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TEXT: I Peter 1:3-5
SUBJECT: The Five Points of Calvinism #8: Perseverance of the Saints
For the last couple of months we have been studying the Five Points of Calvinism. Looking over my notes this week, it occurred to me the series has been long on theology and short on exegesis. While I retract nothing I've said, I wish I had spent more time in the text, to show you that the Five Points do not depend on proof-texting plus reasoning, but are actually taught in the Bible.
If there's no use crying over spilled milk, you can put the carton back up and not spill any more! That's what I hope to do today, as we look at the last of the Five Points of Calvinism, which is The Perseverance of the Saints.
We'll get to its doctrine in a few minutes, but first we'll have a close look at our text, I Peter 1:3-5.
What are the verses? They're a call to praise God-
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!
To 'bless' is to 'speak well of', and this is what Peter wants us to do: to speak well of God, to praise Him, to celebrate Him in the assembly. This looks back to Israel, who sang the Psalms every Sabbath and holy day; and though the Psalms touched on many things, their number one topic is God and our first duty is to exalt Him!
Let everything that has breath
Praise the Lord;
You praise the Lord.
If it looks back to Israel, it also looks forward to heaven, where the saints never become tired in their worship.
Blessing and honor and glory
Be to Him who sits on the throne
And to the Lamb forever and ever!
What are the verses praising God for? They're praising Him for the hope He has given us.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
The Divine power that raised our Lord from the dead has also raised us from our spiritual death and given us hope.
What are we hoping for? The fullness of salvation.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and does not fade away reserved in heaven for you.
The people are already saved, but their salvation is not complete. Receiving the New Birth and the hope that comes with it, they anticipate getting more from God than what they already have! The 'more' they're looking for is heaven.
Will they get what they're looking for? Yes they will.
The inheritance [is] incorruptible, undefiled, does not fade away, [and] is reserved in heaven for [them].
Nothing can go wrong with the inheritance. It cannot die. It cannot be polluted or defaced by vandals of any kind. It cannot wear out with time. And it is not open on a first-come-first served basis, but it is reserved-or set aside-for them, like a hotel room you booked in advance.
How will they get it? The power of God is going to keep them through faith.
Who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
The keeper is God. The way He keeps them for heaven is 'through faith'. This cannot be God's faith (though He is faithful), but the believer's faith (cf. v.9) which is preserved, strengthened, and guaranteed by God's almighty power.
No wonder they blessed God and rejoiced even when things didn't go their way. If this were a private letter, we might envy the people who got it because they had something we don't have. But this is not a private letter, it is the Word of God, and what they had, all Christians have. Every believer will make it to heaven because every one of us is kept by the power of God through faith.
This brings us to The Perseverance of the Saints.
WHAT IT IS
We'll start by briefly defining the words and explaining what they mean.
The saints are Christians, not perfect Christians, super Christians or even mature Christians, but all Christians, from the little boy converted five minutes ago to the old man who has piously walked with the Lord for eighty years.
Perseverance means endurance or persistence or stick-to-it-iveness. It is the opposite of giving up, going back, or sitting down.
When we say the Saints Persevere, therefore, we mean all Christians remain loyal to the Lord, both in their beliefs and in their obedience.
If believers are like runners, they run to the finish line-and they run hard all the way. If they are like soldiers, they fight to the end-and with everything they've got. If Christians are like farmers, they work hard every day until the crops are in-and then they rest. The images are not my own, of course, but come straight out of the Bible.
Except for our Lord, Paul is the finest example of perseverance that I know of. He was converted in the early 30's AD and died in the late 60's. This means he lived with Christ for about thirty-five years, and most of them were full of poverty and persecution and loneliness and disappointment and sickness. But, looking back over the life he had lived-and not just meant to live-he said,
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous judge will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing (I Timothy 4:7-8).
This is what perseverance means. It's not perfection; it's not something close to perfection. It is sticking to Christ as Savior and Lord.
