Encouraged to Persevere
April 26, 2015 / No. 3773
Dear Radio Friends,
Several weeks ago we began looking at a section in the book of Hebrews 10:19-25. This is a section in God’s Word to encourage New Testament believers in worship. In the first three verses (19-21), the writer lays the foundation for worship. On account of the death of Jesus Christ, he says, we have access to God. In verses 19-20: We have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh.” On account of the blood of Christ we can come to God.
Then, also, in verse 21 we have the privilege of having Jesus Christ as our Advocate, we have Him as our High Priest continually in God’s presence. And on that foundation, there are three exhortations that follow. The first one is in verse 22. We considered that last time: “Let us draw near to God, that is, let us worship.”
Today we look at the next one in verse 23, which is: “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised).”
In this verse we have, right alongside each other, complimentary and corresponding truths of the preservation and perseverance of the saints. Perseverance is steadfastness and constancy. It is to continue in our faith through difficulty unto the end, to endure through trouble and trial. Every believer is called to persevere. That is here in the text in the words “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering.”
Preservation is God’s work of keeping us by His grace in our salvation until the day of Jesus Christ. It is God holding unto us, not letting us go—God seeing to it that nothing ever separates us from His love. And that is here in the text in the words “he is faithful that promised.”
You see, these are not contradictory truths. The call to perseverance does not mean that our salvation depends on us, that somehow we have to keep ourselves in grace, that we have to be trying continually to keep God’s favor. No, we are preserved by God in His grace.
But on the other hand, the fact that God preserves and keeps us in our salvation does not mean that we are passive, that we do nothing as Christians. Rather, the primary way that I know I am a genuine believer is that I persevere in my faith. This is the clearest indication to you in your experience that you are a child of God. God, by His grace, gives you the strength to persevere.
So, in the text, we have an urgent call to perseverance. “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering.” I say, that is an urgent call. The urgent call is this, or the urgency is this, that unless we have something to hold on to, we have nothing to worship. Unless we hold fast to our profession, we have no God to worship, we have no Jesus Christ to go through to God.
This book was written to early Jewish Christians who, under the pressure of persecution, were tempted to go back to Judaism. And the writer is saying to them, “No, we have something far superior. We have access to God through the blood of Jesus. We have Jesus as our permanent High Priest in God’s presence. So, let us hold fast to that profession. Let us persevere. Let us do that even in the face of persecution.”
And, as Christians, we need the same encouragement. In the Christian life there are disappointments, there are burdens. There is the threat of persecution. It is not popular to make a biblical confession of Jesus. So, in the same way, we are tempted to draw back, perhaps to hide our identity, to forsake Jesus Christ. And God’s Word is: “Go on, endure, persevere in your faith. Hold fast.”
Now we see in the text that the writer assumes something of his audience. He assumes that he is writing to people who have made a profession of their faith. He is writing to people who call themselves Christian, who said at some point, “I do believe in Jesus Christ.” Maybe this describes you. You have made a profession but, like these early Christians, you are tempted to give up on that confession. You find being a Christian too difficult, too demanding. Then God’s Word comes to you and says, “Hold fast and don’t waver.”
What is it to profess your faith? First, it is to tell others, Christians as well as unbelievers, that you believe in Jesus Christ. You profess Him. It is to tell others about Jesus Christ, to tell them that He is your Savior who died on the cross to pay the price for your sins. It is to admit humbly that you are a sinner who needs Jesus.
Second, to profess your faith is to tell others about the work of God’s grace in your life, in your salvation. Not only did Jesus die for you as a sinner to spare you the judgment of hell, but Jesus has come, by His Holy Spirit, into your heart to give you a love for Him, a hatred for all sin, and to make you heavenly-minded, to make you a creature of hope. And others can see this in you. They see that you struggle with sin. They see that you strive to live in godliness. They see that heaven is your home and your destiny—not the earth.
Third, to profess your faith is to live a life of obedience to God’s Word before the world, so that others can see what being a Christian is simply from watching how you live. The gospel is something that permeates every aspect of your life—how you relate to and deal with others, how you handle stressful situations, how you live in your family and personal life, the ways that you speak, what you do for fun and entertainment, your approach to work and your boss, and so on. Your life agrees with your profession. You practice what you preach.
Fourth, to profess your faith is to be ready to tell others what you believe. There is substance and content to the Christian faith. There are absolute truths and absolute morals. The Bible is the standard for what you believe and how you live. It gives the content of your faith. And, as one who possesses faith, you are ready to speak of this openly to others because you believe that God’s Word is powerful, that, as you bring God’s Word to others and speak to them from God’s Word, God may well use that word for their salvation.
