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Persevere in Faith

Written by Prof Johan Malan.

How should we defend ourselves against all the lies and deception that are proclaimed about the Christian faith? We should convince, rebuke, and exhort the wayward ones with all longsuffering and teaching (2 Tim. 4:2), thereby fulfilling our call “to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). The unfruitful works of darkness must be exposed (Eph. 5:11).

But these activities are all of a secondary nature as we are first and primarily called to be established, rooted and built up in God’s eternal truths. The Lord Jesus and the biblical doctrine about Him is the truth (John 14:6; 17:17). The Holy Spirit will guide us into these great and eternal truths if we believe and prayerfully study them (John 16:13).

Christians should be filled with the knowledge of the Lord (Col. 1:9-10) since all treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Him (Col. 2:3). Do you know the Lord through His Word which testifies of Him? (John. 5:39). His Spirit wants to guide you; He searches all things, also the deep things of God (1 Cor. 2:10).

When we are securely anchored to the Lord and taught by His Spirit, false prophets will not be able to deceive us because we have a definite frame of reference for the truth (1 Tim. 6:3-5; 1 John 2:27). All forms of deception are exposed in the light of these divine truths, thus enabling us to reject everything which is in conflict with the biblical doctrine of Christ (2 John 1:9-10).

It is a life-long task to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord (2 Pet. 3:18). Christians should become more and more conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29) so that we may be “filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that we may lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9-10).

In the process we will develop “senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection” (Heb. 5:14–6:1). Are you busy growing up to perfection? Although we are people with weaknesses who will never, in this dispensation, be perfect we should nevertheless pursue this ideal. Paul committed himself towards growing in the knowledge and image of Christ by dying to himself and becoming conformed to the Lord Jesus:

“Indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things... and to be found in Him... with the righteousness which is through faith in Christ by faith; that I might know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death... Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me” (Phil. 3:8-12).

To Timothy, he said, “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Tim. 6:12).

We are engaged in a fierce battle against the world, the flesh, sin, and against Satan and all the adversaries of the Christian faith; but we can be more than conquerors in the name of Him who has all power in heaven and on earth (Matt 28:18). However, it is only when we completely associate with the cross of Jesus Christ that we will die to the world (Gal. 6:14), that the Lord Jesus will increase in our lives (John 3:30), and that we will become strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Eph. 6:10).

In a process of increased spiritual dedication and growth we will more and more be conformed to the holiness and perfect nature of the Lord (1 Pet. 1:15-16; Matt. 5:48). This is the only way in which our hearts and lives will become pure, the eyes of our understanding being enlightened, that we may know what is the hope of our calling and the inheritance of the saints (Eph. 1:18). We will also, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in the light of God’s Word, be able to discern all the false doctrines that are in conflict with the true doctrine of Christ.

The lack of growth

What happens if we are not consistently built up in our most holy faith? (Jude 1:20). Then our knowledge of the truth corrodes, we diminish in grace, our spiritual preparedness decreases, we easily become despondent, and our motivation to serve the Lord under difficult circumstances also wanes.

A situation like this offers an open door to false doctrines because such people have lost their spiritual discernment. They are looking for artificial security to justify themselves in their backslidden state. Some rely on the law, others on the doctrine of election, on their baptismal covenant, or on the deceptive idea of eternal security that all believers enjoy after salvation – even if they have apostatised into a state of sin and worldliness.

The believers in Galatia have backslidden from a spiritual into a carnal state (Gal. 3:3) and adopted a form of godliness that is based upon legalism. Paul was surprised about their rapid decline: “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from him who has called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1:6-7).

The Corinthians also lapsed into a carnal state (1 Cor. 3:1-3) and consequently lost their ability to discern false teachings. Paul says that their minds have become corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ, and added, “If he who comes preaches another Jesus who we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you put up with it well” (2 Cor. 11:3-4).

Their naivety and lack of insight and knowledge were the direct results of their carnality – they no longer relied on the Holy Spirit for guidance. Human wisdom alone is not enough to protect us against spiritual deception. Many of the highly trained theologians are often among the most deceived people because of the absence of divine wisdom in their lives. Their doctrines and preaching may be impressive according to human standards, but they are in persuasive words of human wisdom and not in demonstration of the Spirit and of power (1 Cor. 2:4).

Solomon was one of the wisest persons on earth, and he specifically prayed for divine wisdom in the administration of justice: “Give to your servant an understanding heart to judge your people, that I may discern between good and evil” (1 Kings 3:9). The Lord gave him a wise and understanding heart like no other person on earth (1 Kings 3:10-12).

Later, Solomon depended more on the flesh (his own knowledge and experience) than on the Holy Spirit and thus lost his spiritual power and discernment. In the end he even worshipped the gods of some of his heathen wives, caused widespread apostasy in Israel and was surrendered to his enemies (1 Kings 11:4-10,14).

In New Testament times, the possibility of apostatising and even the loss of faith still exists. Paul exhorts Timothy to have “faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander” (1 Tim. 1:19-20).

In his second letter, Paul again warns Timothy against these people who have departed from the faith: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God... But shun profane and vain babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort... and they overthrow the faith of some” (2 Tim. 2:15-18).

There were also former “brethren” among the Hebrew believers who had evil and unbelieving hearts because of departing from the living God (Heb. 3:12). We are commanded to abide in Christ (John 15:4). Jesus said, “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered” (John 15:6).

Persevere in the faith

We must persevere with a life of faith while continuously growing in the grace and knowledge. If we do that, we will not depart from the Lord because of inadequate light on our path. “For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end” (Heb. 3:14). If we persevere, our hope on eternal life will not wane and our status as a temple of God will never change “if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end” (Heb. 3:6). We must hold fast that which we have in Christ, and not reject it as some have done.

Many believers do not practise perseverance in their lives, thereby losing spiritual discernment, falling prey to false prophets (Matt. 24:4,11,24) and participating in the sinful ways of the world. The inevitable consequence of this lifestyle is that they grow cold in their love towards the Lord Jesus (Matt. 24:12-13), lapse into the complacency of Laodicéa (Rev. 3:17) and also lose their expectation of Christ’s coming (Matt. 24:48-51). That is a very dangerous situation to be in.