end result, there are important differences.

Eternal Security is the doctrine that affirms that once a sinner comes to genuine, repentant faith in Christ, God responds to that faith by doing that which irrevocably saves that one. God justifies the believer, and then seals the believer by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, indissolubly uniting the believer to Christ and forever identifying him with Christ’s righteous life and atoning death. While such irrevocable salvation does not depend on continuing works of righteousness and limitations on how far the believer may fall into sin, the reality of Christ within the believer will inevitably result in continuing good works and limitations on how far the believer will fall into sin.

Perseverance of the Saints is a very different doctrine. Some of the differences come from subtle distinctions in how faith is defined. John Murray, in Redemption: Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), p. 152, says, “We must appreciate the lengths and the heights to which a temporary faith may carry those who have it.” This is a true statement as far as it goes, but notice that the emphasis is on “temporary” rather than disingenuousness. The crucial difference between a faith that fails and one that does not is not chronological duration but the reality of Christ within the genuine believer. Murray ostensibly agrees with this in some of his statements, but the inherent inconsistency keeps surfacing. He states, on p. 152:

…The Scripture itself, therefore, leads us to the conclusion that it is possible to have very uplifting, ennobling, reforming, and exhilarating experience of the power and truth of the gospel, to come into such close contact with the supernatural forces which are operative in God’s kingdom of grace that these forces produce effects in us which to human observation are hardly distinguishable from those produced by God’s regenerating and sanctifying grace and yet be not partakers of Christ and heirs of eternal life. A doctrine of perseverance that fails to take account of such a possibility and of its actuality in certain cases is a distorted one and ministers to a laxity which is quite contrary to the interests of perseverance.

It certainly is possible for someone to have a disingenuous faith, and for that kind of faith to “produce effects… which to human observation are hardly distinguishable from those produced by God’s regenerating and sanctifying grace…” But again, the crucial factor is whether or not one is a “partaker of Christ.” Only those who are of genuine faith are made partakers of Christ and have Christ within them. With this Murray seems to tentatively agree, saying that men can have a faith convincing to “human observation,” “and yet be not partakers of Christ…” However, he implicitly moves the saving difference from partaking of Christ to persevering by effort, when he warns that failing to take into account the possibility of such a convincing counterfeit “ministers to a laxity which is quite contrary to the interests of perseverance.” A disingenuous, unreal faith is not caused by laxity and neither can it be cured by zealous efforts; and a genuine faith results in the immediate indwelling of the Holy Spirit and union with Christ, which cannot be invalidated or annulled by laxity. Intentionally or not, Murray is implying that those whose faith did not persevere might have persevered if they had not been so laxand by extension, we who have genuine faith should beware of laxity lest we fail to persevere also. This falsely grounds the reality of our salvation on our efforts to persevere.

In those who have failed to persevere, it was not perseverance that they lacked but a genuine faith (which would have resulted in spiritual union with Christ and the fruit that naturally comes from that saving union). To say that true saints will persevere is to speak only of the outwardly apparent differences between those of true faith and those of false faith. Murray states, on p. 155:

The perseverance of the saints reminds us very forcefully that only those who persevere to the end are truly saints. We do not attain to the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus automatically. Perseverance means the engagement of our persons in the most intense and concentrated devotion to those means which God has ordained for the achievement of his saving purpose.

This has much in common with the Arminian view, as the idea of salvation is moved to the end of life, and there is work to be done in order to successfully attain it. “We do not attain [it]… automatically,” but rather, we must engage “our persons in the most intense and concentrated devotion to those means which God has ordained for the achievement of his saving purpose.” Murray explains, on p. 154:

The very expression, “The Perseverance of the Saints” in itself guards against every notion or suggestion to the effect that a believer is secure, that is to say, secure as to his eternal salvation, quite irrespective of the extent to which he may fall into sin and backslide from faith and holiness. It guards against any such way of construing the status of the believer because that way of stating the doctrine is pernicious and perverse. It is not true that the believer is secure however much he may fall into sin and unfaithfulness. Why is this not true? It is not true because it sets up an impossible combination. It is true that a believer sins; he may fall into grievous sin and backslide for lengthy periods. But it is also true that a believer cannot abandon himself to sin; he cannot come under the dominion of sin; he cannot be guilty of certain kinds of unfaithfulness. And therefore it is utterly wrong to say that a believer is secure quite irrespective of his subsequent life of sin and unfaithfulness.

