The Doctrines of Grace: Perseverance of the Saints, Part 1
Welcome to the beginning of the end. We have, at long last, reached the final point of the TULIP: Perseverance of the Saints.
This point is one in which the majority of Christians hold. Even those who do not believe the other four points will accept this point. Ever hear of a Whiskey Baptist? This is exactly what I mean. They don’t believe in the other four, but they will accept the “fifth.” 😉
Okay, levity aside, let’s move right along into the definition.
In perusing the definitions from Dictionary.com, we will not use the theological definitions found therein. We will focus on the meanings of the words themselves. As such, we retrieve several definitions for the word perseverance:
- steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., esp. in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.
- persistent determination
- the act of persisting or persevering; continuing or repeating behavior
There are also several synonyms for perseverance given:
- Persistence, which may be used in either a favorable or an unfavorable sense, implies unremitting (and sometimes annoying) perseverance.
- Tenacity, with the original meaning of adhesiveness, as of glue, is a dogged and determined holding on. Whether used literally or figuratively it has favorable implications.
- Pertinacity, unlike its related word, is used chiefly in an unfavorable sense, that of overinsistent tenacity.
Taking the word to its root, persevere, we find the following definitions:
- Used without an object: to persist in anything undertaken; maintain a purpose in spite of difficulty, obstacles, or discouragement; continue steadfastly.
- Used with an object: to bolster, sustain, or uphold.
- To persist in or remain constant to a purpose, idea, or task in the face of obstacles or discouragement.
- be persistent, refuse to stop.
So what we have here is a view of perseverance as actively, determinedly continuing in a certain state or purpose; holding on to that state/purpose doggedly, refusing to give it up; and bolstering, sustaining that state/purpose no matter what may come towards that state/purpose to hinder or stop it.
Some of the Reformed persuasion prefer, instead of perseverance, Preservation. To narrow the definitions we will need for this doctrine, let us see what Dictionary.com can give us along the lines of the preceding paragraph for this word:
- to keep alive or in existence; make lasting.
- to keep safe from harm or injury; protect or spare.
- to keep up; maintain.
- to keep possession of; retain.
- to prepare (food or any perishable substance) so as to resist decomposition or fermentation.
- the activity of protecting something from loss or danger.
- an occurrence of improvement by virtue of preventing loss or injury or other change.
What this gives us, then, is the purpose for perseverance, and a robust definition of perseverance (or preservation) as actively, determinedly, doggedly continuing to keep something alive and lasting; safe from any danger including harm, decay, or other negative change; keeping possession of that something; bolstering and sustaining that something; and refusing to give it up no matter what may come towards that something to hinder or stop it.
Now we turn to the object of perseverance, namely the saints. I will not need to go into much detail here, since the vast majority of dictionary definitions of this word refer to either Catholic saints or “people who have died and gone to heaven.” As I will show when we arrive at the biblical underpinnings for this doctrine, a saint is simply a Christian, one who has placed his or her faith and trust in Christ.
What about the saints, exactly, is being preserved? As we see from the definition of saint above, it is their salvation. The faith and trust in Christ that each believer possesses is what is being preserved and in which the believer is persevering. This realization has far-reaching implications, which we will see throughout the course of this discussion.
Finally, we are left with a definition of this doctrine as: the active, determined, dogged continuation of the faith and trust of the believer in Christ; keeping that faith and trust safe from any danger including harm, decay, or other negative effects; keeping possession of that faith and trust; bolstering that faith and trust; and the refusal of the believer to give it up no matter what may come to hinder or stop that faith and trust in Christ.
There is a world of great things to see within this definition, and we shall begin to unravel them in the next installment, as we examine the biblical evidence. Come back for more!