Does a Christian have to persevere in order to be saved?
This is a great question from an astute student of God’s Word. It comes from one who has heard of the acrostic attributed to Calvin called TULIP. Each of the letters is descriptive of an aspect of what a person believes, who says he is a Calvinist.
The letters describe a person’s theology. Do not, however, judge a person who says he holds to the TULIP principle until you fully understand what he personally means. Some believe in the acrostic TULIP, but have different understandings than what Calvin taught or many modern day theologians who hold to Calvinistic theology.
Allow me to give a brief explanation of each of the letters, without digging below the surface. The “T” stands for Total Depravity. Man is totally depraved and can do nothing that merits any recognition or reward from God. The “U” stands for Unconditional Election and defines God’s sovereign choice in electing believers in Jesus Christ. The “L” stands for Limited Atonement and implies that Jesus’ death was only applicable to those who are elect (An article will appear very soon to explain how this one is clearly not Scriptural). The “I” stands for the Irresistible Grace of God that a person cannot refuse when it is his time to be saved. The “P” stands for Perseverance of the Saints and implies that once a believer is saved, he must continue in the faith, or he really was not saved. I am only addressing the last letter, the “P” of TULIP.
Does a person have to persevere to be saved? There are certainly different understandings of people who hold to this theology, so I do not want to categorize everyone in a particular way. The gist of the principle is that God elects a person to be saved. At salvation, God gives eternal life and the person enters into a relationship with God. Based on Scriptures like John 15, the person who abides in Jesus will bear fruit and if the person is not bearing fruit, then “the person was not really saved,” according to this view. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) In other words, “they” will say, if you are not bearing fruit, you are not abiding in Jesus and you are therefore not a believer. Consequently, if you are not bearing fruit, you are not persevering and you must not be a believer. “They” will normally not define what “bearing fruit” is, but they will not allow a person to act carnally and be considered a believer (see the article posted on June 4, 2013).
Hence, “they” will say a person must persevere in life and not fall into life dominating sin patterns. For example, a good example of one who was a believer, but chose life dominating sin patterns was King Saul. There are clear indications that King Saul was a believer according to 1 Samuel 10. Yet how was it that he fell away from the Lord and pursued killing David? He acted according to his flesh, rather than humbly submitting to the sovereign will of God.
David himself is a good example of a believer, who fell into life dominating sin patterns. While David is called a man after God’s own heart, he committed adultery and murdered Bathsheba’s husband Uriah the Hittite. Then he continued for nine months of independence from God until Nathan the prophet came and rebuked him of his sin. David was living in life dominating sin until Nathan rebuked him. David repented, but he bore the consequences of his sin.
Lot is another example of a believer, who lived in life dominating sin patterns. Lot was the nephew of Abraham and allowed himself to slowly acclimate to the culture and darkness of Sodom and Gomorrah. While he lost his sons-in-law in the city destruction, his wife who turned into a pillar of salt and he committed incest with his two daughters, God still called him “righteous Lot.” Peter records,
· 6 and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly;
· 7 and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked
· 8 (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soulfrom day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)–
· 9 then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment, (2 Pet. 2:6-9)
Lot foolishly stayed in that filthy, degenerate environment and tormented his “righteous soul” in the process. Yet, in all of Lot’s sins, he was a believer. Lot was saved, not because he persevered, but because God persevered. God perseveres in His mercy, so that anyone who trusts in God’s provision of salvation, God will deliver them into eternity as His child.
Have you accepted Jesus as your Savior? If you do, you become a child of God. John writes, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” (John 1:12) If you not only know that Jesus died for your sins and you agree that Jesus alone is, and could be, your substitute to pay the penalty for sin, then your trusting faith accepts Jesus as the gift of God and you are given the right to become a child of God. You do nothing but accept the gift. Once you become a child of God, you can never not be a child of God. That is not a license to sin, because God will discipline the disobedient child. That is not freedom to live any way you want, because you will lose out on all the blessings and rewards God intends for you. That is not a reason to choose what you want to do in life apart from God, but an opportunity to pursue the holiness of God and mirror that holiness to the world around you. That is not a reason for you to become indifferent and check out from God, but a reason to respond with grateful, humble obedience to do His will in life.
We all have life dominating sin patterns. Some get into drunkenness and immorality. Some are more refined and suffer in life dominating sins of worry and doubt. Some choose life dominating sins of complacency or indifference to witness their faith to others and disciple them to Jesus Christ. Often, people who argue for perseverance of the saints as the measure of their Christianity have the big sins under control and struggle with more acceptable sins of personal agenda control and hidden anger that no one normally sees. May God grant us all mercy as we seek His righteousness and His understanding.