There is a subtle fallacy here, by which it is implied that because some people have a disingenuous faith and abandon themselves to a life of sin, therefore a true believer’s salvation is contingent upon his not abandoning himself to such a life of sin, etc. The true believer may have no right to feel secure in his salvation if he has fallen into grievous sin, but security is more than a feeling. Security is also a fact, and a fact which is true of genuine believers irrespective of any sin that they fall into. It is a false implication that genuine believers may fall into such sin as to invalidate their faith or their salvation, and one which Murray never explicitly affirms. Nevertheless, he does lean heavily on the idea by way of implied warning of the same. Murray is very adept at using the language to employ the force of the idea while maintaining that true believers do persevere. He adds, “It is not at all that they will be saved irrespective of their perseverance or their continuance, but that they will assuredly persevere.” Which is the cause and which is the effect? Is the believer saved contingent upon perseverance, or is perseverance merely the evidence that flows from a real conversion to Christ through a sinner coming in genuine faith? The term, “irrespective,” is obscuring the issue. Yes, the genuineness of the faith by which the sinner was converted does have respect to the future perseverance; but the question ought to be, in what respect are the two related? They are not related in such a respect that the sinner’s salvation in any way depends on what he does or does not do in the future. Whether the convert has a faith that is true or not, his salvation depends only on whether or not he genuinely believes in Christ (and has been spiritually indwelt and joined to Christ). Those who do not persevere are not lost by a lack of perseverance, but by a lack of Christ withinand a lack of the real faith that would result in Christ within. Additionally, some men who are of a disingenuous faith die prior to any seeming failure to persevere, but Christ will say to them in the end, “Depart from me… I never knew you.”

The very idea of contingency has no meaning outside of this temporal world; but within this world, there are contingencies even with regard to God’s certain work. As one who holds to unconditional election, I agree that the elect will certainly be saved with no contingency in God’s eternal plan. However, contingency is the fabric out of which this temporal world is made, so that even the salvation of the elect is—within this world—contingent upon their coming to faith. It cannot be rightly said that we were saved from nothing, since an eternity in hell was never really a possibility for us. This would be an abuse of categories, since the contingencies of earth are not measured by the certainties of heaven. Certain our salvation is; but just as certain is the hell that we were headed straight towards—a hell that God saved us from as truly as the state of grace that He saved us to.

Murray does not, of course, deny the eternal certainty of the salvation of the elect. But he does strongly imply that salvation—within this temporal world—is contingent upon perseverance. This is not to say that our perseverance, in Murray’s view, is not a matter of certainty within God’s redemptive plan, but only to say that God must use the means of perseverance to accomplish that final salvation—a means effected through His gracious enabling and sustaining.

Accordingly, salvation is certain for the elect because perseverance is certain; and perseverance is not meritorious or dependent only on the believer’s will, since it is enabled and accomplished by God’s grace. However, those who hold to Eternal Security must disagree with how the means by which God accomplishes our salvation are portrayed. We see our salvation as fully and completely accomplished when we come to a genuine, repentant faith and are reborn into Christ; while those who hold to Perseverance of the Saints seem to see perseverance (by the grace and power of God) as necessary to the accomplishment of our final salvation. In other words, they see a temporal contingency of apostasy to be avoided or overcome by persevering (by the grace and power of God).

Ken Hamrick, 2013

[Note: the last three paragraphs were added on 6/4/2013, and were drawn from the comments below.]

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18 Responses to Perseverance of the Saints v Eternal Security

  1. Brother Ken,

    I want to make a couple of initial comments and then return to answer your arguments later.

    FIrst, I do not agree with your assessement that the doctrine of “eternal security” as you have stated it is Baptist doctrine. That it has been Baptist doctrine for much of the 20th century I will not dispute, but that is because four point Arminians have been pretty much in control of the Baptist scene during that period. I believe you have accurately stated the position they have held.

    Second, you have badly misrepresented Murray’s position on this issue by suggesting that he is saying a true believer’s salvation is contingent on his perseverance. No one who understands Murray believes he is teaching that. Consider this statement. “It is not at all that they will be saved irrespective of their perseverance or their continuance but that they will assuredly persevere” (Murrray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, pp. 154-155). The is no “contingency” without certainty in Murray’s treatment of this subject.

    The classic Arminian view on this subject, although they expressed some undertainty about it, laid heavy emphasis on the necessity of perseverance with no certainty. The four-point Arminian doctrine has laid heavy emphasis on the certainty of preservation, with no emphasis on the necessity of perseverance.

