We’ve been considering a question J. H. asked about believers and perseverance (see here). In part 1, we considered his general question. Then in parts 2 and 3, we looked at five of seven verses he asked about. In part 4, we will look at two final verses he mentioned, Mark 3:29 and Rev 22:19.
Mark 3:29. Some of the Jews had been saying that Jesus was doing miracles by Satan’s power, not by God’s power. That led the Lord Jesus to warn them: “Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness but is subject to eternal condemnation”—because they said, “He has an unclean spirit” (Mark 3:28-30).
J. H. writes,
My understanding of this verse is that blasphemy against the Holy Ghost is impossible for saved believers. The sin is something an unbeliever can commit and once they do, they are sadly beyond the possibility of redemption. My belief is that this particular sin is impossible to commit in this day and age since it requires seeing manifest miracles and decrying the healing of God as the works of the devil.
I agree with J. H., and I do not see why he finds this verse as indicating that perseverance is guaranteed to some degree. I think he may mean that perseverance was guaranteed during the ministry of Jesus so that anyone who came to faith would never later fall away. But even in his view, there is no such guarantee today, since he does not believe that this sin can be committed unless Jesus is physically present on earth performing miracles, which He is not during the church age.
J. H. seems to assume that those who had attributed Jesus’ works to the devil had already committed this blasphemy and were already “beyond the possibility of redemption.” But the Lord never said that. He just warned that some were on a path that could lead to their sin’s being unforgiven. He also does not say that anyone ever gets to the point while still alive where he is beyond the possibility of regeneration. See my article on the three unpardonable sin passages here. There is simply not enough in these verses in Mark, or the two parallel texts, to prove that perseverance was, or is, guaranteed.
But whatever these three texts are saying, they cannot and do not contradict John 3:16 or all of the faith-alone verses. One is not required to believe and persevere in order to have everlasting life. Scripture does not contradict Scripture.
Revelation 22:19. “And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”
J. H. writes, “Again, this seems to reflect a sin which only an unbeliever can commit because the punishment is so severe. My understanding is that this particular sin is abridging or altering the book of Revelation intentionally to deceive people, and that once this sin is committed, this person becomes beyond the possibility of redemption.”
There is a textual problem in Rev 22:19. The majority of manuscripts read tree of life, not book of life. J. H. is quoting from one of the few translations that follows the Textus Receptus, a small number of manuscripts that typically follow the Majority Text, but not here.
The point in Rev 22:19 concerns the forfeiture of eternal rewards, not of everlasting life. Here are the comments by Bob Vacendak in The Grace New Testament Commentary:
22:18-19. As the Book of Revelation closes, John forbids tampering with its text. He warns that anyone who adds to these things, God will add to him (MT: may God add to him) the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away (MT: may God take away) his part from the Book of Life (MT: tree of life), from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. As reflected in the MT, this is not so much a prediction as it is an imprecation (a wish of judgment and difficulty on another). This is an expression of holy desire that the seriousness of these acts be met with severe divine judgment. John is not making an exact prediction about what will happen to people who add to or subtract from the Book of Revelation; the imprecations express judgments John believes such people deserve. He wants the retribution to be commensurate with the guilt. Throughout history, God has sent plagues on people who were disobedient to Him that resemble the plagues of the Tribulation (e.g., the plagues of Egypt). And as He sees fit, He can still bring similar troubles, diseases, and so forth, on those who deliberately revise Scripture today. He can “add to” and “take away” from them as He desires (including eternal rewards like the tree of life).
There are no verses which show that perseverance is guaranteed, whether just the supposed promise that a believer would never commit apostasy or the supposed promise that believers will never fall into major sin. Paul was not sure he would persevere (1 Cor 9:27) until the Lord revealed to him while in prison in Rome that he would be martyred very soon and that he had finished the race and fought the good fight and kept the faith (2 Tim 4:6-8). If Paul was not sure that he would persevere until the end of his life, then neither can we be.
But—and here is the point, we can and will remain sure that we have everlasting life that can never be lost as long as we continue to believe the promise of John 3:16. If we ever change “whoever believes in Him” into “whoever really believes in him [as evidenced by his perseverance in faith and good works],” then we cease to believe in Jesus, and we lose assurance. Our focus must remain on Him and His promise, not on us and our hoped-for perseverance. Ironically, by turning perseverance into a guarantee, one strips believers of assurance and thereby makes their perseverance less likely! For assurance is the foundation of a victorious Christian life.