Introduction To Book Thirteen – Perseverance
Ron Christian, Compiler
During the early days of Christianity, when a bitter persecution was being waged against many Christians, Polycarp (the aged and godly bishop of Smyrna) was brought before the Roman proconsul who commanded him to deny Christ, saying, "Consider thyself, and have pity on thy own great age." The Roman proconsul urged Polycarp to 'swear by the fortune of Caesar' – to 'repent' that he was a follower of Christ. Said the proconsul to this aged and influential Christian bishop: "Swear, and I will release thee; – reproach Christ…" With unflinching and steadfast faith in the living Christ, Polycarp gave his never-to-be-forgotten answer: "Eight and six years have I served him, and he never once wronged me; how then shall I blaspheme my King, who hath saved me?" The proconsul again urged him, "Swear by the fortune of Caesar." Polycarp replied, "Since you still vainly strive to make me swear by the fortune of Caesar as you express it, affecting ignorance of my real character, hear me frankly declaring what I am – I am a Christian – and if you desire to learn the Christian doctrine, assign me a day, and you shall hear." Hereupon the proconsul said, "I have wild beasts; and I will expose you to them, unless you repent." Replied Polycarp: "Call for them, for repentance with us is a wicked thing, if it is to be change from the better to the worse, but a good thing if it is to be change from evil to good." Then the proconsul said: "I will tame thee with fire since you despise the wild beasts, unless you repent." Then said Polycarp, "You threaten me with fire, which burns for an hour, and is soon extinguished; but the fire of the future judgment, and of eternal punishment reserved for the ungodly, you are ignorant of. But why do you delay? Do whatever you please." After his persecutors had gathered wood for his burning, they next planned to fasten him to the stake, but Polycarp said: "Leave me as I am; for he who giveth me strength to sustain the fire, will enable me also, without your securing me with nails, to remain without flinching in the pile." His persecutors bound him without nailing him, and this courageous old man prayed: "O Father, I bless thee that thou hast counted me worthy to receive my portion among the number of martyrs." As soon as Polycarp had uttered the word "amen", the officers lighted the fire. It is then recorded: "The flame, forming the appearance of an arch, as the sail of a vessel filled with wind, surrounded, as with a wall, the body of the martyr; which was in the midst, not as burning flesh, but as gold and silver refining in the furnace." (Foxe's Book of Martyrs; pages 22-24)
Promises the Lord of the Church: "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life!" Polycarp left his burning flesh behind, to take his place at the feet of the Saviour, along with all the Christian martyrs of the ages. The aged bishop of Smyrna enjoys the ever-enlarging company of those who have chosen to sacrifice their earthly lives for Christ, rather than denying their Lord. It is reported that there were more Christians who died for 'the Faith' in the twentieth century than in all the other centuries put together! Recently it was reported that there were more than 150,000
Christians who died because of their faith in Christ – in one year alone!
One of the great modern martyrs was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a key German figure who arose as a witness to Christian faithfulness against the evil onslaughts of Hitler during the Second World War. Because of his bold stand against the Nazi regime, he was imprisoned along with many other uncompromising believers among the "confessing Church" (of which Bonhoeffer was a 'key figure'). In the gray dawn of Sunday, April 9, 1945, just before the end of the War, Dietrich Bonhoeffer whispered to his fellow prisoners as he left his cell to be hanged on the Flossenburg gallows, "This is the end – for me, the beginning of life."
