The promise of perseverance comforts the believer. God both calls us to endurance and promises to preserve us. We can rightly say that perseverance is the fruit of saving faith. It’s not unlike a marriage. What’s the best way to show your love for your spouse? You stay.
But that’s not to say that every day of a marriage feels like the day before. Some are better and others worse. It is not uncommon for any marriage to go through a period where it may very well feel on the verge of dissolution. Why is that? There are an untold number of influences on your marriage, both from the inside and out. In a similar way, there are number of influences on your perseverance and assurance in the Christian life. Some are more serious than others. Therefore, we must be on our guard against these things.
The Confession continues, “And though they may, through the temptation of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins, and for a time continue therein, whereby they incur God's displeasure and grieve his Holy Spirit, come to have their graces and comforts impaired, have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded, hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves, yet shall they renew their repentance and be preserved through faith in Christ Jesus to the end.”
The Confession lists several ways our perseverance can be affected, leading to a lack of assurance. The first is of outside temptations, namely Satan and the world. We are still in the flesh, but we fight in the Spirit. There was more going on, but if Jesus can be tempted in the wilderness by Satan, then we will not be left alone, either.
Jesus tells his disciples, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). We should not expect any different treatment from the people who crucified the Lord. It is precisely because we reject the world and its ways that it hates us. Christ came declaring that all men were equal before the foot of the cross, that all men were sinners and in need of a savior, and that he would save all those who came to him in faith and repentance.
Martin Lloyd-Jones gave an excellent sermon about Naaman the Syrian who was sent to Elisha for healing from his leprosy. Naaman expected that Elisha would wave his hand, say some magic words, and send him on his way. Naaman expected special treatment because of who he was. Lloyd-Jones showed how mankind cannot find the cure for our sin, and when we are told the way, we think it is beneath us. But Christ demands nothing else. He is king, and we are his subjects. If the world hated the king, the world his treat his subjects the same.
But we should not think that we are innocent victims of the devil and the world. We are reminded of our remaining corruption. We must mortify the sin that remains in us—lust, greed, envy, and the like. These sins are not in the world; they are in us.
And if we do not persevere in faith, we are all but assured to fall in to grievous sin. The means of perseverance mentioned are not abnormal. We fill our minds with sound doctrine. We place ourselves under the preaching of the Word and meditate on what we hear. We are held accountable by fellowship with other believers. We regularly receive the Lord’s Supper and examine ourselves.
If we fall away from these things, we have no right to expect to feel any assurance. We are in fact called to make our calling and election sure. This means we have an active faith, one that seeks assurance from the Word and not ourselves.
Falling way for a time, which is commonly called backsliding, is possible for the believer. It may not threaten their salvation, but it does threaten their peace. The “warning passages” of Hebrews is one of the means of perseverance. They warn us of the dangers of apostasy, or falling way. We do not seek holiness because we think it is up to us. We seek holiness because we want tot be like the Lord in all his holiness. And at times, there are those believers who have let temptation have a foothold and have fallen into great sin. An affair takes place because “harmless” flirting went on too long. You’re fired from your job because you took more than you were permitted over the course of many years without getting caught.
Or it could be something less obvious, like forsaking gathered worship on the Lord’s day. Something that seems so frivolous one time stops becoming frivolous when it becomes a habit. If you remove yourself from the ordinary means of grace, you should not expect any extraordinary means of grace.
In fact, the normal outcome of removing oneself from the means of perseverance is a hardened heart, making it more difficult to return at all. We start to see the practicality of perseverance. It has consequences.
But in the mercy and grace of God who calls and redeems, he does not let anyone falter to the point of falling way for good. In Luke 22:32, Jesus tells Peter, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” This promise took place before Peter denied Christ three times. Christ knew that Peter would fail, so Christ held Peter up with Peter could not hold up himself. This is the love and mercy of God.
Perseverance and assurance are tightly bound together, as we see. We will take a deep look next week at “Of the Assurance of Grace and Salvation”.