The inevitable question arises when we witness a committed and faithful Christian leave the Church. It raises the question “Can people who are saved lose their salvation?” In Reformed theology this answer falls under the letter “P” in the acrostic TULIP. Generally called the Perseverance of the Saints it speaks to the elect and how they can never ultimately fall away. In the subject of the Perseverance of the Saints, God is the active agent and the objects of God’s perseverance are the saints. This needs to be understood rightly because otherwise it might suggest that the persevering is something that we do in and of ourselves. Of course Reformed teaching holds that the elect truly do persevere to the end. But the reason they persevere is because God perseveres or as R.C. Sproul has termed “God has preserved them”. In the teaching of “the Perseverance of the Saints” I usually re-phrase it as “the Perseverance of God” to emphasize the divine agency. To emphasize that God continues to maintain the elect and if he didn’t there could be no Church at all.
If we understand regeneration of the soul as “the divine initiative”, we must maintain that the persevering of the soul in the divine cause as well. This means we understand God’s initiative at the beginning and throughout the Christian life. Paul says “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)” Therefore, those who have true regeneration never lose it. And those who leave the Church never had it to begin with.
John the apostle tells us “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. (1 John 2:19)” There are those who made a correct profession of faith, they “honored Jesus with their lips, but their hearts were far from him.” Jesus spoke of those who would approach him on the Last Day speaking of the works they did in his name and he sends them away saying “Depart from me you workers of iniquity, I never knew you.” (Luke 13:22-30) These types of comments made by Christ give no implication that he used to know them or that they left him. His statement is clear. The words of Jesus describe those are being rejected as never being in the same status as those who are elect and preserved in Christ.
Another place we see this is in the high priestly prayer in John 17. Jesus prays that those who the Father has given him will never be lost. I would simply ask, “If Jesus doesn’t pray for you, will he die for you?” Some have responded by saying that Jesus is only speaking of his disciples who are present with him. But Jesus specifically addresses all those who will come to believe through the teachings of the apostles (which are preserved for us in Scripture) when he says:
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (Jn 17:20-21)”
This type of assurance is stated in many places through the New Testament to believers. But the point of stress for this post is that the reason for enduring is not our strength but God’s. After our regeneration we may still enter into sin, it may even be a serious sin. But the reason that we may repent after committing a truly horrendous sin is because God grants it (”…God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” 2Tim 2:25-26)
Consider Peter. A disciple who publicly rejected Jesus. But recall the words of Jesus to Peter before this public betrayal:
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)
Christians can find comfort in this, that no matter how egregious our sin, we have a faithful mediator who prays for us. Therefore let the saints come to Christ continually in repentance and praise him all the more!