Good Works in Assurance and Perseverance

Posted by Bob Mattes

In comments late in this discussion, Federal Visionists are seen to confuse the doctrines of assurance and perseverance. Specifically, in discussing the doctrine of the perseverance (or preferably, preservation) of the saints, they introduced 2 Peter 1:10 as evidence that human works play a part in our preservation.

At issue is the difference between these two constructs eloquently delineated by Anne Ivy:

IOW, it’s not “those who persevere to the end will be saved”, but rather “those who are saved will persevere to the end.”

Big, big difference.

How right she is. The first phrase “those who persevere to the end will be saved” implies that we somehow contribute to our perseverance. Yet a Federal Visionist replied:

You are claiming that your calling and election are already sure, so there is a real conflict of doctrine here between you and Dort, not to mention the Lord. This is one of the things the FV is drawing your attention to – that you have to make your calling and election sure, not presume that that is the case already.

2Pet. 1:10: Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble

I assume that there’s some level of “covenantal faithfulness”, a continuing Federal Vision theme, embedded in that comment. Let’s put this verse in context. 2 Peter 2:8-11 says:

8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (ESV)

What are these verses about? Two things primarily: sanctification and assurance. Verses 8 and 9 clearly sum up the reasons for our display of the fruit of the Spirit listed in the preceding verses–that they are evidence of our sanctification. So Calvin says in his comments on verse 9:

This he also confirms by adding this reason, because such have forgotten that through the benefit of Christ they had been cleansed from sin, and yet this is the beginning of our Christianity. It then follows, that those who do not strive for a pure and holy life, do not understand even the first rudiments of faith.

But Peter takes this for granted, that they who were still rolling in the filth of the flesh had forgotten their own purgation. For the blood of Christ has not become a washing bath to us, that it may be fouled by our filth. He, therefore, calls them old sins, by which he means, that our life ought to be otherwise formed, because we have been cleansed from our sins; not that any one can be pure from every sin while he lives in this world, or that the cleansing we obtain through Christ consists of pardon only, but that we ought to differ from the unbelieving, as God has separated us for himself. Though, then, we daily sin, and God daily forgives us, and the blood of Christ cleanses us from our sins, yet sin ought not to rule in us, but the sanctification of the Spirit ought to prevail in us; for so Paul teaches us in1 Corinthians 6:11, “And such were some of you; but ye are washed,” etc. [my bold]

Thus Calvin confirms that the fruit of the Spirit are simply the evidence of our faith and ongoing sanctification in cooperation with the Spirit. It is in that light in which verse 10 appears. The Westminster Annotations comment on verse 10 says:

brethren] By regeneration and adoption, and union with Christ by faith, we are made the children of God, and brethren spiritually, Phil 4:1….Here it is used in the fourth sense for fellow Christians.

Thus the Divines and other Reformers saw 2 Peter as being written to those elected from before the foundation of the world, members of the invisible church, as Peter clearly says at the beginning of the letter:

To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

That is an important distinction to keep in mind relative for this letter as we move on to the annotators further comments on 2 Peter 1:10:

to make your calling and election sure] To get good grounds to assure you that ye were elected before the world, and are called out of the world. For it is sure enough in itself, by God’s decree and immutability, 2 Tim 2.19. Mal. 3.6. John 6.40. and 13.1. Rom. 11.29.
for if you do these things] Continuance then is well doing, is the way to get and keep assurance of salvation.
ye shall never fall] Jude verse 4. Our life is likened to a race, 1 Cor.9.24. we must take heed lest we fall, and come short of the prize set before us. The children of God may fall into some sins by weakness; but never so as to lose the goal. verse 11. [my bold]

Clearly the Reformers saw these verses as models both for sanctification and assurance. None of the Federal Vision’s “morbid introspection” is necessary for assurance. Also embedded in the annotators last sentence is the glorious truth that assurance unto perseverance is solely by the grace of God. Our good works performed in cooperation with the Holy Spirit are evidence, not the cause, of our assurance of election and unto perseverance.

Driving yet another nail into the Federal Vision coffin, Calvin says about verse 10:

Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence. He draws this conclusion, that it is one proof that we have been really elected, and not in vain called by the Lord, if a good conscience and integrity of life correspond with our profession of faith. And he infers, that there ought to be more labor and diligence, because he had said before, that faith ought not to be barren.

