Old Testament believers (8)

We are looking at salvation with reference to Old Testament believers. In this penultimate study we are going to look at the subject of perseverance.

Perseverance produces fruit

'But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.' (Luk 8:15)

In the previous study we saw that fruit-bearing is necessary for salvation. Fruit-bearing is so important to Christians that Jesus taught about it in all four Gospels. He taught about it in the Vine and the Branches in John's Gospel, and in the Parable of the Sower in the other three Gospels.

The Greek word translated 'fruit' in the Vine and the Branches is karpos. It describes the produce of vegetation and can be translated as fruit, crop or harvest. The word is used in each account of the Parable of the Sower where it's translated as crop.

By using the same Greek word in both teachings the Bible is showing that they deal with the same subject, and that the crop (karpos) that the good soil produces in the Parable of the Sower is the fruit (karpos) of the Spirit (Gal 5:22–23a)—the same fruit produced by the branches of the vine.

In the Vine and the Branches the fruit of the Spirit is produced by those who remain in Jesus, ie by those who remain in the faith (Joh 15:5). In the Parable of the Sower the fruit of the Spirit is produced by those who persevere, ie by those who persevere in the faith.

That means that to produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives we have to remain in the faith and persevere in the faith.

Perseverance and falling away

I saw a television programme many years ago about a UK businessman who had made a fortune from publishing pornographic magazines and running a chain of sex shops. We were shown around his palatial home and taken into his office. His desk was bare apart from a plaque which read 'Perseverance is King'.

This man of the world attributed the material harvest he had reaped to perseverance, and he wanted all who knew him to realize that. Likewise, the sons and daughters of the kingdom will produce a spiritual harvest for God if they persevere. Jesus wants us to realize that.

What is perseverance? Perseverance is continuing in a course of action despite difficulties, or with little or no indication you are succeeding. In spiritual terms it means continuing to walk with the Lord when things get difficult; it's having a tenacious spirit that never gives up.

The prophet Habakkuk in the Old Testament had such a spirit:

Though the fig-tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour. (Hab 3:17–18)

Habakkuk was not a circumstance-influenced believer; his feelings for God were not affected by his circumstances. He was a man of faith who would continue to worship and serve his Lord no matter what happened to him.

The alternative to persevering is falling away. Jesus said, in the Parable of the Sower, that the seed that fell on rocky places represent those who hear the Word and receive it with joy. They believe for a while (Luk 8:13), but when trouble or persecution comes because of the Word they quickly fall away (Mar 4:17b), ie they abandon the faith and fail to mature and produce fruit.

By contrast, the seed that fell on good soil stands for those who hear the Word, retain it, and by persevering (continuing in the faith despite difficulties) produce a crop (a harvest of fruit) for God.

Perseverance brings maturity

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (Jam 1:2–4)

Why does God allow trials and difficulties to come into our lives? He allows them to bring us to maturity. Do you want to be spiritually mature and complete as a Christian, not lacking anything? Then you need to go through trials and testings of many kinds.

When the next trial appears in your life thank God for it. It won't be pleasant, but you know it's there to do a work in you. The Lord brought you through the last trial and he will bring you through this trial, and every other trial, if you continue to trust in him (Jer 17:7–8).

In Luke's account of the Parable of the Sower, Jesus said that the seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear the Word but are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures and do not mature (Luk 8:14). Consequently they do not produce a crop. It's mature plants that produce crops, yielding thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown (Mar 4:20).

Perseverance—pressing on in the faith through trials and difficulties—brings believers to maturity. They will then produce the crop of spiritual fruit God is looking for.

Job's perseverance

As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy (Jam 5:11).

Throughout this series we've looked at Old Testament believers who demonstrated the qualities necessary for salvation. In this study we've looked at Habakkuk, who said he would continue to rejoice in God his Saviour (persevere in the faith) despite his circumstances. But by far the greatest example of perseverance in the Old Testament is that of Job.

Job is an example of extreme perseverance and is in the Bible to teach us several things.

The first thing we are told is that he was a blameless and upright man who feared God and shunned evil (Job 1:1). Job lived a righteous life, which is only possible through the enabling of the Holy Spirit. Job was an Old Testament believer; he was born again and indwelt by the Spirit of God, as we are. So what happened in his life is relevant to us.

While Habakkuk was contemplating how the forthcoming Babylonian invasion might affect his food supply, Job suffered almost total wipeout. Within a short period of time he lost his children, his flocks, his herds, his servants and his health. The only part of his life that remained untouched was his wife.

Was she the helper God had created her to be (Gen 2:18)? No, she was the exact opposite. She said that the best thing he could do would be to curse God and die, something he resolutely refused to do (Job 2:9–10). But why had all this happened to him?

If you read the first two chapters of Job you will see that Satan had to get permission from God to touch him or anything belonging to him. That is true for every child of God.

Reasons for satanic attack

There are three reasons why God will allow Satan to attack born-again believers:

To discipline us

Paul said that he had handed Hymenaeus and Alexander over to Satan to teach them not to blaspheme (1Ti 1:20).

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Heb 12:11)

God disciplines us because he loves us and wants us to share in his holiness (Heb 12:5–6,10); and he knows the best way to do it. If things start going wrong for us, or we feel we are being attacked by Satan, we should search our hearts to see if there is sin in our lives.