As he awaited his own martyrdom in a Roman prison, the apostle Paul wrote the following words to Timothy, Paul's 'son in the Faith': "And so I solemnly urge you before God and before Christ Jesus – who will some day judge the living and the dead when he appears to set up his Kingdom – to preach the Word of God urgently at all times, whenever you get the chance, in season and out, when it is convenient and when it is not. Correct and rebuke your people when they need it, encourage them to do right, and all the time be feeding them patiently with God's Word… Stand steady, and don't be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Bring others to Christ. Leave nothing undone that you ought to do. I say this because I won't be around to help you very much longer. My time has almost run out. Very soon now I will be on my way to heaven. I have fought long and hard for my Lord, and THROUGH IT ALL I HAVE KEPT TRUE TO HIM. And now the time has come for me to stop fighting and rest. In heaven a crown is waiting for me which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that great day of his return. And not just to me, but to all those whose lives show that they are eagerly looking forward to his coming back again." (2 Timothy 4:1-8, Living Bible)
What is the 'key' to a truly successful life? Remaining TRUE to the Lord Jesus, amidst all the changes and chances of life, amidst all the trials and tests and temptations and persecutions of daily living! Not only starting the race for Christ, but also finishing the race with Christ! Exhorted Paul to the Corinthian believers: "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 15:58)
Perhaps I will never forget that period of time in my pastoral ministry when I purposed to preach a long series of messages on the great 'Faith Chapter' of the Bible – Hebrews 11. I prepared long and hard and believed that – as the weeks came and went and I came to the end of chapter 11 in my series of sermons – my congregation of attentive listeners was growing by 'leaps and bounds' spiritually in the 'Faith of Christ' – partly because of my 'great sermons' on Biblical Faith (faithfulness). As I finished the last message in that long series, I returned to my home after the Late Morning Worship Service, exuberant though weary as a result of preaching in both services. The telephone rang, and one of my parishioners – distraught and angry and accusing – was
on the 'other end of the line'. He said something like this to me: "My family and I are leaving your church!" I was dumb-founded! Here was a parishioner who (with his wife) became a believer as a result of a 'Home Bible Study' which I had conducted in his home a few years before! Grappling for words, I finally was able to respond to his declaration. I said, "Why, what is wrong?" He said, "We're leaving the Church because you don't preach 'Faith'! I wasn't present at the Service this morning, but my wife told me that you declared in your message on Faith that it is not always God's will to heal a person! I believe that if one has enough 'Faith', God will always heal a believer. It is never God's will for one of His children to be sick! The only reason why Christians are sick is because they haven't exercised enough 'Faith', or because they have unconfessed sin in their lives, or because they haven't been taught to 'bind Satan'. We can no longer be a member of a church that doesn't practice 'Faith'!" No amount of reasoning on my part, and no quotation of Scriptures (especially Hebrews 11:35b-40 and 2 Corinthians 12:7-10) could convince my angry friend that it is not always God's will to physically heal Christians. I pled with him not to leave our local church, where he had attended for several years. I reminded him that he had not even heard my sermon on 'Faith' earlier that day, and that he was reacting to information that was reported to him 'secondhand' by his wife. I told him my family felt 'close' to him and his family, and that I felt God led him into my life (after all, was it not I who took time 'to lead him and his wife to Christ'?) I reminded him that some of the greatest 'saints' throughout history – persons of abounding 'faith' – were persons whom God had not willed to heal physically. Was not even the great apostle Paul – 'a giant' in the Faith – inflicted with a 'thorn in the flesh'? When I mentioned Paul's 'thorn in the flesh', my now-estranged 'friend' launched into a 'verbal battle' with me, as he tried hard to convince me that Paul's 'thorn in the flesh' was definitely not 'physical'. That conversation took place several years ago. I learned that a 'charismatic' friend, with whom he had been daily 'car-pooling' to work, shared with him some tapes on 'Faith' – tapes with a strong emphasis on the 'Name It-Claim It' brand of 'Faith' . Yes, that friend and his family left our local church and he never returned. As far as I know, for some time, he attended a large, independent, 'charismatic' church where "faith is preached", "prosperity is claimed", and "wonderful miracles regularly happen". After all these years (since he left the church I pastored), I occasionally see that former friend. We hold no bitterness towards each other, so it is rather easy to talk to one another and to express 'Christian love' to each other.
Allow me to share a few 'points' from the message on 'Faith', preached many years ago, to which my previously-mentioned 'friend' reacted so strongly, resulting in his leaving my church. The following are a few 'quotes' from that message: Faith means trusting God regardless of whether or not our prayers to Him give us the results that we desire. Notes Paul Rees, "No faith is mature if it thinks only of answers to prayer that come in the form of escape from loss and sorrow and pain… If this shakes us and threatens to turn confidence into cynicism, we should review the Bible's magnum opus on faith, the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. True, it tells of those who 'through faith escaped the edge
of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens' (verse 34). But have you noticed the significance of a little phrase of two words that occurs twice – 'and others'? 'And others were tortured, not accepting deliverance. And others had trials of cruel mocking and scourging, yea, moreover, of bonds and imprisonment; they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword." (Hebrews 11:35-37)
I continued in that sermon on 'Faith', preached several years, to which my 'friend' so negatively reacted: Problems come to the greatest Christians. Those in Hebrews 11:35-38 remained faithful to God, even unto death, without judging God or holding God responsible for their difficulties. Remember, when faith and prayers do not remove the mountains, God intends to use the mountains to strengthen our spiritual 'muscles' while we are climbing over the mountains! The problems may cause many tears and bring many questions to mind. But remember, God never allows His children to shed 'needless tears'. God is a God of perfect love – He wants what is best for you. When my brother lost his 15 year old daughter so tragically and suddenly, on August 14,1981, he said, the very night of her death, "God makes no mistakes." His faith in God did not prevent his daughter's terrible death, but my brother did not judge his God. His faith enabled him to believe in a good God, in spite of adverse circumstances. That is the greatest miracle of all! To believe, even when circumstances defy reason! Faith enables us to accept difficult circumstances, as God's gymnasium for character development! If faith seems to go unrewarded on this planet and in this life, there will be an ultimate reward granted to the persons of faith after this life (Hebrews 11:39-40).
