(Below is a section from a longer article on “Eternal Security, Perseverance, and Assurance.” You can read the full version here. And here is a list of verses written out that are related to the doctrine.)
Some of our biggest theological and practical struggles come from not knowing how to put together statements in Scripture that don’t fit at first glance. Part of being a good student of the Word is reading all of Scripture together and letting it interpret itself. When two ideas take us different directions we slow down and look at both together.
One example might be Christology. We give full weight to texts speaking about Jesus’ divinity without slighting his full humanity, and vice versa. We allow both texts to speak with one coherent voice.
This is the case when it comes to verses in the Bible related to eternal security or perseverance. There are passages warning against walking away from Christ and passages teaching God will not let us fall from Him. When we put these side by side, how do we answer questions like, Can salvation be lost? If I made a decision or signed a card, am I safe? Can I have any assurance about my salvation? These questions deserve to be thought about for more than a few seconds. They affect how we view God, salvation, ourselves, and what it means to finish the race.
In this article, I argue that the very nature of salvation is something that cannot be lost or revoked; it is eternally secure. God preserves all who are His by causing them to persevere in trust in Jesus. Christians persevere in faith because their faithful God preserves them to the end. We must endure, and because of God’s grace and power, we will endure. There’s an exhortation to not let go of Christ and the encouragement underneath it that he is holding onto us.
A View from Above (Preservation)
As we move beyond Colossians and into the rest of the New Testament, let’s look at this from God’s angle and then from man’s angle. The two truths held together are that God will preserve all those who believe in Jesus Christ and keep them until the end, and we must not turn from Christ as proclaimed in the gospel. We persevere by holding fast in faith, but we do so because we’re preserved by a God holding us. The basis is God keeping us but the condition is our perseverance. It’s similar to when we first believe, where faith is the condition but Christ’s work is the basis for our forgiveness and salvation.
Looking at things from God’s perspective, we have the encouragement that He preserves His children. God assures the completion of our salvation the moment He unites us by grace to Jesus. This unbreakable chain of events is laid out in Romans 8:29. “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
Paul emphatically says every person God justifies will be glorified. In fact, Paul’s past-tense language about glorification sounds as if it’s already happened because the outcome is guaranteed. “He who began a good work in you will bring it completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). Our assurance rests in the faithfulness of God to finish what he begins, His ability to keep those who belong to Him, and the sufficiency of Christ’s work to present us pure and blameless.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks several times about the eternal security of all true believers and he does so as a Shepherd offering peace to his people. “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out…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” (Jn. 6:37, 39). How amazing. Jesus will never cast out those who come to him. He’ll never push us away, never keep us from coming, never tell us to leave, and he will never walk away from us. He will lose nothing or no one who belongs to him.
A few chapters later where he tells them “I Am the Good Shepherd” who gives his life for the sheep (Jn. 10:11), he gives similar comfort. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, 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” (Jn. 10:27-29). Jesus knows those who are his. Jesus keeps all of his sheep, beating off the wolves and keeping the straying sheep from getting lost. He leads them home until they arrive safely into the fold. No one, including you, can snatch anyone from the Father’s hand. This is great news.
These verses—and many more—tell us that though we must persevere, we will persevere because God preserves us. God is the strength and the energy behind our perseverance though we must keep walking and finish the race. God is faithful and will finish the work He’s started in us by bringing it to completion.
Jesus “will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful…” (1 Cor. 1:8-9). The New Testament connects God’s faithfulness to His keeping us (1 Cor. 10:13). Because God is faithful, He will preserve us, and we will persevere because He is faithful. Paul put his trust in God and found an unshakeable foundation there for assurance. “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:18).
The almost forgotten book of Jude repeats this theme. “To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for [or by] Jesus Christ” (Jude 1). “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 24). These verses teach us that a person who genuinely believes in Jesus is united to him and kept forever.
We can have assurance because God is faithful. He’s taken on Himself the project of bringing His sons and daughters to completion. We continue in faith because we are kept by grace. We persevere because God is preserving us. He’s hitched our wagon to the one who’s already crossed the finish line, Jesus Christ.
A View from Below (Perseverance)
We as believers then simply, though not easily, don’t let go of the gospel. If we continue holding fast to “the faith,” we can rest assured that Christ is ours and we are his. That doesn’t mean we don’t sin, or even that our faith is perfect and we never struggle with doubt, sin, or even unbelief. But seasons of struggling and imperfect faith is set in contrast to willful unrepentance and rejection of Christ’s gospel.
