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About the Author
Thomas R. Schreiner (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including The King in His Beauty (Baker Academic, 2013) and Hebrews in the Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation Commentary series (Holman, 2015).
In Run to Win the Prize, Tom Schreiner seeks to set the record straight regarding the warning passages of the New Testament and their relationship to a believer’s perseverance in Christ. Schreiner first argued his interpretation of these texts in The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance (co-authored with Ardel B. Caneday; InterVarsity, 2001). Concerned that some readers misunderstood the initial work to propose either a works-based righteousness or an unbiblical perfectionism, he wrote Run to Win the Prize to provide a fresh appraisal of the specific passages in question, with an eye toward accessibility and pastoral implications. His central thesis remains the same: the warning passages of the New Testament are addressed toward believers, threaten eternal damnation, and are a means by which God graciously ensures that all the elect will persevere to the end.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Exhortations to Persevere
Chapter 2: How to Understand the Warnings in Scripture
Chapter 3: Persevering in Faith is Not Perfection
Chapter 4: Persevering in Faith is Not Works-Righteousness
Chapter 5: Faith and Assurance and Warnings
Appendix: A Meditation on Galatians 5:2–6
Exhortations to Persevere
When someone who has professed faith in Christ begins to rebel against the Lord in significant ways, it raises a number of pastoral questions: Has this person fallen from grace? Were they ever truly saved in the first place? How should other Christians approach them—as a wayward brother or sister who needs encouragement, or as an unbeliever who needs the gospel? Should they be told that God’s grace will protect them no matter what they do or be called to repent and obey the Lord to ensure they will obtain eternal life? Such practical concerns are at the heart of the exegetical discussion surrounding the New Testament warning passages.
An understanding of such passages begins with recognizing the persistent call throughout the New Testament for believers to persevere in grace. In the early church, new converts to Christianity were not comforted with the promise that their eternal reward was secure apart from their actions; rather, they were admonished to persevere in their newfound faith. When Barnabas visited the Christians in Antioch, he “saw the grace of God” and “exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord” (Acts 11:23). Similarly, when Paul and Barnabas spoke with new believers in Pisidian Antioch, they “urged them to continue in the grace of God” (Acts 13:43). In both instances, young Christians were encouraged to persevere through the same means by which they first began life in Christ: by grace through faith (cf., Acts 14:22–23, 1 Thess 3:1–5).
The writers of the New Testament used comparable language when addressing experienced Christians. Peter, for example, challenged the church to “stand firm” in “the true grace of God” (1 Pet 5:12). In parallel terms, Jude exhorted the church to “keep [themselves] in the love of God” (Jude 21) and Paul urged the Corinthians “not to receive the grace of God in vain” (2 Cor 6:1). In each instance, believers were implored to continue trusting the grace of God. In Hebrews and 2 Corinthians, in particular, the context implies that to cease trusting in grace would be tantamount to committing apostasy. Thus, if one fails to persevere in grace, he or she has no hope of future reward. This interpretation is supported by Paul’s language in Philippians 2:16, where the Apostle urged the Philippian Christians to “[hold] fast to the word of life so that in the day of Christ [he] may be proud that [he] did not run in vain or labor in vain.” The implication is that if the Philippians failed to hold fast to the word of life, they would not obtain eternal life, thus rendering Paul’s ministry futile.
These passages throughout the New Testament demonstrate that believers (both new and experienced) were exhorted to persevere in order to obtain the eschatological promise of eternal life. They were not told they would receive this reward regardless of how they lived, but rather as a result of faithful perseverance in grace. The New Testament warning passages should be understood against this backdrop.
How to Understand the Warnings in Scripture
Scholars have interpreted the warnings in the New Testament in several different ways. Arminians typically argue that the warnings address true believers who can indeed fall from grace and experience final damnation. Others, such as members of the Grace Evangelical Society, believe the passages address genuine Christians but threaten the loss of eternal rewards rather than eternal life itself.[To continue reading this summary, please see below....]
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Run to Win the Prize: Perseverance in the New Testament