As Christians, one thing all of us are guaranteed to experience in one form or another in this life is adversity. Regardless of what directly causes the various trials to come our way, we know that God is the one who ultimately causes all things to work together according to His eternal decree. Many Christians cite Romans 8:28, which says, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” as their favorite Bible verse. To avoid any misunderstanding, I think this is a great passage to memorize and Christians most certainly have liberty to make it their “life verse”; however, there is also a lot of misapplication of this verse that needs to be addressed.
There is a tendency for some Christians to apply a verse as popular as Romans 8:28 to a specific situation in their lives with the notion that each of their trials is somehow guaranteed to have a positive resolution. But this text is not saying that every situation will have a good ending in and of itself. In fact, we may experience adversity that never resolves itself favorably in our lifetime. Rather, what Paul is saying is that there is an ultimate “good” that comes as a result of every single thought, action, deed, and natural event that has ever and will ever take place. Just a couple of verses later, Paul clearly states that this ultimate “good” is not temporal but eternal, when believers receive their glorification. Until then, we will experience trials that may get better or worse over time, but Scripture, nonetheless, instructs us to “consider it all joy” (James 1:2). James went on to say that “…the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:3-4). Notice that James did not say that the testing of your faith produces favorable outcomes in your situations; instead, it produces endurance. Also, note how James emphasizes the joy you are to have when you persevere through your trials. When reflecting on the trials in your own life, take a moment to think about your perseverance because how you are going about it matters in the eyes of God. Are you wasting an opportunity to persevere joyfully?
If persevering joyfully is something you struggle with, be not dismayed. Remember, it is God who fights our battles (2 Chronicles 32:8). Though perseverance is a real part of our sanctification that we are to actively engage in, remember the source of our perseverance is always God! Scripture repeatedly reminds us that salvation belongs to the Lord (i.e. Psalm 3:8, Jonah 2:9, Revelation 7:10, etc.), but what does that phrase mean? It is simply this: God is the one who establishes and secures our salvation from start to finish. In what is often referred to as the “golden chain”, the apostle Paul wrote that
“for those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30).
Whether it is the eternal reality of our calling and election, the past reality of our justification, the present reality of our sanctification, or the future reality of our glorification, the entire work of salvation is sovereignly decreed and controlled by God whose purpose cannot be thwarted (Job 42:2). When we remember that God is the one who ultimately ensures that true saints will persevere in this life, it should cause us to respond not in a stoic manner or with a “let go and let God” kind of approach in our sanctification, but in such a way that moves us to joyfully endure the hardships of this life while depending on the strength that God has promised He will supply on our behalf.
This truth, though it gives us much comfort and assurance, is not devoid of the real act of willpower and determination that we exert as we persevere. The battles we face against the world around us, our sinful flesh, and the snares of the evil one are real battles. They require real decisions on our part as one navigating through a minefield. The race of faith we run is a real race that often times requires raw discipline in order to persevere. It is, therefore, very much a part of the ongoing work of our sanctification. In theological terminology, sanctification is a synergistic process, meaning that it involves two active parties: the indwelling Holy Spirit and the believer. Perseverance is then entirely our work, and it is entirely God’s work! Though this may seem paradoxical, we must faithfully accept that these parallel truths are taught throughout Scripture, and the way they harmonize is perfectly resolvable in the infinite mind of God while it remains a mystery to us.
While we may not be able to comprehend how these parallel truths harmonize, Scripture does reveal why they do. The answer lies in understanding who God is and who we are. God is holy, perfect, and righteous. We, on the other hand, are wicked and depraved sinners from the moment of conception, and left to ourselves, we cannot and will not choose God. By our very nature we hate God and constantly sin against Him, and as a result, His wrath abides on us (John 3:36). But the Father in eternity past, decreed a plan of salvation for a people whom He unconditionally elected, sent His Son into the world to provide atonement for them, and bear their sins in His body on the cross (1 Peter 2:24), and by the power of the Holy Spirit drew them to Himself in a wonderful display of His saving grace. These are the ones out of whom God has taken the heart of stone and replaced with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). What made us who we were before we were saved, gone. Our innermost desires before we placed our faith in Christ, gone. Now, we have a new heart with new desires. What David wrote concerning our innermost affections, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:3), now has a meaning like it never had before. To the unregenerate man, this verse can only be understood and applied legalistically. “Well, I better get to work on this delighting myself in God thing, so I can get what I want”, he says quietly in his heart. But to the person whose very nature has been completely changed by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, this verse is the gift that keeps on giving because what is the believer’s chief heart desire? To delight in the Lord! It is the very thing that results in our heart’s desires being fulfilled, thus creating a never-ending cycle.
How does this relate to perseverance? When our heart’s desire, according to our new nature in Christ, is aligned with the will of God, it becomes easy to see why perseverance is 100% our work and 100% God’s work, and why there is no contradiction. We are united to Christ, and we are given a faith, joy, love, and perseverance that cannot and will not ultimately fail, since God Himself cannot and will not ever fail. As Christians, we are, therefore, eternally secured, and no one can snatch us from the Father’s hand nor the Son’s hand (John 10:28-29). Our success in persevering through all the trials life has to throw at us is absolutely guaranteed, and we can trust God at His word.
While the Bible has overwhelming evidence of our guaranteed success in our perseverance, that does not mean there are not challenging passages that have left some well-meaning brothers and sisters in Christ to question or even deny the legitimacy of the doctrine of eternal security. Next time, we will address the question of whether or not true believers can lose their salvation.