what to make of the perseverance stuff
According to the reformed understanding of the doctrine of perseverance, a believer who has been truly converted by the work of the Holy Spirit will persevere through the hardships and failures of this life to obtain the promise of glory that is in Christ Jesus. Though this may be the case as taught in Scripture, there are still major questions that plague our understanding when it comes to this doctrine. What are we to make of those who have professed their undying devotion to Christ and the church but have “fallen” away from the faith later in life? It then follows to inquire of the pastoral implications of the doctrine of perseverance as it is taught in the church. This should make for a very edifying discussion.
As for the question of what to make of those who seem to have fallen from the faith, I believe that there are two ways in which a response can be given. From the start, we could ask if the person in question was ever really saved. There is no way in which we as humans could ever judge the position of someone else’s heart, but we can say with confidence that Scripturally, it is possible to make a profession of faith and never really be saved. Consider Hebrews 6:4-6,
“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.”
In the case of this Hebrews passage, the writer speaks of some who have been enlightened of the truth, some who have even tasted of the goodness, and shared in the Holy Spirit, but ultimately who have fallen away. The result however, is that once the person has done this, there is no way for them to be restored. They are an apostate. From this then, we can conclude that it is entirely possible for some to “par take” in the benefits or emotional aspect of the faith, but never really be genuinely converted. This is most definitely a hard pill to swallow. Consider also 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.”
This passage goes on to further the point being made. There are those who go out with the church, but do by them not remaining with the church shows that they were never really part of the church. There is no doubt that these people took part in the functions of the church, but in the end, their true feelings towards the Lord comes out. So it is the case then, that those who are true believers and have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit are the ones who will persevere to the end.
What are the pastoral implications of the doctrine of perseverance then? There are several to be sure of. As pastors and teachers, we need to be diligent to teach that perseverance in the faith is not something to be taken lightly. Just because Jesus has said in John 10 that, “no one will snatch them out of my hand” does not give Christians the right to live in a life of sinful pleasure. Though true salvation in Christ can never be lost, we as Christians should strive to be holy, just as God is holy (1 Peter 1:15).
As pastors and teachers, we are to be quick to teach that perseverance as Christians means persevering through many hardships and fiery trials (1 Peter 4:12-13). Our church needs to be prepared for what it means to truly be a Christian, and that includes how to suffer well. Suffering is all apart of how we as Christians become more Christ like, we persevere through pain.
As for a third implication of pastoral ministry, we are to teach that the Christian life is not a solo project. We are a body, all functioning together to bring about the glory of Jesus Christ. We as Christians are to be guarding one another’s hearts (Heb. 3:13). We should “stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24). These are just a couple of the many things that we are to do as Christians bound in fellowship with one another in Christ Jesus.
So the doctrine of perseverance as a Christian has many fundamental elements to consider. As believers in Christ’s work on the cross, we must remember that perseverance is not necessarily an easy way to live, but the reward of Christ Jesus is eternally great. Though there are ultimately some who profess to be in Christ, the sad and unfortunate truth is that they never really knew Him. That truth however, does not have to discourage us who are believers. We are sons and daughters of the Creator, who have been brought to a salvation in Christ Jesus by the Holy Spirit, and in Christ’s work, we can have full assurance of our persevering to the end.
Grace and Peace