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Can a Genuine Christian Backslide?

Preservation of the Saints

Inextricably linked to perseverance (and Christ’s intercession) is preservation. First Peter 1:3-5 contains a beautiful promise of God’s preserving grace for His redeemed people: “He has caused us to be born again…to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation to be revealed in the last time.” If God is guarding our inheritance in heaven, then to assert that free will can lead one to lose his or her salvation seems to exalt the power of man and denigrate the power of God, not to mention what it means for Peter’s language describing the inheritance as “imperishable, undefiled and unfading.” Those words seem to ring with an empty note if it is possible for human beings to give away their inheritance.

No doubt, there are many additional implications for the denial of this doctrine, but these are a few of the most devastating consequences that show how crucial the doctrine of final perseverance is for Christian theology. If my reasoning is fully biblical, then it would seem that perseverance of the saints is anything but a tertiary matter. If the foundation crumbles, how can the building stand? Let us preach, teach and defend this doctrine as a critical part of the entire soteriological structure. Surely children of grace can do this winsomely, even when they do so without apology.

Persevering Grace, How Sweet the Sound!

It is simply not possible to express, in mere words, the depth of my thankfulness to God that He gives persevering grace to His saints, even His prodigal sons. If it’s possible to forfeit salvation, I surely would have done it during those young years of wandering far from the fold of God. But, as James 4 puts it so simply, God gives more grace.

By no means should my testimony or these doctrinal insights encourage a backslider to remain “as is” and presume on the grace of God that one day he or she will repent and return to a state in which they will enjoy his love and mercy. That’s not my story and it’s the story of neither David nor Peter. But prodigal sons (and daughters) should be encouraged that God will love His elect children all the way into eternity because He is guarding their inheritance that is laid up in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroy, where thieves can never break in and steal (1 Peter 4:5-6; Matthew 6:19-21).

This article originally appeared here.

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Jeff is a senior editor for The Gospel Coalition. A native of Blairsville, Ga., Jeff holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from The University of Georgia, a Master of Divinity in biblical and theological studies and a Ph.D. in historical theology with an emphasis on Baptist history from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky. He is pastor of New City Church in Louisville, KY. Jeff and his wife Lisa have been married for 19 years and have four children.