It has come to my attention that my recent sermons from 1 Corinthians have raised some questions about whether or not a Christian can lose his or her salvation. This is a fantastic question, and the fact that this question is being asked shows me that you are paying attention, which is encouraging to me. But perhaps I should have been clearer than I was.
My position on this issue is that of the historic, Reformed view of perseverance of the saints. Here’s an excerpt from my sermon on 1 Corinthians 9:1-27:
In verses 24-25, Paul writes, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.” Paul is not suggesting that the Christian life is a competition and that only one Christian will receive the price in the end, the point of his analogy is that because each Christian has a “prize” that awaits him at the end of his life, he should exert himself and run with focus and vigor in order to obtain it! This is what Paul had in mind when he said in verse 23, “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” Paul never took it for granted that he would obtain the salvation stored up for him in the gospel, he knew that he had to persevere to the end in order to receive it. Passages of Scripture such as Mark 4:16-17, Hebrews 6:5-6, and 2 Peter 2:20-22 teach us that it is possible for a professing Christian who checks all the boxes and evidences all outward appearances of faith could nevertheless fall away from Christ. This is why perseverance is necessary. The doctrine of perseverance of the saints states that all those who are truly in Christ will be kept by Christ and be saved in the end. This is a true doctrine, and we find it in passages like John 6:37-44. However, this does not mean that you will be saved regardless of whether you persevere or not, rather, it means that those who are saved will surely persevere till the end. So your assurance of salvation is inextricably tied to your perseverance in the faith. The more you persevere, the more you will be assured, and the more you are assured in God’s grace, the more you will persevere in faith and good works. There is a prize waiting for us in the end, eternal life, eternal joy, eternal, perfect communion with God, and we must “exercise self-control” and persevere in order to attain it!
Perseverance of the Saints vs. Eternal Security
“Perseverance of the Saints” is a carefully-articulated, historic, Biblical doctrine, while “eternal security” is a less careful articulation of the same doctrine that is prone to misunderstanding. It often gets thrown around as “once saved, always saved,” which unhelpfully gives nominal Christians who are not true Christians false assurance of salvation. A true Christian cannot lose his salvation, because Christ will preserve him to the end. But this does not mean that a Christian is saved regardless of his perseverance. Rather, it means that every true Christian, by God’s preserving grace, perseveres to the end. From God’s omniscient, eternal perspective, all believers have eternal security, from our finite, limited perspective, there is need for perseverance.