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Perseverance of the Saints

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Yanadi shares how the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints can encourage us amid hardships.

Recently, we all grieve together with some of us who lost their family members. Some of us are anxious over loved ones who caught COVID-19 and we could still see more pains and losses as we are still in the midst of this endemic wave in our nation.

As a church, we've recently concluded the first part of our sermon series on Hope from 1 Peter and we've heard a timely encouragement from our shepherds to persevere. And as we are celebrating 504th anniversary of the Reformation Day this weekend, let us reflect on one doctrine that was developed from the Reformation: perseverance of the saints.

Various responses to the doctrine

There are possibly various emotions when we hear this particular doctrine. It is often associated with the debate revolving around a certain flower (which, providentially is being showcased at the Flower Dome till 14 November 2021). However, I think the issue of the perseverance of the saints is perhaps one of the most misunderstood doctrines of the Reformation due to its historical baggage and some of the developments in popular contemporary Christianity in recent decades. On the other hand, this is, for me, one of the most down-to-earth and practical Christian doctrines that we ever have, especially with regard to our need to persevere amid hardships.

Some of us think of Once Saved Always Saved (OSAS) when we talk about the doctrine. It is not entirely inaccurate, but it is not the most accurate nor the most helpful phrase to explain the doctrine.

OSAS suggests that once someone has accepted Jesus as his/her Lord and Saviour, he/she will never ever fall away. Some [mis]understood the doctrine to encourage, or at least permit, licentiousness because someone who has been saved will never be lost regardless what he/she does after that. I have indeed met a sister-in-Christ who associates this doctrine with churches that teach hyper-grace, which is a doctrine that teaches that all sins of Christians, past, present, and future, have been forgiven and consequently Christians have complete freedom, including to sin and to not repent.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are some who believe that if someone has ever fallen away, he/she is never a Christian to begin with, and probably not a Christian at all. What OSAS sorely misses is the nuance of encouragement to persevere and hope in perseverance.

The beauty of historical confessions

I love historical confessions of faith and catechisms because I have benefitted so much from them. I think they are treasures that are very beneficial for our Christian living. These confessions and catechisms are often forgotten by today's Christians and I think that they ought to be studied by more Christians.

In order to accurately understand any doctrine, it is helpful to look at how Christians across centuries have carefully formulated, adopted the formulation, and lived by it. In chapter 17 of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, "The Perseverance of the Saints" is defined as:

Those God has accepted in the Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, and given the precious faith of his elect can neither totally nor finally fall from a state of grace. *
(emphases mine)

I highlighted for us the words totally and finally in order to highlight the nuance of the doctrine as how it has been understood across centuries.

This doctrine was never formulated to be a license to wicked lifestyles nor was it designed to be a yardstick for judging whether one is truly saved. It does not merely state the fact that saints will persevere, but it also encourages the saints, us, Christians, to actively persevere. It does not teach that if we are saints then we will automatically persevere as if it were an easy thing to do for us. I do not think that the doctrine is so unrealistic about its view of the world. But indeed, if we are saints, we are called to persevere, because it is hard to do, but also because our Lord Jesus has righteously gone before us and we are looking forward to an even better reality:

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
- 1 Pet 2:21-25

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
- 1 Pet 5:6-10

In the midst of many hardships and difficulties, sometimes we do fall away. Sometimes we lose hope. Sometimes we hope in the false hope promised by the world. But not all hope is lost. If we respond to God's word in trust toward Christ and persevere in doing so, our Lord welcomes us back with wide open arms to embrace us.

But remember, saints persevere even, and especially, in godliness, not in licentiousness under the pretense of being "free in Christ", or worse, "assurance of salvation". Saints will never totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace. Hence, this is a call to persevere for the faithful ones and a call to repent and find hope in Christ for those who have fallen away. There is a hope. Our hope is in Christ alone and it continues to be so. So cling to Christ.

Therefore, dear fellow saints who are feeling weary, let these words of the Confession encourage you to persevere in the midst of this tough season of life:

Therefore, he still brings about and nourishes in them faith, repentance, love, joy, hope, and all the graces of the Spirit that lead to immortality. Even though many storms and floods arise and beat against them, yet these things will never be able to move the elect from the foundation and rock to which they are anchored by faith. The felt sight of the light and love of God may be clouded and obscured from them for a time through their unbelief and the temptations of Satan. Yet God is still the same; they will certainly be kept by the power of God for salvation, where they will enjoy their purchased possession. For they are engraved on the palms of his hands, and their names have been written in the book of life from all eternity. *
The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith: chapter 17 paragraph 1
(unique to 1689 as compared to Westminster and Savoy)

I pray that this short excerpt encourages all of us to persevere and stay faithful, dear beloved brothers and sisters.

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Let us gather this Friday, 29 October 2021, at 8 pm, to pray together as a body of Christ. This is a great opportunity for us to find out how some of us are doing and to encourage one another to persevere in Christ. It is also timely that our intern, Samuel, will bring a devotional on the topic of Hope. So I hope you will come and be encouraged to stay faithful. Join here:
Zoom: http://gracebaptistchurch.sg/gbcprays
Meeting ID: 890 9907 9298
Passcode: GBCprays
Prayer items: October 2021

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* Taken from 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, Modern English version,
https://founders.org/library/1689-confession/.