God is the Preserver of the Faith and the Faithful
It is our sovereign, covenant God who preserves His people. This preservation does not begin only at the point when man becomes a Christian. It began before the foundation of the world when all of God’s redemptive purpose was laid out – when the fall of our first parents Adam and Eve was ordained, when man was elected, and when Christ was foreordained to be the Savior. It was before the foundation of the world that God entered the names of the saved into the “Book of Life.” God does not have to amend the list of names because man has frustrated His sovereign will nor does he have to wait on man before he can finalize the Book of Life at Christ’s return.
All of history displays the preservation and unfolding of God’s redemptive plan and purpose. The people of God are the focus of this plan – the apple of God’s eye. They are cared for and preserved in miraculous ways. God does not give His people the promise of everlasting life (cf. John 3:16) only to take it away because of man’s weakness or unwillingness. God’s plan is not a failure because it is overthrown by any of the enemies of God and man – the devil, the world, and our own flesh. If man were left to himself without the power to persevere, all would perish. It is unthinkable that God would have Jesus shed His blood in vain for anyone.
The Assurance of Salvation
It must be understood that it is God who gives us true faith. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). This is the ground for our assurance of salvation. The Heidelberg Catechism speaks in Question 54 concerning membership in the “Holy Catholic Church” (the elect Church of God) and says, “and that I am and forever shall remain a living member of this communion.” It is also Question 1 which says, “Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life…”
For there to be true assurance of salvation, there must be a firm and true faith in what God has revealed to us in His Holy Word. It is God who has worked this faith in us through His Holy Spirit. We dare not base this assurance on anything taught outside the Bible (such as the superstitions or the traditions of men). The reason that the Pietism which followed closely on the heals of the Reformation lost its doctrine of assurance was that they sought it outside of the Word of God, outside of the grace of God, and outside of the finished and imputed work of Christ.
Certainly we can say that “we are assured of our faith by the works thereof” (Heidelberg Catechism Q. 86). Works alone can not bring assurance. They must be works of faith in accordance with the Scriptures. The works which we perform are the works of God in and through us. Isaiah 26:12 says, “LORD, You will establish peace for us, for You have also done all our works in us.” Notice how the Apostle Paul brings out this fact in the comforting passage from II Corinthians 5:1-7, “For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. Therefore we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight” (emphasis mine).
We see this relationship between true faith and true works when we see the faithfulness of Abraham according to James 2:22, 23: “Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. And he was called the friend of God.” And perhaps the most clear teaching on this relationship is seen in John 3:21, “But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God” (emphasis mine).
Without question, men fall into sin each day – as they have done ever since the Fall. Yet, God is merciful, and has promised that he will not impute our transgressions unto us. First, we read in Psalm 130:3, 4, “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, That You may be feared.” If God would add our daily sins to our charge we could not stand a moment because of His just judgment. However, God imputes the righteousness of Christ to us, and not our iniquities. Psalm 32:1, 2 says, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no guile.”
Also we find the New Testament abounding in references to the imputed righteousness of Christ as our righteousness that can stand before God. This righteousness is not un-imputed when a true believer falls into sin. On the contrary, it is the righteousness of Christ which covers our sins in the sight of God. II Corinthians 5:19 and 21 teach us, “…that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” I John 2:1 tells us that the sinner has the righteous Christ to look to when he sins: “My little children, these things I write to you, that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” See Hebrews 2:17-18 and 4:14-16.
It is by the testimony of the Holy Spirit within us that God assures us that our whole salvation rests in Christ’s blood and righteousness (cf. Heidelberg Catechism Q. 56). Romans 8:16 says, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” The very presence of the Holy Spirit within us testifies to us and assures us of our adoption and the inheritance that goes with it – everlasting life (see Romans 8:14-18 and II Tim. 1:7-9). We will never be put up for re-adoption at some later date. I John 3:9 speaks of the believer not sinning a sin which is unto death (condemnation): “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.”
Again I John 3:19-24 tells us of the relationship between our works of love and the Holy Spirit residing in us. It is the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts who produces these good works which also assure our hearts. “And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.”
Our salvation rests in the propitiation for our sins and the imputed righteousness of Christ. It is God who, through His Word and Spirit, creates in us the faith to believe this and the assurance that it is ours forever. These acts of God are both complete and irrevocable.
In the next lesson we will look at the matter of backsliding in relation to perseverance.
Blog post content is taken from Rev. Paul Treick’s book, Faith of Our Fathers, Living Still: A Study of the Five Points of Calvinism, available for purchase. It is posted with the gracious permission of the author.
If you’d like to read the blog series from the beginning, start here.