From James Grant:
In the recent “Ask Pastor John” video, someone asked Piper the following question: “If the Angels could fall, how can we know we won’t?” This is a great question, and you can watch Piper’s answer here. Piper’s answer appeals to the doctrine of perseverance. The fact that God holds us in His hand, and no one can pluck us out of His hand, applies not only to perseverance in this life, but also the life to come.
That is indeed a helpful way to look at this issue. With the doctrine of perseverance, we should also consider justification and union with Christ. We can see this clearly as we examine the different states of mankind. This structure of history that comes from St. Augustine and is adopted by the Puritans. Thomas Boston (and others) called this the “four-fold estate of man.” One of my early posts addressed this matter. You can read that post here, but here is a short summary.
The Bible teaches that the final state of things (the New Creation) is better than the “pre-fall” state. The four “states” of our existence are as follows:
- Innocence—possible to sin or not to sin
- Fall—not possible not to sin
- Grace—possible not to sin
- Glory—not possible to sin
I have a chart that explains this situation [see Fourfold State]. The first state (The Garden) is completely separated from the others. It will never be known again. The second state (The Fall) crosses over the third state (Grace or Redemption), which brings about the tension of sin and righteousness for believers. The last state, the New Heavens and New Earth, cross over redemption as well due to the work of Christ upon the cross. The cross is the point at which Heaven intrudes into redemption with a note of finality. This is often called the already/not yet structure of New Testament eschatology.
The point of this is that our union with Christ puts us beyond the possibility of a fall. That is a central meaning of justification. One of the problems with denying imputed righteousness is precisely this problem. Look at it this way: forgiveness places us back in the Garden at the state of innocence. The righteousness of Christ places us beyond the Garden in Glory. That is the importance of a positive righteousness.
For a more thorough explanation of the fourfold state, read Thomas Boston’s Human Nature in Its Fourfold State and Philip Graham Ryken’s work Thomas Boston as Preacher of the Fourfold State.