The Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints

As I was reading the chapter on Perseverance in the book Renewal Theology by Dr. J. Rodman Williams, there were some persistent questions that kept on bothering me. Dr. Williams speaks of the security of salvation, to wit: “Hence, there is no way of falling out of God’s love and care and concern. Grace is unconditional. This means that God perseveres, whatever man may do, in the undergirding and sustaining of all who truly believe. God never fails. The security of salvation rests—let it be repeated—not in ourselves, but in Him.” However, on the next page, he says that true believers—Christians—can and indeed do fall away (apostatize) from the Faith. To be sure, Dr. Williams did provide ample passages from Scripture proving both statements. So if our salvation is secure in God, then how is it possible that true Christians can and do fall away?

Those of the Reformed (Calvinist) camp, quoting 1 John 2:19, would say that those who apostatized were not genuine Christians and were never saved in the first place. As a staunch Calvinist, I held on to that position. But when I took another look at that passage, I realized something. Although I noticed this prior to reading Renewal Theology, I’ll just use the words of Dr. Williams therein: “However, John is here referring to unbelievers—indeed ‘antichrists’ who have been in the Christian fellowship but who do not in faith truly belong, and who by their defection exhibit this.” He further states that the word ‘apostasy’ itself means a departure from the faith and that it would be a contradiction in terms if we would say that a person who never had the faith could apostatize from it. I see the point. So, lo and behold, I have changed my view! But the question begs us, if our salvation is secure in God, then how is it possible that true Christians can and do fall away?

Because Scripture simultaneously teaches predestination, election, perseverance (or eternal security) on the one hand and the falling away of true believers on the other hand, then we have to believe both to be true without making it appear that the Bible contradicts itself. In his article entitled A Tiptoe Through TULIP, James Akin provided the Thomist, as in St. Thomas Aquinas, view on predestination. According to Aquinas, we should distinguish between predestination to initial salvation and predestination to final salvation, to wit: “the gift of final perseverance is the abiding in good to the end of life. In order to have this perseverance man . . . needs the divine assistance guiding and guarding him against the attacks of the passions . . . [A]fter anyone has been justified by grace, he still needs to beseech God for the aforesaid gift of perseverance that he may be kept from evil till the end of life. For to many grace is given to whom perseverance in grace is not given.” [ST I:II:109:10]. James Akin further posited that “The idea that a person can be predestined to come to God yet not be predestined to stay the course may be new to Calvinists and may sound strange to them, but it did not sound strange to Augustine, Aquinas, or even Luther.” Herein I have found the solution to this apparent dilemma, one that sufficiently harmonizes biblical doctrine.

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