I continued that sermon on 'Faith' with great fervency, as I neared the climax of the message: Faith means being faithful to God and never judging God, regardless if the prayers of faith do not change the circumstances of the faithful one. The faithful one can be assured that faith will be ultimately rewarded in heaven and that God will be close to the faithful one during his pilgrimage on earth. "God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you…' So we say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?'" (Hebrews 13:5-6) If you are going through difficult times, keep your faith in God. He won't forsake you. He loves you. He is not removing your mountain or problems for a reason – a loving and redemptive reason. Don't fall from God. Don't start judging God or become bitter towards God. "So do not throwaway your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to PERSEVERE so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, 'He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.' But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved." (Hebrews 10:35-39)
John the Baptist's faith resulted in John being beheaded by a wicked king! His faith did not deliver him from adversity, but his faith did keep him true rather than denying the
Master, and his faith ushered him into heaven with all the rewards that heaven alone can give to the man of faith! We too often see only today with today's problems, and we fail to see the ultimate victory promised to persons of PERSEVERING FAITH. God's purpose may be to deliver his children from the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:16-18), or it may be to allow His children to burn up in the fiery furnace. Either way, the man of faith is victorious! Paul said, "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain." The man of faith can't lose! It may be God's will to change our circumstances, or it may be God's will that we simply remain faithful to God in the midst of our difficult circumstances. Perhaps the greatest heroes of faith are not those who saw mighty feats through their faith, but those who remained true to God even when their faith resulted in their persecution and eventual death (Hebrews 11:35-38). Whatever the immediate result of faith, the ultimate victory always belongs to God's people of faith!
I then concluded my message on 'Faith' with these words: Faith can move a mighty mountain or faith can enable us to climb over our mountains! Faith can remove the darkness, or faith can give us a song during our nights. Faith, in brief, is faithfulness to God, whether or not circumstances change and whether or not we can understand the purposes in the present God-allowed circumstances. Faith does not judge God. Faith in God reassures one that God ultimately rewards all persons of faith – partially on earth and totally in heaven!
It was these above quoted words (and others like them) which I preached on that Sunday, at the conclusion of my long sermon series on 'Biblical Faith', which were the 'occasion' of my 'friend' to decide to 'leave my church' (and never return).
I continue to believe that 'faith in God' means 'faithfulness to God' – amidst all the challenges and troubles and losses of life. I continue to believe that it is 'persevering faith' in God and in God's wisdom and power and love which will 'carry' a believer throughout his life, until he passes through 'the pearly gates' of heaven!
Amidst all the severe trials of Paul's life, he was able confidently to declare (at the end of his courageous life): "That is why I am suffering here in jail and I am certainly not ashamed of it, for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to safely guard all that I have given him until the day of his return." (2 Timothy 1:12, Living Bible)
Paul believed that divine enabling power was sufficient to keep every believer from falling away from God, in spite of the great suffering which believers are called to endure. Wrote Paul "And he (God) is able to keep you from slipping and falling away, and to bring you, sinless and perfect, into his glorious presence with mighty shouts of everlasting joy." (Jude 1:25, Living Bible)
"I know not what of good or ill May be reserved for me, Of weary ways or golden days, Before his face I see. But 'I know whom I have believed, And am persuaded that he is able To keep that which I've committed Unto him against the day.'"
(I Know Whom I Have Believed)
During my lifetime I have known many godly persons who have consistently followed the Lord for many years, whose lives have 'stood the test of time'. They learned the 'secret' of daily victory – through prayer, and meditation, and obedience, and resistance of temptation. These precious ones demonstrated to me that they were 'single-minded' in their devotion to Christ, 'whole-hearted' in their commitment to a lifestyle of holiness. As a pastor for 27 years in one local church, it was my privilege to serve several hundreds of persons, most of whom were earnest believers, persevering in their 'daily walk of faith'. At the funeral services of many older 'saints', I experienced great joy as I offered 'tributes' regarding the unusual faithfulness of these followers of Christ. Yes, I have known so many persons who 'lived well' and who 'died well'! They 'crossed the finish line of life' with the love of God as the constant and unwavering and driving 'force' of their lives! They remained faithful to their Lord, until physical death separated their spirit from their body, and now they are crowned with the 'crown of eternal life' in heaven!
