Series On Calvinism

Perseverance of the Saints

by Gene Taylor

The fifth and final tenet of Calvinism, Perseverance of the Saints, is also referred to as the doctrine of "once saved always saved;" "the impossibility of apostasy;" "the security of the believer;" and "once in grace always in grace."

This doctrine results from the tenets which precede it. Loraine Boettner, a Calvinist, says, "This doctrine does not stand alone but is a necessary part of the Calvinistic system of theology. The doctrines of Election and Efficacious Grace logically imply the certain salvation of those who receive these blessings. If God has chosen men absolutely and unconditionally to eternal life, and if His Spirit effectively applies to them the benefits of redemption, the inescapable conclusion is that these persons shall be saved." (The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p. 182)

The "logic" of Calvinism states that since man is totally hereditarily depraved and can do nothing on his own but evil, unconditional election is required to save him, God must then call him in an irresistible way to salvation. Therefore, since he needs to do nothing to be saved, he needs to do nothing to remain saved and that anything he would do in any way that would affect his salvation would negate the miraculous work of God in saving him.

Perseverance of the Saints Expressed

The Westminster Confession of Faith states,

"They whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace: but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.

"This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father, upon the efficacy of the merits and intercession of Jesus Christ, the abiding of the Spirit and of the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace; from all which ariseth, also, the certainty and infallibility thereof." (Chap. XIX, Sect. 1)

David N. Steele and Curtis C. Thomas affirm,

"The elect are not only redeemed by Christ and renewed by the Spirit; they are also kept in faith by the almighty power of God. All those who are spiritually united to Christ through regeneration are eternally secure in Him. Nothing can separate them from the eternal and unchangeable love of God. They have been predestinated unto eternal glory and are therefore assured of heaven.

"The doctrine of perseverance of the saints does not maintain that all who profess the Christian faith are certain of heaven. It is saints—those who are set apart by the Spirit—who persevere to the end. It is believers—those who are given true, living faith in Christ—who are secure and safe in Him. Many who profess to believe fall away, but they do not fall from grace for they were never in grace. True believers do fall into temptations, and they do commit grievous sins, but these sins do not cause them to lose their salvation or separate them from Christ." (The Five Points of Calvinism, Defined, Defended, Documented, p. 56)

Sam Morris, a Baptist preacher, adds, "All the prayers a man may pray, all the Bibles he may read, all the churches he may belong to, all the services he may attend, all the sermons he may practice, all the debts he may pay, all the ordinances he may observe, all the laws he may keep, all the benevolent acts he may perform will not make his soul one whit safer; and all the sins he may commit, from idolatry to murder, will not make his soul in any more danger.…The way a man lives has nothing whatever to do with the salvation of his soul." (Do a Christian's Sins Damn His Soul?)

The Calvinistic Doctrine of Imputation

The doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints is based upon the false assumption that the elect sinner is clothed in the personal righteousness of Jesus Christ. Therefore, when God looks at him, He does not see the sins of the elect one, rather He sees the perfection of Jesus. Thus, one does not have to be concerned with doing righteousness if he is one whom God has elected to save.

To impute is "to credit to a person or a cause…to credit by transferral." (Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 421). Calvinists believe the guilt of Adam's sin was imputed to the whole human race—that all are sinners by virtue of the fact that being descendants of Adam they inherited the guilt of his sin. The remedy Calvinists offer for imputed sin is a second imputation. The perfect life of Christ is imputed to the elect sinner. God, in viewing that individual, only sees the personal righteousness of Jesus, not the sins of the sinner. This allows the elect one to continue to sin because Christ lived a sinless life in his stead and the innocence of Christ now clothes him. He is relieved of any responsibility for living a godly life. He does not even have to correct his wrongs because he will not be judged by his own actions but by the perfect life Jesus lived.

John Calvin, speaking on imputation, said, "…I answer, that the grace which they call accepting, is nothing else than the free goodness with which the Father embraces us in Christ when he clothes us with the innocence of Christ, and accepts it as ours, so that in consideration of it he regards us as holy, pure and innocent. For the righteousness of Christ (as it alone is perfect, so it alone can stand the scrutiny of God) must be sisted for us, and as a surety represent us judicially.…Our imperfection and purity, covered with this purity, are not imputed, but are as it were buried, so as not to come under judgment until the hour arrive when the old man being destroyed, and plainly extinguished in us, the divine goodness shall receive us into beatific peace with the new Adam, there to await the day of the Lord, on which, being clothed with incorruptible bodies, we shall be translated to the glory of the heavenly kingdom." (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, p. 82)

The word "impute" is found some seven times in the King James Version of the New Testament. (Rom. 4:6, 8, 11, 22, 23, 24; 2 Cor. 5:19; Gal. 3:6) Not a one of these passages teaches that Christ's personal righteousness ever becomes the righteousness of another. None of these verses states that God imputes Christ's righteousness to anyone.

