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Perseverance of the Saints | The Work of Christ and Salvation

As taught by Zach Thompson.

"If you woke up loving God, then that is a miracle of God preserving you."

In this equipping time lesson, we learn that the elect are exhorted to endure in faith and holiness and that God promises to preserve them.

Perseverance of the Saints

Good morning! I want to start this morning by reading from Romans 8:28-39. 

If you are able, would you stand in honor of the reading of God’s word? 

Romans 8:28-39,

“And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 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. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. 

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 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? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 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. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, 

                  'For your sake, we are being killed all the day long;

we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.' 

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 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." 

Let’s Pray.

This morning, we are going to continue working through this topic of The Work of Christ and Salvation. Over the past several weeks, we have been specifically looking at the order of salvation, also known as the Ordo Salutis. 

We started out with election in which God chooses those in whom he will work. Then, we moved up to the point of salvation where we hear the external call of the gospel, and our hearts are regenerated and given new life, then by the grace of God, we respond to the gospel in faith and repentance.

And in that moment, in an instant, we are made righteous and forgiven. We are justified before God, and we are brought into his family. 

Then begins the Christian life–that purple section on the timeline. 

We talked about this last week, but you’ll notice that this section isn’t a point. It’s a line. 

Sanctification is the process of growing more into the image of Christ over the course of the Christian life.

And this week, we come to the other side of the coin. The other reality in that line of the Christian life. It’s the Perseverance of the Saints. 

Maybe you’ve heard of the “once saved, always saved.” This is in reference to a similar reality, but it is a bit misleading, so I would guard against using that particular expression. It tends to communicate the idea that I have my ticket to heaven, so I can do what I want. 

Perseverance of the Saints is the historical terminology for this reality. But I think that R.C. Sproul has a good point on this. He made a minor edit for this to be “Preservation of the Saints.” That edit should be on the slides. 

Perseverance indicates that this is purely the work of the people of God, but as we have discussed at every point of salvation, this is the work of God. It doesn’t mean that we are entirely passive, but it is enabled, energized, and enacted by God, not us. 

It’s not merely that we persevere. It’s that God preserves us. 

The Preservation of the Saints. 

Let’s look at a couple of definitions. 


Berkhof: “They whom God has regenerated and effectually called to a state of grace, can neither totally nor finally fall away from that state, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end and be eternally saved.”

  • This is very similar to the Westminster shorter catechism, so it’s a pretty historic definition.

  • Those in whom God has begun the work of salvation won’t fall away. God will complete that work. And what does it mean for God to complete that work? It means that those who belong to him will persevere to the end.

  • There is a really important phrase here. They “can neither totally nor finally fall away.” This recognizes something important here. There is an implicit assumption here. Someone might partially fall away, but not fully fall away. It’s what you might call backsliding. This is a dangerous category, and we’ll talk about that in a bit, but I think it’s important to point out. 

  • Let’s look at one more definition. 

Grudem: “All those who are truly born again will be kept by God’s power and will persevere as Christians until the end of their lives and . . . only those who persevere until the end have been truly born again.”

  • I wanted to include Grudem’s definition because he is trying to make a few realities clear here. 

  • First, I like that Grudem uses intentionally biblical language. He says that those who are truly born again will be kept by God’s power. This is almost a direct quote from 1 Peter. 

  • He also notes that they will persevere “until the end of their lives.” As our timeline at the beginning indicates, perseverance is only something that lasts for the duration of this life. 

  • And finally, Grudem takes pains to make sure it is clear that only those who persevere until the end have been truly born again. This is a clear marker of true faith.

But where do we see all of this in Scripture? 

Scriptural Basis

We are going to look at a few texts together, but we’ll group them into two statements. First, the elect are commanded and warned to persevere. 

  1. The elect are exhorted to endure in faith and holiness

Endure in faith and holiness. Keep walking on. 

We see commands like this all over the Bible. We looked at several of them last week when we considered sanctification, but let’s quickly read a few here. 

Let’s start with Colossians 1. 

Colossians 1:21–23, “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister."

