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.