    The Calvinists’ doctrine lays emphasis on both the necessity and the certainty of perseverance. Perseverance in faith is necessary, not because we will loose our salvation if we do not persevere. Such a thing is impossible because salvation is God’s work, not ours. We will certainly persevere because he will certainly keep (preserve) us, through faith, unto salvation. There is no contingency in God’s work of salvation.

    The real issue here is the origin and nature of faith. We believe genuine faith in Jesus Christ is a continuing faith. It is a reliance on God’s promises that results from his call that unites us inseperably with Christ. We are confident that he who began this good work in us, will go on performing it until the day of Jesus Christ.

    The contingency is removed by the character of Jesus’ redemptive activity for his people. In Romans 6, Paul argues that all for whom Jesus died, died with him to the reign of sin. True believers cannot go on sinning. The contingency is removed by the believer’s standing in grace. “Sin shall not have dominion over you because you are not under the Law but under grace.” The contingency is removed by the Spirit’s ministry within us, “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:12-13). The contingency is removed by the Divine purpose. After exhulting in God’s purpose for the salvation of his chosen people, the Apostle concludes that “We are more than overcomers through him who loved us.” Please notice he does not overcome for us, though he certainly overcame for us. We are overcomers! We persevere! Still, we are overcomers THROUGH HIM WHO LOVED US. No one perseveres by the power of the will. All true believers persevere by the power of free grace.

  2. Perhaps you could tell me which of the following statements is true:

    ” Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told” (Acts 27:22-25).

    or

    “Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved” (Acts 27:31)?

    Of course, the answer is that both are true and contain no contradiction. They, according to the promise of God, would certainly be saved, AND they would only be saved if they remained on board the ship.

  3. Ken Hamrick says:

    Brother Randy,

    You and I agree on much regarding grace and the certainty of God’s redemption and plan. The very idea of contingency has no meaning outside of this temporal world; but within this world, there are contingencies even with regard to God’s certain work. As one who holds to unconditional election, I agree that the elect will certainly be saved with no contingency in God’s eternal plan. However, contingency is the fabric out of which this temporal world is made, so that even the salvation of the elect is—within this world—contingent upon their coming to faith. It cannot be rightly said that we were saved from nothing, since an eternity in hell was never really a possibility for us. This would be an abuse of categories, since the contingencies of earth are not measured by the certainties of heaven. Certain our salvation is; but just as certain is the hell that we were headed straight towards—a hell that God saved us from as truly as the state of grace that He saved us to.

    Murray does not, of course, deny the eternal certainty of the salvation of the elect. But he does strongly imply that salvation—within this temporal world—is contingent upon perseverance. This is not to say that our perseverance is not a matter of certainty within God’s redemptive plan, but only to say that God must use the means of perseverance to accomplish that final salvation—a means effected through His gracious enabling and sustaining.

  4. Ken Hamrick says:

    Brother Randy,

    Of course, the answer is that both are true and contain no contradiction. They, according to the promise of God, would certainly be saved, AND they would only be saved if they remained on board the ship.

    As one who holds to God’s meticulous determinism of all things, and compatibilism, I agree with you.

  5. Ken Hamrick says:

    Let’s keep in mind that there are two issues here: 1) that eternal security is a doctrine typical of Baptists, and distinct from perseverance of the saints; and 2) the superiority of one doctrine over the other.

  6. Brother Ken,

    You might want to rethink this sentence for two reasons:

    “Whether the convert has a faith that is true or not, his salvation depends only on whether or not he genuinely believes in Christ (and has been spiritually indwelt and joined to Christ). Those who do not persevere are not lost by a lack of perseverance, but by a lack of Christ within—and a lack of the real faith that would result in Christ within. ”

    1. If the convert does not have a faith that is true, of course, he isn’t a convert at all, then “his salvation” [What salvation? He has no salvation if his faith isn’t true].

    2. Your statement presents a false dichotomy between “a lack of perseverance” and “a lack of the real faith that results in Christ within.” It is the persevering character of faith that shows it to be “real faith.” Of course those who do not persevere are lost because they lack the real faith. . . .That is just the point. Real, God-given faith always perseveres because he continues to sustain it.

    The difference between the “eternal security” doctrine, as commonly stated, and the doctrine of perseverance is seen not in that one leaves the believer in a state of insecurity and the other does not. Both assert that genuine believers are justified for eternity. It is simply that we Calvinists believe genuine faith is persevering faith, not because we, believers, have any ability in ourselves to keep ourselves. Jesus said, “severed from me you can do nothing.” We persevere because he continues to infuse his grace into us. He continues to work in us both to will and to act for his good pleasure.

