We have one more letter and it is so good. I just can’t tell you how much I love the P in Tulip because it’s my daily experience. Actually, all of them are my daily experience, but this one is very special.
The Keeping Power of God
Why are you a Christian when you wake up in the morning and when you go to bed at night? Christ is real and precious and you pray and you enjoy fellowship — why should it be that way when you wake up in the morning?
Our emotions are fickle, our will goes this way and that way, we change our opinions, and we get blown around by events. Why shouldn’t you wake up an unbeliever? Why don’t you think, “That’s boring. Why did I ever buy into that? That was stupid”? Why not? And there is one answer:
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling . . . be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
There’s only one answer. It isn’t automatic, like, “I prayed my prayer and I believe in eternal security therefore I can never be lost, period.” That’s not the way it works. He keeps you. So that’s the P and I have about 17 pages of texts, and they’re just juicy. So that’s why we should linger over them.
The Bethlehem Affirmation of Faith
I’m going to skip Westminster and go to Bethlehem’s Affirmation of Faith again. What’s the doctrine? What are we arguing for from the Bible in this session? God’s Work in Faith and Sanctification is the heading in the Bethlehem Elder Affirmation of Faith. The fifth paragraph and the sixth one say this:
We believe that the sanctification, which comes by the Spirit through faith, is imperfect and incomplete in this life. Although slavery to sin is broken, and sinful desires are progressively weakened by the power of a superior satisfaction in the glory of Christ, yet there remain remnants of corruption in every heart that give rise to irreconcilable war, and call for vigilance in the lifelong fight of faith.
You will fight this until you’re dead or you will lose. When Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Now I’m ready to be poured out” (2 Timothy 4:7–8), he meant, “To the end it’s been war and I have fought.” There’s never a season of coasting. If you coast, you go backward. It continues:
We believe that all who are justified will win this fight (not be spared the fight, just guaranteed victory). They will persevere in faith and never surrender to the enemy of their souls.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t seasons of backsliding. I mean absolute surrender here. I realized when I read that last night that it could be taken way too perfectionistically.
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.
There it is. Now I have a series of questions or statements.
Difficulties with the Doctrine of Perseverance
First, the must troubles people. It was in preaching a sermon on this issue that we must persevere in faith if we are finally to be saved that got me into trouble. Back in 1980, when I preached in Omaha at the annual meeting of the Baptist General Conference, a guy came up to me and said, “Young man, you are going to have to watch out for your Arminianism in this conference.” And I thought, “My goodness, I’m a seven-point Calvinist. What does he mean?” He meant I sounded like people lose their salvation when I preached this sermon from Hebrews. And that is what many texts sound like. And you just have to ask, “Okay what are those threats that require perseverance imply about God’s people?”
Can they? Do they? Because a lot of people solve the issue of assurance and security by just avoiding the texts that sound threatening to professing believers. So let’s look at those threatening texts and be sobered by the requirement of perseverance before we look at the gift and assurance of personal perseverance.
First Corinthians 15:1–2 says:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you — unless you believed in vain.
That’s the kind of thing that shakes people up. They look at that and they say, “That doesn’t sound like Calvinism to me. That sounds like we are dropping in and out of salvation, or easily dropping out.” And basically, what it says is you have to keep believing. If you stopped believing, your belief was in vain; it was nothing.
Colossians 1:21–23 says:
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
Paul insisted that continuing in faith was necessary. The term perseverance of the saints is the P in TULIP rather than T-U-L-I-E-S for eternal security. I believe in that term, defined biblically. However, what that phrase carries to a lot of people is that you’re secure no matter what you do. That’s not what the doctrine of perseverance says. The doctrine of perseverance says you’re secure, and because he keeps you, you won’t make shipwreck of your faith. God will hold on to you, and you must not make shipwreck of your faith. So these ifs, these big conditions, are in the Bible, forcing us to think in terms of perseverance, not mechanical security.
The Need for Perseverance
In the fall of 1980, I was a brand new pastor, and I had this couple cheating on each other. I was 34 years old, having zero pastoral experience, and they were about my age 28 years ago. I brought her in and I said, “Now, what are you doing?” She was sleeping with a guy every weekend who was not her husband. And I said, “Okay, we have to stop that. This weekend, you’re not showing up.” And she said, “I don’t know. It’s really hard.” I said, “There’s no question here. That’s over. We don’t do that.” And then I said, “Those who do such things, those who persevere in doing such things, will be damned.”