Even though the trials are severe, the persecutions are bitter, the temptations are strong, the losses are great, the mysteries and inequities and injustices in the world are widespread, and the sorrows of life are deep, God's grace is all-sufficient and His power is unmatched and His love is unconditional. God is able to guard His children from the onslaughts of the 'evil one' (devil). Wrote Paul, "The Lord is faithful; he will make you strong and guard you from satanic attacks of every kind" (2 Thessalonians 3:3-4, Living Bible) "No temptation is irresistible. You can trust God to keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can't stand up against it, for he has promised this and will do what he says. He will show you how to escape temptation's power so that you can bear up patiently against it." (1 Corinthians 10:13, Living Bible)
A few months ago, one of my newest friends wrote to me and asked if I would explain what I meant by my reference to the 'Perseverance of the Saints'. The following is my written reply to her request:
I have read considerably (and written quite a bit) on the subject of the 'Perseverance of the Saints' (as it is called in Christian Theology). Suffice it to say at this point (in this brief communication) that the Bible emphasizes at least three features (regarding Salvation) – (1) Promises to be claimed, (2) Conditions to be met – in initially receiving salvation and in maintaining a vital saving relationship with God, (3) Warnings – addressed to truly saved persons – to be heeded (or 'traps' of sin to be avoided). The faithfulness of God and the 'keeping power' of God are NEVER to be questioned or doubted or debated, but the on-going faithfulness (obedience) of the believer is, of course, always to be 'questioned' (i.e., the Christian must, throughout his/her entire life, continue to 'abide' in the Son). The Lord declares, "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." As long as a human (including a believer) has the capacity to choose (because of free will agency which God grants to all believers), there is always the possibility (if not the probability) that a believer could 'fall from grace' and go back into a life (practice) of willful sinning (called backsliding or apostasy). That is a 'horrible' thought, but the Bible definitely teaches (through the countless warnings to believers) that such is a 'possibility'. (Otherwise the many warnings addressed to believers do not make 'any sense'.) I definitely believe in 'eternal security' for believers (but only for 'believers' – i.e., those persons who CONTINUE to believe and trust in Christ as their only Saviour and who keep up to date in their confession of any sins in their lives). Therefore, I do not believe the Bible teaches UNCONDITIONAL (or 'automatic' or 'irrevocable') eternal security – but instead CONDITIONAL ETERNAL SECURITY. Of course, the Bible teaches that backslidden persons (who were one-time believers) can 'come back' to Christ in deep repentance and faith (trust), and thereby be wonderfully restored to both relationship and fellowship with Christ (1 John 1:7, 1 John 1:9 and 1 John 2:1-2). However, it is possible for a believer to drift away from God through negligence (Hebrews 2:1-2) or through outright rebellion (continued disobedience) and eventually to sever his/her relationship with God (John 15 teaches that branches which no longer abide in Christ the Vine are eventually severed because they are withered and dead – and cast into the fire!). John 15 teaches that good branches are pruned (chastened and disciplined, etc. in order to produce even more fruit), but that fruitless branches (i.e., branches that no longer abide in obedience – no longer attached in vital union to the Vine) are cut off and destroyed. So, fruitful branches (which are vitally attached to the Vine) can become barren and severed and destroyed branches! A fearful possibility, but hopefully not a high probability. I want to emphasize the importance of abiding in Christ and maintaining faithfulness (in response to God's constant faithfulness and keeping power). I want to emphasize the importance of a life
of continuing abiding in the Son – finding 'staying power' in living the Christian life to the very end. There are many, many other Scriptures (nearly a hundred Scriptures altogether in the New Testament) which deal with 'conditional eternal security'. Again, the grace of God or the keeping power of God or the forgiving love of God – none of these truths are questioned at all. The only thing that is always open for 'change for the worst' is the free will of man/woman (including the will of believers). God treats believers with the greatest of dignity by allowing believers (Christians) to daily exercise a positive volition (saying 'yes' with one's will to God's daily call to 'deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me'). None of what I have said is intended to 'take away the peace and security and confidence' of true believers, but with the multitude of Promises in God's Word, there are also Conditions listed (for the fulfillment of those God-given Promises), as well as many Warnings addressed to Christians. Always remember: 'The faithfulness of God cannot cover for or take the place of the unfaithfulness of man' (even a Christian). A believer need never 'Fall from Grace', for God is able to keep him unto the end – and preserve him unto eternal life (glory!) – but a Christian must take, not only the Promises of God seriously, but must also seriously accept the Conditions and the Warnings of the Holy Scriptures. It is this 'Biblical balance' which I am 'after'. Thanks for letting me briefly share this aspect of Biblical insight with you. God bless you richly as you victoriously live for your wonderful Master.
