Perseverance of the Saints

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The doctrine, often associated with Calvinism and first articulated by Saint Augustine, which holds that those who are truly elect of God will persevere in belief until final redemption. This doctrine is sometimes used synonymously with “Eternal Security” and “Once-saved-always-saved,” but advocates would prefer a certain nuance, believing that the emphasis is upon the perseverance of the believers faith as a means or evidence of their security which is ultimately brought about by the God’s grace. In other words, there is a type of faith that does not persevere and there is a type that does (Mark 4:3-20). This doctrine is accepted by Reformed Protestants, but rejected by Arminians, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox, all who believe that I once saved believer can lose their salvation.

Read a history of the Doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    23 replies to "Theological Word of the Day: Perseverance of the Saints"

    • Nick

      Unfortunately, most Protestants have never actually read what St Augustine had to say here. In his Book “On the Perseverance of the Saints,” Chapter 21, he is explicitly clear that you can be regenerated and justified and fail to persevere by falling into sin and losing salvation. That is the Catholic view (cf Mat 24:12-13), but it is a total contradiction to the Protestant view.

      St Augustine’s teaching had nothing to do with “a type of faith that saves versus a type of faith that does not,” nor does Scripture make such a distinction. The parable of the sower is about those who fail to persevere in faith, Luke 8:13b.

    • C Michael Patton

      Nick, you are are right, he believes in the perseverence of the saints in the sense that the “elect” will persevere. It is really a nuance of the same thing in many ways.

    • Nick

      The Catholic Church believes the elect will persevere, just as St Augustine does. But St Augustine, like Scripture and Catholics, teach justification can be lost, because not all the justified will persevere. I’m saying this because you say “this is rejected by Catholics,” implying we are wrong in this regard.

    • C Michael Patton

      Yes, but the “elect” according to most Catholics is much different than the “elect” in Augustine’s view. It is not so much about the terms, but the meaning behind them.

      However, Roman Catholics do not have an “official” stance on the meaning of election. There is some degree of freedom here.

      The biggest difference would then be with regard to the issue of knowledge of the elect (i.e. can one know if they are elect—assurance), to which the Catholics have a definite stance that one cannot know if they are elect. Here is where the major distinction would exist.

      Hope that helps.

    • Nick

      I think you hit upon a good issue here:”The biggest difference would then be with regard to the issue of knowledge of the elect (i.e. can one know if they are elect—assurance), to which the Catholics have a definite stance that one cannot know if they are elect.”

      You are correct, this is Dogma. Yet the fact is, St Augustine taught this very thing, that nobody knows if they are elect or will persevere unless and until they get to Heaven. On Perseverance Ch1, among other places, are very clear on this.

    • C Michael Patton

      Yes, assurance is certianly not a dogmatic issue among Protestants, even those who hold to perseverance.

    • Nick

      That’s news to me. The Westminster, for example, is explicitly clear you can have assurance. I guess not all Protestants accept this, but it is a major part of classical Protestantism and was one of the key issues Sola Fide offered and the Reformers trumpeted that Catholicism could not provide.

    • C Michael Patton

      Yes, it would be the difference between the assurance of present justification and the assurance of being elect. Most everyone would accept the first, but not the second.

    • Nick

      Hmm, this is news to me. The Westminster Confession makes it clear you can know you are elect in that you know you are justified and cannot fall away.

    • C Michael Patton

      Nick, this might be a good read for you: Especially pay attention to Luther.

    • SeismicMike

      I prefer an even further nuance. I like the word “preservation” over “perseverance” because it more directly implies that the primary impetus and effort is on God. It’s not a monergy like some would contend conversion is, but it’s still God who “works in you to will and to do his good pleasure” and who will complete the good work he began in us.

      John Calvin believed that there really was no such thing as becoming a Christian. You have either been elect or reprobate since the foundation of the world, and it’s your fruit that will simply show which you – that fruit is brought about by God.

      When thinking logically and philosophically about the issue of preservation and perseverance, it really boggles my mind how many nuances and different side streets there are in the issue. From one perspective it almost looks very much like works based salvation – albeit based on works that God performs rather than works we perform. Not knowing much about the “New Perspective on Paul” crowd and only being on the outside looking in, from what I have seen and heard it almost sounds like just a restatement of a perseverance of the saints. I’m rather intrigued by it. That’s why it drives me nuts to hear people automatically denounce it as heretical before they actually try to figure out what it really is. I can’t stand books like Truth War by John MacArthur – not because I think his heart is in the wrong place, or necessarily that his methods, reason and conclusions are wrong, but because he’s in such a trusted position of authority that so many people are going to join him on that band wagon without doing their own mental checking to make sure what he’s saying is actually accurate.

      Kinda like when Al Gore mentions global warming…. Oops, did I just digress? =/

    • What good timing. I am teaching on this topic on Sunday! I must say I don’t like the phrase “lose their salvation”. It sounds like they accidentally left it behind somewhere. As I understand Arminius it would take a pretty deliberate act, starting with unconfessed sin, or renouncing Christ.

