I am a Calvinist. For some of you I’m positive that when I say that, it brings out negative connotations. For many whose knee-jerk reaction is negative though, you might be surprised how much we have in common doctrinally.
One of those important beliefs in which you and I may enjoy unity is the idea of God’s promise to keep those who he justifies. For those who trust Christ will be kept in their faith until death. Calvinists often call this Perseverance of the Saints, named so during the Remonstrance, the Synod of Dort, a meeting of Reformed Church leaders held in reaction to the Arminian rebuttals of the teaching of the Reformation.
I’m not writing this in an attempt to convince you to become a Calvinist though. Neither am I going to attempt to convince you of this particular doctrine. I believe it is overwhelmingly biblical and will assume it to be true. If you disagree, that’s fine.
What I would like for you to consider here is the idea of how we are preserved. The question comes to mind due to some of my own experiences over the past couple of years and some thoughts that I have pretty often about my own future demise.
I will admit that I think about how I will die and my thoughts are often inundated with fear. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not afraid of dying. I’m not even afraid of suffering per se. My greatest fear at this point is suffering, dying, but not continuing to be faithful.
There are several reasons for this fear and I’ll list a few.
I am not as faithful as I ought to be right now.
I get angry easily and try to solve things by coercion and manipulation.
The first place I go in times of trouble is not usually the God of the universe.
I depend on many things other than Christ as my ultimate whatever.
I fear incessant pain.
I am clausterphobic and getting worse.
I have a difficult time balancing my head belief with my heart faith.
I could go on but you get the picture.
I told my wife the other day about my fear and how I would like to “go”. She had recently sent me a YouTube video of a man who had been attacked by a grizzly bear while scouting for elk. Jokingly, I told her that “that’s how I want to go”. I have told others the same. The problem is, I’m not really joking.
The virtue of suffering
I see the virtue of suffering as a Christian. God is glorified when one of his saints suffers and their testimony is one of utter faithfulness. If I were attacked and killed by a bear, no one would likely witness my suffering and therefore another narrative could be supplied if I suffered badly or unfaithfully-which I’m sure would be likely while fighting a 500-pound man eater with a knife.
Dying while fighting a bear would be minimal suffering compared to what many folks endure though. It would definitely be an efficient way to avoid long periods of time spent wondering if God is in this. Does God care? Is he even here? Why does he allow me to suffer? What eternal or sanctifying purpose can this really have?
There is no time for that while thrashing at a beast with 3 inch fangs and six inch claws! The Apostle Paul could be proud as Bible verses might flash in and out of my mind in the moments it takes a grizzly to overtake my slashing blade. But, at least I wouldn’t have time for those ugly thoughts of unfaithfulness that surely creep into the minds of very sick people.
Besides, fighting a bear resembles the deaths of the martyrs much more than a long, drawn out, illness. Just think about those poor souls who were fed to lions, burned at the stake, or beheaded. How much easier is that than two years of pain, highs and lows, emotional let downs, and hospital stays where they run you through the modern medical gauntlet?
God’s glory in view
Not only is it easier to remain faithful, it’s also easier for people to see God glorified by your faithfulness-it seems.
Often, when illness lingers and suffering is prolonged, it’s easy to overlook a person’s faithfulness in the day to day monotony that is the struggle to live. In fact, most of us are so self-absorbed that we easily forget that there is a brother or sister who is even in that fight. It’s only at the end or even at the grave that we remember or even recognize any virtue that came of this kind of suffering.
Most of the time we don’t even do that. We say, “At least he’s not suffering anymore”, or “They’re better off now that they’re with the Lord”.
In all honesty, where’s the glory in that attitude? How does that perspective honor God?
No. It’s a bear fight for me.
“Never take counsel of your fears.”-Thomas Jackson
People can stand over my grave and say, “Man. He went down fighting. Yes, sir. He even killed the bear.”
Bait and switch
But I just realized, as you may have, that this fear/wish of mine isn’t about God at all. It’s not about his glory or about his faithfulness. It’s about me.
