Persevere to the End
Readings: Romans 5:1-8
Pentecostals along with many others hold to the maxim, “Once saved; always saved.” I suppose they get that from when Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27, 28 NIV). So we’re guarded against anyone else coming between us and the love of Jesus. That’s a thought that comforts us in times of trial. But what if it’s not someone else that beaks the link? When He created us, God gave us one precious but dangerous gift — free will. So, what if we choose to use that free will, turn our backs on Jesus and put other things such as money or fame as the most important thing in our lives instead? They then become our new gods. This is no flight of fancy. In the past, many Christians have admitted to losing their faith in God. I went on the Internet to see if there were any examples I could quote. I only had to look on the first page at the titles of the sites available to study. Here are just a few:
5 Religious Leaders Who Gave Up Their Faith.
20 Celebrities Who Lost Their Christian Faith.
I Was A Hardcore Christian, But This Is Why I Lost My Faith.
From Minister to Atheist: A Story of Losing Faith.
The Israelites turned their backs on God many times in the Old Testament of our Bible. How did God react to them then? He turned completely away from the people He had called the “apple of His eye” (Proverbs 7:2 NIV) and told them, “Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!” (Judges 10:14 NIV).
That comforting sentence Jesus said is indeed a massive help to us when we’re struggling, especially with our faith. But that’s the only time Jesus said those words and it’s usually safer to weigh each Scripture against others we can find in our Bible. We can’t always use our paltry human logic to figure out how God will view things, but let’s just think about this.
Say a man is persuaded that Jesus is the Saviour and Lord of all and he goes through all the procedures of Baptism or Confirmation or whatever and, for a couple of years, lives the life of a good Christian. Suppose he then falls in with bad company, and does all sorts of evil and despicable things against humanity and against God. In spite of many attempts by his old Christian friends, he continues to do such things, without remorse or repentance, until the day he dies. Do you think he will be saved? Do you think he deserves to be saved? Well, we can’t answer that, because none of us deserves to be saved, because we’re all sinners. It’s only by the grace of God that we have the faith that can save us. Do you think God will give that grace to the person I’ve described? Once again, that’s not for us to say.
But we can read what God thinks about that exact situation in the Book of Ezekiel. God says, “If an evil man stops sinning and keeps my laws, if he does what is right and good, he will not die; he will certainly live. All his sins will be forgiven, and he will live, because he did what is right. Do you think I enjoy seeing an evil man die?" asks the Sovereign Lord. "No, I would rather see them repent and live.
“But if a righteous man stops doing good and starts doing all the evil, disgusting things that evil people do, will he go on living? No! None of the good he did will be remembered. He will die because of his unfaithfulness and his sins.” (Ezekiel 18:21-24 GNB).
Make no mistake, there is evil in each one of us being continually suppressed by the Holy Spirit, who the followers of Jesus have within them. When someone called Jesus “Good Teacher”, He replied, “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone” (Mark 10 :18 NIV).
In two world wars, thousands of Christians on both sides killed other Christians. Before they went to war, they probably lived good lives and were kind to others. What happened? The horror of their surroundings allowed the evil to come from within and take over.
In our first reading, Paul mentions that one of the stages of winning God’s approval was endurance, brought about by our overcoming the troubles in our lives. If we think about that and look again at our Bible, it soon becomes pretty obvious that He’s right, when he says we need to maintain our faith until the very end. The New Testament mentions “continuing”, “keeping on”, “persevering” and the phrase “to the end” more than 44 times in this context. I won’t list them all but here are just a few:
Jesus said, twice in Matthew’s Gospel and once in Mark’s:
“but he who stands firm to the end will be saved”. (Matthew 10:22 NIV), (Matthew 24:13 NIV), (Mark 13:13 NIV)
To the Colossians Paul wrote:
But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation — if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. (Colossians 1:22-23 NIV)
But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:25 NIV)
And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. (1 John 2:28 NIV)
Paul often uses his own experiences, which were many and very varied, as examples to lead his followers into the lives they needed to live, in order to win the prize at the end of their lives — the prize of spending eternity with Jesus in heaven. One of his main aims was to get over to them the importance of endurance or perseverance in holding onto their faith, no matter what. On one occasion he wrote to the Corinthians, “as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger.” (2 Corinthians 6:4, 5 NIV).
He wrote to his protégé, “Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith.” (1 Timothy 1:18-19 NIV).
So, we can shipwreck our faith. How might we do that? Imagine a man on a yacht with a few companions. Let’s call him Fred. These guys aren’t really bothered where they’re going. They’re just enjoying being at sea and each other’s company. A storm develops. Fred isn’t worried about that – in fact he loves storms; their black power; the uncertainty as to where the lightning might strike next; the dark forces within the waves and the tingle of fear down his spine he experiences.
Suddenly the boat is struck by a huge wave and overturns. The men are all in the water. They have life jackets on, so they stay afloat but they know there are dangers in the sea. Out of the blackness, a ship appears; lines are thrown down to those struggling in the water. Then they notice the emblem on the sail. The sign of the cross is well-known. They’ve heard tales of these people; about being brainwashed into another kind of life. They’ve met people this has happened to and it was like talking to another person. All but Fred refuses to take a line. He’s hauled aboard and the others are left and never heard of again.
