Growing up, I wasn’t much of a fighter. Despite my disposition, my big mouth and stubbornness placed me in situations where I had to defend myself. I fought in the classroom, in the hallway, on the school bus, and even at the bus stop. A part of me would love to report that I was the undisputed, undefeated champ in my home town — but it would be a lie.
I had a small problem. I was often on the receiving end of punches because I was a passive fighter. I rarely threw a punch and anxiously awaited the end of the fight. As a fighter, I didn’t have a wartime mentality.
I didn’t want to suffer through a long and hard fight, so I gave into my opponent and would try to restrain him until he calmed down. It rarely worked. This mentality is common among professing Christians in how we engage sin. But this mindset is inconsistent with biblical Christianity. True faith will make Christians fighters.
Preservation Produces a Wartime Mentality
Once saved, always saved.
The phrase is meant to communicate that once we become Christians, we will always be Christians. When I became a Calvinist, I assumed this statement summed up the doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints. The phrase is accurate but fails to paint a full picture of perseverance of the saints due to its passive undertone.
Easy-believism in evangelicalism exposes what many take this phrase to mean. The impression was that, because certain people walked down the aisle and prayed a prayer, they were Christians — eternally secure, regardless of what their lives looked like. John Piper explains what we mean by Perseverance of the Saints:
We believe that all who are justified will win the fight of faith. They will persevere in faith and will not surrender finally to the enemy of their souls. This perseverance is the promise of the new covenant, obtained by the blood of Christ, and worked in us by God himself, yet not so as to diminish, but only to empower and encourage, our vigilance; so that we may say in the end, I have fought the good fight, but it was not I, but the grace of God which was with me (2 Timothy 4:7; 1 Corinthians 15:10).” (Five Points, 16)
The reality of this doctrine at work in our lives produces a wartime mentality. That is why Scripture continuously exhorts us to fight and warns us of what will happen if we don’t:
- “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)
- “If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13)
- “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19–21)
We’re commanded to suffer through long and hard fights with sin and temptation without giving up or forsaking Christ. We’re called to pursue holiness that is characterized by repentance and faith.
The doctrine of perseverance doesn’t just promise the believer’s survival; it guarantees that Christians will fight until the end.
God Saves and Sustains
Our ability to survive is not dependent on our disposition or willpower — God saves and sustains. Christ is the author and perfector of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). No amount of willpower, determination, or resolve can even exist unless God acts first and continues to act in the human heart. True faith is a gift from God — so we have no room to boast in our ability to survive (Ephesians 2:8). R.C. Sproul says it best:
The process by which we are kept in a state of grace is something that is accomplished by God. My confidence in my preservation is not in my ability to persevere. My confidence rests in the power of Christ to sustain me with His grace and by the power of His intercession. He is going to bring us safely home.
Isaac Newton, the famous physicist and mathematician, taught that every object will remain at rest unless compelled to change its state by the action of an external force. This law of motion is helpful when we think about the doctrine of perseverance.
Habitual sin, inactivity, and passivity in the life of a Christian point to the absence of essential activity by an external force: God. In other words, God’s preserving work compels us to become active participants with wartime mentalities against indwelling sin.
God Made a Fighter Out of Me
Like my childhood opponents, my sin isn’t interested in making peace with me. My sin will launch blow after blow until it destroys me. All of my endeavors to make peace with it will be futile. My efforts to become my flesh’s friend will be costly. Attempts to ignore this body of death will end in my death. I can’t afford to treat my sin the way I treated my human opponents.
The reality of God’s persevering work in my life made me a fighter. My opponent is no longer flesh and blood, but sin and Satan (Ephesians 6:12). Christ’s preserving work in my life doesn’t produce a passive lifestyle or someone who makes ongoing peace with sin. I’m sustained in Christ for good works (Ephesians 2:10). A sign of God’s sustaining work in my life is evident by my new disposition to fight and kill sin.
If God doesn’t preserve Christians, we will never fight and we will die. Our disposition to fight is proof that God is perfecting our faith. We will stumble and struggle, but we will never make lasting peace with our sin. True faith makes us fighters, and in Christ we are more than conquerors; we’re heirs with him (Romans 8:16–17, 37).