One of the aspects of reformed theology that we joyfully embrace is called the perseverance of the saints. This doctrine affirms that genuine Christians cannot lose their salvation, that they will remain permanently in the grip of God’s grace, that God will hold on to them despite the ups and downs of the Christian pilgrimage toward heaven.
It is important to distinguish this doctrine from caricatures, lest it be emptied of its value and open to legitimate critique. For example, we do not believe that mere external association with the Christian religion means that a person will certainly make it to heaven. It is possible for a person to associate with the Christian religion and yet not believe in its message for themselves. Such a person has never been reconciled to God in the first place, and will not be preserved by him unless they repent and believe in Christ.
The Bible is clear that everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike, should evaluate their standing before God and that only those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and exhibit the fruit of his regenerating work in their lives can have confidence that they are truly converted. The doctrine of perseverance affirms that such genuine Christians will remain Christians to the very end.
This doctrine also should be distinguished from a caricature endorsing carelessness about sin. The idea that a Christian can “take advantage” of God’s preserving grace to pursue a sinful lifestyle and reject the authority of God’s word is contrary to Scripture. God preserves his people by enabling them to actually persevere through the inevitable trials to our faith and opportunities to grow in holiness that come to every Christian. In our experience, real spiritual effort will be required and we will need to run the race in such a way that we will win. Underneath our genuine effort, the hand of the Lord remains steadfast and insures that we will never fall away.
The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints should deeply encourage genuine Christians that God is faithful to his people, that he will not lose even one of his people, and that even when our faith fails, his faithfulness remains. His grace triumphs ultimately over our sin and weakness.
As the hymn says,
Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come
Tis grace that brought me safe thus far And grace will lead me home