With Christian Love,
Someone said that the 'biggest word in the English language' is IF. The following illustration vividly demonstrates the truth of this assertion.
Freeborn Garrettson, an American-born, itinerant Methodist preacher who traversed the Atlantic seaboard on horseback, kept a journal that contains the following record of his heavenly vision, dated July 30, 1780. "Sunday 30, brother Cromwell and family accompanied me. At seven o'clock we had a love-feast; about two hundred of brethren were present, and our Saviour was in the midst. Afterwards I preached in the Dutch church. About thirty of our friends accompanied me about eight miles to another Dutch church, where I preached to many with freedom. Many went with me three miles further to Mr. Vaun's, where we had a watch night. The labors of this day were wearisome to the body, but I was strong in faith, and willing to give my little all to God. The next day a crowded audience assembled at the same place; some time before, and whilst the people were gathering, my mind was uncommonly exercised: but I found great freedom whilst enforcing, 'Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial, which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you.' The cloud was dispersed, and I
felt myself uncommonly sweet and comfortable. This dear family drink deeply into the blessed Spirit. I went to bed very happy: but my night visions were uncommonly strange: I thought I was taken dangerously ill, and expected shortly to be in eternity. I doubt not, but I felt just as dying persons do. I appeared to be surrounded with thousands of devils, who were all striving to take from me my confidence; and for a time it seemed almost gone. I began an examination from my first awakenings – then my conversion – my call to preach – the motives which induced me to enter this great work – my intention, and life from the beginning. In the time of this examination, every fear was dismissed, and every fiend vanished; and a band of holy angels succeeded with the most melodious music that I ever heard. I then began to ascend, accompanied by this heavenly host; and thought every moment the body would drop off, and my spirit take its flight. After ascending a vast height, I was over-shadowed with a cloud as white as a sheet; and in that cloud I saw a person the most beautiful that my eyes had beheld. I wanted to be dislodged from this tabernacle, and take my everlasting flight. That glorious person, more bright than the sun in its meridian brilliance, spake to me as follows, 'IF you CONTINUE FAITHFUL TO THE END, this shall be your place; but you cannot come now; return, and BE FAITHFUL: there is more work for you to do.' Immediately I awoke, and my spirit was so elevated with a sense of eternal things, that I thought I should sleep no more that night. Great, and glorious discoveries have been made to me, both sleeping and waking; but all the PROMISES of heaven and eternal glory, HAVE BEEN CONDITIONAL. In scriptures we have a little, but significant word, IF – IF YOU ARE FAITHFUL UNTIL DEATH, you shall have a crown of life. I would advise all the children of God, to be very careful and watchful, and CONTINUE in well-doing until death." (Quoted in 'Discover the Secrets of Heaven' – A Guideposts Book; pgs. 24, 25)
I believe in the "power of positive thinking", but I also believe there is ( rarely) such a thing as the "positive power of negative thinking". There is the' dark side' of truth, as well as the 'bright side' of truth. Jesus came to earth to seek and to save the lost ones. His ministry was one of positive affirmation and great comfort. He declared, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give thee rest" (Matthew 11:28) To the broken-hearted, Jesus always offered healing, and to the contrite in spirit, Jesus always offered forgiveness and peace. But Jesus did not only come to 'comfort the disturbed'; He came also to 'disturb the comfortable'. Witness this truth as you read the many ''woes'' which Jesus pronounced against the hypocritical Jewish leaders (as recorded in Matthew 23). The fact that there are many Warnings to be heeded and many Conditions to be met (as well as many Promises to be claimed) speaks to the fact that there is 'negative' truth as well as 'positive' truth, revealed in the New Testament. There is the 'positive' truth which declares that all sinners who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved from their sins (i.e., they are no longer in a state of 'condemnation and guilt' before Almighty God). There is the 'negative' truth which declares that any believer who falls into a life of sinning (apostasy) loses both his fellowship and his relationship with Almighty God, and such a person will be eternally
lost if he refuses to repent and if he rejects God's offer of forgiveness and restoration and peace and reconciliation.
