What are we to make of the question of perseverance and time?
Some might want to say that God gives Himself in the present, and only in the present. A gift by definition, has to be received in the present in order to be a gift, right?
No, not if we want to speak biblically.
Of course, I don’t experience the full blessing of the gift until the full gift is manifested. But the Bible still speaks of us as having already received such things. I am in present possession of certain things that are not yet revealed in their full glory. The unfolding of the gift is not yet complete — but the possession of the gift is settled. The gift is given.
Among them would be gifts like eternal life. Eternal life is a gift, and it is too big a gift to fit into the present. I can possess eternal life now, which means that my hands have to be able to hold the future — because eternal life encompasses the future as much as it does the present. And I can have it now. “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:11).
Another would be glorification. In Romans 8:29-30, Paul speaks of every spiritual blessing in Christ, and he places them all in the past tense, including the ones that will not be revealed until sometime in the future. Foreknown > predestined > called > justified > glorified.
Not only can I be given saved and called with a holy calling before my life is over, I can be given such things before my life even begins (2 Tim. 1:9). My salvation, not by my works, but by God’s purpose and grace was given to me “before eternal times” (pro chronos aionion). I was saved before the world began. Of course it was not revealed to the world before there was a world, and it was not revealed to my people before there was “my people.” But that just means that my salvation was settled without reference to time.
Another gift that can be given in the present would be the future. I can be given the future in the present. “whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours” (1 Cor. 3:22, ESV). What is mine now? In Christ, the future is mine now.
When the apostle Paul launches into his glorious flyting tirade against anyone or anything that would come to lay a charge against God’s elect (Rom. 8:33), he does so with a grasp that includes all future events. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ (Rom. 8:35)? When he tosses aside all the potential threats to the perseverance of the elect, the money quote is this one — “nor things present, not things to come” (Rom. 8:38). Nothing in all creation — which includes time, history, and all my future stupid choices — can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
These are staggering promises, and it is easy for the flesh to doubt them. That is why God gave His Spirit as a guarantee, as an earnest payment (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:14). An earnest payment is given so that, if the deal doesn’t go through, the buyer forfeits the earnest money. So if someone is given the Spirit in this way, that means that if he is ever lost and goes to Hell, the Spirit goes there with him. God gives Himself to His elect in the person of the Spirit, and that is all the perseverance that anybody could ever need.
Now of course this is irrelevant to a man who was never included in the love of God in Christ. A debate over whether a man can lose a fistful of diamonds is of no practical interest to a man who never had any diamonds. But according to the New Testament, there is a gift of God in the present — call it eternal life, adoption, glorification, the Spirit’s guarantee, and so on — which cannot be lost. A man who loses “this” never had it. A man who loses Jesus in this sense never had Him.
This is because the question is not really whether a true Christian can lose Christ. If that were true, I certainly would have done so by now. The real question is whether Christ can lose a true Christian. And He has promised not to (John 10:29). If I could lose my salvation, I most certainly would. But will Christ lose my salvation? Ha.
So to argue that I have every spiritual blessing in Christ right now, but that perseverance is not among these blessings because perseverance cannot be contained within the present moment is to speak the language of a system, a particular theology, and not the language of the Bible.
Nor is it the language by which He constructed nature, as it testifies to His persevering & eternal care of all seeds and their fruit.
As enthusiastic and inspired as Paul is to communicate this great truth I think it comes out understated, kind of like the way “the cattle on a thousand hills” understates God’s ownership of all creation. We tend to imagine God inhabiting time as if it were his natural habitat the way it is ours. It’s not.
To what in particular are you referring?
The glorious flyting tirade in Rom. 8. And it really is.
