One thing that Arminianism has in common with many Calvinists is the teaching that perseverance is necessary for eternal life. While some Arminians argue that one can lose their salvation if they fall into sin or discontinue in faith, all Arminians agree that perseverance is necessary to gain eternal life. Many Calvinist such as Dr. John MacArthur, Dr. John Piper, or Dr. James White all agree that perseverance is necessary. Their basis is on the doctrine of election wherein God has chosen from humanity those who will be saved and thus it is not only necessary but inevitable that they will persevere. This is where we disagree. However, there are a few within the evangelical Church who deny that perseverance is even necessary for eternal life. And it is that view that I would like to address in this essay.
What are the problems with this view that perseverance is not necessary for eternal life? There are many but let me simply point out four.
1. It’s Lack of Biblical Support – There is simply no Scripture for teaching that perseverance is not part of the Christian life. Jesus said that we are to put his words into practice and failure to do so results only in destruction (Matthew 7:24-27). We are called to endure to the end (Matthew 10:22). We are called to take the Word and bear fruit with it through perseverance (Luke 8:15). Jesus told us to remain in the vine (John 15:1-8). Paul said that tribulations bring about perseverance (Romans 5:3) and he warned us to continue in the kindness of God (Romans 11:22). He further said that we must continue in the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-2; Colossians 1:21-23). We are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling as God works in us (Philippians 2:12-15). He told Timothy that “if we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us” (2 Timothy 2:12; NASB). Hebrews is full of warnings to not drift away from what we have heard (Hebrews 2:1-4; 3:6-19; 4:1-16; 5:8-9; 6:4-20; 10:19-39; 11:13-16; 12:1-39). And of course, Revelation warns us that we are to be overcomers (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26-29; 3:5, 12, 21). Who is it that returns with Christ? Only “the called and chosen and faithful” (Revelation 17:14 NASB).
2. It’s Improper Exegesis – Those who preach against perseverance as being necessary must perform horrible exegesis (and often eisgesis) in order to come to their position. The usual route is to focus in on the words “believe” or “faith” and ignore passages that speak about discipleship, repentance, holiness, or perseverance. For example, Bob George in his book Classic Christianity tries to build a case that the entire life of the believer is simply to believe (John 5:24). He takes passages such as John 1:12 or John 3:16 or Acts 16:31 or Romans 10:9-10 and he seeks to establish that we are saved by faith (belief) and faith alone. The problem with George’s view is that he ignores repentance (Luke 13:5; 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30-31; 26:20; Romans 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:10; 2 Peter 3:9) and he ignores perseverance. George goes so far as to try to teach that 1 John 1:9 is for unbelievers and that the Christian need never confess their sins to God since Jesus paid for them on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:18). How does George get to this view? He does not exegete the passages. He lumps all the “faith” passages together and tries to point out that they have some kind of unique authority over all other passages. Proper exegesis will solve much of the problems associated with perseverance as being necessary for eternal life.
3. It’s Lack of Historical Basis – Dr. John MacArthur has a wonderful chapter in his book The Gospel According to Jesus where he shows what preachers and theologians from the past have taught concerning the nature of justification and repentance. He cites several examples including Charles Spurgeon, A.W. Tozer, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Historically, the Church has never taught that perseverance is not necessary but that the nature of the Christian life is to persevere, something taught evenly among Arminians and Calvinist from John Wesley to John Calvin.
4. It’s Practical Implications – The obvious implication is that people will indulge the flesh and yet still claim to be followers of Christ (Jude 3-4). While legalism can certainly lead to falling away from Jesus (Galatians 5:1-6), being tolerant of sin in our lives can as well (2 Peter 2:20-22). We can disagree over spiritual death resulting from sinning (James 1:12-13), but we can not disagree over the biblical teaching of true perseverance in the faith. Both Arminians and Calvinist must stress the need to continue in the faith until the very end (1 John 2:24-25).
Brown, Michael Go And Sin No More
Corner, Daniel The Believer’s Conditional Security
MacArthur, John The Gospel According To Jesus
MacArthur, John Hard To Believe
Taliaferro, Mike The Killer Within
Tozer, A.W. God Tells The Man Who Cares
White, James Drawn By The Father