Those whom God according to His purpose calls into the fellowship of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and regenerates by His Holy Spirit, He certainly sets free from the dominion and slavery of sin, 1 but not entirely in this life from the flesh and the body of sin. 2
Therefore daily sins of weakness spring up and defects cling to even the best works of the saints. 1 These are for them a constant reason to humble themselves before God, to flee to the crucified Christ, to put the flesh to death more and more through the Spirit of prayer and by holy exercises of godliness, 2 and to long and strive for the goal of perfection until at last, 3 delivered from this body of death, they reign with the Lamb of God in heaven. 4
Because of these remnants of indwelling sin and also because of the temptations of the world and of Satan, those who have been converted could not remain standing in that grace if left to their own strength. 1 But God is faithful, who mercifully confirms them in the grace once conferred upon them and powerfully preserves them in that grace to the end. 2
Although the power of God whereby He confirms and preserves true believers in grace is so great 1 that it cannot be conquered by the flesh, yet the converted are not always so led and moved by God that they cannot in certain particular actions turn aside through their own fault from the guidance of grace and be seduced by and yield to the lusts of the flesh. They must therefore constantly watch and pray that they may not be led into temptation. 2 When they do not watch and pray, 3 they not only can be drawn away by the flesh, the world, and Satan into serious and atrocious sins, but with the righteous permission of God are sometimes actually drawn away. The lamentable fall of David, Peter, and other saints, described in Holy Scripture, demonstrates this. 4
By such gross sins, however, they greatly offend God, incur the guilt of death, grieve the Holy Spirit, suspend the exercise of faith, severely wound their consciences, and sometimes for a while lose the sense of God’s favour 1 – until they return to the right way through sincere repentance and God’s fatherly face again shines upon them. 2
For God, who is rich in mercy, 1 according to the unchangeable purpose of His election, 2 does not completely withdraw His Holy Spirit from His own even in their deplorable fall. 3 Neither does He permit them to sink so deep that they fall away from the grace of adoption and the state of justification, 4 or commit the sin unto death 5 or the sin against the Holy Spirit 6 and, totally deserted by Him, plunge themselves into eternal ruin.
For in the first place, in their fall, He preserves in them His imperishable seed of regeneration, so that it does not perish and is not cast out. 1 Further, through His Word and Spirit He certainly and effectually renews them to repentance. 2 As a result they grieve from the heart with a godly sorrow for the sins they have committed; 3 they seek and obtain through faith with a contrite heart forgiveness in the blood of the Mediator; they again experience the favour of a reconciled God and adore His mercies and faithfulness. 4 And from now on they more diligently work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. 5
So it is not through their own merits or strength but through the undeserved mercy of God that they neither totally fall away from faith and grace nor remain in their downfall and are finally lost. With respect to themselves this could not only easily happen but would undoubtedly happen. But with respect to God this cannot possibly happen, since His counsel cannot be changed, 1 His promise cannot fail, the calling according to His purpose cannot be revoked, 2 the merit, intercession, and preservation of Christ cannot be nullified, 3 and the sealing of the Holy Spirit can neither be frustrated nor destroyed. 4
Believers themselves can be certain of this preservation of the elect to salvation and the perseverance of true believers in the faith. 1 And they are indeed certain according to the measure of their faith, 2 by which they firmly believe that they are and always shall remain true and living members of the church, and that they have forgiveness of sins and life eternal. 3
This assurance is not produced by a certain private revelation besides or outside the Word, but by faith in the promises of God, which He has most abundantly revealed in His Word for our comfort; by the testimony of the Holy Spirit, witnessing with our spirit that we are children and heirs of God; 1 and, finally, by the serious and holy pursuit of a clear conscience 2 and of good works. And if the elect of God did not have in this world the solid comfort of obtaining the victory 3 and this unfailing pledge of eternal glory, they would be of all men the most miserable. 4
Scripture meanwhile testifies that believers in this life have to struggle with various doubts of the flesh and, placed under severe temptation, do not always feel this full assurance of faith and certainty of perseverance. But God, the Father of all comfort, 1 will not let them be tempted beyond their strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, and by the Holy Spirit will again revive in them the certainty of perseverance. 2
This certainty of perseverance, however, so far from making true believers proud and complacent, is rather the true root of humility, childlike reverence, 1 genuine godliness, endurance in every struggle, fervent prayers, constancy in suffering and in the confession of the truth, and lasting joy in God. 2 Further, the consideration of this benefit is for them an incentive to the serious and constant practice of gratitude and good works, 3 as is evident from the testimonies of Scripture and the examples of the saints.
Neither does this renewed confidence produce carelessness or neglect of godliness in those who have been restored after their fall; 1 rather, it produces in them a much greater concern to observe carefully the ways of the Lord, which He prepared beforehand. 2 They observe these ways in order that by walking in them they may retain the certainty of their perseverance. Then shall the face of their gracious God not turn away from them again 3 because of their abuse of His fatherly goodness, with the result that they would fall into still greater anguish of spirit. Indeed, to those who fear God the contemplation of His face is sweeter than life, but its withdrawal is more bitter than death. 4
Just as it has pleased God to begin this work of grace in us by the preaching of the gospel, so He maintains, continues, and perfects it by the hearing and reading of His Word, 1 by meditation on it, by its exhortations, threats, and promises, 2 and by the use of the sacraments. 3
This doctrine of the perseverance of true believers and saints, and of their assurance of it, 1 God has most abundantly revealed in His Word for the glory of His Name and for the consolation of the godly, and He impresses it on the hearts of believers. It is something which the flesh does not understand, Satan hates, the world ridicules, the ignorant and the hypocrites abuse, and the heretics attack. The Bride of Christ, on the other hand, has always loved this doctrine most tenderly and defended it steadfastly as a treasure of inestimable value; 2 and God, against whom no counsel can avail and no strength can prevail, 3 shall see to it that she will continue to do so. To this God alone, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be honour and glory forever. 4 Amen.