Answer: Perseverance of the saints is the name that is used to summarize what the Bible teaches about the eternal security of the believer. It answers the question, “Once a person is saved, can he lose his salvation?” Perseverance of the saints is the P in the acronym TULIP, which is commonly used to enumerate what are known as the five points of Calvinism. Because the term “perseverance of the saints” can cause people to have the wrong idea about what is meant, some people prefer to use terms like “preservation of the saints,” “eternal security,” or “held by God.” Each of these terms reveals some aspect of what the Bible teaches about the security of the believer. However, like any biblical doctrine, what is important is not the name assigned to the doctrine but how accurately it summarizes what the Bible teaches about that subject. No matter which name you use to refer to this important doctrine, a thorough study of the Bible will reveal that, when it is properly understood, it is an accurate description of what the Bible teaches.
The simplest explanation of this doctrine is the saying: “Once saved,
always saved.” The Bible teaches that those who are born again will
continue trusting in Christ forever. God, by His own power through the
indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, keeps or preserves the believer
forever. This wonderful truth is seen in Ephesians 1:13-14,
where we see that believers are “sealed with the Holy Spirit of
promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of
the purchase possession, to the praise of His glory.” When we are born
again, we receive the promised indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit
that is God’s guarantee that He who began a good work in us will
complete it (Philippians 1:6).
In order for us to lose our salvation after receiving the promised Holy
Spirit, God would have to break His promise or renege on His
“guarantee,” which He cannot do. Therefore, the believer is eternally
secure because God is eternally faithful.
The understanding of this doctrine really comes from understanding the unique and special love that God has for His children. Romans 8:28-39
tells us that 1) no one can bring a charge against God’s elect; 2)
nothing can separate the elect from the love of Christ; 3) God makes
everything work together for the good of the elect; and 4) all whom God
saves will be glorified. God loves His children (the elect) so much that
nothing can separate them from Him. Of course this same truth is seen
in many other passages of Scripture as well. In John 10:27-30,
Jesus says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow
Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no
one will 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 the
Father's hand. I and the Father are one." Again, in John 6:37-47,
we see Jesus stating that everyone that the Father gives to the Son
will come to Him and He will raise all of them up at the last day.
Another evidence from Scripture of the eternal security of a believer is found in John 5:24,
where Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word,
and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into
judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” Notice that eternal
life is not something we get in the future but is something that we have
once we believe. By its very nature, eternal life must last forever, or
it could not be eternal. This passage says that, if we believe the
gospel, we have eternal life and will not come into judgment; therefore,
it can be said we are eternally secure.
There is really very little scriptural basis that can be used to argue
against the eternal security of the believer. While there are a few
verses that, if not considered in their context, might give the
impression that one could “fall from grace” or lose his salvation, when
these verses are carefully considered in context it is clear that is not
the case. Many people know someone who at one time expressed faith in
Christ and who might have appeared to be a genuine Christian who later
departed from the faith and now wants to have nothing to do with Christ
or His church. These people might even deny the very existence of God.
For those who do not want to accept what the Bible says about the
security of the believer, these types of people are proof that the
doctrine of eternal security cannot be right. However, the Bible
indicates otherwise, and it teaches that people such as those who
profess Christ as Savior at one time only to later walk away and deny
Christ were never truly saved in the first place. For example, 1 John 2:19
says, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had
been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out from us,
in order that it might be made manifest that they all are not truly of
us." The Bible is also clear that not everyone who professes to be a
Christian truly is. Jesus Himself says that not everyone who says,
“Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21-22).
Rather than proving we can lose our salvation, those people who profess
Christ and fall away simply reinforces the importance of testing our
salvation to make sure we are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5) and making our calling and election sure by continually examining our lives to make sure we are growing in godliness (2 Peter 1:10).
One of the misconceptions about the doctrine of the perseverance of the
saints is that it will lead to “carnal Christians” who believe that
since they are eternally secure they can live whatever licentious
lifestyle they wish and still be saved. But that is a misunderstanding
of the doctrine and what the Bible teaches. A person who believes he can
live any way he wants because he has professed Christ is not
demonstrating true saving faith (1 John 2:3-4). Our eternal security rests on the biblical teaching that those whom God justifies, He will also glorify (Romans 8:29-30). Those who are saved will indeed be conformed to the image of Christ through the process of sanctification (1 Corinthians 6:11).
When a person is saved, the Holy Spirit breaks the bondage of sin and
gives the believer a new heart and a desire to seek holiness. Therefore a
true Christian will desire to be obedient to God and will be convicted
by the Holy Spirit when he sins. True Christians will never “live any
way they want” because such behavior is impossible for someone who has
been given a new nature (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Clearly, the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints does accurately
represent what the Bible teaches on this important subject. If someone
is truly saved, he has been made alive by the Holy Spirit and has a new
heart with new desires. There is no way that one that has been “born
again” can later be “unborn.” Because of His unique love for His
children, God will keep all of His children safe from harm, and Jesus
has promised that He would lose none of His sheep. The doctrine of the
perseverance of the saints recognizes that true Christians will always
persevere and are eternally secure because God keeps them that way. It
is based on the fact that Jesus, the “author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2), is able to completely save those whom the Father has given Him (Hebrews 7:25) and to keep them saved through all eternity.
Chosen But Free, revised edition: A Balanced View of God's Sovereignty and Free Will by Norm Geisler and The Potter's Freedom by James White.