Are we living according to the Word? Sins such as murder, theft and adultery are obvious and easy to identify. Others, such as greed and envy are not so obvious and can be such a part of our nature that we are unaware of them. But God is aware of them and wants them removed. And, if all else fails, he can use Satan to do it.

To teach us spiritual warfare

When Israel entered Canaan God didn't immediately give all of their enemies into their hands, he let some remain in the land to teach warfare to future generations (Jdg 3:1–2). The Christian life is a spiritual battle. We struggle not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12).

Satan does not want God's will to be done in our lives, but we do. That brings us into conflict with the enemy. Paul tells us to put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes we will stand (Eph 6:13). He then lists the items of spiritual armour available to us (Eph 6:14–17).

Paul didn't say 'if' the day of evil comes, but 'when' the day of evil comes. Christians may experience many days of evil during their lives, and one of the reasons God will allow them is to teach us spiritual warfare and make us stronger soldiers for Christ (Eph 6:10).

To bring us to maturity

The final reason why God will allow Satan to attack us is to test our faith in him and to bring us to maturity. As we saw earlier, the testing of our faith develops perseverance, and perseverance must finish its work in us so we can be mature and complete, not lacking anything (Jam 1:3–4).

Job couldn't understand why God had allowed such tragedy to befall him. Sometimes it's easier to endure suffering if we can see a reason for it. We can see the reason for his suffering, but he couldn't, and he was baffled and confused. All he could do was to cling to his faith, which the sustaining power of the Spirit enabled him to do (2Ch 16:9a).

There are many notable verses in the Book of Job. In Job 6:10 he said that his joy in unrelenting pain was that he had not denied the words of the Holy One. Despite intense physical and emotional suffering Job kept his faith. And in Job 19:25–27 he said:

'I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!'

That is a wonderful statement of faith. Job was looking forward to meeting his Saviour at the resurrection of the righteous (Act 24:15). And he was going to meet someone who would endure even greater suffering than himself.

Healed and restored

No trial, however protracted, will last forever. When God sees in us what he wants to see there will be no more need for it. When God saw in Job the perseverance he was looking for, he spoke to him, healed him and prospered him. In fact he gave him twice as much as he had before, and blessed the latter part of his life more than the first (Job 42:12).

Job lost all of his children—seven sons and three daughters—at the beginning of the trial. But God replaced them with another seven sons and three daughters, and his daughters were the most beautiful in the land (Job 42:13,15).

One could argue that nothing could have replaced the children he had lost; there would always have been a gap in his life. You can replace material things, but not people. But to that I say: Can God do anything wrong? His ways are not always our ways; and our ways are not always his ways (Isa 55:8–9).

Things of spiritual worth don't come easy in life; there is effort, sacrifice and sometimes suffering involved (you only have to look at Jesus on the cross to realize that). But that is how God has willed it, and often that is how it must be.

Run so as to get the prize

In Rev 2:1–7 Jesus sent a message to the church at Ephesus. He said that he knew their deeds, their hard work and their perseverance (v2a). He also knew they had persevered in the past and had endured hardships for his name (v3).

However he held one thing against them: they had forsaken (Greek: abandoned) their first love—which was himself (v4)! Their relationship with him was not as it was at the beginning.

Many Christians come into the kingdom full of faith and zeal for Jesus. They sacrifice much, initially, and throw themselves wholeheartedly into the Lord's work. They endure many things for his name, but are they still walking with him twenty years later? Some, sadly, are not.

Paul likened salvation to competing in the games (1Co 9:24–27). He further likened it to a race within the games and said that we should run in such a way as to get the prize. The prize is eternal life.

What is the best way to run the race? Salvation is not a hundred metres sprint, it's more like a marathon. It's not those who sprint off when the gun is fired (and drop out after a few miles) who succeed, but those who keep running until they cross the line—the ones who persevere through the heat of the day, the pain and the tiredness.

Paul wrote:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day… (2Ti 4:7–8a)

Paul kept running—he kept the faith—until he crossed the line—the end of his earthly life. So he knew he would receive the crown of life that was waiting for him.

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. (Jam 1:12)

Read through the New Testament and note the trials and difficulties Paul encountered as he served Jesus, but he persevered through them all—as Job did. To receive the crown of life we must persevere.

Stand firm in the faith

'Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.' (Mat 24:9–13)

Jesus was describing the worldwide persecution that will come upon the Church immediately before his return.

He said that as a result of that persecution many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and that the love of most (Greek: a great or large number) will grow cold. But he added that those who stand firm (Greek: persevere) to the end will be saved.

Those who persevere in their faith to the end—which for some will mean martyrdom (v9)—will be saved. That implies that those who do not persevere will not be saved.

The Philippian jailer fell before Paul and Silas and asked them what he must do to be saved. They replied, 'Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household (Act 16:29–31).' But that doesn't mean that everyone who has believed in Jesus at some time in their life will be saved.

The Greek verb translated 'believe in' (pisteuo) is in a form that describes an action that is unlimited in the number of times it is performed, and the time span over which it is performed. In other words Paul and Silas told the Philippian jailer to believe in—and to keep believing in—the Lord Jesus, and he would be saved.

The Bible doesn't teach 'once saved, always saved'. The Bible teaches that those who believe, and continue to believe, will be saved. Perseverance is necessary for salvation.

Michael Graham
August 2010

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®. NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.

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