Her face just completely changed. She said, “That’s not what our previous pastor said.” I was the brand new pastor, he’d just left. He said that she was eternally secure. And then she quoted me the text in Romans 8:38–39, which says:
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
She thought, “So not even the devil can. He can make me sin and commit adultery, but he can’t separate me from the love of God.” She had this thing theologically all worked out, so she would sleep with the guy every weekend and feel secure. I said, “That’s not what that text means.” I quoted her some things like this. She was absolutely staggered. They’re still married, 28 years later, though it took a while.
Warnings and Threats
I’ll give you one other illustration. This comes to my mind because I get a Christmas card from this woman every year. She was younger. They were just married and he caught her in bed with a guy. He was furious, and they both were children of missionaries. She came in and I just said to her flat out, “Let me just tell you that if you don’t break this off, you’re going to go to hell.” Every year for 28 years, she has written me a thank you card at Christmas. She said, “Nobody said that to me but you, and it scared the hell out of me. And I’ve never cheated on him again.”
Stories like that make me not pay too much attention to those who say, “Oh, you can’t use bad news. You can’t use warnings. You can’t use threats to help people.” That’s a practical illustration of believing in perseverance, instead of believing in mechanical security. That was the point of those two stories. If you believe in a kind of mechanical security, each of those women could say, “I’m a missionary kid. I prayed to receive Jesus when I was six. I walked the aisle, so I’m a Christian and I’m secure. The Bible teaches you can’t lose your salvation, so what’s this talk about ‘if-then,’ and, ‘do this and you’ll be lost.’” They could all say that. But if you believe this way, then saying something like, “Get out of bed or you going to hell,” can have a saving effect. It did on these two women.
The Need for Enduring Faith
Second Timothy 2:11–13 says:
The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful —
Now, that does not “mean faithful to us.” It means that if we are faithless, he remains faithful to himself — for he cannot deny himself. If you don’t have faith, his faithfulness does not commit himself to save you.
Mark 13:13 says:
And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
Enduring to the end is necessary.
The Need for Holiness
The obedience or holiness that comes from faith is necessary for salvation. I’m moving to obedience and holiness. Here’s another requirement for final salvation. Hebrews 12:14 says:
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
Romans 8:13 says:
For 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.
Living there means eternal living. In other words, if you don’t fight the fight of faith and appropriate the Spirit and attack the bait to sleep around every weekend, you won’t live.
Galatians 5:19–21 says:
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.
Who’s the you in this passage? It’s the church. It’s not wrong for me to stand up on a Sunday morning, look out on 700-800 people in this room, and say, “If you make a practice of doing such things, you will not enter the kingdom,” and mean it for everybody. I don’t know who the elect are. I don’t know who those are who will persevere. I just know this is true and will say it.
Similarly, 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 says:
Or 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.
Be careful you hear the fullness of that list. And he goes on to say and such were some of you (1 Corinthians 6:11). God saves all those people.
1 John 3:14 says:
We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.
Loving the brethren is a necessary evidence that you are no longer in the grip of death, but have been born again to life. And 1 John 4:20 says:
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar . . .
I don’t care how many prayers you’ve prayed, what family you grew up in, or what doctrine you believe, if you say you love God and you hate your brother, you’re a liar.
Unless You Forgive Your Brother From Your Heart
I’ll give you another illustration. This one just came to my mind. I haven’t thought about this for years. In Fuller seminary, I was learning about these things, and as I read and studied Romans, Galatians, 1 Corinthians, and the Sermon on the Mount, and had all these exegetical classes, I was in five small groups my senior year at Fuller. I forget all of them, but one of them was a couples group. Noël and I were newly married we were in this group, and there was this woman in the discussion one night and we were talking about grudges and forgiveness, and she said, “Well, I can’t forgive what my mother did to me.” I said, “You can’t forgive what your mother did to you? You have to.” She said, “I can’t.” And I said, “If you don’t forgive her, you’re not going to be saved.” She was absolutely blown away that anybody would say such a thing.
If you hate your brother, if you have an un-dealt with animosity and grudge and bitterness against somebody, and you’re holding on to that thing in spite of the fact that Jesus has forgiven you all your sins, then you’re like the man in Matthew 18 who’s wringing the neck of the guy who owes him $10 after he’s been forgiven $10 million. And what happens to him? He gets cut to pieces in the end because he really didn’t know anything about forgiveness.
So I said to her, “You have to.” I don’t remember how that one got resolved. She was just really angry at me that I said that in the setting of that couple’s relationship.
Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples . . .”