Now, this profession is not something that you do just once in your life. To profess faith is a lifelong calling for every believer. That comes out in the verse here in both the positive and the negative—the positive call to “hold fast,” and the negative warning to do this without wavering. Living the Christian life is a constant struggle between those two things. To waver is to be unsure. It is to falter and to hesitate. When the Christian life gets difficult, when we face resistance, when we have to bear a burden, when responsibilities press on us, then Satan tempts us into thinking that God is not really real, that being a Christian and living the Christian life is a waste of time and effort, that we would be better off in some other religion or with some other company. Then we are wavering. This is our temptation—a constant part of our struggle as Christians.
Then God’s Word comes to us and it says in our wavering: “Hold fast.” Other believers will gather around us and, like the writer to the Hebrews, will say to us: “Let us hold fast. Don’t waver. Don’t let go. Let us persevere. Let us go on. We have something to hold onto—Jesus Christ. He’s the Rock in the storm. He’s the King in the heavens over all. He’s the High Priest who has gone on behind the veil. He’s the Lamb that has paid the price for our sins. Hold on. Hold fast. Don’t let go.” This is the Christian life—a lifelong calling, a persevering to the end.
To help us understand this, we have in the Gospels, in Jesus’ first parable, an illustration. This first parable we usually refer to as the Parable of the Sower. While it is, indeed, a parable of the sower and of the seed, the sower being Jesus and the seed the Word of God, it is also a parable of four different soils that represent four different responses to the Word of God in the gospel. This is the emphasis we find especially in Luke’s account of this parable in Luke 8. There is first, the seed that falls on the wayside. Wayside is hard-packed soil, dirt paths. The birds of the air devour the seed that falls on it. Jesus says in Luke 8:12, “These are they that hear, and then cometh the devil and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.” There is a hearing with the ears but there is no measurable or noticeable response to the Word of God at all. There is an indifference in the heart. The heart is hard and the Word is snatched away.
Then we notice, in the second and third kinds of soil, in contrast, that there is, at least initially, some response to the gospel. In Luke 8:13 Jesus says, “They [on the rock] are they which, when they hear, receive the word with joy. But these have no root, which for awhile believe and in time of temptation fall away.” They do not hold fast. And then the seed among the thorns is described similarly. “They,” Jesus says, “when they have heard, go forth and are choked with the cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and they bring forth no fruit to perfection.”
Then there is a fourth kind of soil, a fourth response to the gospel. What is fascinating in the Gospels is that the description of the initial reception of the Word by this fourth kind of soil, this prepared soil, is almost identical to the second and the third kinds of soil—the rocky and the thorny. The Word is received with joy. But then Jesus describes what happens after that. He says, “in an honest and good heart, having heard the Word, they keep it and bring forth fruit with patience.” Patience is perseverance. Jesus is saying here in this parable that the true believer receives the Word and goes on in his faith, he keeps on in the Word of God, he holds fast. In his struggle he holds on to the Word of God. As James puts it, “He is not a forgetful hearer, but also a doer of the Word.” You see, this is faith. This is true faith. Faith is not a flash in a frypan. The important question is not, “When did I once believe on Jesus,” but “Do I now believe on Jesus. Am I holding fast, am I going forward in the Christian life?” The important question for the church is not, “How many people have believed, how many people have accepted Jesus?” But the important question is, “Are those who profess faith persevering in that faith today?”
That is so different from the question that is asked by modern evangelicalism. Today, modern evangelism is this: get a stadium filled with people; get a moving speaker; and then see how many souls we can get saved for Jesus Christ in one night; how many people to say a prayer. And at the end of the night we say, “Six hundred people were saved.” The problem is, a year later, you can find barely one of them in the church. Do you know what would happen if there were six hundred people saved and added to the church in one night? The church would be overwhelmed. But we do not see this. So, there is a new category for Christians created, which absolutely has no foundation in the Word of God. We are told that there is such a thing as a “carnal” Christian. This is supposed to describe a person who at one point said he was a Christian, who professed his faith, but now he lives like the world, he is carnal. How different and how contrary that is to the Word of God. We see here in Hebrews 10 that the Christian, the true believer, is one who holds fast to his profession without wavering. There is a lifelong commitment and profession of faith. That is the calling here. That is the important question for you if you profess your faith: “Do you hold fast to that profession?”
