Perseverance and the Bible’s Warning Passages

I have the privilege of teaching a four-part foundations class as one of our Sunday School offerings at Immanuel. I’ve designed the curriculum to be completed over two years (four semesters). In this time the student will cover the doctrines of Scripture, God, man, Christ, the application of redemption, the church, and the future. As you may have guessed, it is systematic theology for the church.

We are currently in Foundations Three: The Application of Redemption. And this coming Sunday we are taking up the second part of a two-part lesson on the doctrine of perseverance. One of the questions we’ll dig into is whether or not a Christian can lose his or her salvation (hint: I’m teaching that a Christian cannot). This question, however, cannot be considered apart from the several warning passages in Scripture–passages that some believe teach that a Christian can finally fall away from a state of grace.

This leads me to a wonderful resource from Collin Hansen at The Gospel Coalition.

Collin interviewed New Testament scholar Peter O’Brien (whose commentary on Hebrews has been a great blessing to me). Collin specifically enlisted O’Brien to help us understand the warning passages in the Bible generally and in the book of Hebrews in particular. Here’s an excerpt that summarizes well O’Brien’s understanding of how the book of Hebrews teaches the Christian’s perseverance:

The encouragements to the members of the congregation to hold firmly to their confession of faith in Christ and to endure patiently whatever trials they may face, are securely based on God’s faithfulness to fulfill his stunning promises (cf. Heb. 6:12-20). His purpose is to lead his children to glory, and to that end he has made Jesus, the pioneer of their salvation, perfect through suffering (Heb. 2:10). While the exhortations for them to persevere in the context of trials, persecution, public abuse from opponents, disappointments, and the tendency to lose heart (Heb. 12:5) may seem awesome, even overwhelming, they are not left to their own devices.

Christ’s once-for-all perfect offering of himself is utterly acceptable and efficacious; he has blazed the trail for his people into heaven itself, and won for them an eternal redemption. As the Son who lives forever, his priestly ministry on his people’s behalf is never ending; he is “able to save completely and eternally those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Heb. 7:25).

Ultimately, the believer’s security rests not with the believer but with the living God. His final promise in the letter, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you,” is wonderful assurance indeed. So then, “we may say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid, What can mere mortals do to me?'” (Heb. 13:56).

Be sure to read the whole interview for a better understanding of the purpose of the warning passages as well as for further resources to consider as you study this great doctrine of perseverance. And if you’re in the Bellingham area this Sunday we would love to see you in class as we rejoice over Jesus Christ, the One who is “able to save completely and eternally those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them” (Heb. 7:25).

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