Just as there are two sides to every coin, so there are two sides to the doctrine of the security of the believer. On the one side we see boldly imprinted the hands of Jesus, who has promised that no one may snatch away those whom the Father has given him. But there is a flip side, and on the reverse of the coin another image stands out: the persevering believer. Both of these images are true, and both are necessary. There can be no security without Jesus, and there can be no salvation without perseverance in the faith.
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. Hebrews 3:12-14
Look at the dangers the writer of Hebrews describes. There is the unbelieving heart that causes one to fall away from the living God. There is the deceitfulness of sin that hardens some against God. There is the loss of original confidence that leads to the loss of our sharing in Christ. Are these dangers only a threat to unbelievers? The writer of Hebrews is speaking to the community of believers when he proclaims this warning, and therefore I think it is meant for the church. The exhortation is clear: persevere.
My point is not to deny the promise of Jesus that no one may snatch believers from his hand. But I want to stress the equally important flip side of that truth. Saved believers persevere to the end. If we do not finish the race, we will not gain the prize. We can argue about how we are able to persevere, and whether failure is an option, but there can be no disagreement that keeping our faith to the end is a prerequisite for salvation.
Now we want each of you to demonstrate the same diligence for the final realization of your hope, so that you won’t become lazy but will be imitators of those who inherit the promises through faith and perseverance. Hebrews 6:11-12
Look at the qualities that Hebrews uses to describe the life of the believer: diligence, faith, perseverance. We don’t obtain the promise by being lazy, but by the hard work of imitating those who have remained faithful to the end. Jesus assures us that our work will be successful, but it is work nonetheless. Is it only man’s work? Am I teaching a doctrine of salvation by works? No, not at all. It was God’s grace that opened the door to our salvation. It was the Holy Spirit that convicted us of sin, and the blood of Jesus that covered our sin. It was God’s mercy that kept death at bay until we confessed, and the Spirit’s power that enables us to resist sin. I cannot persevere without God’s help, but I must persevere by God’s help to the very end in order to enter the narrow door to salvation.
God has designed his church so that its members endure to the end in faith by means of giving and receiving faith-sustaining words from each other. You and I are the instruments by which God preserves the faith of his children. Perseverance is a community project. Just like God is not going to evangelize the world without human, faith-awakening voices, neither is he going to preserve his church without human faith-sustaining voices. And clearly from the words, “exhort one another” (verse 13), it means all of us, not just preachers. We depend on each other to endure in faith to the end. John Piper
Image by Stijn Bokhove on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0