Only those who persevere—endure in faith in Christ and his gospel—will enjoy God’s eternal rest. “Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples’” (John 8:31). Endurance doesn’t save us, but it demonstrates our union with Christ. All those united to Jesus must persevere and will persevere, not because of the power of their faith but because of the preserving power and grace who is the object of their faith.
Commentator P.T. O’Brien says it this way: “If it is true that the saints will persevere to the end, then it is equally true that the saints must persevere to the end.” There is no disconnect between the promise that God preserves and keeps all who are His and the truth that all who are His must persevere. This should encourage us that if we hold fast to Jesus we’re promised salvation, not as something we earn but as the outcome of a faith that unites us to Jesus and receives all the promises in him. It should warn anyone who has turned away from Jesus or seeks salvation apart from him that they have no grounds to think they will be saved.
In Colossians 1:23, this conditional statement calls them to continue in the faith, meaning the confession of Jesus Christ proclaimed in the gospel. If they hold firm, stable and steadfast, and don’t shift their hope to something other than Christ, then they can know they’ll be presented before God as holy, blameless, and without fault (Col. 1:21-23). The “if” statement here isn’t meant to express pessimistic doubt but the positive belief that they will continue in the faith.
Peter expresses a similar idea, although he uses “faith” differently. God has caused us to be born again to a living hope, “kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5). The certainly of our salvation rests in the fact that it’s being kept in heaven and God is guarding it.
But, how does God work this out in us? It’s through the faith He gives that we exercise. We must continue in this faith until the end but God is guarding us by His infinite power, and He’s doing so through our faith. “God does not guard us apart from our faith, but only by working through our faith so that he enables us to continue to believe in him. In this way, those who continue to trust in Christ gain assurance that God is working in them and guarding them.”
This sounds like Paul when he says, “work out your salvation…for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work” (Phil. 2:12-13). We work because God is working in us. We must persevere but God is the one preserving our faith and energizing our perseverance. When we read passages that say we must endure and we must hold fast we should take those words seriously. But, we should understand them and our role in light of everything we’ve seen about God’s promise to keep us and to empower us in our endurance.
If you are trusting in Jesus Christ today then you can have confidence and assurance that he will keep you trusting. Anyone who truly believes in Jesus will be preserved and kept by Jesus. Jesus loses none who are his. Neither our faith or faithlessness, nor our sin, nor our enemy, nothing can take Christ’s people away from him. When we believe in him we are united with him, and it’s a union that never leads to divorce. When we are one with Jesus we get his righteousness and are declared justified, and this is a verdict God never reverses. In Jesus, we are made new and given an eternal life, and that life is never revoked or taken away.
Recommended Bible Verses
- Perseverance: John 8:31; 15:1-11; Heb. 3:14; Phil. 2:12-13; Col. 1:21-23; 1 Cor. 15:2; 2 Peter 1:10; Matt. 24:13.
- Preservation: John 6:37-40; 10:28-29; 17:12; 18:9; Phil. 1:6; Rom. 8:28-30, 38-39; 1 Peter 1:3-5; 2 Tim. 1:12; 4:18; Eph. 1:4; 4:30; Jude 24; 1 Thess. 5:23-24; (Rom. 11:29); Heb. 7:25; Jer. 31:31-34; 32:36-41; 1 John 5:4; Luke 22:32; 1 Cor. 1:8-9.
- Christians and (Imperfect) Holiness: 1 John 2:4; 3:4-10; 4:8; 5:18; 3 John 11; Heb. 12:14; Eph. 5:5-6; Rev. 21:27; Rom. 8:13; 1 Cor. 6:9; Matt. 13:1-9, 18-23.
- Genuine vs False Faith: 1 Cor. 11:19; 1 John 2:19-20; Matt. 7:21-23; 15:8; John 2:23-25; 8:31; 2 John 9; Mark 4:3-6, 14-20.
- Assurance of Salvation: 1 John 5:12-13; 1 John 3:18-22; Heb. 10:22; Rom. 8:1-39; Eph. 3:12; Rom. 8:15-16.
 P.T. O’Brien, Colossians, 69.
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 792.
 For examples of how the doctrine of perseverance of the saints affects other beliefs, see “Perseverance of the Saints: Tertiary or Foundational,” by Jeff Robinson, written 9/24/14. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/perseverance-tertiary-or-foundational/
 “The perseverance of the saints means that 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 that only those who persevere until the end have been truly born again.Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 788.