It’s Theology Tuesday, and my NANC Counseling Question today is:
Do Christians Persevere? How does this impact counseling?
Before I dive into this, however, I should briefly discuss the definition of “Christian.”
Recently, a friend was offended when my daughter asked why she didn’t want to be a Christian. She asked, “What makes you think I’m not a Christian?” In the suburban middle class culture we live in, many people call themselves Christians.
Is a Christian a nice person who is kind to others? Or someone who grew up in Sunday School? Or someone who visits church on Easter? Maybe a Christian is someone who owns a Bible or knows about Jesus or prayed at summer camp when they were twelve.
A Christian is essentially a “little Christ,” one who believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and that by believing on Him they have life in His Name. (John 20:31).
I just asked my nine year old why she thought she was a Christian. She recited the verse, "If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." (Romans 10:9).
Persevere to the end, my friend! To the end of life, and to the end of this long post.
In short: Yes, Christians persevere. Once a man has been re-born, he does not go back to being as he was before.
Perseverance means: “All those who are truly born again will be kept by God’s power and will persevere as Christians until the end of their lives, and that only those who persevere until the end have been truly born again.” (Grudem 788).
Jesus told us what would happen to those who believed in Him. “For this is the will of my Father that every one who sees the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Earlier in the same passage Jesus said, “I should lose nothing of all that He has given me.” (John 6:38-40). The argument could stop there, since Jesus Himself said that that if the Father gave Him something, He will not lose it. However, there are many other similar passages that press home this point.
Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall 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.” (John 10:27-29).
We are in the hands of Jesus, and covering His hands are the hands of the Father, and no one can take us out! Even we ourselves are a part of that “no one,” meaning we can’t choose to jump out once the Father has given us to His Son.
The third member of the trinity also has a part in the perseverance of the believers. “In Him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance...” (Eph 1:13-14). If we have the Holy Spirit within us as believers, we have been promised eternal life. (John 3:36).
We know that no one seeks after God, and that we only love Him because He first loved us. We also read that He will complete the work He began in us, faithfully completing it. (Phil 1:6). He started the work in our hearts to draw us to Himself, and He will be faithful to see to our perseverance. So yes, we persevere, but not based on ourselves, it's still a gift of God!
Though this is a comforting thought, there are strong warnings that go hand in hand with it.
For one, nonbelievers can show many signs of being a true believer and not persevere to the end, thus indicating that they were never born again to begin with. Take Judas, for example. Jesus knew that he had never been a true follower when he said, “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?” (John 6:70). However, Judas must have blended right in because when Jesus mentioned His betrayer at the Last Supper, the disciples were unsure as to who it would be.
Many people will say to Him “Lord, Lord,” at the judgment, having done all sorts of good works, but He will cast them out and say He never knew them. It isn’t that He knew them but then they left Him. He never knew them. (Matt. 7:21-23). These are sobering words!
We have been encouraged to “continue in the faith,” “continue in My word,” “endure to the end,” and “hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm to the end.” (John 8:31-32, Col 1:22-23, Hebrews 3:14). The purpose of these warnings, however, is to warn those who are thinking of falling away or have fallen away that regardless of their “testimony,” they might not be believers at all.
The implications for counseling are huge!
It is vital to determine, to the best of our human understanding, the counselee’s position before God, for if he does not know Christ, that is the first step to be taken.
There are a few evidences of true conversion that can be looked for, understanding that God is the only one who knows the heart. We are told to “continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard.” (Col 1:23).
Does she still believe the gospel? Does she confess today, and not just twenty years ago when she walked the aisle, that belief in Jesus is all she needs for salvation? Or is she relying on her own works?
Is the Holy Spirit at work in his life? The Holy Spirit is said to bear witness in our hearts that we are God’s children, and He leads us in paths of obedience to God’s will. (Rom 8:14-16). The evidence of the fruit of the spirit should be growing, and his life should be producing other fruit that builds up the body and doesn’t tear it down. (Gal 5:22-23, Matt 7:16-20).
Does she accept and obey the sound teaching of their church and pastors? Constantly rejecting major doctrines of the faith is a warning sign. John said, “Whoever knows God listens to us, and he who is not of God does not listen to us.” (John 4:6).
Does he have an on-going relationship with Jesus, abiding in Him? This can show itself in worship, prayer, and praise. Jesus also said that His sheep follow Him and walk as He walked. Is her life showing a pattern, though not perfect, of obedience to God’s commands and of a growing love for others? “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.” (I John 3:14).
So what does this mean?
A counselee who can gain assurance from these things can boldly approach God for help and healing, knowing that when God looks at Him, He sees the perfect righteousness of Christ. A counselee who is broken by the list can be brought to the cross for forgiveness, and God will meet Him there with open arms.
This is part 3 of a series on the doctrine of Salvation.
See Part One Here: Justification
See Part Two Here: Sanctification
Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, pages 788-807