Church column: TULIP — Perseverance of the saints

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 31, 2016

While there is much more that could be said on each point of Calvinism’s TULIP, we have come to final point.

The P in TULIP stands for “perseverance of the saints.” Again, progressing through the points, it can be summarized as follows.

Because man is totally depraved from Adam’s sin, God had to unconditionally elect each individual that would ever be saved. Those so chosen are the ones, and the only ones, that the “limited atonement” of Christ will save.

Because the elect are chosen by the sovereign will of God, that grace is “irresistible” and cannot be denied. Since the elect are chosen by the sovereign will of God, there is nothing that an elect person could do to lose that salvation.

They will “persevere.” In other words, once they are saved they will always be saved, no matter what they may do. So, “perseverance of the saints” is the doctrine that is typically phrased “once saved, always saved.”

And I’ll start my response by answering the erroneous Calvinistic use of the two passages commonly used to teach the false doctrine of “once saved, always saved” (i.e. Jn. 6:38-39; 1 Jn. 3:9). According to Calvinism, any verses that seem to indicate that a believer can be lost is really talking about those who were never really converted. However, the use of John 6:38-39 in an attempt to demonstrate that a true believer cannot fall away is a severe misuse of that passage.

In this passage Jesus refers to Himself as the bread of life (Jn. 6:35, 48, 51). As the bread of life, he is the source of spiritual nourishment that provides eternal life, just as physical bread provides nourishment for physical life. Jesus, in no way whatsoever, gives the impression here that feeding on him, as the bread of life, is a one-time act.

Rather, he says that we must feed on his flesh and feed on his blood (John 6:57). The word “feeds” in this verse is in the present active tense, indicating a continuing action. The Calvinist takes this passage and makes it mean that if you ate of Christ, the bread of life, at any time — past tense — then you will have eternal life from that one-time act.

However, as Christ describes Himself as the bread of life and tells the people that they can have eternal life by feeding on Him, He is referring to a continuing activity. Just like eating physical bread, if you stop eating, you stop receiving the physical nourishment.

So with Christ, if we stop feeding on Him then we stop receiving the spiritual nourishment He provides. When Christ says that He will lose none, He is referring to those who are actively feeding on Him. It does not have under consideration at all those who stop feeding on Him.

And what is it that is clearly identified as feeding on His flesh and blood? Notice, Christ is not talking about His physical flesh and blood, but His words as the source of spiritual nourishment (John 6:63). After many departed from Him, being unable to accept this hard saying, Jesus asked the 12 if they would leave Him also.

Peter’s response shows his clear understanding of what Jesus had taught about being the bread of life. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). He understood that when Jesus was talking about eating His flesh and drinking his blood, he was referring to feeding on His doctrine the same way one would feed on physical bread.

As long as you keep eating you continue receiving the nourishment. We must take the doctrine of Christ in and “live on it” the same way our bodies rely on physical food!

This passage is clearly referring to those who are actively feeding on the doctrine of Christ. To say that this passage teaches the “once saved, always saved” error is to twist the Scriptures to your own destruction (2 Peter 3:16).

Then with 1 John 3:9, Calvinists actually have John contradicting himself. They say that John teaches a true child of God cannot sin. But in 1 John 1:8-9 John says that if “we” — i.e., Christians — say that we do not sin or that we have not sinned then we don’t know the truth.

So, which is it? Do we or don’t we? Obviously, when John is talking about the impossibility of a child of God’s sinning he is not talking about a literal impossibility. Rather, it is in reference to a practice of lifestyle. Notice, in 1 John 3:6, it is the one who “abides” in Him that does not sin. Likewise, it is the one who practices righteousness that is righteous (1 John 3:7). “He who sins” is the one who turns to a lifestyle of sin (1 John 3:8).

One who is born of God cannot be given to a lifestyle of sin because then he would no longer be abiding in Christ. This whole passage is contrasting the lifestyle of a child of God to that of the lifestyle of the sinner.

It teaches the impossibility of harmonizing a sinful lifestyle with abiding in Christ. It does not, in any way, teach that a person cannot change from one to the other.

If this passage taught that a child of God could not cease abiding in Christ, then it would also teach that a sinner could never become a child of God. Clearly, the Calvinistic use of the passage is in error.

If the biblical passages referring to backsliding were all referring to people who only pretended to be converted, i.e. they were never really Christians, then we should not find any references indicating that they had changed their spiritual condition from sinner to saint and then gone back to sinner. But there are many such statements!

How can one say that those referred to in Hebrews 3:12 weren’t actually Christians? The Hebrews writer told them, “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.”

He addressed “brethren,” i.e. Christians! And, why the need to “Beware” if Christians can’t fall away from Christ through “an evil heart of unbelief”? If “once saved, always saved” were true, then no such warnings would be necessary.

There are many, many such passages warning of apostasy (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:12; 9:27; Galatians 5:4; Hebrews 10:26-31; 2 Peter 2:20-21; et al). According to “perseverance of the saints” there is no danger of apostasy because saints can’t apostatize!

So, was the Holy Spirit – as He inspired the biblical writers in so many places – wrong but John Calvin was right? Who could believe such a thing?

From the T to the P, “total depravity” to “perseverance of the saints,” Calvinism’s TULIP is false, from start to finish! Your feedback is always welcome.

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Norm Fields

Contributing columnist

Norm Fields is the minister for the Church of Christ Northside meeting at 1101 Hogansville Road in LaGrange. He may be reached at 706-812-9950 or