WHERE IT COMES FROM
Sticking to Christ may be harder than you think it is. In His parable of the four soils, He named three things that mean to separate us from Him. They are (1) the devil, (2) other men, and (3) ourselves. The devil does it by snatching the Word of God out of our minds and hearts. Other men do it by pressuring us to deny the Lord or to quit taking Him so seriously. We do it to ourselves by worrying about our health or loving money or thinking too much about vacations. All of these are firmly opposed to our perseverance.
No man is stronger than the devil, the flesh, and the world, no less all three attacking at the same time and never letting up. Yet the saints persevere. Why? We are kept by the power of God.
I like the books by Arthur W. Pink, but I don't think I would have liked the man. He was way too fussy for me, but one time his fussiness led him to say a striking thing. In England, people don't say, 'How you doing?' What they say is, How you keeping? When a man greeted Pink, the old grouch replied,
I am not keeping. I am being kept!
The saints persevere for one reason only: God wants them to, and what He wants, He gets. His whole power is committed to our perseverance. And this means we will persevere! Speaking of the spirit of antichrist, heretics and deceivers, John says,
You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
When we say, 'God', we're prone to think of God the Father only. This is badly mistaken, however, for it is not only He who keeps us, but also His Son, our Lord Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Father and Son are mentioned in John 10:28-30,
And I give them eternal life and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand. I and My Father are one.
As for the Holy Spirit? Someone has called Him 'the shy member of the Trinity', but that's not quite fair. He is not shy, but modest. Because He wants the Father and Son to receive all the glory, He points to them throughout the Bible and rarely to Himself. But, once in a while, He does step forward. Ephesians 1:13-14 is one of those places.
You were sealed with the Holy Spirit of Promise,who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.
The Spirit is our Seal, Paul says. In the old world, letters were not secured with glue, but with a wax seal, which kept curious eyes off the letter. The seal protected the letter and got it safely to where it was going. In the same way, the Holy Spirit protects us on the earth and gets us to where we're going, which is heaven!
If He's our Seal, He is also our, well, my Bible says, guarantee, but the KJV is better: He is the earnest or down payment of our inheritance. Why does a dealer want you to make a down payment on your car? He wants you do that because it will give you a strong reason to make all the payments. If you don't make the monthly installments, you lose the down payment. Likewise, the Gift of the Holy Spirit is God's way of showing good faith and making us know, He's going to give us everything He has promised, and that, in a word, is heaven!
We are kept by the Godhead-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit enable us to persevere to the end and be fully and finally saved. We are kept by the power of God.
HOW HE DOES IT
Up to this point, I think most Christians would agree with what I've said. If Christians persevere to the end, they've got to thank God, for it is He who has caused them to do it. No one worked harder than Paul did and even he said,
I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I but the grace of God which was with me (I Corinthians 15:10).
The bone of contention is how He does it. How does God enable us to stick with Christ to the very end? He does it by His Word, and in particular, He does it by His Word of Promise and His Word of Warning.
The best known Word of Promise is John 3:16-
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.
Two things should be said about this beloved promise. Firstly, there is a condition attached to it. It does not promise eternal life to everyone or to everyone who doesn't believe in Christ; eternal life is promised to everyone who believes in Christ.
Secondly, the promise-like all others-looks to the future and not to the past. We don't promise to do something yesterday, but tomorrow. No sane father ever told his son, If you're a good boy, I'll buy you a new bike for your last birthday! No, he says he'll buy him a new bike for his next birthday, or maybe, a later birthday, but not a past birthday.
This is what we have in John 3:16. If you believe in Christ, you will (1) not perish, but (2) you will have everlasting life. On the Day of Judgment. This provides a strong incentive to believe in Christ. Even when others are calling you a fool for doing it! They may be laughing now-and you crying-but on the Last Day, they'll be crying and you'll be laughing. Forever!
