Saturday, December 29, 2007

Is Perseverance Necessary for Eternal Life?

While there are many in the evangelical world today who claim that salvation is only by faith, the Bible clearly teaches that salvation involves good works and that they are necessary to experience eternal life. Justification is by faith alone, but salvation, taken as a whole, is by faithfulness. Zane Hodges, Charles Ryrie, Charles Stanley and other no-Lordship proponents claim that a person's heavenly inheritance is secure based on a decision that the person made at some point in his past without respect to whether or not the person is presently living a godly life.

Contrary to that antinomian (against the law) vision of Christianity, Christ teaches that the only one who will enter the kingdom of heaven is "the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 7:23). And, God's "will" is not limited to "faith alone," but includes faith, repentance, love, and good works of faithful obedience to God's law. Mark 13:13 says, "The one who endures to the end will be saved." Christ said that the man whose house stands is the one who "hears my words and does them" (Luke 6:46). In context, this "doing" of Christ's words cannot be reduced to the act of "faith alone," but includes a robust godliness (Luke 6:20-45). Christ very pointedly told the disciples "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love" (John 15:10).

The epistles are full of such admonition. 1 Corinthians 10:12 says, "Therefore, let anyone who thinks that he stands, take heed lest he fall." Then again in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." 2 Corinthians 5:10 says, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil." In Galatians, Paul warns us, "For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love" (Galatians 5:6). Later in the same letter, Paul wrote, "For the one who sows to his own flesh, will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life" (Galatians 6:8).

In the book of Hebrews, we find many warnings that teach us of the necessity of perseverance for the experience of eternal live. "For we share in Christ, if we hold fast our original confidence firm to the end" (Hebrews 3:14). "Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear, lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it" (Hebrews 4:1). "Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience" (Hebrews 4:11). "And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him" (Hebrews 5:9). "For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for our sins but a fearful expectation of judgment and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries" (Hebrews 10:26). "Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14).

The book of Revelation too, warns us that we must be overcomers in order to inherit the promised future blessing. "To the one who conquers, I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God" (Revelation 2:7). "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Revelation 2:10). "The one who conquers, I will grant to sit with my on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne" (Revelation 3:21).

Finally, "The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son, but as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death" (Revelation 21:7-8).


  1. Sir,

    Indeed you have fallen into tragic error.

    Did you not say that only justification is by faith and not salvation? Have you forgotten Eph 2:8, 9?

    Salvation is the gift of God, not of works, so that no man can boast.

    Question: Is this the doctrine that the SBC seminary is teaching?

    I would love to debate the interpretation of each one of your choice proof texts with you. It seems that you have the bible contradicting itself with your interpretation.

    "If we are unfaithful (apistis) He remains faithful, He cannot disown Himself" (2 Tim 2:13).

    God is faithful to his promises. Jesus said that anyone who simply drinks of the water He gives shall never thirst again.

    I am so glad that my salvation depends upon both Christ's faithfulness on the cross and God's faithfulness to His word and not an inkling on my own faithfulness. For if our entrance into heaven depended a whit on our own faithfulness, I am afraid that it would be unpopulated by human beings.

    Saved by grace through faith apart from works,

    Antonio da Rosa

  2. Dear Antonio,

    Thank you for your post. We've discussed these things at length in the past in another format; so, I don't want to get involved in a protracted discussion here, but I will provide a brief reply to your questions and comments.

    First, the term "salvation" refers to various aspects of personal redemption. In Ephesians 2:8-9, the term refers to regeneration/conversion and justification, not to sanctification or glorification. This becomes evident in light of verses 4-6. "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ [regeneration] - by grace you have been saved - and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Jesus Christ [vital union with Christ, and justification]." Therefore, it makes sense to understand Paul's reference to salvation in verse 8 as having to do with justification and not with sanctification, perseverance or glorification.