How can we hold fast? I want to answer that from a practical point of view, by pointing very briefly to three things. We hold fast by not forgetting the things that we have learned, by remembering the Word of God, by reminding ourselves of God’s Word. This is what Paul says to Timothy in II Timothy 3:10-15—quite a section. He tells Timothy to remember the instruction that he received from a child in the Word of God. Or, as Jesus says to the church in Revelation 2, the church at Ephesus that had left her first love: “Remember, therefore, from whence thou art fallen, and repent and do the first works.” That is, remember God’s Word.
Secondly, we hold fast by continuing to learn. The Christian can never stand still. Either he is progressing forward in sanctification or he is going backward. So, as a Christian, you must continue to learn, you must avail yourself of the means that God has given for us to grow in grace. And that begins by commitment to the church and worship with God’s people and hearing the preaching of the Word of God that God has appointed not only as the means to be saved, but the means to persevere in salvation. That is what the apostle will get to here in the following verses—not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together. What is remarkable today is that so many who call themselves Christians come so infrequently to worship. Or they come and they sleep, or they have some other apathetic attitude towards God’s Word. Is there nothing more for you to learn? Do you not need the gospel still in your life? So, do not forget the things that you have learned. Continue to learn.
Then, third, stand with other believers. This is how we hold fast. Be found in the church of God. God has given His Holy Spirit to the church to lead her into truths. Stand with the church of God that is faithful to God’s Word, that confesses God’s Word in the historic tradition of the church, not a church that comes with something new and some new idea of what God’s Word is teaching or saying. But, stand with God’s people in the history of Christianity, faithful to God’s Word. Stand with other believers. This is what we need in order to hold fast. It is in the plural—let us hold fast to the profession of our faith. So, the apostle here is talking about the Christian. The Christian is one who perseveres, who goes on, who holds fast.
Why does he? The answer is given at the end of the verse here when it says: “For he [that is, God] is faithful that promised.” That means that, because God is faithful, He will keep you in your faith. I Thessalonians 5:24 puts it this way: “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” The strength of our perseverance is God. Our capacity to go on as Christians is not in ourselves. We do not hold on to our hope by our own strength. But, remember, faith/hope has an object: God, who is the source of all our strength. We look at His promises and His character that stand behind all of those promises.
You see, we are not just called, here, to hope or to believe, because there is some power in hoping or believing itself. This is not just psychology—because if that is all that you have, then what if the thing in which you place your hope or faith fails? Then you go on to disappointment. No, the God in whom we put our hope and in whom we believe is faithful. The power of our hope, the power of our persevering, comes from the One who is the object of our faith—God. He will never disappoint. And what will strengthen you to persevere is that you come back again and again to God and to His promises and to His character. This is the importance of theology. This is the importance of doctrine. It is not an irrelevant, academic exercise for a few. But this is the stuff of which the Christian faith is made of. This is the foundation of our faith: God Himself and knowing Him.
So, I am going to close by directing your attention to God, God triune: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost as the One who keeps us. God the Father, the Bible tells us, has chosen to Himself out of the whole human race an elect people whom He has willed to save and who are committed by Him to the Son. God’s eternal electing love cannot be reversed. It is not in any way conditioned on some good in the creature. The Father’s love, eternal love in election, guarantees our salvation.
Second, I direct you to God the Son, Jesus Christ, who came into our flesh and gave His life on the cross for His people. That loving sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was so powerful that it guarantees the salvation of everyone for whom He died. Jesus says that of all those whom the Father has given to Him, not one will be lost. Romans 8 assures us that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Then third, I direct you to God the Holy Spirit, who comes in a powerful and irreversible work to bring salvation into the hearts of all the elect, all those whom the Father has chosen and for whom the Son has died. So, in Philippians 1:6, we read this concerning the work of the Holy Spirit: “That he that hath begun a good work in you will perform it till the day of Jesus Christ.” What does that mean? It means this, that in every heart to which the Holy Spirit has brought new life, so that that sinner loves God, confesses his sins, struggles against sin, lives by faith, hopes in God’s promises, loves his neighbor, in every heart where the Holy Spirit has begun that work, He will continue that work until the day of Jesus Christ. Why? Because the people who have God’s Spirit and the new life in them are the same ones that God eternally loved and chose. And they are the same ones for whom Jesus Christ gave His life. So, in God triune, their salvation is guaranteed.
There is the faithfulness of God. He preserves His own. And so, looking to God, the One who is faithful to His promise, let us persevere and let us hold fast to the profession of our faith without wavering.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy faithfulness. And we pray for the grace and the strength to persevere, to hold fast, and not to waver. We ask it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.