This morning we’re reflecting on the final point of doctrine in the Canons of Dordt: the ‘P’ in TULIP, perseverance of the saints. Perseverance of the saints is all about God’s faithfulness to those he’s chosen as his own. Jesus has washed us clean from our sin, but we still sin; we’re tempted and even give in to the power of temptation. The writers of the Canons know this, “Because of these remnants of sin dwelling in them and also because of the temptations of the world and Satan, those who have been converted could not remain standing in this grace if left to their own resources. But God is faithful, mercifully strengthening them in the grace once conferred on them and powerfully preserving them in it to the end.”
We can even sin deeply. We only have to look at the Bible for examples of people who followed God and still did terrible things; David raped Bathsheba and murdered her husband, Solomon built temples for other gods and worshiped with some of his wives there, Peter betrayed Jesus. These are just some of the people who did great sin and God refuses to let go of them. The Canons know that we still sin, but offers hope, “For God, who is rich in mercy, according to the unchangeable purpose of election does not take the Holy Spirit from his own completely, even when they fall grievously. Neither does God let them fall down so far that they forfeit the grace of adoption and the state of justification, or commit the sin which leads to death (the sin against the Holy Spirit), and plunge themselves, entirely forsaken by God, into eternal ruin.”
Jacob Arminius taught that we could be saved and then lose our salvation. According to Arminius, our salvation depends on the choice of man’s will whether or not he or she perseveres in the faith, “those who truly believe and have been born again not only can forfeit justifying faith as well as grace and salvation totally and to the end, but also in actual fact do often forfeit them and are lost forever.” This is why the Synod of Dordt came out so strong against the Arminians, because if we can lose our salvation, what hope do we have in life? This would mean God’s grace is not irresistible or strong enough to keep us safe from Satan.
John 17 is Jesus’ powerful prayer for his disciples and followers and those who will believe in him. Jesus is getting ready to go to the cross for our sins, to wash our sins away through his sacrifice for us; and as he normally does, Jesus goes to his Father first in prayer for strength and guidance. It sometimes puzzles me that Jesus tells God what he’s done since God knows it already, but it’s part of having a close relationship together, that you share the things going on and what you’ve done with those who are really close to you, even if they know already what’s going on.
Jesus tells his Father he’s done everything God asked of him, bringing God glory on earth by finishing the work God gave him to do. Jesus has given eternal life to all those God has given him; he has revealed himself to them and they believe that God has sent Jesus. Now, as Jesus is preparing for his death, resurrection and return to God, he turns to God to ask for protection for all those who are following him, for all those that Jesus has been protecting and keeping safe. This is the image of God that the Bible gives us time after time, a God who protects his people, a God who saves his people, a God who remains in relationship with his people through good times and bad.
But following Jesus isn’t safe, this is why Jesus tells us to count the cost when we decide to follow him. We’re chosen to be sent into the world to tell the world about Jesus; a world that rejects Jesus, a world that hates Jesus and his followers. As followers of Jesus, we’re not hidden in some secret fortress somewhere, instead we’re given the good news of Jesus to bring it into the world, to invite others to join us in following Jesus and accepting him as their own Lord and Saviour. This is why Jesus prays for our protection.
This isn’t about physical safety; it’s about God protecting our souls. When we face hard times or persecution, the one thing we don’t have to fear is that somehow, we might lose our salvation when doubt might come up. God protects us, Psalm 91, “Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” God’s protection means there are going to be hard times when we’re going need him. 2 Corinthians 4, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”
David Platt, pastor of a church in Washington, DC writes of meeting a young teacher, named Alisha, in a remote village in the Himalayas who shared her family’s journey of coming to faith in Jesus. As a child, because she was born on a bad day, her grandfather declared that she was born to worship the devil. So, from the time she was 3 years old, she had to go every evening into a small room outside their house to make an offering to the devil. Then one day a blind man came through their village talking about Jesus, whom they had never heard of before. This blind man came into her family’s home and told them about Jesus and how Jesus has authority over the devil and sin, that Jesus is the one true God who came to conquer sin and the devil and death so we can be forgiven of our sin and restored to a right relationship with the one true God. Her dad soon believed in Jesus and everything changed in their lives. Alisha no longer had to serve the devil. But the village was angry because they all believed that Alisha’s dad had introduced a new god to the village and bad things would happen. They were shunned in the village.
One day Alisha’s parents went to get water and supplies from another village, but they didn’t come back. The village leaders came to the house and told Alisha her parents had died in a rock slide because they followed Jesus, but in reality, the village leaders had stoned them and pushed the bodies down the mountain. Alisha didn’t give up on Jesus and ended up in the city where she found a church to be part of. When she was baptized, her family and the village broke off all relationships with her. She went to school to become a teacher, and now is teaching and sharing the Gospel of Jesus in the very mountains where her parents were martyred for believing in Jesus. God kept her safe, leading her to a church that supported her in her faith and encourages her in the dangerous work of going back to her village and sharing the gospel of Jesus as she teaches their children.
Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary writes, “The ‘P’ (perseverance of the saints) is an important spiritual component of the Calvinist scheme. If you acknowledge your own total inability to save yourself and if you throw yourself on the mercy of a sovereign God, you need the ‘P’ if you are to avoid the fears of divine arbitrariness.” Paul reminds us in Romans 8:32–35 “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?”
Jesus prays for more than our physical protection; he prays to protect our hearts and minds. Jesus prays for God to sanctify us by the truth, to protect us from the evil one. To sanctify is to set us apart for God’s work, to purify us, and cover us with his presence because we are his. Jesus prays for unity because in unity we find strength, we’re encouraged and built up, as Paul tells the church in Thessalonica. God created us in his image, created us to be in community. Just as God is three in one, so we find our identity and protection together in the family of the church, the body of believers with Jesus as our head, who protects us from the evil one.