On the Perseverance of the Saints
For those with a theological bent, the title of this piece may have sparked interest. Questions of eternal security, assurance, election, and so on, surround such a topic. But that is not the direction I will be going here this time. This will be more of a personal reflection than a theological treatise. What I want to do here in fact is honour those who are persevering in the faith.
This arises out of my current stay on the West Coast. I have made a number of trips to the west over the past decade or so. It is always good to reunite with old acquaintances here, as well as meet new folk. The believers here have always been welcoming and encouraging. They have had me stay with them when I am here, they have had me speak in their churches, and they have welcomed me into their functions, fellowships and families.
It is always a time of blessing when I am here, and a time of encouragement. What strikes me most about these folk is their dedication and persistence. Most of these folks have simply been faithfully serving their God and their families over the years, and have been a great example of not growing weary in well doing.
In fact I consider these people to be the real pillars of the church. Most of these saints are not church leaders as such. They are not in the limelight and are not the big movers and shakers in the body of Christ. They do not get the attention and fanfare and applause that the more upfront leaders do. They are just ordinary – and faithful – men and women of God who day in and day out serve their Lord and one another. They are the real unsung heroes of the faith in my books.
They of course have their fair share of hardships, disappointments, setbacks and difficulties. They struggle with illnesses, relationship problems, job losses, heartache, and much more, as does every one else. Yet each time I come back they are still faithfully serving the Lord, the church and one another. They have persevered when many others have fallen by the wayside.
It is that perseverance that has me so impressed and humbled. And it is that dedication that I wish to uphold and honour here. Their names are not in lights, their deeds are largely unknown, their servanthood is not trumpeted, and their faithful commitment and dedication is rarely heralded. Yet I want to acknowledge and praise these real saints of God.
They do what they do not for the fanfare or remuneration, but because they love their Lord and those around them. They are real examples of what a follower of Christ is to be like. I am proud to know them and be around them.
Of course there is a flip side to all this. The longer I am a Christian, the more I become aware of those believers who do not persevere. Not every follower of Jesus stays on course. I keep learning of people I had long known in the faith who have given up. Some who went through Christian training with me years ago, or some who served in leadership positions with me a long time ago, are now no longer walking with the Lord.
Some have dumped their spouse, their kids and their faith. Some have gone after “strange flesh” and broken their marriage vows. Some have even gone on to embrace ungodly lifestyles. Some act as if they never even knew the Lord. It is as heartbreaking as it is perplexing.
Yet we of course have many warnings in Scripture about such things. We are warned about not abandoning our Lord, of not shipwrecking our faith, of not letting the deceitfulness of sin get us off course. Those warnings must be taken seriously. “Let those who stand take heed lest they fall.”
Sure, we also have a truckload full of Scriptures that affirm our security in Christ, that speak of God’s ability to save us to the uttermost, of the assurance we can have in the finished work of Christ, and so on. Such passages are both reassuring and comforting.
Yet both sorts of passages need to be taken seriously. Again, it is not my purpose here to enter the very deep theological waters that surround such topics, including the question of whether such people who fall away were ever saved in the first place. I will not here declare my hand as to whether one side is right and the other wrong. I will only say at this point that I think we need to cling to both sets of texts, and allow both to speak to us with clarity and conviction.
But it is not my intent to end on a negative note. I would like to think that for every personal example I am aware of a believer falling away (or seeming to), there may be ten – or a hundred – believers who are holding on, each day, each week, each month, each year and each decade.
These quiet achievers, who go unnoticed in the secular world, and often go unnoticed in the Christian world as well, are the ones I want to uphold and honour here. They need encouragement along the way, just as they have been a great encouragement and example to me.
They are the ones that will one day certainly be the recipients of those stirring words, “Well done, good and faithful servants”. To all such men and women of God, I salute you.
11 Replies to “On the Perseverance of the Saints”
Bill – a perceptive piece, and an encouraging one. There will be a lot of surprises and joy in glory as we share with the faithful ones around the King’s throne.
Thanks Bill. It is so important from time to time to pause and reflect. It is amazing how encouraging Christians can be to one another. Seeing the perseverance of some Christians, we can then conclude that God can provide what is necessary for us to persevere too. We don’t need to get all theological about it.
Throughout the Bible God demonstrates that man was not meant to be alone. This is one of the most undeniable truths of scripture.
In the New Testament, in Matthew 18:19-20 (NIV) we read “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
Fellowship with fellow believers is vital. We can learn from each other, pray for each other, encourage one another and become more mature Christians. Indeed I was listening to a Derek Prince message on Fellowship recently (from 1971 I think) and he said that the single greatest mistake he had made as a Christian was that at one time he thought he didn’t need fellowship with fellow believers.
Another example that comes to mind is the first verse of Hebrews 12 (NIV)
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
Note that the first person plural is used not the singular. Christian perseverance is not something we just do, isolated on our own. We are to do it together. This verse comes straight after one of the most famous chapters of the Bible, Hebrews 11 in which we read about many of the great people of faith from the Old Testament. Remember that Hebrews was written to Jewish believers, who could be expected to have a thorough knowledge of the Old Testament. The stories of faith and perseverance are inspiring, but at the same time are a challenge to all Christians. Those great people of faith who have gone before us have not given up, they have not lost sight of the goal before us and neither should we.