It has often been said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Spiritually-speaking, it is far better for a believer never to fall into sin (i.e., into a state of backsliding), than for a believer to backslide and have to go through the painful (and often time-consuming) process of repentance and restitution and reconciliation. It is also often said, "To be forewarned is to be forearmed." Spiritually-speaking, it is wise for a believer to be fully aware of the (negative) dangers and snares and perils which threaten to defeat and destroy his spiritual life, than to be ignorant of such snares and to be off-guard and unprepared and unarmed when Satan attacks! To think about the 'wiles of the devil' and 'the weakness of the human flesh' and the 'warnings against apostasy' may all seem to be 'very negative'. But this kind of 'negative thinking' is also very wise and definitely 'Biblical thinking'. It might seem 'more positive' to entertain thoughts of a believer's 'unconditional' ('irrevocable') 'eternal security' (i.e., that it is 'impossible' for a true believer ever to 'lose his relationship with God'), but such false reasoning (and 'false security') is both unwise and unbiblical!
In my rather thorough examination of the New Testament's teaching on the 'perseverance of the believer' (and the related doctrine of the 'security of the believer'), I discovered that there are many 'perils' (snares) which every earnest believer must avoid, during his earthly pilgrimage. In summary form, the following are some of those 'perils' (snares) which every believer must avoid if he is to live a victorious Christian life: (1) Unforgiving spirit; (2) Deception by false teachings or by evil spirits; (3) Spiritual neglect and procrastination (spiritual 'drifting' or gradual hardening or 'lukewarmness'); (4) Spiritual carelessness and shallowness (lack of vigilance); (5) Yielding to temptation, leading to backsliding or apostasy; (6) Preoccupation with worldly interests and with the pursuit of material possessions and earthly riches; (7) Faithlessness and lack of spiritual endurance (disobedience and unbelief and bitterness); (8) Shallow attitude towards 'sin' and towards 'grace' (Antinomianism); (9) Insensitivity to and neglect of the spiritual 'Means of Grace'; (10) Offense by fellow believers; (11) Attitude of ingratitude, grumbling, and division; (12) Self-confidence and pride; (13) Resort to religious performance instead of embracing God's grace alone (leading to Legalism); (14) Discouragement and despair during trials and persecutions, and hardening one's heart during God's chastisements (losing of 'heart'); (15) Rejection of the 'dictates' of the Conscience; (16) Temporal irresponsibility to one's Dependents (family and relatives); (17) Spiritual 'profession' without spiritual 'performance' (lack of 'Good Deeds' and 'Good Conduct').
William Barclay notes that Jesus Himself emphasized the 'perseverance of believers' in His teaching. Says Barclay, "Jesus declared that entry to the Kingdom can never be automatic, and that it is the result and the reward of a struggle. 'Keep on striving to enter', said Jesus. (Luke 13:24) The word that is used for 'striving' is the word from
which the English word 'agony' is derived. The struggle to enter in must be so intense that it can be described as an agony of soul and spirit. We run a certain danger. It is easy to think that, once we have become members of the church by profession, we have reached the end of the road, that then we can, as it were, sit back like those who have arrived and who have achieved their goal. There is no such finality in the Christian life. A man must ever be going forward or necessarily he is going backward. The Christian way is like a climb up a mountain pathway towards a peak which will never be reached in this world. It was said of two gallant climbers who died on Mount Everest, 'When last seen they were going strong for the top.' It was inscribed on the grave of an Alpine guide who had died on the mountain-side, 'He died climbing.' For the Christian life is ever an upward and an onward way." (Daily Study Bible; Luke; William Barclay; pgs. 188,189)
What is the 'secret' to maintaining a life of faithfulness and perseverance in the Christian life? Is it not being daily filled with the Holy Spirit, whose ministry is to 'shed abroad the love of God' in the heart of every believer? He who has a passionate love for Christ is he who remains close to the "heart of God", amidst all the changes and chances of life, amidst all the "ups and downs" of life, amidst all the successes and failures of life, amidst all the joys and sorrows of life. Love keeps him close to the heart of God, and love for others makes the believer's trials and losses bearable. A love-filled person "values the real", for love sees beyond the temporary to the eternal! Wholehearted love for God keeps one 'trucking' in life, keeps one 'in the saddle', keeps one from 'throwing in the towel' and quitting! Men have wondered what kept John Wesley in the saddle for fifty-three years 'contesting the three kingdoms for Christ'… They have wondered what kept David Livingstone in the jungle of Africa for thirty-three years, and Peter Claver tending the poor slaves at Cartagena for thirty-eight. None of these men retired. Death alone ended their labors… it is not in normal nature to love like that; it is a 'given' love. They had sought it and received it from God and they were consumed by its scorching flame." (Daily Readings; William Sangster; pg. 134)