He puts an “if” clause here. It’s contingent. We are already reconciled through the work of Jesus. We are already made ready to be blameless and above reproach, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard.

Now a point of clarity here. Enduring in faith does not mean perfection. In Hebrews 11, Sampson is listed in the Hall of Faith as one who patiently endured. But that guy was super messed up. Continuing in the faith doesn’t mean perfection, but it does mean continuing, not shifting to some other thing.

Or think of Hebrews 3. 

Hebrews 3:12-14, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”

Do you see that? 

“If indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” 

He tells us to “take care” so that we won’t fall away from God because of an unbelieving heart. What’s the alternative to falling away? What’s the contrast? Look in verse 13, “But exhort one another every day as long as it’s called today, that none of you may be hardened.” 

This is connected to something we saw last week. 

The Lord preserves us by the community of the Church. "Exhort one another as long as it is called today." 

Sanctification is a team sport, and perseverance is a team sport. 

We are a people who link arms and walk toward the celestial city together, and the New Testament makes this clear: that we should endure in faith and holiness to the end.

(Mt 24:13; Mk 13:13; John 8; John 15; Heb 6; Heb 10;)

But there is another truth that we need to see alongside this.

  1. God promises to preserve the elect, therefore the elect will endure to the end.

At the same time that the New Testament authors exhort believers to endure to the end, they also record the promises of God--that God will sustain the faith of all of those who are his. 

We are dependent on God’s grace at every single point. We shouldn’t hear that last point and buck up. We should feel weak and tremble because, without the gracious working of God, we won’t endure. 

If you woke up this morning loving Jesus, then that is a miracle. 

Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."

God promises to complete the work that he began in you. 

Romans 10:11, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”

Or think of John 6. 

John 6:37–40, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Jesus says that it’s God’s will that none of those who are his would be lost. That they would be raised up on the last day. 

Or just a few chapters later in John 10. 

John 10:27–30, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 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. 30 I and the Father are one.”

No one will snatch them out of my hand. 

How could you have confidence that you will persevere? Because you are in the Father’s hand! The Father who is greater than all. 

Who is the strongest person you know? Think of them. Hold them in your mind. Now, as you think of Chris Alsup, we are going to rename this person, Mr. Strong. I want you to also think of a slug–yes, a literal tiny slug. Mr. Strong is holding a marble, and the slug really, really wants that marble. He wants to take the marble and keep it at home to show to all of his slug friends, but Chris is not going to let go of the marble. 

Do you think that the slug will succeed? NO! Of course not. Mr. Strong is bigger and stronger and faster and so much greater than the slug could ever imagine being. It’s ridiculous. Isn’t it? But this is what it’s like for God to hold us in his hand. 

The enemy could never snatch you away. There’s not even a chance that he would let go. 

It makes me think of when my family went to Bryce Canyon. It was a long time ago. Lana was only recently able to walk, and we pulled up to a viewpoint, and I was shocked to see that there weren’t guardrails. You could just walk up to the cliff, and look over the edge without any kind of rail to stop you from falling. And Lana was tiny. She was unstable. She still waddled a little bit when she walked. 

And I was horribly uncomfortable the entire time. I held her hand with white knuckles and a slightly sick stomach the entire time because I was terrified of what might happen to my first child. I barely even let Courtney take Lana from me. No one could snatch her out of my hand. 

This is how the Lord is with us. He isn’t scared like I was. But he clutches onto us because we are his, and he values us more than we understand. 

There are so many other passages that we could go to, but I hope these texts we have just read make it clear.

God promises to preserve the elect, therefore the elect will endure to the end.

(1 Peter 1:3-7; John 17:10–19; 1 Corinthians 1:4-9; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)

But these two things side-by-side bring up a couple of questions that we need to deal with. 

  1. A few questions to deal with

  2. So what do we do with people who fall away? 

  3. Simply put, they never truly believed. They were never truly regenerate believers.

  4. Someone might look like one of the elect but not be a true believer and follower of Jesus. 

  5. 1 John 2:19, “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 become plain that they all are not of us.”