    Second, Scripture's teaching on the necessity of perseverance to experience eternal life and final salvation is taught at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Schreiner, a professor at Southern, and Dr. Caneday co-authored The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance. The entire second chapter of that book demonstrates that the eschatological experience of eternal life is contingent upon faithful and persevering good works. On page 47, they write, "What is the prize that believers are running to win? Some Christians are convinced that it cannot be eternal life. They understand the prize to be rewards, which are an additional gift beyond eternal life, so there is no need to win eternal life as a prize on the last day. They also fear that any talk of winning the prize smacks of salvation by works." They conclude the chapter by writing, "The prize to be won is nothing other than eternal life itself, entrance into the heavenly kingdom and final redemption. nothing less than our eternal inheritance is at stake, and thus the issue of perseverance is weighty indeed" (86). This is simply in line with the best expressions of historical Reformed orthodoxy.

    Third, you seriously misinterpret 2 Tim 2:13. Let's look at the whole hymn for the sake of context: "If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure with him, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful for he cannot deny himself" (2 Tim 2:11-13). This passage explicitly teaches that we must "die" to "live," "endure" to "reign," and that if we "deny him," he will "deny us.' So, what does it mean that "if we are faithless, he remains faithful?" Your proposed interpretation fails to account for the fact that God is faithful not only to his promises to save, but also to his promises to condemn. He is faithful to those in hell because he promises condemnation to unbelief. He faithfully keeps His promise to deny those who deny Him. Someone once said, "Great is Thy faithfulness - and it will kill you." In other words, God's promise of faithfulness to the faithless does not contradict his promise to deny those who deny him. My interpretation is not novel, either. William Hendricksen, the beloved author of many of the commentaries in the NTC series wrote, "Faithfulness on his part means carrying out his threats (Matt. 10:33) as well as his promises (Matt 10:32)! Divine faithfulness is a wonderful comfort for those who are loyal (1 Thess 5:24; 2 Thess 3:3; cf. 1 Cor. 1:9; 10:13; 2 Cor 1:18; Phil 1:6; Heb 10:23). It is a very earnest warning for those who might be inclined to become disloyal. It is hardly necessary to add that the meaning of the last line cannot be, 'If we are faithless and deny him, nevertheless, he remaining faithful to his promise, will give us everlasting life.' Aside from being wrong for other reasons, such an interpretation destroys the evident implication of the parallelism between lines three and four. . . . If Christ failed to remain faithful to his threat as well as to his promise, he would be denying himself, for in that case he would cease to be The Truth" (William Hendricksen, I-II Timothy and Titus, 260).

    I'm thankful that God saves me not only from the guilt of my sin but also from its power. God doesn't forgive my sins and give me the gift of righteousness only to let me grow in godlessness and the miseries it brings. No, Christ is my full Savior, being not only my prophet and priest, but also my king, who rules and overrules the remaining sin within me by the power of His Word and Spirit. I'm thankful that God does not only remit my condemnation, but also powerfully, effectually, and graciously removes my misery by progressively removing my remaining sin, more and more.

    The fact that God gives the experience of eternal life by means of the mortification of sin and vivification of good works is simply grace upon grace, since he effectually works all my (grossly imperfect) good works in me (1 Cor 15:10). "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil 2:12-13). The great Augustine of Hippo said that when God gives eternal life to those who persevere, He is simply "crowning His own graces." All is of grace, from beginning to end.

    May the Lord bless you and keep you.

    Grateful for a whole Savior,

  3. Tom,

    Are you saying that we, as in you and I, have discussed this before, or did you use the term "we" to mean you and others on this blog?

    Let me ask you a question. Throughout the gospel of John, the only book in the bible that has the express, written purpose of being evangelistic (John 20:30-31), eternal life is the present possession of every believer. How is it Caneday and Schreiner can say that "the prize that believers are running to win" is "eternal life itself"?

    Believer's already have everlasting life (see John 6:47, for example). How is it that they have to win it?