There is a "strange reasoning" among some earnest believers who consider themselves "Calvinist" (in terms of their theological 'persuasion'). Some 'Calvinists' believe that a backslidden believer (who is 'out of fellowship' with the Lord, but who nevertheless 'maintains relationship' with the Lord because he is among the 'chosen' of God) will go to heaven even if he dies while he is 'living in sin'. These persons believe that such a 'backslidden believer' will be ushered into heaven, regardless of how many unconfessed sins he has at the time of his physical death ("for he who was once saved in the past is always saved forever" irrevocably, regardless of the sins he commits subsequent to his initial conversion). Even though this appears to be a rather widespread belief among many 'Calvinist-oriented' teachers, it is doubtful (when reading from the actual writings of John Calvin) that John Calvin himself would declare that a man living in sin when he dies was ever a 'true believer' (an 'elect one'). John Calvin believed that the only ultimate 'proof that a person was among the 'elect of God' was the final perseverance
in the faith of Christ of the person who claimed to be among God's 'elect'. Perseverance in the faith meant, to Calvin, faithfulness to Christ and Christ's ways. Wrote Calvin, "For God is said to give us to the Son so that each may know himself an heir of the heavenly kingdom SO LONG AS HE ABIDES IN CHRIST, apart from whom death and destruction beset us on every side." (Quoted in 'Elect In The Son'; Robert Shank; pg. 216) Calvin seems to be saying that only the person (professing Christian) who truly abides in Christ to the end of life will enjoy heaven as his inheritance. This (among other similar statements by Calvin) would seem to refute anyone who claims assurance that he will go to heaven, while he is, at the same time, deliberately practicing sin and refusing genuinely to repent of his sins.
Notes Robert Shank, "Despite his erroneous definition of election, Calvin was on solid ground in his ultimate conclusion that valid assurance of election and salvation is impossible apart from conscious, deliberate perseverance in faith." (Elect In The Son; pg. 215)
The 'classical' Calvinist theology – popularly taught today – believes that those whom God 'elected' to eternal salvation will inevitably persevere in the Faith to the end of life. The 'elect' (chosen) ones must ultimately be saved in heaven, because (according to this theology) God chose them "before the foundation of the world" to be members of Christ's chosen followers. And yet, even some Calvinist teachers and writers, when they honestly study the Holy Scriptures directly (without undue influence from their Calvinist presuppositions) acknowledge that perseverance to the end in the Christian life is NOT inevitable! John Eadie, a Calvinist scholar, writes: "While… the perseverance of the saints is a prominent doctrine of Scripture and a perennial source of consolation, it is not inconsistent with exhortations to permanence of faith and warnings of the sad results of deviation and apostasy. He who stops short in the race, and does not reach the goal, cannot obtain the prize. He who abandons the refuge into which he fled for a season is swept away when the hurricane breaks upon him. The loss of faith is the knell of hope." (Quoted in 'Elect In The Son'; Robert Shank; pg. 214) Strangely enough, this Calvinist scholar believes that a one-time believer can "fall from grace" (or, as he says "abandon the refuge into which he fled for a season" or have a "loss of faith"), and as a result "be swept away when the hurricane breaks upon him" and experience the "knell of hope". This teaching by this respected Calvinist scholar does not sound like the typical Calvinist who adamantly contends for "unconditional eternal security" ("once saved, always saved" doctrine). According to this Calvinist scholar, the believer who "stops short in the race and does not reach the goal" cannot, at the same time, retain his Christian hope for eternal security!
Comments Robert Shank (regarding some earnest Calvinist scholars): "When men get close to the Scriptures, they often get far from their theology. Eadie has it right: much is suspended on perseverance, according to the Scripture – all theology to the contrary notwithstanding." ('Elect In The Son'; Robert Shank; pg. 214) Fortunately, there are
even many Calvinists who seriously disagree that so-called "backslidden believers" who die while they are living a life of sin, have Biblically-based assurance that they will safely enter heaven! The doctrine of 'unconditional eternal security', based on 'unconditional particular election' of specific persons, is totally unscriptural, and (thank God) there are even Calvinist scholars (because of their direct study of the Scriptures) who are seriously questioning this erroneous doctrine!