  6. False Brothers–Gal 2:4; 2 Cor 11:26; 2 Cor 11:15; Matt 7:21-23; Parable of the Sower

  7. Judas–John 6:70; Matt 26:22;

  1. How should we understand the warning passages? 

If the Preservation of the Saints is real, then why would God inspire the biblical authors to give such dire warnings like what we see in Hebrews 6 and 10? 

How should we deal with them? 

In short, we should listen to them. The warnings were given in the hope that you would listen and respond. 

In his book Run To Win The Prize, Tom Schreiner gives a very simple explanation for this. He says these warnings are some of the very means that God will use to preserve the elect. 

The difference between the elect and others is that the elect will respond. Others won’t. 

Do you remember that story in the book of Acts when Paul is on a prison ship? We don’t have time to read it, but in that account, Paul tells the man in charge of the ship that God has promised that no one on the ship will die. But just a few verses later, some men try to get off the ship, and Paul warns them and everybody else that if these men get off the ship, then the promise of God will not come true. There is a promise that everyone will live and a warning that if these men leave, then no one will survive. 

And do you remember what happened? They listen! The men who were trying to leave are convinced to stay, and it results in everyone on the ship surviving. 

And Paul’s warning is used as the means by which God preserves the life of everyone on the ship. 

God’s promise was true, and Paul’s warning was also needed as a means for God’s promise to come to fruition.

God was working it all together for his faithfulness.

Our third question is this. 

  1. What if I’m doubting my salvation? 

This is a question of Assurance. Perseverance is something that God works in believers. Assurance is something that believers feel. 

You can have an assurance of salvation. In the letter of 1 John, John wrote so that his audience would know that they have eternal life. 

And if we are following Christ, then we should have assurance of salvation, the settled feeling of true peace with God and assurance of eternal life. 

But this is a real concern. Everyone will doubt at some point. 

I can think of three reasons why someone might doubt their salvation:

  1. They are not actually saved.

  2. They are embracing secret sin.

  3. They are forgetful of the promises of God.

Maybe you have been embracing a secret sin, and the thought has been running through your mind. Am I really saved? If I really believed this, would I still be doing this? 

It’s a fair line of thought. If you really believed that God is just and that he sees absolutely everything, including the dark corners of your heart. If you believe that he will judge the living and the dead. If you really believe that Christ died for the sin that you are still embracing.

Why would you continue? The reality is that when we embrace sin, we are not believing what God has said at that moment. Every time that we sin it’s like we are in the garden again trusting what the serpent says. 

Sin makes promises, and God makes promises. But sin never keeps its promises. 

So why would we embrace sin if we really believe all of this? 

If you have never trusted Christ, then repent and be baptized. 

If you have professed Christ and been baptized, but you are embracing secret sin, then stop getting caught up in trying to diagnose whether or not that last sin was where you crossed a line into unbelief. Stop trying to figure out a diagnosis. The prescription is the same. Repent and turn to Jesus. Those who are truly saved will continue to turn to Jesus, and those who stop turning to Jesus were never really saved to begin with.

Oh, brother and sister, don’t play into the narrative of the enemy. Listen to the Holy Spirit when he convicts you of that sin and compels you to confess it. 

We have said this again and again. You will never outgrow the gospel. You will never get past your need for God’s mercy and grace. 

So embrace the grace of God by shining light on any secret sin and turning to Christ. 

Don’t presume on God’s grace! We looked at that last week in Romans 6. How can we continue to sin who have died to sin?

Turning to Christ means being honest about our sin and our need and clinging to Christ. 

But perhaps you have simply forgotten the promises of God. 

We’ve already surveyed some of them today, but let’s look at a couple more, and then we’ll close. 

Heb 6:17-20, “So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”

1 Peter 1:3–7, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ."


Reasons for Assurance:

  1. We have been given eternal life and to lose this would mean that it wasn’t eternal (John 3:36; Rom 8:1).

  2. God has sealed us with the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13-14).

  3. The completion of our salvation is God’s work (Philippians 1:6; 1 Peter 1:5).


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