This is a much bigger boat and can ride through the crashing waves. But Fred’s drawn once again by the storm and goes up on deck, where he’s washed overboard. He’s right back where he started, struggling in the sea. The ship sends out an SOS and soon a helicopter arrives on the scene. A brave man is lowered into the heaving, black water and brings Fred up to safety. The helicopter flies straight back to its base and Fred is taken to hospital, where all his ills are healed and he becomes fit and healthy again.
OK, so now we can have a look at that story from a Christian point of view. The pals are out for a bit of fun and enjoyment together. They don’t have to be at sea. They don’t know much about Jesus. In fact in these days of our faith no longer being taught in all schools, we’re reaching the stage where many know hardly anything about Him. But they feel they’re pretty decent guys and so, at the end of their lives, they’ll have nothing to fear from God, if there is such a person. Fred is even a bit excitedly drawn to the dark force that’s in everyone which, as we’ve heard, only kept in check by the Holy Spirit found within the followers of Jesus.
Suddenly, at some point in their lives, everything changes. They really are in danger of losing their lives and they know they’ve not made any meaningful preparation for this. Of course, they don’t have to be on a yacht. The lifelines thrown to them are from Christians reaching out to offer them a way to salvation from the peril in which they find themselves. The line-throwers have on lapel pins depicting the cross and, so profound is the misunderstanding people have these days about the Christian faith, due in no small part to stories in the media, they back away. They may indeed have known people who have come to know Jesus and whom they now no longer recognise — and it scares them; but not Fred. He was frightened and rightly so. So he was brought into the fellowship of a church (which of course was the big ship in our story). He accepted Jesus as his Saviour. And all was well with the world.
But, deep inside some part of him, he missed the siren call of the dark powers that exist in our world. They nagged at the back of his mind. Unfortunately, he didn’t mention this to anyone. Finally, he decided to just have a peek at the darkness. He found that easy to do on a computer – just have a peek. Before he knew it, he found himself being invited to join a group that was very different from his new-found home group. It looked so exciting. Surely one visit wouldn’t hurt. And he was hooked; now in a far, far worse condition than he was at the beginning of our story.
Fortunately for him, there were brave people, like the one from the helicopter in our story. They prayed to God for protection, entered that dark sphere and pulled him out. At his church an exorcism was performed and he could eventually be welcomed back into the fold. In effect, Fred was an addict to the dark side, so just like Alcoholics Anonymous and other such organisations, he was given a friend that he could call on, any time of day or night, if he felt in danger of regressing. On the day he died, he was welcomed into the Paradise that Jesus had promised his followers. At what point of this story was Fred Saved?
At each different point in both versions of this story, when rescuers appeared, Fred was in the process of being saved, but he was not SAVED! When do you think that Fred was actually saved from the risk of drowning? Not before he had his feet on terra firma and well away from the sea. What about the Christian Fred? When was he truly saved? Not until he was safe with Jesus in heaven.
That’s the point Paul is trying to make here. We’re all in the process of being saved and that’s why we must persevere with our faith right to the end. It’s of the utmost importance that we cling onto our faith, as if our very lives depended upon it, which of course they does — our eternal lives with Jesus. For some, this can prove difficult in the storms of life and slipups are easily made. We do, however have a wonderful path we can follow to help us in this. In the Confession part of some of our services, the following is read out to us, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us: but if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8, 9 NIV). What a thoughtful, helpful and loving God we have.
A tragedy like the Grenfell Tower block fire might have tested the faith of some but the human responses to it (the good ones) showed how people can be moved by God to reach out in love to others.
But is the struggle to hold onto our faith actually worth it? Let’s see what we know about the place we’ll get to after we have persevered to the end.
Well, we won’t have to spend hours shopping for clothes. We’ll each have a white robe that will always be spotless and never wear out. No one will be saying, “Do you think this outfit goes with my eyes?”, or “Do you think my bottom looks big in this?” We won’t need cupboards full of medicines and pills — because no one will ever get sick. Whilst we will be able to enjoy social relationships, we won’t need them for comfort. Our Lord’s first-hand relationship is all that we’ll really need. Faith-Teachers won’t be necessary at all. I’m sure it will be great to talk with the amazing people in our Bible, but we won’t need their instruction, because as Jesus said, “they shall be taught by God”. (John 6:45)
What we have now is the charity at the King’s gate — then we’ll be feasting at the King’s table. Here we can perhaps lean on friendly arms — there we shall be able to lean on Jesus. Here we have meat that spoils and all we buy eventually wears out or goes rotten — there we’ll find everything we need in God. Here we drink impure water from a tap or perhaps a bottle — there we can put our lips to the fountain of living water. Here angels may bring us blessings — there we’ll not need messengers, we’ll be seeing God face to face. In heaven there will be neither sadness nor regret and we’ll be surrounded by happiness and love all of the time.
So, is the effort of hanging onto our faith at all costs worth it? Well I for one believe it is and I’m sure that’s true of every person here. Amen