So much for the Word of Promise. But what about the Word of Warning? How does it fit into the scheme? In case you don't know it, the Bible contains a great many warnings. The scariest ones are spread out all over the Book of Hebrews, but for the sake of time, we'll look only at the first and shortest one. That would be Hebrews 2:1-4,
Therefore, we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, let we drift away. For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us who heard Him. God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?
The writer compares Israel and the Church. The former received the Word of God from angels who brought it to Moses on Mount Sinai. When the Israelites broke that Word they paid for it but dearly. They were expelled from the nation, stoned to death, or suffered some other severe penalty.
The Church has also received the Word of God, but not by way of angels, but from Christ who is God in Person! If anyone doubted it was the Word of God they received, eyewitnesses vouched for it and so did the Holy Spirit who did signs and wonders to confirm it.
This means if we drift away from the Word of God we will pay for it even more dearly than the Israelites did back in the day.
Without importing your theology into the passage, what does it sound like to you? To me, it sounds like a warning, a warning that intends to warn me to heed the things I have heard and to not neglect so great a salvation.
This is not how many Calvinists read it. They see it as a way of ferreting out hypocrites. Or, explaining why some professed Christians drift away from the Lord. Much of what they say is true, but it doesn't expound the warning passages they're trying to expound! It is a classic example of eisegesis, which means, 'reading into' instead of exegesis, or 'reading out of'.
The warning passages, therefore, are not meant to expose false Christians, but to warn real Christians! The warning is as simple as it is scary: If you do not persevere, you will not be saved.
If this sounds like Legalism to you, it isn't, not any more than telling a person, If you do not repent and believe the Gospel you will not be saved.
Is it salvation by works? Of course not, for repentance and faith are not the only gifts of God; perseverance is too! Jude 24-25,
Now to Him who is able
To keep you from stumbling,
And to present you faultless
Before the presence of His glory
With exceeding joy,
To God our Savior,
Who alone is wise,
Be glory and majesty,
Dominion and power,
Both now and forever.
No one ever said things better than the beloved Spurgeon. In his sermon on another warning passage, he explains why it is in the Bible,
If God has put it in, He has put it in for wise reasons and for excellent purposes. Let me show you why. First, O Christian, it is put in to keep thee from falling away. God preserves His children from falling away; but He keeps them by the use of means.There is a deep precipice: what is the best way to keep anyone from going down there? Why, to tell him that, if he did, he would inevitably be dashed to pieces! Our friend puts away from us a cup of arsenic; he does not want us to drink it, but he says, 'If you drink it, it will kill you'. Does he suppose for a moment that we might drink it? No, he tells us the consequences and he is sure we ill not do it. So God says, 'My child, if you fall over that precipice, you will be dashed to pieces'. What does the child do? He says, 'Father, keep me; hold thou me up and I shall be safe'. It leads the believer to a deeper dependence on God and to a holy caution.
The warning passages do not imply that believers can lose their salvation, but they keep believers from losing their salvation by warning them of the dangers of apostasy!
We persevere because God holds us. The promise is His right hand; the warning is His left hand, and between them we are safe!
It hardly needs asking now, but: Is perseverance necessary to salvation, or can we be saved without persevering? Two verses are mighty hard to escape, Matthew 10:22 and Hebrews 12:14,
He who endures to the end, the same shall be saved.
Follow after peace and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.
What do we do with these verses? Some explain them away by making 'rewards' the goal of persevering instead of 'salvation'. But is that what they mean? How badly do you have to torture the words to twist them into saying such a thing?
Perseverance is a matter of life and death-eternal life and death. You must persevere or you must perish!
Thankfully, perseverance allows for sinning, but not sinning without also confessing, and trying hard to overcome it. But, best of all, we're not alone in our persevering. The Holy Spirit is with us to fight our sins, and Jesus Christ is in heaven praying for us. By their blessed and almighty work, even you and I can persevere! And we will! Even with all our weaknesses and follies and things worse-
The steps of a good man are ordered
By the Lord,
And He delights in His way.
Though he fall,
He shall not be utterly cast down;
For the Lord upholds him with His
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