Before we possessed eternal life, we possessed eternal death. Our future was God’s eternal wrath, for we were by nature children of wrath, but God rescued us from this “future wrath” (1 Thess 1:10). When God transferred us from death to life, he changed our future, *because our futures are conditional* (thanks be to God!). All of the verses you cite and discuss fit better in a different system from yours, one that does not swallow up covenant conditionality with an over-realized decretal theology. God will fulfill everything he has guaranteed. The Spirit is the guarantee that I will be… Read more »
Jeremy, except that the Bible says that we have eternal life as a present possession. It does not speak that way about “eternal death.” I don’t know how to gain any kind of assurance out of what you are saying. It appears to be saying that nothing in the future can separate me from Christ unless something in the future separates me from Him.
Doug, the eternal life is Jesus (1 John 1:2; 5:13) and this eternal life belongs to those who believe in Jesus. That many in the Bible and in history believe in Jesus and run well in His Spirit and then severe themselves from Jesus and thus from eternal life indicates that eternal life can be thrown away. We should be able to make the logic of this work if we can make the logic of possessing the future work. Nothing can ever severe anyone from Christ and all the blessings in Him, but like many of the Galatians, one can… Read more »
Note that John 17:2 says that Jesus “should give eternal life to as many as you [the Father] have given me [Jesus].” Compare John 6:39-40. But in John 17:12 Jesus says that among “those whom you gave me” is Judas. Judas had eternal life, but was lost. The most you can argue is that Judas is the only person who has ever lost eternal life. Jesus is at least saying that Judas is the only disciple that was lost. But this passage precludes your previous logic about eternal life. The use of the words “give” and “lose” and “eternal life”… Read more »
Thanks guys, I appreciate the interaction. My 2 cents, for what its worth: We have to distinguish between God granting an individual eternal life and granting that same individual *certainty* that the gift has been given. Indeed, we are, somehow now, seated in the heavenlies… if we have not believed in vain. 1 Cor 15 The most pressing question, therefore, is not whether future blessings are as good as done for the genuine believer but whether or not we are a genuine believer. The sealing of the Spirit notwithstanding, biblically, we must get assurance of our full and final entrance… Read more »
Actually, 1John 2:19 addresses Judas directly and by extension, those who follow in his apostate footsteps: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” Further regarding Judas, Christ says in John 13:18, “I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen.” This clearly implies that His promises are not for all who follow Him outwardly/temporarily, but only for those who are “chosen”; ergo,… Read more »
Very well said! Of course I would add that “perseverance” in biblical history meant coming back from the dead in some way. Noah’s family survived the flood when no one else did. Israel went through numerous corporate death-and-resurrections, and the most notable was probably the rise from the abyss of the exile when none of the other Canaanite nations did (Ezekiel 37). Perseverance is linked to resurrection, which is the sign of the dove, a baptism that leads to a new creation. We are all Noahs now, every believer, which is why baptism really ought to be a flood. Church… Read more »
OffTopic: As I persevere (sorry) in my extended debate elsewhere, the root of the debate is the continued practice of Levitical law. So my question. In 1 John 5:3
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
Why does His commandments not include ritual cleanliness laws, sacrifice of animals and the law of the levirate?
I have been taught that the law is there for instruction, not for salvation. This is true, but why aren’t we practicing jewish customs (including polygyny) ?
Timothy, polygamy has never been mandatory, and is contrary to God’s creational design. Today we obey commandments such as the ones you mention by trusting Christ. It’s a move from shadow to reality. Yes, the law is there for instruction, but also for salvation, in the sense that it teaches you to trust the divine promises and receive His righteousness by faith. The fact that the law is misused by men who intend to establish their own righteousness apart from faith does not cancel out the fact that the righteousness of God, which is by faith in Christ, is being… Read more »
Just saw “flyting” used elsewhere:
This is a little late of a response/comment. But I have been for some time, “wondering”, how are there many elders in the CREC, like you, that are subsumed under the FV label, that can make perfectly Reformed statements as this one, while there are some elders in the CREC, also under the FV label, that would reject what you have written (which is a rejection of a fundamental and core aspect of Reformed Theology), which is likewise rejected by the Reformed Confessions? I am “just wondering” how elders can promote views that are so loudly and at length rejected… Read more »