Does it matter if we persevere in our faith? Are we called to be holy just as God is holy? Do perseverance and holiness have anything to do with our salvation?
The Bible has a lot to say about perseverance in several different contexts. Clearly, the Scriptures teach that those who “overcome” and persevere in the faith will inherit eternal life (cf. Revelation 2:7). This truth is also expressed in Colossians 1:23 where we see that people will be holy, blameless and above reproach “if they continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel.” So all Christians should be in agreement that those who are ultimately saved are those who do persevere and continue to believe the gospel.
Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 24:13: “But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved”. The disciples, looking upon the huge stones which were used in the construction of the Temple, admired the edifice greatly, and expected their Lord to utter a few words of passing encomium; instead of which, he, who came not to be an admirer of architecture, but to hew living stones out of the quarry of nature, to build them up into a spiritual temple turned their remarks to practical account, by warning them of a time of affliction, in which there should be such trouble as had never been before, and he added, “No, nor ever shall be.” He described false prophets as abounding, and the love of many as waxing cold, and warned them that “The one who perseveres to the end will be saved” (cf. Matthew 24:1-14). So that this solemn truth applies to every Christian.
Any doctrine of eternal security that leaves out perseverance distorts the doctrine of salvation itself. Heaven without holiness ignores the whole purpose for which God chose and redeemed His people:
God elected us for this very purpose. “He chose us in him [Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Eph. 1:4). We were predestinated to be conformed to the image of Christ in all His spotless purity (cf. Rom. 8:29). This divine choice makes it certain that we shall be like Him when He appears (cf. 1 John 3:2). From this fact, John deduces that everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself just as Christ is pure (cf. 1 John 3:3).
God’s own holiness thus requires perseverance. “God’s grace insures our persevering but this does not make it any less our persevering.” Believers cannot acquire “the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” unless they “press on toward the goal” (Philippians 3:14). But as they “work out [their] salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), they find that “it is God who is at work in [them], both to will and work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
Perseverance is not the lot of the few; it is not left to laborious preachers of the Word, or to consistent Church-officers, it is the common lot of every believer in the Church. It must be so, for only thus can they prove that they are believers. It must be so, for only by their perseverance can the promise be fulfilled, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). Without perseverance, they cannot be saved; and, as saved they must be, persevere they shall through divine grace.
Beyond the concept of perseverance in regard to salvation, there are biblical exhortations to persevere in the Christian life. In his pastoral epistles to Timothy, the apostle Paul reminds the young pastor to “watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16). Timothy’s character was that of a godly man, and his doctrine was sound and scriptural. Paul warned him to watch them both closely and persevere in them because—and this is a warning to all Christians—perseverance in godly living and believing the truth always accompany genuine conversion (cf. John 8:31; Romans 2:7).
Further exhortations to persevere in the Christian life come from James, who warns us to be “doers of the word and not hearers only” because those who hear but do not do are “deceiving themselves.” “But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it [perseveres]…this one will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:22-24). The sense here is that the Christian who perseveres in godliness and the spiritual disciplines will be blessed in the very act of persevering. The more we persevere in the Christian life, the more God grants His blessings upon us, thereby enabling us to continue to persevere. The psalmist reminds us that there is great reward in persevering in the Christian life. In keeping God’s commandments, there is “great reward” for our souls (cf. Psalm 19:11), peace of mind, a clear conscience, and a witness to the world more eloquent than many words.
If we take the run of a man’s life, say for ten, twenty, or thirty years, and, if by carefully watching, we see that he brings forth the fruits of grace through the Holy Spirit, our conclusion may be drawn very safely. As the truly magnetized needle in the compass, with many deflections, yet does really and naturally point to the pole; so, if we can see that despite infirmities, our friend sincerely and constantly aims at holiness, then we may conclude with something like certainty, that he is a child of God. Although works do not justify a man before God, they do justify a believer’s profession before his fellows. We cannot tell whether a person is justified in calling himself a Christian except by his works; by your works, therefore, as James says, shall you be justified. You cannot by your words convince me that you are a Christian, much less by your experience, which I cannot see but must take on trust from you; but your actions will, unless you be an unmitigated hypocrite, speak the truth, and speak the truth loudly too. If your course is as the shining light which shines more unto the perfect day, I know that yours is the path of the just. All other conclusions are only the judgment of charity such as we are bound to exercise; but this is as far as man can get it, the judgment of certainty when a man’s life has been consistent throughout.
James also exhorts us to persevere “under trials” because those who do will be blessed and will receive the “crown of life” which God has promised (cf. James 1:12). Just as the true believer will be eternally secure in his salvation, his faith will also persevere in affliction, sickness, persecution, and the other trials of life that befall all believers. If we desire to live godly lives in Christ, we will suffer persecution (cf. 2 Timothy 3:12), but the faithful will persevere, kept by the power of the Holy Spirit who is the guarantee of our salvation and who will keep us “strong to the end,” persevering so we will be “blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:8).
When Mr. Smeaton had built the lighthouse upon the Eddystone, he looked out anxiously after a storm to see if the edifice was still there, and it was his great joy when he could see it still standing, for a former builder had constructed an edifice which he thought to be indestructible, and expressed a wish that he might be in it in the worst storm which ever blew, and he was so, and neither himself nor his lighthouse were ever seen afterwards. Now we have to be exposed to multitudes of storms; we must be in our lighthouse in the worst storm which ever blew; build firmly then on the Rock of Ages, and make sure work for eternity, for if we do these things, we shall never fall. But we cannot persevere except by much watchfulness in prayer, much carefulness over every action, and much dependence upon the strong hand of the Holy Spirit who alone can make us stand. We shall walk and live as in the sight of God, knowing where our great strength lies, and depend upon it we shall yet sing that sweet doxology in Jude, “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen” (Jude 24-25). A simple faith brings the soul to Christ, Christ keeps the faith alive; that faith enables the believer to persevere, and so he enters heaven. May that be our lot for Christ’s sake. Amen.
Let us ask Jesus to help us persevere to the end with the song “O Jesus I have promised”: