Perseverance is the key virtue in the Christian Life because without it, one has no guarantee of a future inheritance with God in heaven. The Scriptures give us guarantees like, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Php 1:6) and at the same time they give us strong exhortations like, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Php. 2:12-13). In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus teaches us that only one of the categories of hearers bears fruit and perseveres. All the others are eventually swallowed up and destroyed by malignant influences which militate against Christian perseverance. There are also many warnings in the New Testament about falling away (Cf. Hebrews 6:1-12, etc.). Does a person have a carte blanche (blank check) once he professes faith in Christ? Can he do anything he wants while maintaining blessed assurance in a secure salvation? In his book, The Christian Life, Sinclair Ferguson puts this in perspective,
“Perseverance and faith, therefore, or perseverance and the Christian’s duty to battle on in the fight of faith are never separated and polarized in the Bible. It is never a case of ‘either/or’ always one of ‘both/and.’ In fact we persevere through faith and never apart from it. The picture is one of a dynamic, living trust in a God who actively holds on to us so that we may persevere. There is no blanket guarantee of perseverance. There is no mere doctrine of ‘the security’ of the believer, as though God’s keeping of us took place irrespective of the lives we live. Indeed there is not such thing in the New Testament as a believer whose perseverance is so guaranteed that he can afford to ignore the warning notes which are sounded so frequently.”
While we remain in the fight of faith to persevere the Christian can take great comfort and courage from his Good Shepherd who says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30)
Now There are at least three scenes in the New Testament where attentive Christians feel uncomfortable about how their Savior acts because it seems that he actions are unbecoming of the God-man:
-The Cleansing of the Temple – We think He’s just too angry and Jesus shouldn’t get angry.
– The Miracle of Changing Water into Wine- The excessive provision of fermented drink makes us uneasy.
-The scene in the Garden Gesthsemane – as Jesus faces his death, he seems to lack the courage that mere mortals have displayed in facing their deaths.
During the Marian Persecutions by Queen Mary (aka Bloody Mary) Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer were burned at the stake for their faith in Oxford, England, 1555.
They were tied side by side, and when the fire was lit at their feet, Latimer said (famously):
“Be of good cheer, Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day, by God’s grace, light up such a candle in England, as I trust, will never be put out.” (that’s courage!)
At roughly the same time, John Bradford was burned at the stake with John Leaf.
As the fire was being brought, he said to Leaf, “Be of good comfort, my brother, for we will have a merry supper with the Lord tonight.” Both Bradford and Latimer raised their hands and prayed as they burned.
There are many more similar accounts of Christian men and women who died for their faith with peace in their hearts. Just read Fox’s Book of Martyrs. Now contrast the confidence and joy of these martyrs with the agony, anguish and fainting of Jesus who is clearly shaken by his sufferings. In the gospels we’re regularly confronted with the tremendous power and dignity of Christ who was the judge of the earth, the eternal Son of God. He is the absolutely assured of His sonship to the father yet he trembles at death with more fear than humans much weaker than him. He is different than we have ever seen him and if we think about it, it bothers us.
But why? Tomorrow I’ll begin to unpack what Sinclair Ferguson calls, “one of the most sacred and solemn scenes in the entire Bible.”