You see, the great thing about God is that he doesn’t need us to obtain his own glory (the only glory that matters). In turn, he doesn’t need our intestinal fortitude to continue in faithfulness toward us. Finally, it is not our self-determination that brings about our own faithfulness.
Faithfulness is trusting that God will fulfill his promise then acting accordingly. It is not our effort to fulfill ours.
To misunderstand this is to get the whole narrative wrong.
To misapply this is to live for our own glory.
To fear our own unfaithfulness is to be unfaithful.
It’s for one reason. God is the one who does it all in the first place because our own faithfulness is God wrought, Christ bought, and Spirit brought.
Paul wrote in Romans 8-“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.1 “
We have been set free! We are free to trust Christ continually for all things!
Not only that but Paul continues to build his case of Preservation…
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together hfor good,8 for ithose who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he jforeknew he also kpredestined lto be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be mthe firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also njustified, and those whom he justified he also oglorified. 
Paul is saying that God has done all of this work for us. Even after we are so undeserving (Rom 1-3) and even enemies with God, he has done all of the work to make us his children. He has promised to save his people through faith (Rom 4-5). Even after we constantly fall back into sin (Rom 7), he keeps us. He not only has done the necessary work to justify us, he continually does the work to save us to the end.
He is the Author and Finisher of our faith. (Heb 12:2)
What shall I fear?
After all of this, after this great treatise in which Paul has written about what magnificent work God has done on our behalf, Paul asks this question…
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31, ESV)
That’s a pretty darn good question, don’t you think?
Why would God do all of this work, including sending his own Son to the cross, to let you or me slip back into unbelief?
“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32, ESV)
Do you feel the weight of Paul’s argument? I do. I believe this is probably my favorite portion of Scripture. The older I get, the more I see myself as who I really am (a finite, sinful creature), the more I need to know about God’s faithfulness. That’s where I can find rest. My peace is certainly not in my own ability to be faithful. I must abide where Paul tells me that I should. It is Christ’s faithfulness, not mine, where I must draw near.
If that is true, then nothing can destroy my faith. If that is true, then I have nothing to fear. If that is true, a bear in Montana can be spared as well as my mountain man delusions.
My lack of self-discipline, quick temper, self-dependence, fear of pain and clausterphobia are not good, but they are mere impediments. God is doing the work to overcome them. He will not allow them to prevent me from trusting his good work.
Even death itself has no power over God’s faithfulness to do what he has promised and works to complete. He will complete it. In fact, nothing has that power. Paul makes that clear…
“Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:34–39, ESV)
God is faithful
I guess the point of this is when it comes to perseverance, unfaithfulness, and fear I get it wrong pretty often. But it is what I know about God that puts my heart at peace. It is in those things that are true about his faithfulness where I must rest. In life and death, as fickle as I am, my faith must be grounded in what I know to be true about him.
What is true? That’s easy. God is faithful.
What do I have to fear?
“My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to always be ready, no matter when it may overtake me.”-Thomas Jackson
1 Some manuscripts add who walk not according to the flesh (but according to the Spirit)
h 1 Cor. 15:45; 2 Cor. 3:6
i ver. 12; See ch. 6:14, 18; 7:4
2 Some manuscripts me
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ro 8:1–2). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
n 2 Cor. 4:17; [1 Pet. 1:5, 6]
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ro 8:18). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
b [Matt. 20:22; James 4:3]
c Zech. 12:10; Eph. 6:18; See John 14:16
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ro 8:26). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
h Ezra 8:22; [Eccles. 8:12]
8 Some manuscripts God works all things together for good, or God works in all things for the good
i ch. 9:24; 1 Cor. 1:9; 7:15, 17; Gal. 1:15; 5:8; Eph. 4:1, 4; 2 Tim. 1:9
j ch. 11:2; 1 Pet. 1:2
k 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:5, 11; [ch. 9:23]
l Phil. 3:21; [1 Cor. 15:49; Col. 3:10]; See 1 John 3:2
m Col. 1:15, 18; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 1:5
n 1 Cor. 6:11
o John 17:22; [Heb. 2:10]
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ro 8:28–30). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.