The Bible clearly states that one who is considered righteous by heaven is one who practices righteousness (1 John 3:7), not the one who has had the personal righteousness of Jesus imputed to him. A sinner becomes righteous by pardon made possible by the atoning death of Jesus, not by imputation of His perfect life. (Matt. 26:28; Rom. 5:8-9) The atoning death of Jesus provides for the sinner's pardon if he will face up to his responsibility to repent and then obey God's law of pardon. (cf. Acts 2:38; 1 John 1:7-9)

Proof Texts Used to Support the Perseverance of the Saints

John 3:16, 36 and 5:24. The argument Calvinists base on this passage is that the believer, the saved, has (present possession) eternal life. Since eternal means "unending," if the Christian could be lost he could not possess eternal life. Therefore, since the Christian has eternal life, he can never lose it. The answer to their argument is that eternal life is used in two senses in the Scriptures: 1) the life Christians now possess. (1 John 5:11-13); and 2) something for which the Christian hopes (Titus 1:2) and will receive "in the age to come." (Mark 10:29-30)

The eternal life Christians now possess would not be altered if they lose it. It is the life that is eternal, not the possession of it. The fact that one may leave it behind does not alter its intrinsic nature. Possession of eternal life is conditional upon walking with God in accordance with His will.

John 10:28-29. The argument on this passage is that noone can snatch any of Christ's sheep from out of the Father's hand. Therefore, noone who has been saved can ever be lost. To answer this argument, it is true that no one is able to pluck the saved out of the hand of God unless the person is willing to go. Becoming a "sheep" and being placed in the hand of God is conditional. It takes hearing Christ (v. 27), believing Christ (v. 26) and following Christ. (v. 27) Remaining a "sheep" is likewise conditional. As long as a person remains a faithful follower of Christ he "shall never perish" (v. 28) but remember, a sheep can go astray. When a person places himself in God's care and humbly submits to His will, no other person or being can tear him from this position. But this passage does not teach that he is not able to remove himself from the hand of God by sinning. (cf. Isa. 59:1-2)

Romans 8:35-39. The argument from this text is that nothing can separate the elect from the love of God. Therefore, if they cannot be separated from the love of God, they can never be lost. In answer to this argument, while it is true that all the things named in this passage cannot separate one from the love of Christ, but both the Father and the Son love all persons. (John 3:16; 2 Cor. 5:14). Are all people going to be saved? Even Calvinists do not believe that. The passage is not speaking of the love Christ has for us but of the love we have for Him. (cf. v. 28)

R.L. Whiteside, commenting on this passage in A New Commentary on Paul's Letter to the Saints at Rome, said, "The phrase, 'the love of Christ,' can mean either the love Christ has for us or the love we have for him. Here it evidently means the love we have for him, for no one would think that the harsh things we suffer for him would separate his love from us; whereas it might appear reasonable to some that the sufferings we undergo in serving Christ might cause our love to grow cold, and even vanish. It will be noticed that all the evils mentioned are things that come upon us—things from without. If a man loves Christ as he should, none of the things mentioned will destroy that love; only the conditions of our own heart can cause us to cease loving him.…"It will be noticed that all the things mentioned are things without. Nothing here is said as to what corrupting influence might do to the heart. No powers or persecutions can force one to quit loving God. If he quits, he does it of his own accord. Love cannot be destroyed by force or by imperial command but it may wax cold. Some even depart from their first love (Rev. 2:4). Paul recognized that people might depart from the faith, but he was persuaded that no evils coming on us from without could destroy the love of God. In Christ, God's love for us and our love for him meet." (pp. 192, 193)

This passage does not teach that people cannot be separated from the salvation which is in Christ.

1 John 3:6-9. The argument here is that one who is born of God cannot sin, i.e., it is impossible for the child of God to sin. If he cannot sin, he cannot be lost. Once he is saved he is always saved. The answer is that "cannot," from the Greek ou-dunamal, means morally unable not that which is physically impossible. "Cannot," as used in Scripture, does not always mean impossible.

Consider the example of Balaam in Numbers 22:18: "Though Balak were to give me his house full of gold, I could not go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more." Balaam did not mean it was impossible for him to go beyond the word of God. Rather, he meant that he could not do it and be pleasing to God. He was forbidden to do it.