    I believe the key to this issue is the term “genuine faith.” All we are saying is that genuine faith is continuing faith. We are not suggesting that our final salvation in any way depends on our works of obedience, but that if God is continuing to work in us, he will continue to produce faith which will in turn give evidence of itself in loving obedience to Christ.

  7. Brother,

    It appears to me you are agreeing with both me and Murray. We all seem to believe that all God’s elect are certain to enjoy his purposed salvation. We all seem to believe he will accomplish this purpose through his divinely appointed means.

    I believe this matter is analogous to the sovereignty/responsibility debate. We do not believe all of the elect will be saved NO MATTER WHAT THEY DO. We believe they will be saved only if they believe and repent, yet we understand they are not saved by their faith and repentance. In the same way, we will not be saved for eternity, no matter what we do, but as we persevere in our saving attachment to Christ. That does not mean we are saved by our perseverance. We are saved by Christ alone.

    I am sure you have read Murray carefully. Certainly you can’t read what he has written in this chapter in the context of everything else he wrote about the accomplishment and application of redemption and imagine that he thought the believer’s final salvation depended in any way on his works of obedience resulting from God-given faith.

  8. Let me make one final comment (or perhaps group of comments) for tonight. You posed the issue of superiority/inferiority relative to these doctrines. [I would say “held by some Baptists.] I believe the perseverance doctrine is clearly superior since it approaches the issue from a both/and perspective and not an either/or perspective. To the question, is perseverance necessary or certain, the answer is YES! The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews states that we belong to Christ’s household “if indeed [a condition of the third class] we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope” (3:6). Verse 14 says much the same thing “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” We are not saved by holding fast, but we will not be saved without it.

  9. Brother Ken,

    One more comment. Please ignore some of what I wrote here since you were apparently writing and posting at the same time I was. I think the order of our comments became somewhat jumbled.

    I think you are quite right about contingencies in God’s eternal plan and within this temporal world. Our final glorification is in no way contingent on our perseverance as far as God’s eternal plan is concerned. In the temporal world it is contingent on perseverance just as justification is contingent on faith. We are not justified by faith or because of faith. We are justified by Christ, through faith. In the same way, we are not glorified by our perseverance or because of our perseverance. We are saved by union with Christ from start to finish.

  10. Ken Hamrick says:

    Brother Randy,

    You stated:

    To the question, is perseverance necessary or certain, the answer is YES! The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews states that we belong to Christ’s household “if indeed [a condition of the third class] we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope” (3:6). Verse 14 says much the same thing “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” We are not saved by holding fast, but we will not be saved without it.

    Such language in epistles shows that the writer was aware of the possibility that some of those to whom he wrote were nominal believers, who might or might not eventually come to a genuine faith. Those who would not hold fast their confidence were not really saved to begin with.

    You have stated you doctrine well, I’d say, and put it in its best light. Accordingly, salvation is certain for the elect because perseverance is certain; and perseverance is not meritorious or dependent only on the believer’s will, since it is enabled and accomplished by God’s grace. However, I (and those who hold to eternal security) must disagree with how the means by which God accomplishes our salvation are portrayed. We see our salvation as fully and completely accomplished when we come to a genuine, repentant faith and are reborn into Christ; while you seem to see perseverance (by the grace and power of God) as necessary to the accomplishment of our final salvation. In other words, you see a temporal contingency of apostasy to be avoided or overcome by persevering (by the grace and power of God).

  11. parsonsmike says:

    Well fellows, definitions are in order. For example, what is meant by persevering in the faith? Cause i sin here and there.
    Some Arminians believe that one could fall from faith and thereby lose one’s salvation. Lose not because one sinned, but because one no longer had faith. Now just exactly how that works out, they can’t explain much further.

    Here is what it seems to me: Since i am born again i will certainly persevere. Thus since i am saved, I will always be saved. And though I stumble the Lord keeps me from falling. Psalm 37 tells us:
    The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
    And He delights in his way.
    When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong,
    Because the Lord is the One who holds his hand.

    Now you both, for the most part, seem to say the same thing: That the true believer will persevere and do so by God.
    What I think ken is reacting to is the tendency of some preachers to use the warning passages to keep the flock in line out of fear. And I think Randy is simply speaking theologically about how the doctrine works.

