Believe in Jesus…and Do Whatever You Want?
More than a few Christians have expressed concern that the Reformed doctrine of eternal security leads to a lazy attitude toward holiness. This is one reason why many Reformed people (Calvinists) feel uneasy talking about ‘once saved, always saved,’ or even ‘eternal security.’ Instead, Calvinists speak of ‘perseverance of the saints’ or even the ‘preservation of the saints.’ Founding faculty member of Westminster Seminary, John Murray, sheds some much needed light on this subject:
The new covenant also finds its centre in the promise, ‘I will be your God and ye shall be my people’. The new covenant as an everlasting covenant reaches the zenith of its realization in this: ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people’ (Revelation 21:3). But we must ask: Do believers continue in this relationship and in the enjoyment of its blessing irrespective of persevering obedience to God’s commands? It is one of the most perilous distortions of the doctrine of grace, and one that has carried with it the saddest records of moral and spiritual disaster, to assume that past privileges, however high they may be, guarantee the security of men irrespective of perseverance in faith and holiness. Believers under the gospel continue in the covenant and in the enjoyment of its privileges because they continue in the fulfilment of the conditions; they continue in faith, love, hope, and obedience. True believers are kept unto the end, unto the eschatological salvation; but they are kept by the power of God through faith (cf. I Peter 1:5). ‘We are made par- takers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of confidence stedfast unto the end’ (Hebrews 3:14).
It is through faith and patience we inherit the promises (cf. Hebrews 6:11, 12). We shall be presented holy and unblameable and unreproveable before God if we ‘continue in the faith grounded and settled and not moved away from the hope of the gospel’ (Colossians 1:22, 23). Paul the apostle could exult in the assurance that his citizenship was in heaven and that one day Christ would change the body of his humiliation and transform it into the likeness of the body of his glory (Philippians 3:20, 21). But co-ordinate with this assurance and as the condition of its entertainment is the protestation, ‘Brethren, I do not yet reckon myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press on toward the goal, unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 3:13, 14).
Paul knew well that if he were to attain to the resurrection of the dead all the resources of Christ’s resurrection power must be operative in him and all the energies of his personality enlisted in the exercise of those means through which he would apprehend that for which he was apprehended by Christ Jesus (cf. Philippians 3:10-12). This is just to say that the goal is not reached, the consummation of covenant blessing is not achieved in some automatic fashion but through a process that engages to the utmost the concentrated devotion of the apostle himself. It is not reached irrespective of perseverance, but through perseverance. And this means nothing if it does not mean concentrated obedience to the will of Christ as expressed in his commandments. We readily see, however, that the attainment of the goal is not on the meritorious ground of perseverance and obedience, but through the divinely appointed means of perseverance. Obedience as the appropriate and necessary expression of devotion to Christ does not find its place in a covenant of works or of merit but in a covenant that has its inception and end in pure grace.
-John Murray, Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics, 200 (emphasis added)