E.M. Zerr, commenting in 1 John 3:6-9, said, "And so the word in our verse does not mean that the child of God has come to the place where he is physically unable to do any wrong, but that he is morally restrained from it, just as a good man who is asked to join another in some crime would reply, 'O, no, I couldn't do anything like that.'" (Bible Commentary, Vol. Six, p. 284)

John, in this passage, could not have meant that it was impossible for a child of God to sin. In 1:8-10 and 2:1-2 of this same epistle he plainly stated that he could. In commenting on verses six and nine of 1 John 3, Marvin Vincent said, "John does not teach that believers do not sin, but is speaking of a character, a habit. Throughout the Epistle he deals with the ideal reality of life in God, in which the love of God and sin exclude each other as light and darkness." (Word Studies in the New Testament, Vol. II, p. 348)

Scriptural Objections to Perseverance of the Saints

Matthew 13:41,42. All who are in Christ's kingdom have been born again (John 3:3-5) but some of those in the kingdom who "practice lawlessness" will be gathered out of it.

John 15:1-6. In these verses Jesus warns His disciples to continue to abide in Him. If it is impossible for a Christian not to abide in Christ, then Jesus' warning has no meaning. A Christian who does not repent of failing to abide in Christ can only anticipate destruction in the final day.

Acts 8:9-24. Simon believed and was baptized. (v. 3) Thus there is no question he was a child of God. After becoming a child of God he sought to buy the gift of God with money. (vv. 18-19) He was told he was "poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity." (v. 23) He was commanded to "repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart can be forgiven you." (v. 22) One inspired man, Luke, called Simon a baptized believer. Another inspired man, Peter, told him he would perish with his money. Simon, though a child of God, had sins that needed to be forgiven or he would perish. (v. 20) Simon had fallen from grace.

Romans 8:12, 13. This passage is directed toward "brethren." (v. 12) It is possible for a brother, a child of God, to live according to the flesh and "die." (v. 13)

Romans 11:22. This text is a warning to Gentile Christians who were in God's "goodness." If they failed to continue in God's goodness, they would be "cut off."

Romans 14:15 and 1 Corinthians 8:11. Both of these passages warn Christians not to cause their brethren to sin in matters of judgment. Those "for whom Christ died," Calvinists would call them the elect, can be destroyed (Rom. 14:15) or perish. (1 Cor. 8:11)

1 Corinthians 9:27. Not even the staunchest Calvinist would deny that the apostle Paul was a child of God. Yet, in this text, Paul said, that even after preaching to others, he could be "disqualified," i.e., he could be lost even though he was a Christian.

Galatians 5:2-4. This passage is definitely directed toward Christians (cf. Gal. 3:26), children of God. The word translated "fallen" in this text is the same word that is used in other places to refer to divorce. It could be translated "severed." These children of God were once as firmly united with the grace of God as a man is with his wife or as Christ is with the church, but now they have been divorced, severed, from grace. They could not be severed from something they were not joined to in the first place. They could not fall from that which they were not in.

1 Timothy 4:1. This passage states that some Christians "will depart from the faith." Such a departure would cause them to be lost. In verse 16, Timothy is told if he, as a child of God, would be saved he would have to "continue in" the doctrine of Christ.

Hebrews 6:4-6. The people under consideration in this passage:

Not only could these children of God fall away, they could fall so far away that it would be impossible to renew them to repentance.

Hebrews 10:26-29. It is evident that Christians are under consideration in this passage because they have been "sanctified" by the blood of Christ. (v. 29) If a child of God willfully forsakes the Lord and does not repent, he has nothing to anticipate but a "certain fearful expectation of judgment and fiery indignation." (v. 27)

James 5:19. A brother can "wander from the truth" in such a manner as to be a "sinner" whose soul is in jeopardy of "death." (cf. Gal. 6:1)

2 Peter 2:1. This passage warns of false teachers who will deny "the Lord who bought them." Those who deny Christ, even children of God, will be denied before God (Matt. 10:33) and be cast into the lake of fire if they do not repent. (Rev. 21:8)

2 Peter 3:17. Christians can fall from "steadfastness" and be led away "with the error of the wicked."

Revelation 3:5. All Christians have their names written in the book of life. (Rev. 20:15) Those names can be removed if they do not live faithfully. (Rev. 3:5; 22:19)


The Bible teaches that the believer is secure in his salvation in the hand of God as long as he remains faithful to the will of God and loyal to Christ. (2 Tim. 4:7-8)

The word of God also teaches that a child of God can voluntarily, by his sins, separate himself from God and Christ and be lost. If the child of God becomes unfaithful and does not repent, the "wages of sin," death (Rom. 6:23), await him even though he had once been in fellowship with God.

The Perseverance of the Saints, or "once saved always saved," like the four tenets of Calvinism which precede it, is a false doctrine that must be rejected.

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