Some copies have, “by good works;” but these words make no change in the sense, for they are to be understood though not expressed.

He mentions calling first, though the last in order. The reason is, because election is of greater weight or importance; and it is a right arrangement of a sentence to subjoin what preponderates. The meaning then is, labor that you may have it really proved that you have not been called nor elected in vain. At the same time he speaks here of calling as the effect and evidence of election. If any one prefers to regard the two words as meaning the same thing, I do not object; for the Scripture sometimes merges the difference which exists between two terms. I have, however, stated what seems to me more probable. [my bold]

And what about Federal Vision’s “covenantal faithfulness”?

Now a question arises, Whether the stability of our calling and election depends on good works, for if it be so, it follows that it depends on us. But the whole Scripture teaches us, first, that God’s election is founded on his eternal purpose; and secondly, that calling begins and is completed through his gratuitous goodness. The Sophists, in order to transfer what is peculiar to God’s grace to ourselves, usually pervert this evidence. But their evasions may be easily refuted. For if any one thinks that calling is rendered sure by men, there is nothing absurd in that; we may however, go still farther, that every one confirms his calling by leading a holy and pious life. But it is very foolish to infer from this what the Sophists contend for; for this is a proof not taken from the cause, but on the contrary from the sign or the effect. Moreover, this does not prevent election from being gratuitous, nor does it shew that it is in our own hand or power to confirm election. For the matter stands thus, — God effectually calls whom he has preordained to life in his secret counsel before the foundation of the world; and he also carries on the perpetual course of calling through grace alone. But as he has chosen us, and calls us for this end, that we may be pure and spotless in his presence; purity of life is not improperly called the evidence and proof of election, by which the faithful may not only testify to others that they are the children of God, but also confirm themselves in this confidence, in such a manner, however, that they fix their solid foundation on something else.

Calvin could hardly be clearer that the perseverance of the saints relies on God’s grace alone. Again, our good works merely serve as evidence of our lively faith and hence provide us with confidence in and assurance of our election unto eternal life.

What about 2 Peter 1:11? According to the Westminster Annotations:

an entrance] A large passage into the Kingdom of glory in the life to come.
abundantly] John 10.10. If ye be full of good works, ye shall have abundant reward, 1 Cor. 9.9. and 15.58. 2 John verse 8.

Consistent with the rest of Scripture, we see here that our good works decide our reward, not our “final justification”, the latter being another Federal Vision theme.

Note, also, that the reprobate in the visible church are no where in view in this passage. The reprobate in the visible church have no assurance of salvation whatsoever, at any time or in any way. We’ve argued elsewhere on this site that baptism can only contribute to the assurance for the elect, the reprobate have no assurance from their baptism. Quite the contrary, it will be an instrument in their condemnation for trampling on the blood of Christ (Hebrews 6:4; 10:29).

I think that to offer the reprobate pew sitters any assurance, as Federal Visionists do with their mythical “objective covenant”, represents a massive pastoral failure on their part. As Scripture and the Westminster Standards clearly state, assurance of election can only ever belong to those elected to eternal life from before the foundation of the world. All others should be on their knees trembling, not feeling comfortable in pews and at pot lucks.

So, 2 Peter 1:10 clearly supports the orthodox Reformed statement that “those who are saved will persevere to the end” and not the other way around; not “in some sense” but absolutely. Our good works provide us with assurance of our election, but are excluded as a player in either our justification on the one end or our perseverance on the other. And that because our perseverance depends solely on God’s infinite grace and faithfulness, not by our “covenantal faithfulness” or anything else that we do or do not do. Anything else is not Good News.

Posted by Bob Mattes

2 Peter 1:5-11

This passage has quite a few interpretive difficulties in it. I will therefore tread cautiously.

“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

The first difficulty is this: does verse 9 refer to believers or to unbelievers? I argue that he refers to believers here. First of all is the expression “cleansed from his former sins.” Secondly, the terms of the passage seem to indicate that the believer here is living like an unbeliever, rather than that the non-elect covenant member is on a teeter-totter. The following verse seems to me to indicate that the brothers are to receive this warning. Verse 10, by the way, does not indicate that the elect actually could fall from election. Thirdly, the lack of these qualities is not described as unbelief, but as “ineffectiveness, unfruitfulness, nearsighted, blind.” These qualities can more easily describe the believer who is not progressing as he ought, than that “cleansed from his former sins” could describe someone who is not elect.

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