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Can I Lose My Salvation? (The Doctrine of Perseverance)


Few things burden the Christian more than when a person who once professed Christ wanders from the Gospel. If you take inventory of your own experience, you may come up with a list of names of those who once mentored you in the faith, led your church in worship on Sundays, or even taught the Bible to you yet ultimately (it seems) left the faith. Tragically, the world is filled with people who once apparently walked the path of obedience but didn’t continue on it.

This phenomenon isn’t new. The author of Hebrews warned those to whom he wrote against matters like drifting, rebellion, and disobedience (Heb. 2:1; 3:16). He even at times presented these warnings in conditional terms: “We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Heb. 3:14).

When it comes to the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, we must recognize that these warnings in Hebrews are real warnings, directed toward Christians. There’s no sense in which they are to be ignored on the basis of self-proclaimed security. Instead, as Sinclair Ferguson notes, “the New Testament warns us by precept and example that some professing Christians may not persevere in their profession of Christ to the end of their lives.”1

Perseverance has more to do with God’s work than with our own.

We must be careful that we don’t grow careless or prideful when it comes to persevering in the faith. In fact, the doctrine should produce in us a careful urgency to heed the biblical warnings concerning apostasy. When we come to the Scriptures, we discover that the perseverance of God’s people in their salvation is a truth that is biblical, practical, and Christ-centered.

A Biblical Doctrine

What do we mean when we talk about the doctrine of perseverance? Louis Berkhof gives a helpful definition, describing it as “that continuous operation of the Holy Spirit in the believer, by which the work of divine grace that is begun in the heart, is continued and brought to completion.”2 Strictly speaking, perseverance has more to do with God’s work than with our own. It’s because God perseveres in His love for us that we’re able to continue in our love for Him. A more apt name for this doctrine, in fact, might be the preservation of the saints. God preserves, keeps, and guards His people.

With the definition in mind, we can locate the doctrine all throughout Scripture. Indeed, the Bible emphasizes the absolute certainty of the believer’s preservation. The opening verses of 1 Peter are among the clearest on the matter:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3–5)

Three truths concerning God’s preservation of the saints arise from this passage.

First, God “has caused us to be born again” (v. 3). Writing to persecuted believers scattered throughout the Roman Empire, Peter emphasizes that they’d been delivered from the realm of hopelessness. If there’s one thing that marks Christians in a hopeless world, it’s that we’ve been “born again to a living hope.” And the foundation for this hope is in what God Himself has done, according to His great mercy through the resurrection of His Son.

We are preserved and we persevere through faith—never apart from it.

Next, God has granted us an inheritance, imperishable and unfading (v. 4). In other words, it has the believer’s name on it at will call, purchased in advance, with a guarantee that it will be there at the end. And this inheritance is “kept in heaven” for us; it can’t be touched by death, stained by evil, or impaired by time.

Finally, God shields us by His power (v. 5). The Greek word for “power” here is a military term, used to describe a soldier’s guard. We could think of it in terms of a professional fighter who, as he walks toward the ring, is shielded by his entourage. Simply, Peter reminds us that it’s God’s power which garrisons the believer—and He does this “through faith.” In other words, the perseverance of the saints isn’t an insurance policy that enables us to live with carelessness toward God. Rather, the Bible teaches that there is no preservation without faith and that those who have faith are those who persevere (Heb. 4:2; Jude 20–21, 24). We are preserved and we persevere through faith—never apart from it.

The late Scottish pastor John Brown helps us by writing,

The perseverance of the saints … is their perseverance not only in a safe state, but in a holy course of disposition and conduct; and no saint behaving like a sinner can legitimately enjoy the comfort which the doctrine of perseverance is fitted and intended to communicate to every saint, acting like a saint.3

A Practical Doctrine

The perseverance of the saints isn’t only a biblical doctrine; it’s also practical. This is true in two senses.

First, it reminds us of God’s love. Divine love is the basis for God’s saving and securing us. “Christ Jesus is the one who died,” Paul writes, leading him to conclude that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God” (Rom. 8:34, 39). Jesus even describes Himself as “the good shepherd” who “lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). And this love is a love which saves, leading us to rejoice with the hymn writer,

Oh, the love that sought me!
Oh, the blood that bought me!
Oh, the grace that brought me to the fold,
Wondrous grace that brought me to the fold!4

Perseverance is also practical in that it reminds us of God’s grace. A true understanding of this doctrine stops our mouths and humbles us before God. Think about it: before God intervened, we were sinful, liable for death because of our sins; yet, while in this predicament, knowing the worst about us, God freely and fully declared us righteous on His Son’s account (Rom. 5:8). No doubt, our salvation—and our perseverance in it—is all of grace (Eph. 2:8).

A Christ-Centered Doctrine

Aware of our need to persevere in God’s grace, we find a few key things we can do to endure.

We can begin by looking away from ourselves and to Christ. If we only look within, we’ll find ample grounds for discouragement. But, as the author of Hebrews urges us, we ought to “consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession” (3:1).

A true understanding of perseverance stops our mouths and humbles us before God.

Looking to Christ, we should also listen to His Word. “Today, if you hear his voice,” the psalmist instructs us, “do not harden your hearts” (Psalm 95:7–8). It’s Christ’s Word that warns, guides, teaches, and encourages us as we persevere in faith. We may think of Peter, who, after having fallen away for a time, was restored to Christ on the strength of His truth spoken to him (John 21:15–17). If we wish to endure, it’s imperative we become children of the Word.

And so, we look to Christ. We listen to His Word. And finally, we situate ourselves among His people. Or, as the author of Hebrews again puts it, we “exhort one another every day” (3:13), and we find ourselves on both the sending and receiving ends of godly exhortations. The people of God play no small part in our perseverance. They are gifts of grace to us, pursuing us when wayward and encouraging us when weak.

At the bottom of it, our faith will not fail because it’s God who sustains it. J. I. Packer put it this way: “You are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you.”5 No one is able to snatch us from Christ’s hand (John 10:28).

This article was adapted from the sermon “Preservation of the Saints” by Alistair Begg.


  1. Sinclair B. Ferguson, Know Your Christian Life: A Theological Introduction (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1981), 151.↩︎

  2. L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (1939; repr., London: Banner of Truth, 1963), 546.↩︎

  3. John Brown, An Exposition of the Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Hebrews (Edinburgh: William Oliphant, 1862), 1:296.↩︎

  4. William Spencer Walton, “In Tenderness He Sought Me” (1894).↩︎

  5. J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), 251.↩︎


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