Salvation 2.0: Part 7.5: Paul and Perseverance

grace5We need to test our theory about falling away against other passages that deal with the question.


While Hebrews seems to very plainly teach that Christians might fall away, what about Paul? Those who teach perseverance of the saints (POTS) often rely on his teachings.

However, James D. G. Dunn points out that there are passages in Paul that seem to contradict POTS, such as —

(Phi 3:12-14 ESV)  Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 

It does seem clear that Paul considers final salvation as not yet attained. Rather, he must “press on” while “straining forward.” (And like Dunn, I part company with NT Wright at this point.)

Similarly, Paul also writes,

(1Co 9:24-27 ESV)  Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.  25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.  27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. 

Paul certainly seems to consider the risk of disqualification very real.

But does Paul actually mean that one can fail to obtain the prize? Some would say no, but usually because of a prior theological commitment, not because of what the text itself says. While it is true that in 10:13, after the severe warnings spelled out in vv. 1–12, he once again puts his confidence in God to “keep them,” it would be sheer folly to suggest thereby that the warnings are not real. Paul keeps warning and assurance in tension.

Simultaneously he exhorts and, by this and the following examples, warns the Corinthians of their imminent danger if they do not exercise “self-control” in the matter of idolatry; yet, as always (cf. on 5:8 and 6:11), he reminds them of their security in the prior activity of God, who has committed himself to them in Christ Jesus.

Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), 440.

Fee is right, I believe. Paul teaches both assurance and warning, comfort and caution. So does the author of Hebrew. After all, both are true. We’ll delve more deeply into the tension in a few posts, but for now, the key thought is that both are true. We do indeed need to press on, straining forward, being careful not to be disqualified. We can fall away. But we’re also promised confidence and assurance (Heb. 3:6, 14; 4:16;  6:11; 10:19, 22, 35; 11:1; 13:6).

But it’s not as easy as every sin or every doctrinal error damns. Again, the OT gives us the template. God is patient. God does not damn as soon as Israel makes its first mistake. But there does come a point at which God gives up even on his elect people — but that point normally doesn’t come quickly.

On the other hand, the OT is clear that rebellion is a deadly, fearful sin. Consider —

(Heb 12:15 ESV) 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 

“Root of bitterness”? What on earth could he be talking about?

(Deu 29:18b-20 ESV) Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit,  19 one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’ This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike.  20 The LORD will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the LORD and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven. 

Rebellion — engaging in known sin in reliance of God’s supposed grace — damns.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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10 Responses to Salvation 2.0: Part 7.5: Paul and Perseverance

  1. John F says:

    1 Sam 15:23
    “For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
    And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry.
    Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
    He has also rejected you from being king.”

    Isa 1:4-6
    Alas, sinful nation,
    People weighed down with iniquity,
    Offspring of evildoers,
    Sons who act corruptly!
    They have abandoned the Lord,
    They have despised the Holy One of Israel,
    They have turned away from Him.

    5 Where will you be stricken again,
    As you continue in your rebellion?
    The whole head is sick
    And the whole heart is faint.
    6 From the sole of the foot even to the head
    There is nothing sound in it,
    Only bruises, welts and raw wounds,
    Not pressed out or bandaged,
    Nor softened with oil.

    Jer 28:15-16
    Then Jeremiah the prophet said to Hananiah the prophet, “Listen now, Hananiah, the Lord has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie. 16 “Therefore thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I am about to remove you from the face of the earth. This year you are going to die, because you have counseled rebellion against the Lord.'”

    Jer 29:30-32
    Then came the word of the Lord to Jeremiah, saying, 31 “Send to all the exiles, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord concerning Shemaiah the Nehelamite, “Because Shemaiah has prophesied to you, although I did not send him, and he has made you trust in a lie,” 32 therefore thus says the Lord, “Behold, I am about to punish Shemaiah the Nehelamite and his descendants; he will not have anyone living among this people, and he will not see the good that I am about to do to My people,” declares the Lord, “because he has preached rebellion against the Lord.”‘”

    Therefore: when doctrinal error is the result of rebellion, doctrinal error can certainly damn. and those who teach had best be VERY careful lest they become as Shemaiah.

  2. Dwight says:

    The biggest condemnations came to those who either added to the list of condemnations, refused to see Jesus as the Son of God and savior, those who were prideful of their positions and those who committed sin such as seen in the works of the flesh. The obvious sins were obvious, the others were a lack of love towards others in favor of self. One of the interesting things is that although loaded with corrections, they weren’t to be used as corrective measures against others as they were written to “you”. To the saints in Corinth “you do this”. He expected each person to take up the goal of correcting themselves first. Then if a brother fell away in an obvious sin, then help turn them back. We have taken up the cause of the Jewish leaders and Pharisees when we become the Law givers and explainers and enforcers/ judge and jury without compassion and love as being on the front lines.