    • P.S. Does your wife know you were blogging at 2:56 a.m.? 🙂

    • Chris Skiles

      C H Spurgeon once said,” I don’t believe in perseverence of the saints, I believe in perseverence of the savior.”

      Michael my question is this. Does POS refer to perservering in belief or obedience? I’ve heard both. If it refers to obedience then the “sin unto death” immediatley gives us problems. If it refers to belief, then we still have problems. We will all admit that we all have moments of doubt. Even thoghts (when we are weak) that this whole thing is a little crazy. And then the Holy spirit through His word “bring us back around” What if we die in a moment or long period of doubt in our lives.
      I consider myself a 3 point Calvinist. I can’t go for “U” for reasons I will not ellaborate on. I believe strongly in the security of the believer but I just don’t see POS clearly taught in scripture. I know many can give vereses that seem to teach this. And yet, we all know that as the saying goes “you can prove anything with scripture” And the idea that the TULIP is all or nothing I consider —-well Hogwash.

    • Chris Skiles

      One more question: if we say that God causes his childeren to perservere in good works isn’t that very close to the Roman Catholic doctrine of Infused Righteousness?

    • Chris Skiles

      Michael, I just finished reading the history of the doctrine of POS. Very interesting stuff. I was somewhat surprised by Luther postion on this. I was alway under the impression that he was more solid on Eternal Security and assurnace than this study seems to imply. Or did I just misread it?

    • C Michael Patton

      I don’t think you misread it. But again, this doctrine is hard to judge with many. So many people really are saying the same thing in different ways. The key to perseverance of the saints is that the “elect” will persevere until the end. The elect are secure. Therefore, it is not the “security of the believer,” but the “security of the true believer” and “true believe” in this case must be understood to be the elect.

      The next question is “who are the elect?” If the elect are defined as those who God has for seen (not predetermined) will persevere, then it becomes rather meaningless since your perseverance depends entirely on you. But if the elect are those who God has sovereignly and unconditionally chosen, then everyone is saying the same thing, no matter how they put it.

      This is where Augustine, Aquinas, Anselm, Luther, and Calvin all agree. (Sometimes called the A-Team plus Luther and Calvin). God’s elect are secure.

      If God has wrought in you true belief, you are elect and secure and your faith, not without trouble, will persevere until the end.

    • John C.T.

      Though of course TULIP Calvinists can’t know–until after they are dead–if they are among the elect, or among those who appear to believe for a time and then don’t because they were never among the elect. Which of course, does not provide any kind of useful assurance at all, and has led in the past to all kinds of introspection and works examination rules. Even Piper admitted he can’t know if God has elected his children to salvation. Furthermore, if you are only receiving some temporary benefits from being engaged in the church but are not elect, there is nothing you can do to change your status. At some point because you are not elect you will begin to reject God fully and permanently, at which point you will not care if you are elect (because Calvinists claim that no one will want to be saved unless they are elect).

      Arminian Calvinism, on the other hand, can either be taught poorly (sin badly and you’re going to hell, or do a bad sin and die before you repent again and you go to hell), or it can be taught correctly (if you believe now you know where you are going, God will give you faith etc. so that you will persevere, and sinning does not mean you have rejected God, unless of course you establish sin as a pattern and way of life and as a rejection of God, in which case you won’t likely care anyway). Of course, if you are elect, then even if you appear to toss your faith in the trash, you’ll still be on the “in list” when you die.

      So, on the one hand, if you are elect to are guaranteed a pearly gates ticket but you cannot know if you are elect. On the other hand, you are not guaranteed a pearly gates ticket and can reject the ticket, but can rely on the fact that God will provide you with sufficient strength and faith etc. through all your trials, doubts and temptations that you can certainly end your life on the “in list”.

      Personally, I’m in the latter category, though that result flowed from other considerations and not from any concern over my security (it’s never been an issue for me). The lack of personal angst on this issue, together with the above logic means that I’ve never gotten bent out of shape over this topic, no matter which way a person leans.


    • Chris Skiles

      Michael, what about the conflicting definitions of POS ?Some define it as perservering in faith while others define it as perservering in obedience or good deeds.
      From where I stand if you hold to POS at all it must be defined as perservering in faith and not obedience/good works or you immediately have some major problems.
      Actually I see problems with both, but especially obedience. Remember, I do believe in Eternal Security , I just have some major problems with POS.

    • C Michael Patton

      Chris, I have never heard it defined in any mainline sense as a perseverence in doing good deeds. Of course, deeds should accompany true faith, but they are not part of the essence of this doctrine.

    • Chris Skiles

      Michael, the historical link that you give above has a quote from Aquintas as follows:”the abiding in good to the end of life” . Of course we wouldn’t quote Aquintas as a mainline source. But, would not most Westminster Calvinists say that one who claimed to perservere in faith and yet have little or no good works to verify this would be unregenerate? And if so isn’t that ultimately the same as saying we must peservere in good deeds/ obedience?

    • C Michael Patton

      Now you are getting into something that would go beyond this particular issue. (though related). Some would, some would not. Some would say that faith is a work. Some would ask how you define “work.”

    • Chris Skiles

      Thanks Michael, I do have a tendancy to go off on proverbial rabbit trails.

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