    Furthermore, in any race I have ever seen, experienced, or became apprised of, the prizes are not handed out as grace. The prizes are merited by hard works and earnest endeavor. They are handed out to those who merited the prizes by their works.

    How is it that your system cannot be rightfully considered works-salvation? (Rom 11:6).


    PS: I would still love to debate any and all of your scripture references with you. Maybe we could start with 2 Tim 2:11-13?

  4. BTW,

    I was wondering if you would like to view a review of your colleauge's book:

  5. Dear Antonio,

    Greetings in the gracious name of the Lord Jesus Christ. To Him be all glory, honor, praise, and obedience.

    You and I have discussed Free Grace doctrine on a web board in the past. I've read your blog and I understand your views. Let me say that I humbly disagree with them.

    I do not agree that the Gospel of John was written merely for the purpose of being evangelistic. First, the verb "may believe" in 20:31 is a present tense subjunctive, which might refer to the continuation of belief and not merely to a "one-time" event (there is a debate as to whether the verb is an aorist or simple present). Second, John includes a good deal of information for His disciples about discipleship (John 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18). Thus, the book is not at all mainly for unbelievers. Third, the Gospels’ message to trust and obey (found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) is the same for both believers and unbelievers.

    The fact that believers already possess eternal life means that they own it, have a right and title to it, and that it belongs to them. Heaven already belongs to all who believe. It is their present possession and nothing and no one can strip it away from them. However, sanctification is necessary to "see" God (Heb 12:14). The experience, enjoyment, sight, and delight of eternal life are contingent upon a heart and life that is transformed such that it is able to delight in the God who has eternal life in Himself. Thus, eternal life is both a present possession received by faith alone, but the ever expanding enjoyment of the possessed eternal life is yet future for those who are not yet glorified. We are transformed in our sanctification from glory to glory (2 Cor 3:18), being made more and more into the likeness of Christ (Rom 8:29) and able to enjoy Him to the degree that we are like Him (John 15:10-11).

    You ask if this enjoyment of eternal life is merited by hard works. The Bible says, "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments [plural]. And, his commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3). Someone who is regenerate, who loves the Lord Jesus, and believes in Him, willingly keeps the commands of Christ. Christ's laws are an instruction book to the believer (a rule of walking) to show us how to express our love for Him. This is not to say that keeping the commands of Christ is never hard or difficult. But it is to say that God's grace effectually produces hard work in the hearts of those who believe so that obedience to God's law is not a burden. The great Apostle Paul, the Apostle of free grace, wrote, "But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me" (1 Cor 15:10). And again, we read, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil 2:13).

    You ask how this system is not "works salvation." The answer is that the biblical concept of works-salvation involves making good works necessary for justification, either as an instrument (or means of any kind) or as a ground. Any addition of any human good work in any way to justification is "works salvation." See Romans 1-4, and Galatians 1-4. Your own proof text, Rom 11:6, excludes works from forming any portion of the basis of election (see Rom 11:5), which is something I heartily affirm, but it does not exclude the necessity of works in sanctification. According to God's gracious Word, sanctification is an aspect of our salvation (Rom 6:22) and it most certainly includes good works. See Romans 5-8, 12-16, and Galatians 5-6.

    Antonio, I'm not interested in debating this with you; so, please allow me to give you the last word on the matter. I admit that this is a difficult subject and one which involves a whole range of texts. I would urge that you carefully consider your presuppositions when studying the Bible on this topic and work consciously to allow the Bible, rather than your preconceptions, to form your assumptions. I'm not confident that our differences can be resolved through this kind of brief impersonal blog communication. So, this will be my final reply to you, though I welcome anything else you have to say. If you sincerely want to know what I believe about the nature of justification, sanctification and eternal life, I will be happy to recommend a few resources to you. For now, I'll just say that I essentially hold John Calvin's view, which is taught in his Institutes.

    Let me finish by urging you to turn from your "Free Grace" views. Obedience to the laws of Christ is not an option for the believer or for the unbeliever and the lawless soul shall die an eternal death (2 Peter).