  12. Ken Hamrick says:

    Mike,

    Randy has explained how the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints works. I have explained how that is different from Eternal Security. There are things in common between the two, but there are important differences. The former holds to a model of salvation in which the believer is in still in jeopardy of apostasy from a temporally contingent point of view, while never being in jeopardy of falling from an eternally certain point of view. It could be said that in Perseverance of the Saints, God will with certainty save all those who come to Christ in faith, but that salvation will not be accomplished until the end of life. In Eternal Security, that salvation is fully and completely and eternally accomplished the moment that the sinner believes, so that there is no temporal jeopardy of apostasy whatsoever.

  13. parsonsmike says:

    I look at myself and believe i am going to Heaven.
    But so do people with not-so-genuine faith. How do I know I have genuine faith? How do you know you do?
    How does a not-so-genuine-believer find out they don’t? They THINK they have eternal security! you know OSAS.
    Theologically we all agree that those with genuine faith are going to go to Heaven.
    But pragmatically, those who fail to persevere show by their failure that they didn’t have genuine faith.
    You are emphasizing the theological aspect while Randy is emphasizing the pragmatic.

    So how do they find out? One way is through the preaching the Word and the warning passages contained therein. But even then, they may just think those passages are not for them. Certainly reinforcing their blindness by telling them as believers [as they only think they are] that OSAS is not going to ‘wake’ them up to their reality, But in teaching the whole gathering [believers and not-so’s] that true believers will persevere in faith and good works is the God inspired way of doing it.

    So we teach 1st John, among other places. and point out the way they should be living, what a saint of God looks like: and it is one who is persevering despite conflict/suffering.

  14. Ken Hamrick says:

    Mike,

    Good thoughts.

    I think it’s important that our view of God is one which will send us back to Him when we have doubts about our salvation, rather than sending us to a redoubling of our efforts in good works. Those efforts ought to come from love for God and not from a fear that laxity may steal heaven from us.

  15. parsonsmike says:

    Ken,
    I agree.

    But what if the person already has an incorrect view of themselves and God?

    Persevering is more than doing good works.It is an attitude of trusting in God and not the world or self. Thus any view of persevering that simply promotes good works is incomplete at best and false at worst.

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  18. John W Reed says:

    Hi. I just happened across this site and this post. A lot of theological terms thrown around a lot of “deep” discussion. I have studied some theology, and I disagree with all five points of Calvinism. I strongly believe based upon a simple study of the New Covenant that the perseverance of the Saints is a false theme. I believe clearly the Scriptures teach the preservation of the Saints.
    What I find strange in many churches that ascribe to the Biblical truth that a Believer in Christ cannot lose their salvation, they must back up this belief with reassurances that sound like they are teaching, “of course the Believer must be found worthy” of that salvation. None of these dogmas, and deep discussion and weighty theological words actually address a practical everyday believer in Christ, living in a fallen world, dealing with the stress and strain and schemes of this world system. In reality, a believer has days where temptation may seem larger than His faith. There may be days when he gets angry at injustice, and feels like giving up. There are those who have faced horrendous circumstances and gave into those feelings of bitterness and anger at God for the loss they suffer.
    I don’t see the need to apologize for Grace. Once a believer has sincerely believed in Christ, they are eternally secure. The gospel is simple. The message is simple. The reception of Christ is simple. Jesus came to Earth to ransom back fallen, lost, dying humanity. Jesus paid the price on that Cross. He finished the Work and the third day He victoriously arose. All one need do is put their trust in this once for all time sacrifice for the forgiveness of their sins and to be made new in Christ.
    Should this sincere believer experience frustration or doubt God is there and He is bigger than doubt. He is bigger than their fear or frustration. Salvation is not Jesus placing a down payment upon our eternal destination and us making payments by how well we behave until we finally make it “home”.
    I know some think teaching people once they’re saved they are always saved no matter what will produce license and licentiousness. I am sorry they just need to get to know Jesus. He will lead and guide His people into all truth. There are believers who still struggle with habits and poor attitudes. I have visited churches of all denominations. It is funny whether it was Baptist, Methodist, Church of God in Christ, Assemblies of God, non denominational they had people in them. These people all struggled with some of the same stuff. Some were rude, some were judgmental, some were stingy. It just happens to be that these folk were Christians who were a work in progress.
    Just saying even if a believer jumps ships for differing reasons, I know the Word says even if we are faithless, He remains faithful. I truly believe in a 100% secure salvation. I see no need to apologize and make amendments for His Grace. Our failures are not greater than His Grace. I do believe there is victory in Christ. I do believe we grow and mature in our faith and overcome bad habits and sins by His sustaining Grace.
    Let’s just herald and celebrate the good news that Jesus purchased a eternally secure salvation for all who simply trust in Him.
    good day.

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