  3. Chris says:

    Why do some people have to go to extremes on every theological topic in the Bible? Some folks believe you can lose your salvation by going five miles above the speed limit (I’m not joking!) and on the opposite end, by some people’s definition of “eternal security,” even the devil himself may be a candidate for heaven.

  4. Dwight says:

    Chris, we are studying Daniel in our High School class, I’m the teacher, but here we have Daniel going against King Darius’ law, but this was because Daniel wanted to pray to God. Now admittedly this was to God, but it was also his decision to pray to God as there was no law indicating a three times a day prayer directed towards Jerusalem with the windows open. This is a case where he could have made his petitions to Darius for 30 days and it wouldn’t have been sinful, but he chose not to and this wasn’t sinful either. This showed that Daniel believe that God was the only one that he could trust to answer his request and was thus the first and only choice, but this wasn’t commanded of Daniel in any ritualistic form.
    Agreed, although we are supposed to follow the laws of the Land, this doesn’t mean we double down on Law or sin, as the Laws of the land are not Law, only God’s Law is law. The Laws of the land might agree with God’s laws, but they do not form the basis for Law or sin. But as Daniel found out since they are laws, we are subject to them when we break them, for better or worse, even when they make no sense.

  5. Chris says:

    Thanks Dwight. Just so everyone knows, I’m not condoning speeding.

  6. Monty says:

    “Rebellion — engaging in known sin in reliance of God’s supposed grace damns.”

    Jay, are back to commit a sin, repent of it/confess it, and we’re good again. Or is “though I walk” referring to a pervasive spirit of “Yeah, I know it’s wrong to live(continually in sin) like this but it’s what I want- but I’ll be OK with God. Could you be mores specific? For example: What about the Christian college kids who are in love, thinking of getting married, trying to resist the urge to make love, but find themselves doing what they were trying not to do on a somewhat regular basis of once or twice a month, versus the same scenario where they are not trying to resist and do engage whenever they desire. Is there a difference there IYO? The same with any repeated pattern of sin-alcoholism, drug addiction but desires to stop and does periodically versus those who say are Christians who aren’t addicted but partake to the point of getting their buzz whenever they choose?

    At some point every sin we commit is a “known sin”: gossip, lying, stealing, etc…even knowing to do good, but not doing it. Don’t we all rely on God’s grace?

  7. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    John F wrote,

    Therefore: when doctrinal error is the result of rebellion, doctrinal error can certainly damn. and those who teach had best be VERY careful lest they become as Shemaiah.


    The Torah distinguished sin committed with a “high hand” from unintentional sin.

    (Num. 15:29-31 ESV) 29 “You shall have one law for him who does anything unintentionally, for him who is native among the people of Israel and for the stranger who sojourns among them. 30 But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is native or a sojourner, reviles the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from among his people. 31 Because he has despised the word of the LORD and has broken his commandment, that person shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be on him.”

    Leviticus establishes a sacrificial system for unintentional sins, but not for sins committed with a high hand.

    The NT analog is found in Heb 10:26 —

    (Heb. 10:26-27 ESV) 26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.

    And even the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross does not cover sin if we “go on sinning deliberately.” There remains no sacrifice for sins both in parallel with the Torah, where no sacrifice was permitted for high handed sin as well as with the notion that, just as Jesus’ death on the cross happened once in history, we receive atonement but once — “once for all” — making us “perfect forever,” in the language of Hebrews, but just once. There is only one sacrifice. If we turn our back on it in rebellion, there is no plan B.

    I just realized how those two concepts tied together. Thanks for pushing me to think in OT terms.

  8. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    The theological speed limit rule is 10 miles per hour over the limit, except in Bibb County, where it’s 1 mph over — because it helps them make budget at the expense of Tuscaloosans in a hurry to get to Montgomery or back home. And except near the Mercedes Benz plant, where there is no limit until you pass the plant, and then you get 10 mph. And it helps to drive a Mercedes so the Highway Patrol thinks you’re a German executive.

    Oh, and on Hwy 25 going to the beach, it’s zero. And near White House (in Mobile County), just hope your out-of-county tag isn’t noticed.

    So grace varies depending on the county. At least it’s not congregation by congregation.

  9. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    Very good question. I began to address it in —

    I’ll cover this question in detail when we get to Heb 6:4-6 in about 10 days.

  10. Monty says:

    Thanks, Jay.

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