    May the Lord God shower His mercies upon you and may you grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).

    Because of the cross,

  6. Hi, Tom; I, like you, do not seek to be a "lightening rod" ... the end is futile and frustrating. May your irenic response and courage to admonish be blessed!

    While Scripture supports your usage of the word "contingent", you would do well to follow up with a post which indicates that the contingency is guaranteed. That is, that each regenerated individual WILL persevere in good works (not the least of which is obedience); the new (circumcised) heart bears the pledge. Of course, the road is narrow and few there be that find it; indeed, all drawn by the Father find it -- the sheep. Many goats claim to have found it (as John MacArthur's Hard To Believe indicates, the broad way which leads to destruction is, as often as not, marked JESUS), but, sadly, will hear "depart from me, I never knew you".

  7. Jim,

    For what purpose are these warnings if the regenerated individual will persevere in good works?

    The regenerate elect will persevere. The spurious reprobate will not. Any attempt to do so will be futile.

    If we have become sufficiently enlightneded to understand that perseverance is inevitable, how are the regenerate to become alarmed by the admonitions and warnings to persevere? It seems in this precarious position that you and Mr. Hicks takes one cannot accept all of Scripture at face value at the same time. One must oscillate between two contradictory persuasions (that one is eternally secure and that the warning passages are for the believer), both of which are supposedly equally warranted by the Scriptures.

    The folly of the contentions of people such as Caneday and Shreiner is made manifest in the fact that, the moment a person becomes convinced of the doctrine of eternal security, these warning passages immediately lose the ver purpose and value which they claim for themselves.

    An interpretation that allows both eternal security and the warning passages to coexist in harmony is that of Free Grace theology. Eternal life is free. Assurance is certain. Rewards are costly. Failure to persevere will be met with temporal and eternal losses.


  8. Antonio ~

    I ostensibly "published" two comments yesterday; obviously, neither "posted". The first comment was multi-paragraph; I'm quite disappointed that it's "gone". One more try: The "bottom line" is that the warnings are to the unregenerate who profess faith.

  9. Greetings:

    Sorry I am late to the discussion, but...

    I want to dispel the misnomer being spread by some Grace Evangelical Society (GES) members, especially Antonio da Rosa. The misnomer, and it is a major misnomer, is that GES is the voice of the Free Grace movement in general.

    The GES has in fact become a shrinking cell of extremists that have fallen into the trap of Zane Hodges’ “Crossless” interpretation of the Gospel. This “contrary doctrine” of Hodges and Bob Wilkins’s “Crossless/Deityless” interpretation of the Gospel has been the cause of “division and offences” in the FG camp and churches. (Rom. 16:17-18).

    The teachings of Hodges is what has come to be known and accurately defined as the Crossless Gospel,” “ReDefined Free Grace Theology” and the “Promise Only Gospel.” It is largely because of GES’s heretical views of the Gospel; many men in the Free Grace community have separated from GES and do not want their name or ministry to be identified with the GES.

    The Free Grace Alliance (FGA) was formed in part to become and is the new home of many men who have departed GES over the egregious errors coming from Hodges and Wilkin.

    Exposure of the egregious errors of Hodges, Wilkin, Neimela, Myers, and lesser knowns like Antonio da Rosa has put GES in cardiac arrest. It is my hope and prayer the GES is soon to become totally isolated and outside any relevant discussion of the Gospel. May I share this article with your guests, Is “ReDefined” Free Grace Theology- Free Grace Theology?

    The article will help them understand that Hodges & Wilkin and especially Antonio da Rosa do not speak for and do NOT represent the general population of men who identify themselves as members of the so-called Free Grace community.

    The Free Grace community has been fractured, and it is a good fracture in that large numbers of FG men have withdrawn from GES over the Hodges/Wilkin “Crossless” interpretation of the Gospel.

    Lord willing not one more unsuspecting believer will fall into the trap of the Crossless gospel.