Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

Man's Responsibility in Perseverance

Written by Rev. G.R. Procee
Last time we saw that the perseverance of the saints is a thoroughly Scriptural doctrine that affords great comfort to the children of God. The perseverance of the saints is based on the immutability of the decree of God's election. He has chosen His people in Christ from before the foundation of the world. He has an unchangeable love towards these people. Christ efficaciously laid down his life for them and paid for their sins. He prays that their faith will not fail. These prayers are effective and God's Spirit abides with them. The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is a truly Biblical doctrine.

ManÕs Responsibility
There are, however, some passages in Scripture that seem to overthrow the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. For instance, there are exhortations for man to persevere, such as in Matthew 10:22, John 8:31, John 15:5, Revelation 2:10 and 3:11. These exhortations seem to be superfluous if we confess the perseverance of the saints.

We must understand, however, that the perseverance of the saints does not exclude man's responsibility to persevere. Those who deny this responsibility give evidence that they do not know their heart. They do not fear man's sin-sick heart and are really strangers to grace. God's Word warns us that His children can fall into grievous sins. Through the temptations of the world and the devil and by the prevailing inward corruption of the flesh, God's children can stumble into sin. By neglecting the means of grace they can, even for a time, continue in sin. The results are dreadful, for:

- they incur God's displeasure;

- they grieve His Holy Spirit;

- they are deprived of their comfort;.

- their hearts are hardenedÕ

- their consciences are wounded;

- they can hurt others and put them to shame;

- they bring temporal judgments upon themselves.

God's people are therefore called to be watchful and they must fight the good fight of faith. They are to bring their bodies under subjection and to run the race set before them. Believers will give evidence of the genuineness of their faith by not letting go of what they have received by faith.

Examples of Apostasy
Yet, in Scripture we read of several cases of apostasy. The parable of the sower in Luke 8 shows us that temporary believers fall away. John writes of those who went out from us because they were not of us (1 Jn.2:19). There are those who seem to have fellowship with God's people, but do not truly belong to them. There is chaff among the wheat (Matt.3:12). There are non-fruit-bearing branches in the vine (Jn.15:2). There are those who claim they are apostles but are not (Rev.2:2). There are also those who claim they are alive but are dead (Rev.3:1).

In addition, there are passages in the Bible that relate that there are people who have fallen from grace or from faith. In Galatians 5:4 the apostle says to the Galatians: ÒYe are fallen from grace.Ó What does this mean? Does this imply that the Galatians had fallen away from saving grace? No; the apostle here means to say that the Galatians had actually adopted a false doctrine of justification by works. They had forsaken the doctrine of justification by grace alone. They had actually fallen into a disastrous error, which if sustained, has soul-destroying effects. Here, falling from grace means falling away from the true doctrines.

That is also the meaning of 1 Timothy 4:1 and 6:10, where it states that some have departed from the faith and are giving heed to doctrines of devils or have erred in the faith. Falling away from the faith here means falling away from the doctrine of the truth, not from the act of believing as such. True saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, a genuine trusting in Christ, is worked by God's Spirit and will never be undone. It is possible, however, that children of God, for a time, may adhere to wrong doctrines.

In the above quoted texts faith refers to the content of faith and not the act of believing. In theology we call the content of faith, the fides quae creditur, that is the faith that is believed or the truth or the doctrine which is believed. This is distinguished from the fides qua creditur, the faith whereby I believe or the act of believing itself. Believers are admonished to hold fast to the pure and true doctrine and they are encouraged to walk by faith, that is, by the act of trusting and believing in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 6:4-6: A Difficult Passage
There is also Hebrews 6:4-6, a passage that poses difficulties to explain. ÒFor it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame." It seems that this passage is an example of true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ who have tasted God's goodness and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, but who still can fall away from grace and never come to repentance again. The point here, however, is that these people never were true believers. The writer to the Hebrews does not even call them true believers. John Owen gives four reasons why they are not true believers:

1.No mention is made of their faith.

2.Despite all that is said of them, no mention is made that they were regenerated, born again or adopted to be sons of God.

3.In verse 8 these people are compared to thorns and thistles.

4.The people mentioned in these verses are distinguished from true believers. In verses 9 and 10 the apostle draws a contrast between the people mentioned in Hebrews 6:4-6 and the Hebrew Christians, who are addressed as true believers. He refers to God's protection of them in verses 17 and 18. But this perseverance takes place by way of their personal diligence (cf.vv.11,12). They are not to be slothful but followers of those who through faith and patience or longsuffering, inherit the promises.

Nevertheless, the question remains, what kind of people were these people of Hebrews 6:4-6? They were enlightened. That is, they had received some light, some head knowledge of God's truth. It is also thought that in the second century, baptism was called being enlightened. Even if we do not accept this interpretation, we simply can say that these people had received some light and insight into God's truth. They had also tasted of the heavenly gift. This means that they had observed and witnessed spiritual blessings. They had even seen miracles being performed. They had shared in a general but powerful working of the Holy Spirit. They had tasted the goodness of God.

The result was, however, that they had still rejected the Lord and His Word. They still refused to bow before the Lord and surrender to Him. They were like the Pharisees who deliberately blasphemed the work of Christ when they said that He cast out demons by Beelzebub (Matt.12:24). They deliberately withstood Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. This led to the sin against the Holy Spirit. This deliberate opposition to God's work results in the hardening of a heart that feels no remorse or sorrow whatsoever. In such a case there may be despair, but there is no sorrow for sin and there is no desire or longing to receive forgiveness of sins.

The people mentioned in Hebrews 6:4-6 were not children of God but people who had witnessed GodÕs grace and power and had deliberately hardened themselves. These people are held up as a warning for the Hebrew Christians. They should not harden their hearts and they should be aware of the danger of falling away. The purpose here is not to deny the perseverance of the saints, but to warn the Hebrew Christians of the reality that feigned faith can lead to hardening of the heart and to everlasting perdition.

Purpose for the Severe Warning
We may find the passage of Hebrews 6: 4-6 shocking and startling, but that is precisely the intent of these verses. God's children should be alarmed at the terrible possibility described here and therefore increase their endeavours to cleave to the Lord alone. They should not blunt the impact by saying: Òwe believe in the perseverance of the saints.Ó It could very well be that such a person has only Òimitation faith.Ó Therefore the call is to flee to the Lord Jesus Christ to receive true faith and have it strengthened. These warnings were intended to drive the Hebrew Christians out to Christ.

That is the reason for the apostle using such sharp words. We should not blunt them. That would be like a doctor who has to make an incision telling you that his scalpel is merely a piece of rubber and will only touch your skin, when the scalpel he uses is actually a sharp metal knife that hurts. We should not underestimate the impact of a scalpel. Likewise, we should not blunt the scalpel of God's Word. We should not downplay the seriousness of the admonition and neutralize this severe admonition by referring to the perseverance of the saints. Instead, we should justly fear and seek our life and salvation outside of ourselves in the Lord Jesus Christ.

In this way the perseverance of the saints is implemented into the lives of God's children. ÒWherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fallÓ (1 Cor.10: 12).

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