“Your God is a puppet-master and we are only puppets.” That criticism, or one like it, is frequently leveled against those who hold to the tenets of Reformed theology. It is alleged that if our Creator ordains whatsoever comes to pass and directs everything to its appointed end, then our choices do not really matter.
To be fair, some people level this objection because they have never really heard a good presentation of Reformed theology, which we hold to be nothing more or less than the system of theology taught in Scripture. As Reformed Christians, for instance, we do not believe that God is pulling all the strings in such a way as to make our choices pointless. We do affirm that the warnings in the book of Hebrews are real warnings and that we must persevere to the end to be saved.
Believing that, however, does not entail believing that it is possible for those who have been truly converted to Christ to lose their salvation. We affirm that we must persevere to the end to be saved, but where we differ from those who are not Reformed in their theology is in our confession that all those who are in Christ will persevere. Westminster Larger Catechism 80 states, “True believers . . . can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.”
This understanding of the relationship between saving faith and perseverance comes in part from Hebrews 3:14. Having warned us not to be like the Israelites who were saved from Egypt but failed to enter the promised land because of unbelief, the author tells us that “we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” Note the relationship between sharing in Christ and remaining in faith to the end: it is our perseverance that proves that we have come to share in Christ by faith and enjoy all His benefits. Those who do not persevere have not come to share in Christ; that is, they never had saving faith in Christ to begin with.
It is possible to profess faith in Christ and even to be outwardly faithful for a time before falling away finally (Matt. 13:1–23). But a profession of faith does not guarantee that one possesses faith. Only the possession of faith, the ongoing resistance to unbelief and continuing trust in Christ, saves us. Those who possess faith do not presume upon the grace of God; unlike the wilderness generation, they hear the warnings of Hebrews and turn from sin and doubt, persevering to the end.