2 Peter 2:20-22
For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.”
Perseverance of the Saints, True or False Teaching?
2 Peter 2:20-22
Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.
Those are two very difficult passages! Nonetheless, the truth of the doctrine of perseverance is clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture. Whatever we do with 2 Peter 2:20-22 and Romans 11:22, we need to follow the hermeneutical principle (hermeneutics is the science of interpreting the Bible) that you interpret a difficult passage in the light of a clear one, not the other way round.
For example, the apostles exhorted new believers to persevere in the grace of God, to hold tightly to God’s grace (Acts 11:23; 13:43; 14:22). In his excellent book Run to Win the Prize, Schreiner summarizes their teaching well: "Recent Christians are not told that they will inherit the kingdom no matter what they do. Rather, they are urged to remain and continue in the faith” (Kindle ed., loc. 188).
The apostles also urged all believers to do the same (Phil 2:16; 1 Pet 5:8-12; Jude 21). This theme is especially prevalent in Hebrews (see 2:15-17; 12:15). In commenting on 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5, Schreiner points out, "Paul did not assume that the Thessalonians were truly believers merely because they had embraced the faith when he first preached to them. The authenticity of their faith manifested itself in their response to trials, so that their persistence in faith demonstrated that their faith was genuine” (ibid., loc. 188-204).
The message of the NT to believers is not, “Once you have trusted Christ for salvation, it is 100% for sure that you will go to Heaven, no matter how you live or what you do for the rest of your life.” The message of the NT to believers is, “Hold tightly to Jesus Christ; don’t turn away from him; and you will enter Heaven. If you abandon him and deny him, you will go to Hell.” Romans 11:22 fits perfectly with this (I’ll do a separate study and post on 2 Peter 2:20-22.)
Yes, salvation is by faith; yes, those who are saved can never lost their salvation; yes, God himself keeps those he justifies from falling away - but he uses warnings like these as a means to preserve his children. I love how Spurgeon explains warnings like these to believers (the following quotation is specifically about the warnings in Hebrews 6):
"“But,” says one, “you say they cannot fall away.” What is the use of putting this “if” in, like a bugbear to frighten children, or like a ghost that can have no existence? My learned friend, “Who art thou that repliest against God?” If God has put it in, he has put it in for wise reasons and for excellent purposes. Let me show you why. First, O Christian, it is put in to keep thee from falling away. God preserves his children from falling away; but he keeps them by the use of means; and one of these is, the terrors of the law, showing them what would happen if they were to fall away. There is a deep precipice: what is the best way to keep any one from going down there? Why, to tell him that if he did he would inevitably be dashed to pieces. In some old castle there is a deep cellar, where there is a vast amount of fixed air and gas, which would kill anybody who went down. What does the guide say? “If you go down you will never come up alive.” Who thinks of going down? The very fact of the guide telling us what the consequences would be, keeps us from it. Our friend puts away from us a cup of arsenic; he does not want us to drink it, but he says, “If you drink it, it will kill you.” Does he suppose for a moment that we should drink it? No; he tells us the consequences, and he is sure we will not do it. So God says, “My child, if you fall over this precipice you will be dashed to pieces.” What does the child do? He says, “Father, keep me; hold thou me up, and I shall be safe.” It leads the believer to greater dependence on God, to a holy fear and caution, because he knows that if he were to fall away he could not be renewed, and he stands far away from that great gulf, because he knows that if he were to fall into it there would be no salvation for him” (ibid., loc. 659-72, emphasis mine).
(I highly recommend Run to Win the Prize, because it clearly showed me what I saw for the first time, the doctrine of perseverance. For me, that short book was the door to open up the Scripture’s teaching on this.)