It’s not just if you get interested in me on a Youth for Christ weekend, or if you get excited and walk the aisle, like a good start, like the seed that’s sewn on the ground that springs up with joy, and then the sun comes out and you wither (Mark 4:16–17). No, he says, “If you continue, you are truly my disciple.”
The Good News of Perseverance
Now get the good news here. Those whom God has justified will be kept by God for final salvation. And we’ve looked at this text enough times that maybe we should look at it one more time to underline its relevance for perseverance.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
Now the all things here that’s working together for our good is defined specifically as it was before this when says he predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son. So there’s the good, ultimately. Everything that God is doing to you and permitting to be done to you is serving to conform you ultimately to Jesus. That’s what he’s saying. It’s all working to that good. It’s not the good of prosperity and not the good of health. We’re all going to die, and we all could lose our job and God would do us no wrong. But the good that he guarantees to do for us is this one:
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (Rom 8:29–30).
This is perseverance. There it is. Nobody drops out who’s justified. I’m standing up and I’m talking to 600-700 people, 95 percent of whom I pray to God are justified by faith alone and born again. And I’m saying, “Whoever does these things will not enter into the kingdom.” And God takes that warning and, by his Spirit, applies it to the elect so that they are vigilant and persevere so that this never ceases to be true. The justified will be glorified. Nobody is justified and then lost — nobody.
If you’re a justified sinner today, you will be forever. That’s what it says. Those whom he justified, he glorified.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31).
Nobody can be successful against us.
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32).
Now we simply draw attention to the connection with perseverance. It’s the logic that not sparing his Son provides the foundation for the assurance and the reality that everything will be ours, including perseverance.
Not One Is Lost
John 10:26–30 says:
You do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.
Jesus is saying, “You can’t get out of my hand and you can’t get out of the Father’s hand because we’re one. And we have committed ourselves to give you eternal life so that you will never perish. And we will raise you up on the last day.” Oh, enjoy that text. Know yourself there. Revel in that. Bathe in that. Go to bed with that. Get up with that. Preach that to you yourself.
I’ve heard his voice, have you not? Only his sheep hear his voice. I have come to him. He laid down his life for the sheep. My sins are covered. And if he didn’t spare his own Son, but he laid down his life for me, will he not freely give me all things, including this rock solid security in his hand? What valiant people we should be. We shouldn’t go limping through life as though saying, “Poor us Christians. We get to a breach of duty in America. This used to be our country.” It was never our country; our country’s in heaven. America comes, America goes; Russia comes, Russia goes; China comes, China goes. We are the children of God. Don’t go limping through life, thinking, “Poor Christian. We’re not being treated nice.” You’re not supposed to be treated nice. You’re supposed to be killed.
“We are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Romans 8:36–37).
It’s this absolute, rock-solid chain of assurance that those who are justified will be glorified that should make you walk with your head high, broken for your sin, not swaggering through American media, talking like a right-wing talk show host that says, “It’s our country.” It’s not. Let’s be different. Let’s be radically different, boldly different. This doctrine should make us so confident, so powerful, so humbly different.
Born Again to a Living Hope
I love this text because there’s a piece of it that’s on my mother’s, and now my father’s, gravestone.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3–5).
So it is kept for you and you are kept for it. Now, notice something. This is the phrase right here that’s on the gravestone. It’s from the old version, and it says, “Kept by the power of God.” When my mother died in 1974 and my dad and I went out to the graveside to the business place there, we were talking in the car as we were going, asking, “Should would put anything on the stone?” And I said, “Yeah we should put something on the stone.” And he said, “What do you think we should put on the stone?” This is the wife of 36 years that had just been snatched away in a bus accident. I said, “I think we should put 1 Peter 1:5 — ‘Kept by the power of God in this life and the next.’ He said, “Okay.” So that’s what is there on the stone.
But now notice something. How does this relate to faith? I just want to make sure you don’t water this down. Someone might take this phrase through faith and mean, “Well if you keep believing, he keeps you.” Wait a minute. What would keeping mean if my belief depended on me? What would keeping be? There’s nothing left to keep. That is the keeping. He’s not saying, “Well, watch, and you’ll see if you’ll keep in the faith. And if you do that, I’ll do something else.”
What’s left to do? If I can keep myself in the faith, I don’t need you to keep me in the faith. So I take this to mean “kept by the power of God through faith,” meaning that’s the way God does it. He keeps me through faith; that is, he sees to it that I get up and believe in the morning. So if you asked me, “Why did you get up a believer this morning and not an unbeliever?” My answer is, “He kept me. He kept me. He worked in my mind, which is always drifting away, and he draws me back.”
