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How do the reformed theologians understand

Hebrews 3:14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. ( ESV )

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Does it not imply that we can lose salvation?

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John Piper comments on the passage here: https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/do-not-harden-your-heart-in-the-day-of-trouble

He contends that the "if" clause means something other than what you might think at first. Instead of holding your assurance (persevering in faith) until the end to become a partaker in Christ, you prove that you already are a partaker in Christ by persevering. Here is a quote:

Now jump ahead to verse 14 to confirm that this is the way the writer is thinking. In verse 14 we have an "if" statement very much like the one in verse 6: "We have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end." Being "partakers of Christ" in verse 14 is virtually the same as being "partakers of the heavenly calling" in verse 1. And both are the same as "being God's house" in verse 6.

But notice the wording carefully here in verse 14, because it is a strong confirmation that we are on the right track. It says, "We have become partakers of Christ, if we hold our assurance to the end." The condition is future: "If we hold fast assurance to the end." But the effect of the condition relates to the past: "We have become partakers of Christ." So it's clear that the point here is not: hold fast to your assurance in order to become in the future a partaker of Christ. The point is: hold fast to your assurance in order to show (prove, evidence, demonstrate) that you are a partaker of Christ.

This article makes reference to Spurgeon, whose sermon on the topic is dense and hard to pull a cogent quote out of. The article, however, does make the point concisely. https://www.neverthirsty.org/bible-studies/book-of-hebrews/warning-part-2/

A brief quote:

Hebrews 3:14 says that those who become Christians will continue until the end. The Greek tense of “have become” is a perfect. This means that real Christians start as Christians and continue being Christians. Real Christians continue in the faith – “if we hold fast.” Did the Spirit change His mind when He came to Hebrews 6:4? Is it possible to start as a real Christian and then not continue? Hebrews 4:10 also says that Christians rest from working for their salvation just as God rested. The message in Hebrews 3 and 4 is that if you are real, you are real until the end. If we do not hold fast, we were never Christians from the start.

The Spurgeon sermon on this verse: https://www.spurgeongems.org/vols16-18/chs1042.pdf

The following paper by Dan Sanders discusses Jonathan Edwards' views on assurance:

https://churchsociety.org/docs/churchman/126/Cman_126_2_Saunders.pdf

Here is a quote (not of Edwards, but of the author):

Finally, Hebrews 3:14 uses βεβαίαν with ὑποστάσεως. 29 We hold firm to our ‘first confidence’, or rather the ‘beginning of the reality’, referring directly to Christ (3:14a) or possibly to ‘the hope’ of the parallel confidence (3:6).30 We share in Christ and hold firm to Christ—the ὑπόστασις, the divine reality—by reflecting on Jesus (3:1) with a faithful heart not hardened by sin. Therefore, God is the author of our growth, richly providing everything needed for godliness. Jesus strengthens believers as the gospel is strengthened in the church. As we hold firm to Christ and our hope, we share in Christ. Hence, assurance, already existing in faith, grows as we do works of faith.

  • This explanation just assumes another doctrine of Calvinism in order to conclude what it does, namely that all evidence of tasting the heavenly gift, having partook of the divine nature, etc. equates to final perseverance. – Sola Gratia Sep 5 '19 at 20:50
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    I'm not sure it can be put simpler: the answer assumes Calvinism's doctrine of perseverance in order to defend it. "...So it's clear that the point here is not: hold fast to your assurance in order to become in the future a partaker of Christ. The point is: hold fast to your assurance in order to show (prove, evidence, demonstrate) that you are a partaker of Christ." This assumes Calvinism's doctrine of perseverance (i.e. you cannot fail to persevere to the end once justified). Whereas it says, "provided we hold firm our confidence to the end" and then goes on to speak of Israel not doing so. – Sola Gratia Sep 6 '19 at 16:45
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    The sources I have cited assume a grammatical interpretation where the causation is (a) Saved followed by (b) perseverance as the proof. The alternatives are (a) persevere and you will (b) eventually be saved OR (a) be saved (b) but then persevere so you won't lose salvation. The defense seems to be in the grammar, not in extra theology. – Paul Chernoch Sep 6 '19 at 18:33
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    @Paul Chernoch +1 for Saunders's paper on assurance which in addition to support for this answer also includes extras such as historical theology on assurance as a perspective and the author's Trinity-centric understanding of assurance that is quite well-researched (130+ references) and convincing. – GratefulDisciple Sep 7 '19 at 4:10
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    @GratefulDisciple - I found much in the article to ponder as well. – Paul Chernoch Sep 9 '19 at 3:42

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