As an ordained minister, I’ve had experience going to the Scriptures with a number of people in order to help them see what God has to say about many different subjects. Over the years, one of the most common questions that I’ve been asked has to do with the meaning of Christ’s work for the security of the believer’s salvation. The New Testament gives us many categories for understanding that those who are truly saved will persevere. There is the category of justification, which tells us that we have received the imputation of Christ’s righteousness through faith in Him alone and that we are at peace with God—not a cease-fire that can be broken at the slightest provocation, but an everlasting peace wherein the Lord never takes up arms against us again (Rom. 5:1). There is also the category of sanctification, which says God always finishes the work of salvation that He starts: “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).
In the Philippians passage, we typically understand that it is God, by the Holy Spirit, who is working out our salvation in us, bringing us into conformity to Christ. That, of course, is true, but we should not miss that Jesus is at work as well. Our greatest consolation regarding our perseverance comes from what the New Testament reveals about the present work of Christ. We often speak of the “finished work of Christ,” which is simply shorthand to indicate the completion of Christ’s atonement—the finalization of His purchase of redemption for us, His taking upon Himself the curse of God. However, Christ’s work of salvation did not end there. He had more to do after the cross. He was raised for our justification, and then He ascended into heaven, where He is seated at God’s right hand, where He reigns as King of kings and Lord of lords, governing creation and ruling His church (Acts 2:33; Rom. 4:23–25; 1 Cor. 15:25).
That is not all. One of the chief emphases of the New Testament in terms of His present work for His people is His intercession. Christ’s priestly work did not end on the cross. Every day, in the presence of the Father, Christ intercedes for His people. If, as James says, the fervent prayer of a righteous person “has great power as it is working” (James 5:16), how much more do Jesus’ prayers avail for His people?
One of the most important sources of comfort with respect to the intercession of Christ in behalf of the believer is found in Jesus’ great High Priestly Prayer, which itself was a profound prayer of intercession. Remarkably, even we are mentioned in this great prayer of intercession. We read in John 17:1–9:
Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. … For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.
Look again at verse 9: “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” That’s the crux of the matter. Jesus is praying for all those who belong to God, not for everyone on the planet. The Father has chosen a people for Himself—and the same people belong to Christ as well. None of them is lost except the son of destruction—Judas—who being a son of destruction, was never God’s child to begin with. Those for whom Jesus prays are the people whom God has chosen, and none of them is lost (vv. 10–19). This includes not only the disciples in the Upper Room who witnessed Jesus’ prayer but also those of us who believe in Him today. I said that we are mentioned in Jesus’ prayer, and here we are: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word” (v. 20). We came to believe through the words of the Apostles, and so Jesus prays for us. This is Christ’s prayer. We persevere because we are preserved by our High Priest’s intercession.
If we take great comfort in the intercessory prayer of a friend or of a pastor, how much more comfort can we experience from the full assurance that Jesus is praying for us? We know that Jesus’ prayers never fail. He knows the mind of God perfectly. He knows what to pray for so that we persevere to the end. Moreover, Jesus says the Father will give us whatever we ask for in His name (15:16). If this is so, certainly the Father will not fail to give His own beloved Son what He asks for, and He asks for us to persevere.
The greatest illustration of the efficacy of Jesus’ prayer is Peter. Like Judas, Peter had a great fall. Unlike Judas, Peter was restored and persevered in faith. Both of them denied Jesus, but only Peter repented. Why? Luke 22:31–32 gives the answer. Satan asked to capture Peter permanently, but Jesus prayed for him, and that ensured that he would repent. Jesus did not pray for Judas, but He prayed for Peter, and so Peter persevered in faith and repentance. That is great assurance for us all. Those for whom Jesus prays remain in faith over the long haul. If we believe in Christ, He is praying for us every day.