Wednesday, March 5, 2008

You have need of perseverance

“You have need of perseverance,” the author of the letter to the Hebrews urges his audience (10:36). But why?

This past weekend during the first week of class, we were talking about the truth that God saves sinners. (This teaching is put forth in what has somewhat unfortunately become called the Five Points of Calvinism.) When we were talking about the doctrine of the Preservation of the Elect (a.k.a. Perseverance of the Saints), Dr. Griffith asked us, “Why is perseverance in faith necessary? Why can’t we just be justified at some point upon making a ‘decision for Christ’ and then live as we please?”

The question stumped me somewhat. But then I realized this: The very nature of faith and salvation demands it. How so? Because God’s saving work—not only in what happens to us, but also the prize we receive—is fellowship (union; Greek koinonia) with Christ. “God . . . has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9). Salvation is, by its very nature, a relationship. And we exercise this relationship by a life of obedient faith in the Messiah’s sufficiency as Savior and Mediator and his supremacy as Lord and King. “Believers are called into the fellowship of Christ and fellowship means communion," explains John Murray. "The life of faith is one of living union and communion with the exalted and ever-present Redeemer” [1]. As long as we have salvation, we must have a humble, repentant faith; the presence of God’s gracious in-Christ redemption can never be divorced from trust in him. So if we are to inherit eternal life, we must have an eternal faith.

But this is glorious news, comforting news, filling me with a “joy unspeakable and full of glory." Left on our own, the demand for persevering faith would be but “dismay and Christless dread” [2]. But we forget: it is the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—with whom we have fellowship; it is to a Person we are united. Salvation does not exist as an abstraction or a philosophical construct; it is not a lofty idea or an mechanical process. It is a gracious covenantal bond between a Shepherd and the flock under his care, a Bridegroom and his bride, a Father and his son, a Lord and his servant. The word used throughout the Scriptures for this is chesed, a word so full of meaning that English translations fail to pin it down. Try as they might—“unfailing love” (NIV), “steadfast love” (ESV), “lovingkindness” (NASB), “loyal love” or “merciful love” (The Message)—they can but dance around it. Perhaps only the tongues of angels are fit for its expression.

So we’re not stuck to persevere on our own. We have the full backing and upholding and undying, self-binding love of the very heart of God himself. I cannot stress enough that salvation belongs a Person. His name is Everlasting Father, whose desires and commitments are never fickle and never revoked. His name is Almighty God and King of Kings, wielding omnipotent power and authority to crush all enemies and secure the future of his loved ones. His name is Compassionate Priest, who sympathizes with us, deals tenderly with us in our weaknesses, and who ever lives to make intercession for us (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25). His name is Advocate, Counselor, and Pledge, an indwelling guarantee who keeps us secure and breathes into our hearts his very own life and glory.

"Our Lord Jesus Christ . . . will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Christ Jesus our Lord, is faithful." (1 Cor. 1:8-9)


[1] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1955) 169. Murray continues beautifully: “The life of faith is the life of love, and the life of love is the life of fellowship, or mystic communion with him who ever lives to make intercession for his people and who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. It is a fellowship with him who has an inexhaustible reservoir of sympathy with his people’s temptations, afflictions, and infirmities because he was tempted in all points like as they were, yet without sin. The life of faith cannot be that of cold metallic assent. It must have the passion and warmth of love and communion because communion with God is the crown and apex of true religion. ‘Truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ’ (1 John 1:3)” (Ibid., 169-70). So much for calling Calvinists cold, dour, mechanical folk!

[2] Ibid., 165.

1 comment:

Ted M. Gossard said...

Amen, Andrew. Amen.

I like your emphasis here on relationship in salvation. Really true throughout all of Scripture, but realized fully, the beginning of that now, in Jesus.

And without God's work none of us would make it, as said here. It's God's work of love from the Father through the Son by the Spirit, through which we carry on, day by day, through it all.

Thanks for the good words to us.