There’s a common doctrinal belief that all the Reformed, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches agree upon (and that is sometimes a feat!). It is the “P” of the acronym TULIP. Perseverance of the saints or preservation of the Savior means that all those who are truly regenerated will be kept by God’s power and will persevere as Christians until the end of their lives (Rom. 8:1, 8:29-30; John 3:36, 5:24, 6:4-7, 38-40, 10:27-29; 1 John 5:13; Eph. 1:13-14; Phil. 1:6; 1 Pet. 1:5; Jud. 1:24). Though the believer may be involved in sin for a time, those who persevere until the end have been truly regenerated and all who are truly regenerate will persevere to the end (John 8:31-32, 10:22; Col. 1:22-23; Heb. 3:14; 1 John 2:19; Matt. 24:12-13, 10:22; Gal. 6:9; Jas. 5:19-20). Those who finally fall away may have shown many signs of conversion (Matt. 26:22; Gal. 2:4; 2 Cor. 11:15,26; Matt. 7:21-23; Mark 4:5-6,16-17; John 15:1-7; Heb. 6:1-4, 10:26-31).
Something I’ve been musing over lately is the inconsistency of some of my fellow Baptists in affirming a belief in “free will” in regards to salvation while holding to eternal security. The “free will” I’m referring to is the type that’s viewed as incompatible with determinism (libertarianism). The problem is you cannot consistently say that man has a free will of that type but cannot lose his salvation. If it is a violation of your volitional faculties for God to save you apart from your willing, why is it not a violation of your “free will” for God to make sure you don’t fall away? There are some that are intellectually honest concerning this issue. I’ll contrast two Baptist groups on this issue: the Southern Baptist Convention and the National Association of Free Will Baptists.
Because it is so intricately tied to God’s purpose of grace, the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is included under the same heading in the Southern Baptist’s Baptist Faith and Message. The confession notes “All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.” The message grounds the ultimate victory of the believer’s hope in the power of God and not in the free agency of man. Though they may fall into sin and suffer temporal judgment as a result, true believers persevere because they are kept by a strong covenant-keeping God. The believer’s final eschatological triumph is grounded in the universal and awe-inspiring dominion of Christ over all the cosmos. They remain in Christ because Christ remains in them despite their moral and spiritual failures.
The Treatise of Faith of the National Association of Free Will Baptists disagrees with the BF&M noting that “We believe that there are strong grounds to hope that the saved will persevere unto the end and be saved because of the power of divine grace pledged for their support…Since man, however, continues to have free choice, it is possible because of temptations and the weakness of human flesh for him to fall into the practice of sin and to make shipwreck of his faith and be lost.” Free Will Baptists believe that it is possible for a believer to cease to believe in Jesus Christ and hence to fall away from grace and forfeit his salvation. The NAFWB arrive at this belief from the warning passages in Hebrews, the conditional statements made within the NT, and the nature of libertarian freedom. Free Will Baptists go further than Arminius himself who was more agnostic on the issue of perseverance of the saints.
The National Association of Free Will Baptists understand the logic of affirming free choice in regards to salvation. If the grounds of your reception of the gospel and subsequent salvation are in your choosing to follow Christ with your own libertarian freedom (even if it is in response to grace), there are no grounds for you affirming that your salvation cannot be lost. You walked right in. Why not walk right out? If you say “well God sees to it that you do not ultimately fall away,” then how is that not causally constraining? I think the best course of action is to affirm a view of freedom that preserves both human agency and what Scripture says about the nature of God’s work in salvation.