Thursday, January 21, 2010

Perseverance: Promise or Requirement?

“Saving faith perseveres or remains until the day when it gives way to sight. Perseverance should be understood as a faith that cannot be annihilated and therefore persists. This persistent faith eventually and inevitably exhibits itself in the believer’s life in such a way as to bring glory to God. The point of Hebrews 11 is that saving faith manifests itself by the journey of discipleship. One may stumble and falter but never leave the trail. Perseverance SHOULD BE VIEWED MORE AS A PROMISE THAN A REQUIREMENT” (Kenneth Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 189).

I remembered doing a post on chapter 6 (“E is for Eternal Life”) some time ago. I’m back today, however, to tackle the quote above.

According to Keathley, “perseverance should be viewed more as a promise than a requirement” (189).

Surprisingly though, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the words “you will persevere” in Scripture, or even the words “God will persevere you” in the biblical canon. Instead, whenever we see the word “perseverance,” it refers to an action.

In Romans 5:3, Paul states that our tribulations produce “perseverance.” In other words, trials conform us more to the image of God’s Son (Jesus). This is why Paul later tells the Romans in Romans 8 that we are heirs of Christ “if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Rom. 8:17).

In Romans 8:17, Paul makes a profound point: Christ suffered, we must suffer; Christ was glorified, and in the end, we will be glorified and experience the glorification of Christ. This does not sound like a promise to me that I will persevere---but instead, an exhortation to persevere. The text doesn’t give us a guaranteed perseverance, but warns us that we will only receive the inheritance IF we suffer as Christ suffered.

In Ephesians 6:18, Paul tells the Ephesians to

“pray always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, BEING WATCHFUL TO THIS END WITH ALL PERSEVERANCE and supplication for all the saints” (NKJV).

Paul is telling them to be “watchful,” which is anything but a promise. If someone tells me to watch, he is not telling me that because I’m “guaranteed” to watch; he’s telling me that because there is a danger that, if I do not watch, something terrible may happen that I wasn’t expecting. Jesus gave commands to watch:

“Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore YOU ALSO BE READY, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:42-44, NKJV).

This does not sound like a promise; Christ is not assuring them that they will persevere, but commanding them to persevere. It is after Jesus’ words here in Matthew 24 that in the same chapter, He tells the story of the servant who turns unfaithful while He is away. The servant’s end is tragic: “the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will CUT HIM IN TWO AND APPOINT HIM HIS PORTION WITH THE HYPOCRITES. THERE SHALL BE WEEPING AND GNASHING OF TEETH” (Matt. 24:50-51, NKJV).

Here in Matthew, we find that a servant who has been told to watch has refused to do so and has become complacent, lazy, and slothful. When the master (Lord) returned, that servant was cast into the place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” We all know that this is a reference to Hell itself. For those who believe that someone MUST persevere and will not fail in that, take a look at this servant. What are we gonna say to this? That “the servant was never saved to begin with?” that “he never had faith”? If we do so, we are denying that the man was a servant...and by so doing, we are nullifying Jesus’ words. If the servant was not a believer, was not a follower, then he didn’t need to heed Jesus’ warnings and he was rebuked for no reason. Only disciples need such warning and rebuke (not false disciples, those who are not His anyway, according to “Calvinistic” advocates).

Another passage that I think defeats the idea of perseverance as a promise is Hebrews 10:

“Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. FOR YOU HAVE NEED OF ENDURANCE, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise” (Hebrews 10:35-36).

My question is this: Why would the writer tell the Jewish believers that they “need” endurance if they do not need it, if it was just a promise? Why does the writer not say “YOU WILL HAVE ENDURANCE, so that, after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise”? or “YOU WILL ENDURE,” or “God will provide the endurance,” etc.? We are not promised endurance here because endurance is a requirement. When Jesus states that the one who endures to the end will be saved (Matthew 10, Matt. 24), He is exhorting us to endure, telling us that only those who do so will receive life eternal.

Finally, James 1 shows us that believers must YIELD to their sanctification:

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. BUT LET PATIENCE HAVE ITS PERFECT WORK, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4, NKJV).

Why must we “let patience have its perfect work,” if patience will have its perfect work WITHOUT us? And yet, James states that patience desires to do a perfect work in us...but that it will not do so WITHOUT US! Even in the Christian life, you and I can refuse to yield to the process of sanctification that the Spirit is trying to bring about and frustrate the Spirit. This is why in Eph. 4:30 Paul writes, “Grieve not the Spirit...” In order for patience (perseverance, endurance) to do a complete work, I must choose daily to act in accordance with God’s Word. As Jesus says in Luke, the one who desires to follow Him must “pick up his cross DAILY” (Luke 9:23).

Last but not least, what about 2 Peter 1:6, where Peter tells the congregation, [add to faith] self-control, to self-control PERSEVERANCE”? I’m supposed to add to my faith, one of the additions being perseverance. If perseverance is a guarantee, why then am I being told it is a requirement? Either proponents of guaranteed perseverance are telling the truth (and Peter is lying), or Peter is telling the truth (and those for guaranteed perseverance are wrong). I tend to think that the proponents of guaranteed perseverance are wrong on this one.

To make perseverance a promise is the equivalent of making confession and belief a promise. The Word tells me, however, that confession and belief are requirements (conditions) for salvation (Rom. 10:9)...and perseverance is also a requirement (Hebrews 10:36). God is not going to “believe” for me, and neither is He going to “persevere” me. After all, He has already endured to the end so I can endure (Hebrews 12:1-3).

No comments: