“That your faith may not fail”


“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)

Jesus speaks these words right before revealing to Peter that he will deny Jesus three times before the rooster crows. How devastating the words must have been to Peter. After following Christ for so long, only to hear his Master tell him that he will deny Him three times. But even in the midst of this dismal prediction, Christ gives Peter assurance.

Having had some conversations about “assurance of salvation” here on the blog, I wanted to spend some time personally to look at Scripture in order that I might be moved to a more Scriptural view of assurance, as I feel that I am far from understanding what God’s Word says about the matter. This is an essential topic, and is also one I believe to quickly become complex.
It is difficult to define this doctrine (or “teaching”) of assurance of salvation and therefore is one that has been debated quite a lot over the years, especially with the rise of Arminianism and Calvinism. But as J. C. Ryle said, “God’s children must not let themselves be driven from the use of a truth, merely because it is abused.” And so to the point that I am flawed and have much room for growth in my own relationship with the Lord, I study and write, that I might become more enthralled with my Savior, and grow in my love and devotion to Him.

So as we go back to our setting, the upper room where the last supper took place, Jesus tells Peter that Satan has asked to sift him like wheat. What does Satan want to do? Well, we can see what Jesus prayed for- “that your faith may not fail.” What is the one thing that can keep Peter from Christ? What is the one thing that will keep Peter from heaven? Death? No. Suffering? No, suffering won’t keep him from Christ. Protection from Satan, and temptation? Well, yes…but what would Satan or temptation bring about? It would bring about Peter falling away, it would bring about unbelief. Unbelief is the only thing that can keep Peter from Christ, from salvation, from heaven. And we see that in Jesus’ prayer, for Jesus prays that Peter’s faith would not fail, combating Satan’s desire.

Who does Jesus pray to? To Peter? To Satan? No, of course not – He prays to God. The assurance that Jesus gives Peter is not based on Peter’s own work, or desire or willpower. Rather it is based wholly on God. The assurance given is that though Peter will fail, God will not and will cause Peter’s faith not to fail, but will uphold it and cause it to stand.

This is important for me, for I can quickly base my own assurance on my own work, my own past performance, or even my current “faith”. But Jesus gives assurance based fully on God’s work, not on mine. Peter is called to look to God, not to himself for assurance.

So the story continues, Peter does deny Jesus, just as was predicted. And then he mourns, he cries. He repents, and later is restored by the risen Christ Himself.

Why did Peter’s faith continue? Was Peter a better man than Judas? Was Peter’s will stronger than Judas’? No, the only reason Peter repented was because God cause his faith to endure. There was nothing that Peter did – God did it all. If God did not sustain Peter’s faith – Peter would have fallen away and would be in hell right now.

It is always interesting to read first and second Peter in light of the narrative of Peter’s life. And there is a correlating passage in 1 Peter 1:5 where Peter gives this same assurance to his readers.

Peter speaks of God causing us to be born again, and then speaks of an inheritance reserved for us in heaven, waiting for us to arrive. But what thing could cause us to not reach that inheritance? What do we need protection from? Just as I asked before, will death prevent us from reaching heaven? No, in fact, that will bring us to it. Suffering? No, rather that brings joy. Satan? Well, we do need protection from him, but why? Because we could fall into temptation and fall away – we could find ourselves in unbelief. Unbelief is the one thing that will keep us from Christ, that will keep us from the reward in heaven.

And so, what does Peter say? He says we, “…are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:5)

What do we need protection from? Unbelief! And how does God protect us? He protects us by His power through faith – faith is what protects us. It is what we lack. And if we have it from God – then there is assurance. But without it, there is no assurance, for if we take this as God protecting us through our own belief, then we are not protected “for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” And if we take this as being that we believe and then God through my belief does his part to protect me from…oh wait…protect us from what? If we have faith there’s nothing else we need to make it to heaven!! If we have faith, what is there left for God to do? We have what we need. NO! We do not have faith – God is the only power that can hold my faith. If God does not protect me from unbelief by sustaining faith in me then I will perish! God protects us through faith. Faith is the means of protection.

Peter gives us the same assurance that Jesus gave him – God will make sure that your faith will not fail.

Is there danger? Yes. That is why there is a need for protection! Is there a safety net that will catch me if I do not believe? No. I will go to hell if I do not believe.

But, what is my assurance that I am going to heaven based upon? It is based on the work of God, trusting that He will protect me from unbelief – protect me through faith. If God doesn’t sustain my faith – I will not continue in my belief.

I must look to God and to God alone for assurance, for security. Not in my own works, or my past, or in church attendance, or any other thing I do.

This does not mean I am home free – this does not mean that there is no battle. No, far from it – there is a battle, I need to fight, I need to win. But security is found in this: God is fighting the battle for me, and He will win it.

There are three main types of assurance:

No Assurance: I must make sure my faith doesn’t fail, otherwise I will go to hell

False Assurance: I should try to live out my faith, but if I fall away from God and reject Him, I will still be saved because my salvation is secure.

True Assurance: My faith must be in God’s work and His work alone in my life; if I am to be saved I must be saved by God-made faithfulness. If I choose to throw away my salvation and fall away into unbelief, I will not be saved, I will go to hell. My assurance lies in that fact that God holds my faith, and that I do not. Therefore I must rely fully on Him and be assured only in Him and His work.

This is our confidence, our assurance: “that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

“Father, there is much I do not understand about how this all works. But most of all I am so greatful that you are the source of faith, the source of a sure salvation. And that I can trust You to save me – for I know my own heart, and the depths of my own sin. Apart from you I am lost! I am ruined! Oh, but there is forgiveness with you oh Lord! There is forgiveness!!! Forgiveness through a salvation that You alone have wrought in my soul. May this understanding cause me to pursue holiness, and love and good works. May this understanding cause me to praise you, cause me to glorify Your name among the world – that they too might see Your glorious work of salvation and come to see Your beauty, and be saved to the glory and honor of Your name.”

P.S.

This is mainly a regurgitation of a sermon by John Piper entitled: “The Elect Are Kept by the Power of God
You can listen to it here: http://www.desiringgod.org/
I also read: The Perseverance of the Saints, Part 2 – by John MacArthur
and Faith and Assurance – by J. C Ryle
and The Doctrine of Assurance – by John G. Reisinger

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10 Responses to “That your faith may not fail”

  1. Ben says:

    What an excellent summation. I am sorry to hear that it was not your own work :)

    I think I lost you in the last two or three paragraphs, maybe, but this is basically what I was talking about in the other post. I will maybe post on this. That is, hm, is there room within synergism for “He who is able to keep you from falling away”.

    In short, basically, I don’t think that there couldn’t be a middle ground here between man-based “Faith is my work” stuff and monergism. Or rather, there is room for synergism in this interpretation of the Bible (with a little tweaking) … I would be interested to see your reactions to

    http://daretodecide.wordpress.com/2007/10/30/reformed-vs-orthodoxy-a-false-dichotomy/

    the article I reference here … they talk, also, about faith being given by God, but in the synergistic sense of “I must pray to God to give me the faith”. I mean, from my perspective, synergism does not mean that you save yourself, or that God cannot or will not sustain your faith. It only means that some of sanctification (and possibly justification) depends on you — if you resist God, it has an effect.

  2. MG says:

    Nathan–

    Do you think Saint Peter lost his salvation?

  3. nathanwells says:

    No, that actually was the point – he didn’t.
    He didn’t because God made sure that his faith did not fail.

  4. MG says:

    Sure.

    What do you think happened to him when he refused to confess Christ? It seems like he lost salvation. After all, Jesus himself says, if we don’t confess him before men, we will not be saved (Luke 12:8-9). Paul seems to have the same kind of idea (2 Tim 2:12).

    Although it is true that Jesus prayed Peter’s faith would not fail, I suspect that the best way to synthesize this with verses about losing salvation if we deny him is that Jesus prayed his faith would not *ultimately fail* (which is one straightforward meaning of the word “fail”). But I think its hard to discont the evidence that we can really lose our salvation if we deny Christ (which is what Peter did).

  5. nathanwells says:

    MG,

    I understand your difficulty. I will only ask this: If Peter’s faith would not “ultimately fail” what difference is there in saying he did not lose his salvation – for salvation is from God and not from man? In one sense I could say, who cares what Peter did! His faith was being held by God, not by his own actions.

    Peter’s assurance came from the promise of God, not from his own actions.

    Now, taking the verse you used – “And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God; but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.” (Luke 12:8-9)

    Based on your interpretation – Peter could never be saved, because He did deny Christ – and if I take this verse as you have, it seems to me that Peter could never be restored – for he denied Jesus before men, all it takes is one time to be true and it is true for all time. Peter is a denier of Christ and therefore, based on your thought, can never be saved…or do you see it differently?

    Either that verse means you do it once and it’s a done deal, or it means something different than you have made it out to mean.

    I do not believe that verse means that if someone denies Christ they lose their salvation. I think Paul shows this by his use of the word “endure” in 2 Timothy 2:12

    “But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13)

    It’s like it says in Hebrews:
    “For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end,” (Hebrews 3:14)

    If I rephrase that: “For we have become doctors, if we have in fact graduated from medical school”
    But think about it – if you never graduated from medical school, you never were a doctor to begin with.
    The same is with being a Christian – either you endure, or you never were a Christian – for all true Christians endure to the end.

    Why? I submit to you, they endure because God holds them, for their salvation is authored by him, and completed by him (Heb. 12:2).

  6. Lee says:

    Great analogy!

  7. MG says:

    Nathan–

    You wrote:

    I understand your difficulty. I will only ask this: If Peter’s faith would not “ultimately fail” what difference is there in saying he did not lose his salvation – for salvation is from God and not from man? In one sense I could say, who cares what Peter did! His faith was being held by God, not by his own actions.

    Response:

    I think the distinction would be this: was there a time during Peter’s life after his initial salvation when he was in need of forgiveness and would have gone to hell (based on his relation with God) if he had died at the time? It seems to me taht the answer is “yes”. And this seems problemmatic for Reformed theology. If Peter was saved at one time, and then not saved after, that seems to imply that the Reformed doctrine of perseverance is false. There are some people who can lack right relation to God even after they have been initially saved.

    You wrote:

    Peter’s assurance came from the promise of God, not from his own actions.

    Response:

    Sure. I don’t disagree with this, or see how my view (that salvation can be lost) would conflict with this.

    You wrote:

    Now, taking the verse you used – “And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God; but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.” (Luke 12:8-9)

    Based on your interpretation – Peter could never be saved, because He did deny Christ – and if I take this verse as you have, it seems to me that Peter could never be restored – for he denied Jesus before men, all it takes is one time to be true and it is true for all time. Peter is a denier of Christ and therefore, based on your thought, can never be saved…or do you see it differently?

    Either that verse means you do it once and it’s a done deal, or it means something different than you have made it out to mean.

    Response:

    I see what you mean. I would say that the verse is implying those who deny Christ without repenting prior to death are in danger. After all, there are other passages in Scripture that clarify the fact that just because you are in a present state of sin doesn’t imply that you can’t be forgiven afterwards. Even if there is a present tense matter-of-fact statement that you don’t have salvation, that it isn’t unnatural to read the text as implying “but you can also be forgiven for your denials”. An analogy would be a ticket-taker saying to you as you try to enter the movie theater “you can’t come in here without a ticket”. Does this imply that there isn’t a “get in free” day at the movie theater when you *can* come in without a ticket? Not at all.

    But however we interpret this verse, we need some kind of way to understand how it relates to Peter. If there was a time after Peter’s initial salvation where he performed an act that at the present time implied his salvation was void, what are we to make of that? He was saved before he denied Christ; yet it seems like due to his lack of allegiance with Christ at the time of the denial, he wasn’t saved.

    You wrote:

    I do not believe that verse means that if someone denies Christ they lose their salvation. I think Paul shows this by his use of the word “endure” in 2 Timothy 2:12

    “But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13)

    It’s like it says in Hebrews:
    “For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end,” (Hebrews 3:14)

    If I rephrase that: “For we have become doctors, if we have in fact graduated from medical school”
    But think about it – if you never graduated from medical school, you never were a doctor to begin with.
    The same is with being a Christian – either you endure, or you never were a Christian – for all true Christians endure to the end.

    Why? I submit to you, they endure because God holds them, for their salvation is authored by him, and completed by him (Heb. 12:2).

    Response:

    Do you think that the verses you brought up could have been interpreted in a “salvation-can-be-lost” way just as easily? Is there a reason to prefer your particular interpretation?

  8. Ben says:

    So, MG, what about stuff like “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it” or “He who is able to keep us from falling away”

    … I mean, the whole “can you lose your salvation” question is kind of an unimportant distinction if you can re-cast perseverance as “God bringing me back to faith when I stray”. That is, though there is a philosophical difference (i.e., you were always saved vs. you lost it and God brought you back) there is no practical difference, at least in Peter’s case, and hopefully in the case of every believer.

  9. MG says:

    Ben–

    Saying that God began a good work that he would complete in the Philipians is an interesting point. Here are some possible responses:

    1. Is Paul referring to eternal salvation? Could he perhaps be referring to something else (like the collection for the churches)?

    2. Is the fact that Paul speaks of the Church at Phillipi indicative of a general rule for all Churches and all Christians everywhere? I could see it as being based on God’s foreknowledge that the particular people at Philippi would persevere. But this need not imply that perseverence is a necessary consequence of salvation; for there could be other cases outside of Philipi where Christians who were saved fell away.

    3. Is Paul stating a theological fact, or expressing a feeling that he thinks will be encouraging? The next verse could be read as indicating that the previous verse was merely an expression of hope and confidence–not a statement about what will happen.

    What do you think of these responses? Does any of them seem adequate in explaining the apparent teaching of Phil.1:6 without invoking perseverence of the saints?

    I will touch on the other verse and the rest of your comment at some other time.

  10. Ben says:

    Haha, some of those arguments sound like ones that I would make —

    http://daretodecide.wordpress.com/2007/10/17/the-science-of-god-vs-the-message-of-god/

    I will have to look more closely at the passage to evaluate whether they are adequate or not. I must admit I had always read Ph 1:6 and onward assuming it was speaking of Sanctification authoritatively, so I will need to re-read it to assess whether or not I might have misread it.

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