Some sincere believers who declare with great conviction that "it is impossible for a true believer ever to ultimately fall away from God and finally be eternally lost", quote John 10:28-29 as the Scriptural 'proof'. Said Jesus, "I give them eternal life and they shall never perish. No one shall snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else, so no one can kidnap them from me." (Living Bible) Indeed, this is one of the most thrilling and comforting PROMISES ever given to Christians. But, those who sincerely quote these verses as 'proof' of the 'eternal security of the believer' fail to quote the previous verse – John 10:27 – which states the CONDITION for the fulfillment of the Promise. To whom does Jesus promise 'eternal life' and 'protection from harm' (security)? These promises are given ONLY TO SHEEP. And who are Christ's 'Sheep'? John 10:27 answers that question: "My sheep recognize my voice, and I know them, and they follow me." Only those who hear the voice of the Shepherd, who know the voice of the Shepherd, and who follow (obey) the Shepherd can justly claim 'security' and 'protection'. Can a one-time believer who no longer hears or knows the voice of the Shepherd, and who no longer follows (obeys) the Shepherd, claim 'security' and 'protection' from the Shepherd? A person who does not presently meet the conditions cannot claim the promises! He who refuses to accept the responsibilities of being a 'sheep', cannot presently enjoy the benefits which the Shepherd has to offer!
An internationally-respected New Testament scholar, I. Howard Marshall, gives the following fitting and Biblically-balanced summary to this important subject of "Perseverance of the Believer". He notes: "The believer is not told that he is one of the elect and therefore cannot fall away, nor is there any particular character of his faith which indicates that he is the kind of person who cannot fall away. He is simply told to continue in obedience and faith and to trust in the God who will keep him from falling. He perseveres by persevering. Perseverance is not some particular quality of faith or something to be added to faith, but the fact that faith continues. To speak of the need to develop endurance, as the New Testament does, is the same thing as saying that one must continue to believe despite every temptation to disbelieve.
"Such persevering faith is faith in God through Jesus Christ and is at all times a response to His grace. It is faith in the God who keeps, establishes, and strengthens believers, committal of oneself to His Lordship and His care. But such committal does not mean that the believer no longer needs to watch lest he stumble and fall. He must still beware of temptation. The fact that he can still fall into sin shows that he is not
preserved miraculously by God from falling, although God is able-to keep those who trust in Him from falling and never refuses His grace to those who seek it. God's power enables men to battle against temptation, but does not relieve them from temptation or from the necessity to fight against it. The way to victory is by constant submission to God.
"Alongside the imperatives stand the promises. We do not need to fear in the midst of temptation, for we know that if we trust in God, His power will preserve us… When the believer puts his trust in God, he is entitled to be confident… The New Testament most certainly teaches that God strengthens the faith of the believer so that he may withstand temptation; He does not forget those who trust in Him. Hence, while the New Testament knows the possibility of failure to persevere, it also knows the fact of growth in grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ so that the Christian can attain to a confidence which lifts him above the fear of falling away. It is perhaps in this idea of growth and development in faith that the key to the problem is to be found. Faith is something which grows and becomes stronger and consequently more removed from the fear of failing. And yet this does not mean that the assurance of perseverance is for a spiritual elite; it is for the weakest believer who is prepared to cry, 'Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.'
"In short, we cannot go beyond the teaching of the New Testament which places side by side the possibility of failure to persevere and the greater possibility of a confidence in God and a continuing faith which, as it is sustained by God, is preserved from the fear of falling away… There is a confidence which can grow and deepen, and hence the possibility of the faith that God will preserve us for His heavenly kingdom. It is possible, therefore, to maintain the confidence of the believer without committing ourselves to a watertight logical system of irresistible grace and unconditional election to final salvation, and at the same time to give a realistic meaning to the warnings of the New Testament.
"We can say firmly that, while it is possible for a Christian to fail to persevere after a genuine experience of salvation, yet, with all the promises of a faithful God to sustain those who trust in Him, the main emphasis of the New Testament is on confidence and assurance of final salvation." ('Kept By The Power Of God'; I. Howard Marshall; pgs. 208-210)
WEAK AND HELPLESS
Son of God, thy blessing grant; Still supply my every want; Tree of life, thine influence shed; From thy fullness I am fed.
Tenderest branch, alas! am I, Wither without thee and die; Weak as helpless infancy; O confirm my soul in thee!
Unsustained by thee, I fall; Send the help for which I call; Weaker than a bruised reed, Help I every moment need.
All my hopes on thee depend; Love me, save me to the end; ; Give me persevering grace; Take the everlasting praise.