Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Do Christians Persevere?

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


Anonymous said...

The issue of salvation is a matter between the person and the Lord, a matter only He can judge.

If we looked at the life of David, or even Solomon, both saved individuals, how would you judge?

If we looked at the life of Paul, how would you judge? It seems he started out believing himself one way and at the end, called himself, "the worst of sinners."

So to persevere is what we Christians are called to do. But it is our choice whether we do it or not. And at the end, we will all stand before Him at the Judgement Seat and our works will be judged and that is where we should leave the matter, at the Judgement Seat by the one and only Judge, Who is qualified.

I don't see the point in constantly bringing a disobedient Christian back to the first step of his faith. If he is disobedient, he should confess his sin and ask for forgiveness of the sin. Not be convinced he was never saved in the first place.

And...seriously, if that was the bar, how much "good fruit" is enough to prove to oneself and other Christians, that one is saved? It's a dangerous hypothesis.

BeckyE said...

Thank you for your reply. I wish I knew your name. I usually don't reply to anonymous posts, but I'll definitely make an exception because you have some good points that I want to clarify.

Though I did mention things like, "understanding that God is the only one who knows the heart," it might have seemed like I was preaching that we are saved through works. This is far from the truth, as I stated in the two previous Theology Tuesdays about Justification and Sanctification.

Also, it is not my job to sit and judge, so I pray it would not be me judging David and Paul and Solomon!

However, in a counseling situation, (which is where these posts are coming from), when someone comes in with a life crisis, where their life is crashing up against the will of God, it would be a huge error for me to assume that they are saved because they walked an aisle when they were 12.

Preaching the gospel to ourselves does no harm, and finding forgiveness in the cross of Christ can come at any time in our Christian life.

I do not think we need to prove to other Christians we are saved, but if we aren't following our Shepherd regularly, then some good introspection, or "examining yourselves," (II Cor 13:5) is probably in order.

I hope this helps clarify! Becky

Anonymous said...

Thanks for replying. I wasn't confused. When you wrote of "gaining assurance" by looking at "works" it seems you are speaking of salvation by works.

Believing on the Lord Jesus, to be saved, is simple. It can't be proven. It's is only based on faith.

Our "works" as a Christian simply show if we are obedient to the Word or not. It never proves whether we were saved in the first place.

So again, I think if we are to look at our "works" to gain assurance of our salvation, it is dangerous. It was an act of faith. Whether we did it as a child or as an adult, it is a wonderful gift. Something He did alone. One just has to receive it.

And by referencing David, Solomon, and Paul, I wanted to point out men who sinned throughout their lives. Yet, they were saved. They are examples to us. So we don't start to feel comfortable in our own ideologies of what it means to be an obedient Christian, ...singing in church, teaching sunday school, or even becoming a nanc counselor.

For we should not uphold above doctrine, the precepts of men.

Thanks for your time.

BeckyE said...

And here we have the wonderful balance. You are right in the fact that we cannot look at our works and use them to guarantee our salvation. It is only by the blood of the lamb that we are saved. And we know that anything good that comes from us afterward is from Him also. (Go back a week and see the post on Sanctification.)

On the flip side, however, if you are looking at your own life and there is no fruit and you are doing things opposed to God's will, then that is a dangerous slope, and repentance is needed. I would hate for someone to be living this way and trusting in some prayer they prayed in the past.

Taking your example of David, Nathan the prophet confronted him regarding his sin, and he repented, and God forgave Him. This is in contrast to Saul who made excuses and asked the prophet to not tell the people or else he'd look bad in their eyes. See the difference?