This is one of a great encouragement for me too, Bill.
I have always been asked the question, “how will you see yourselves in the next 5 or 10 years?”. And this question actually paralyzes me!
As I grow into maturity, the things of life that I have been exposed to, are sometimes unbearable. Life does get complicated, and sad, and painful. Yet, the profound example of those that persevere, speaks louder declaring the faithfulness of God throughout their lives. They simply don’t give up, because God never gives up on them. To cling dearly to the truth (and share it with the world) – i.e. Jesus – is a great task and challenge for Christians at this modern time.
To acknowledge those humble brothers and sisters who simply live out Christianity – proclaiming the basic message of God’s saving and sustaining grace through their simple lives, does give one confidence to take a further step in following Jesus.
An awesome article Bill. It is true that ordinary people who show loving kindness to others and faithfulness to God without any expectation is so encouraging to us.
They are a great example for other Christians to follow and makes us want to do our part as well. Truly we can see the goodness of God as it is manifested in their lives and knowing that, we encouraged to persevere and stand firm in our faith.
It doesn’t matter what culture or background we are from we are all the same in God’s eyes. We are His children and we can share God’s unconditional love to people around us.
As part of my work in the AOG National Office, I have the privilege of travelling around Australia on a fairly regular basis, and of attending a number of other AOG churches, both here in Victoria and also in other states. I am always very encouraged by others’ faith and commitment. But there is a whole other level of joy that I experience, and that is when I get the opportunity to attend a completely different denomination altogether! It might be my father’s Anglican Church in Tasmania, or a relative’s Baptist or Uniting church somewhere in Melbourne. Sure, we wouldn’t agree on various points of doctrine, but I am always aware that we have our Lord in common … and nowadays, increasingly, that’s quite enough for me.
I personally have found encouragement from this article.
Unfortunately, we can often find the media showing us Ministers, Priests, Pastors and other ‘Christians’ making horrible, un-Godly actions, and also teaching false doctrine. And from this it is very easy for one to grow a negative slate towards Christians.
Yet, just reflecting on your piece now, I have taken the time to consider all the Christians I personally know. In my reflection, I thought of 5 Christians who have stepped away from belief in Christ, but at the same time, I have thought of the hundred and so Christians I know attending my church for years, that love the Lord, and serve him. There are also the numerous Christians I know outside of church, who also follow Jesus’ teachings with all their heart, and look to serve their friends.
Although in one respect I think it is good that the media some times does the right thing, and confronts those who truly need confronting, I also believe it is unjust the bias they sometimes display. The news takes the time to report on unholy actions of church leaders, but it is an extreme rarity that they will ever report on the numerous healings, miracles, and powerful gospel of Christ Jesus.
Mind you, the saints that you speak of, do not look for attention, but they seek to please their Lord. I am always encouraged and greatly blessed when I am able to be in the company of such friends. Never asking for anything in return, they serve out of a non self-centered perspective. None the less, the news could attempt to do the right thing once and a while, and rather than just report on the negatives of the church, also report on the good of the church. I might be living in an ideal world, but I always like to think that one day the Media will act as the ‘forth estate’ and justly report on the good and the bad of everything, with no bias.
God bless the saints,
This is a timely reminder for us to dwell on those verses like Hebrew 6: 4ff that say: “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”
Again in Mark 4: 14ff it says: “The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.”
Galatian 6:7-8 says “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction.”
It is true that God graciously does have some, even like King David, by the scruff of the neck but it would be a dangerous presumption to build a “once saved always saved” theology out of this. Clearly we know of others who have never been able to turn back but continue downward, powerless to pull out of their plunge. But there is no such thing as a solitary, private Christian and solitary animals get picked off by other predators. We are accountable to one another. James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
The question is how many of us confess our sins to one another? We forget that we are not that bunch of respectable, righteous, “go to church on a Sunday/ part of the establishment Christians” but are instead sinners saved by grace. We need to learn once more to become very small, broken and in humility accept that grace can only really abound when sin is acknowledged.
David Skinner, UK
Bill, great encouragement. Thanks for your perseverance.
Only a few times in life do we rub shoulders with people who truly inspire us, just by their presence. In my life it has a hand full of men. Like David’s mighty men. People who, through their life and testimony, make the rest of us feel like even in the worst situations “we can stand”! And by the way Christian’s like all people in life have to deal with grief, pain and loss. For me, Personally, losing a child and having another with a major birth abnormality. But walking with God gives the strength to overcome! Knowing peace and joy in life. Bill you are one of these people who emits courage. Thanks. And to the rest of us, even in the worst times, never doubt “God is a good God”. He has and never will let you go. And Bill, I concur with the comments in your article. I think these “saints” are Champions of the faith. They are all around us and deserve our encouragement, as they encourage everyone around them.
Thanks Bill for your encouraging comments for the many Christians who quietly serve the Lord. Many would rather serve quietly and without fanfare because of the joy of seeing His love shared with others. One of Jesus’s last directions to His disciples was to ”..love one another”…and also …”;to care for His lambs”.
To have the opportunity to do so, and sometimes be blessed to see the joyous results of their efforts is thanks enough for them.
But an encouraging ‘Pat on the Back’ is always appreciated.
Great article Bill, and I too thank you for perservering.