Oh, to grace how great a debtor
daily I’m constrained to be
Let your goodness like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it;
Prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it
Seal it for thy courts above.
I love that song. It’s saying, “Have me; keep me; own me; chain me; seal me; bind me; don’t let me go.” That’s my doctrine of perseverance. It’s not automatic. It’s not mechanical. It’s a day-by-day, moment-by-moment working of the sovereign God to get a mind back on track.
Kept from Stumbling
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever (Jude 24–25).
That benediction, that doxology, was elicited out of Jude’s heart by the thought that he keeps us from stumbling. Let’s keep the promises rolling here.
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it (1 Thessalonians 5:23–24).
Does this call to mind Romans 8? Faithful is he who calls you. Those whom he called he justified, and those whom he justified, he glorified. Faithful is he who called you. He’s going to do it. He doesn’t call and throw away. It’s the same thing.
First Corinthians 1:8–9 says:
[Our Lord Jesus Christ] will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
And if you were called there, you will be kept there.
I love Jeremiah 32:40. This is the new covenant:
I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.
That was the text I used to preach the 125th anniversary of our church’s life back in 1996. God promises in the new covenant — which, remember, Jesus purchased with his blood — to put the fear of God in our hearts in such a way that we will not turn away from him. So any time you read the conditionality, “If you don’t turn away, he will save you,” always think, “Command what thou wilt, and grant what thou commandest.” I must not turn away, and you won’t let me turn away. Yes, there’s conditionality in perseverance. If we don’t persevere, we will be lost. So our security lies, not in removing that threat, but in providing this sovereign work.
When You Turn Again
Philippians 1:6 says:
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (ESV)
The last one I want to look at here on this point is Luke 22:31–32. I love this. This is so illuminating for the way our lives really work in our sinfulness. Here’s Peter. He’s about to deny the Lord three times. And do you remember who told him, “Peter, you will deny me three times”? Jesus is saying that. This is a prediction. He knows this is going to happen. It’s going to happen. So how does Jesus relate to a man about to sin against him so grievously in the hour of his greatest need? Peter is bailing on him, saying, “I don’t know him.”
This is what Jesus felt as he looked at his rock (Peter), wimping out on him at his hour of greatest need. Here’s what he does to get him ready. He says:
Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat . . .
This is just like Job. Remember, Satan goes to God and says, “Skin for skin. The only reason he worships you is that you make everything go well for him.” And God says, “Okay, we’ll see. You can have him, just don’t kill him.” And Satan kills his kids, and he gives him boils and Job says, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:6–21). That’s the way I want to be. That’s the way I want Bethlehem to be no matter what happens to us. Every campus could get blown to smithereens by some terrorist bomb, and we should say, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. We worship God, we don’t need a building.”
He says, “Satan demanded to have you that he might sift you like wheat, Peter.” Here’s what I think that means. Here’s the picture. I think it means, here’s Peter, and here’s the sieve. And I guess the way it works with wheat is that you throw wheat and you shake it like this. And the wheat falls through and the chaff blows away, so it separates out the wheat from the chaff. And so the picture is that Satan wants to do that to you. So he’s going to push you. And his aim is that Peter falls through and his faith stays up here. That’s what it means. Satan is thinking, “I want to destroy your faith, Peter.” That’s what Satan would like to happen in the denial.
A Broken-Hearted Strengethner of Strugglers
This is Satan’s design, but it isn’t God’s design. God has a very different design in this denial. Jesus says, “I have prayed for you that your faith not fail.” This is the intercession of Jesus modeled for us. Now that has to mean utterly because his faith did fail temporarily. I mean, he was not a rousing believer when he said, “I don’t know the man.” He wasn’t full of confidence. He wasn’t full of trust. He wasn’t banking on the all-sufficiency of God to provide for his need at that moment. He was bailing on faith. His faith was temporarily failing. So this prayer is, “I’ve prayed that you wouldn’t fail utterly.” And then he says, not if, but “when you have turned, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31–32). That is such a sovereign word. Isn’t it? It’s a sovereign word.
He is saying, “Satan wants to have you. My Father and I are giving him a leash, and you’re going to make the worst mistake of your life tonight. We’re going to let it happen. It’s all by design. But I have interceded with the Father concerning Satan’s extent of influence. And there’s a limit to this. When you turn — it’s going to happen — I’m praying for you that when it happens, now be a rock, and strengthen your brothers because they’re going to need you, you failure of a fishermen. I’m making something of you tonight. I’m making a view of a broken-hearted strengthener of strugglers. That’s what I’m making tonight.”
