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The Doctrines of Grace for Kids – Perseverance of the Saints

November 23, 2011

Total Depravity | Unconditional Election | Limited Atonement | Irresistible Grace

What is it?

The last in our series on the doctrines of grace is a reassuring to the believer. Perseverance of the saints maintains that all true saints who are called and sanctified cannot fall away from grace, but will persevere until the end. This is a comforting thought for many of us who have children who were once near the Lord, but have fallen away. The nature of God’s covenant with his people is an eternal one as we will see in our first passage.

Jeremiah 32:38-40 states that, “And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.” Three things are of note in this passage:

  • The nature of the covenant is not dependent on human commitment. “…they shall be my people, and I will be their God,” does not have a conditional clause in it. Those God calls, he calls to a permanent unconditional relationship.
  • The nature of the covenant is to generations. If you are a Christian the covenant applies to your children and their children’s children.
  • The nature of the covenant is everlasting. There is no expiration date. God’ promise to you is not finite, but will last your entire lifetime and beyond.

John 10:27-30 picks up on the theme of the “everlasting covenant.” “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” Again, at least three things are of note:

  • Sheep are naturally dumb animals. They need to follow a shepherd or they will die. God knows our nature and so he sends all the members of the Trinity to act as our guides.
  • John employs a common practice in the ancient Near East of a “lesser to greater” motif. God is “greater than all” and therefore anything lesser would not be able to snatch a believer away from God. There is no lesser power that can snatch you from God.
  • Jesus has the authority to make this statement. He and the Father are one. Jesus is able to assure people of the everlasting covenant with as much authority as the Lord himself. He is the divine logos of John 1:1.

Other verses to consider are Romans 8:39 and Ephesians 1:13-14.

But what about apostasy?

Apostasy, or the falling away from faith and losing of salvation, is an issue that must be dealt with when discussing perseverance. Some readings of Hebrews 6 will lead some to believe this doctrine to be the weakest of all the doctrines of grace. There are four basic viewpoints on Hebrews 6. In short summary:

  • The phrases describe true Christians who have truly “lost their faith.” This view, however falls victim to Hebrews 3:14.
  • The warnings are a means to call true Christians to faith. They are merely a challenge and do not actually have any bearing on those falling away from the faith but are meant to strengthen believers.
  • The falling away has to do with a loss of heavenly rewards for believers.
  • The warnings are for those who appear to have participated in covenant community, but were merely going through the motions without genuine faith.

I side with the fourth viewpoint. The “falling away” is a sign that someone never was a genuine believer. They may have been a part of an enlightened group of people, tasted the heavenly gift (perhaps referring to communion), and have had many other “religious” experiences. However, their heart was never turned towards the Lord. This helps make sense of the image of a land that has lots of rain but produces no crops, but thorns and thistles instead.

So, what comfort do we have as parents in the case of apparent apostasy? I think we have the hope that if they have come into genuine relationship with the Lord at some point in their life, the covenant is everlasting and God will not allow them to be snatched from his hand. We also have the hope that if they have not come to faith, yet appear to be “apostate” or “backsliding” that the covenant is good for generations and that the Lord is pursuing them. We can pray for these children and ask the Lord to change their heart and to draw them to himself.

Certainly, the unbelief of a child is a painful thing. Cognitive recognition of the reality of the everlasting covenant can offer little solace in times of deep emotional turmoil. However, we must daily press ourselves into the loving reality that God is in control of all things and can bring people to faith on their death-bed. This should drive us to love, care for, and pray for those children in our midst who are unbelieving.

How do we teach this to our children?

Growing up, it was our family’s norm to take vacations involving roller coasters. We were crazy for coasters and would research them all year looking forward to our next trip. I have probably been to about 15 different roller coasters parks (multiple times) and have had well over 1,000 rides on coasters.

When I was new in the roller coaster scene, I was quite fearful that at some point I would fall out. This is a rational fear for anyone moving at speeds nearing 80 mph with nothing but a lap bar separating you and death. I felt sure that my enjoyment of roller coasters was temporary and that one day I would die riding one (which begs the question of why I kept riding).

However, over time I gained trust in roller coasters and I knew I would not fall out of one even if I tried. Now, I know this is an inaccurate metaphor because very, very occasionally a roller coaster will fail. But…you get the point.

This metaphor can be helpful with children. A relationship with God may seem dangerous and destined to fail. Many of our other relationships come and go. In the age of technology and transient lifestyles, they change even more frequently now than 20 years ago. The rise of post-modern thought has also taught us the lie that nothing is certain…especially in relationships. It is hard to imagine that a relationship with God is more like a roller coaster and less like a human relationship. He has us secure in his grasp and will not let us be snatched. He has an everlasting covenant with us.

This metaphor is strange and interesting enough that your child is sure to remember the truth of the perseverance of the saints. Comfort your children with Scripture that assures them of God’s love for them even when they don’t feel lovable. Our children need a deep, abiding sense that God is pleased with them through the work of Jesus and not through their own actions.

Total Depravity | Unconditional Election | Limited Atonement | Irresistible Grace

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