The “P” in Calvin’s TULIP acronym stands for the “Perseverance of the Saints.” In Calvin’s view since God is sovereign and His will cannot be frustrated, those who are predestined to salvation will receive the grace to persist in faith to the end. Calvin is the first to promote this doctrine and it is a logical conclusion in context to the other points of Calvinism, especially the view that grace is irresistible. This doctrine is also more popularly known within other Christian groups as “Once-Saved, Always-Saved” or Eternal Security.
If you visit any Christian forum, the question as to whether or not a believer can “lose” their salvation is a hotly debated topic. This is not a question that divides Catholics from other Christians, but within those that profess a belief in “sola-Scriptura” we find great division and debate as well. Of course those groups that align with Calvinism like Presbyterians and Reformed Churches believe in the Perseverance of the Saints. But we also see many Baptists (including Southern Baptists), many Evangelicals, and some Pentecostals who believe the doctrine of Eternal Security. On the other side we see groups like Lutherans, General Baptists, Free Will Baptists, the Church of Christ, the Amish, Mennonites, Methodists, and other Pentecostals like the Assembly of God who reject a “once-saved, always saved” theology.
I will say that within the context of Calvinism, the doctrine does make perfect sense. However I find it less logical in other groups who reject the idea that the grace for conversion is irresistible but seem to view that once “saved” God’s grace does indeed become irresistible and our free will in matters of salvation no longer exists.
One of the issues these groups have to wrestle with are the multitude of Scriptures that indicate that a person can indeed fall from grace, be cut off from Christ, and must endure for salvation. One very common approach to these Scriptures is the view that they’re not talking about “true” or “genuine” believers. For example, the Southern Baptist Statement of Faith says that “all true believers endure to the end.” The idea is that someone who once professed Christ but then left the faith was never a true believer at all. I don’t think the Bible makes that distinction, but as we go through these verses the reader can be the judge of that. It also lends to the question, how do you know that you are a true believer, unless you have indeed endured to the end? If you talk to those who have left the Christian faith, sometimes you find people who admittedly were just “going through the motions.” But others will express that they had a deep and genuine faith they were confident in until they met a challenge that led them to abandon faith in Christ. At one time they were confident in their faith and salvation, just as many believers are today.
One of the more common verses used to support the view that a true believer will endure to the end is 1 John 2:19, where St. John says “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out, that it might be plain that they all are not of us.”
In context however this verse is not referring to individual believers but to heretical sects that have broken away from the Church – those who John refers to as “antichrists.” When looked at with the previous verse we see “Children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come; therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out, that it might be plain that they all are not of us.” (1 John 2:18-19)
Regardless, unless one makes the assumption that anyone who abandons their faith was being intentionally deceptive throughout their entire time as a professed Christian, the concept of being able to know with certainty that any specific individual who professes faith in Christ will indeed endure to the end seems difficult to me. What we can be assured of however is the faithfulness of God, and that He will indeed provide the grace we need to endure if we continue to rely on Him. And that is indeed a blessed assurance.
Over the next several posts, five to be exact, I’ll be reviewing the Scriptures that speak to whether or not a true believer can lose their salvation.