That’s a beautiful picture. It gives you a way to interpret your failures — some of them anyway. Who has not denied the Lord by our attitudes or silence or behavior? He won’t let you go.
The Reality of Apostasy
Falling away from the faith and holiness shows that we never belonged to Christ. Now, some of you asked me last night, are you going to address the person who looked like they were a Christian for a long time? Maybe they were a pastor, a deacon, and then they’re gone, and they are living totally like the devil and they sold out, left their marriage, left the faith, left everything. And they’re just totally worldly and unbelieving. What are we to make of that? Here’s the way John deals with it:
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us (1 John 4:19).
Now there’s the doctrine of perseverance. Do you just say generally they remain if they’re of us? There’s no generality about it. If they are of us, they remain. This is the doctrine of perseverance — absolutely sure, perseverance. But they went out, so obviously then it could be shown that they were not of us.
So my answer to the question is first, maybe a person is in a season of doubt and struggle and backsliding. I’m not going to jump to the conclusion they were never a Christian. I’m going after them for a long time. But if in the end, it’s over and they’re not believing and they perish, having decisively renounced the Lord, there’s no reason to believe they were ever saved. That’s what I think that verse says.
We Have Come to Share in Christ
Now, here’s the verse that four or five minutes ago I jumped the gun on. Hebrews is a difficult book in chapter six and chapter ten because it describes people who seem to have experienced so much of God — tasted the powers of the age to come, and have been in some measure enlightened — and then they scorn the Lord and forsake the faith. And those who believe you can lose your salvation would go to Hebrews 6 or Hebrews 10 and argue, “Well, there it is. There’s the proof that these people were saved.” Now, I don’t think they were, but do I have a textual basis in Hebrews for saying that? This would be one of them.
Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:11).
So there’s the way we should live — vigilance and helping each other. I like to say that eternal security is a community project. Do you see that here? It says, “Exhort one another, as long as it is still called ‘today,’ so that none of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” And then he gives the reason:
For we have come to share in Christ (the tense makes all the difference), if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end (Hebrews 3:12).
Notice, it does not say we will become partakers of Christ if we hold fast to our confession. It says we have become partakers of Christ if we hold fast our confession, which means perseverance, or holding fast, is proof and evidence that you had already become a partaker of Christ. Perseverance doesn’t make you a partaker of Christ, it demonstrates that you are a partaker of Christ. Therefore, I don’t think chapter six or chapter ten contradicts this paradigm. If we hold fast to the beginning of our assurance firm to the end, we have become partakers of Christ. So being a partaker of Christ secures our perseverance.
Confirm Your Calling and Election
Finally, here’s the last section:
Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election . . .
I’ve prayed with a good number of folks to receive Jesus in my office or in various places over the years. How do you talk to them when they’ve just crossed the line? They just believed. What do you say? You give them a big hug and welcome them to the family. You say, “This is thrilling. I’m so glad you’re a believer. We’re brothers.”
Now, then you talk like this, “Therefore, brethren be all the more diligent to make certain about his calling and choosing you, for as long as you practice these things, you’ll never stumble.” You say, “Now, God has met you here and he has drawn you to himself. Let the next days be a confirmation of that.” If he says, “How do I know I’m real? How do I know if this has really happened?” I would say, “You’ll see. It will be confirmed to you. Give yourself to the word, give yourself to prayer, fight sin, and be in fellowship with other people; use the means of grace, and in all these God will confirm that you are his.”
Now the language of confirmation is very good to use. It’s not automatic language, saying, “You can do anything you want now. You prayed to receive Jesus. It doesn’t matter. You’ll go to heaven.” You don’t use that kind of language. You say, “Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of eternal life” (1 Timothy 6:12). So how should you think now, having just spent 45 minutes on perseverance? And the answer is, “Lay hold on it.”
Straining Toward the Prize
It reminds me of Philippians 3:12, which says:
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
There’s the way we think and the way we feel about it. We get up in the morning and we push into our devotions and we push into the fight against sin, not with some kind of insecurity like, “Maybe today he’ll save me if I do this.” But rather we think, “Because he has so massively, mightily, securely saved me already and he has taken hold of me, I will lay hold on eternal life.”
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing (2 Timothy 4:7–8).
Here’s the last text on this issue, then we’ll take a break:
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling . . . (Philippians 2:12).
I’ll have more to say about that in the last session when we talk about the emotional effects of believing these doctrines, but don’t let this fear and trembling signify a kind of wimpy uncertainty about your future. Rather hear this: You work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you to will and to work for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). You have to will it and you have to work it, but when all is said and done, you say:
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 Corinthians 15:10).