Perseverence in the Faith - part 2

    Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, "He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him." But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (Heb. 10:32-39 NIV)

      Impatience is the disease that threatens most of us.

It is the disease that culminates in some people throwing away all they did for God and all that God prepared for them, and their impatience was with the return of Christ. Some wanted Him to return quickly because they were tired of the battle, others because they were tired of the drudgery of living for Christ. But if they "persevered" (v. 36) in their "confidence" (v. 35) in God, then they would be "richly rewarded" (v. 35) and would "receive what he has promised" (v. 36).

      And what has He promised? Beyond an eternity spent in the glory of God, what else could we want--more STUFF? What we need is a firm grip on the confidence we had in the beginning of our walk with God. This confidence points us to firmness of faith and courage during times of adversity and disheartening circumstances. It shows itself as courage under stressing circumstances, the way Peter and John showed "courage" in Acts 4:13 to the Sanhedrin when the two were imprisoned. Their words, and the spirit in which they spoke them, mirrored the confidence they had in their hearts.

      God, however, does promise to richly reward those who are faithful to Him and diligent to the very end (Heb. 6:11).

At this point there enters into the minds of many Christians the problem of reconciling the scriptural teaching of rewards with the scriptural teaching about God's grace. If our salvation is purely by the grace of God, how can we earn rewards for being faithful with what we didn't earn in the first place but were freely given?

      The difficulty for most of us comes with the fact that we think of a reward as being the result of something we have done. We see it as something good that we have earned or received in recompense for meritorious behavior. But in Scripture a reward can also be the recompense for evil (Ps. 91:8), wages (1 Tim. 5:18), bribes (Mic. 7:3), and gifts (Jer. 40:5). In view of what the author of Hebrews is about to say regarding faith and its ultimate goal, we need to see that God not only rewards us, but that He is our reward. This is best understood by going to Gen. 15:1, the first instance in which the term reward is used.  

      God said to Abram, "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward."

If God Almighty is to be our reward, our recompense for a job well done, then in what way can we say we have earned Him? We can't. The only thing credited to Abraham as righteousness was his faith--the same faith that God endows all of us with. We can commit no worthy act or live in any holy manner that would warrant our deserving God as our reward. We see here that God's idea of rewards brings with it no thought regarding a meritorious performance. God's giving of Himself is a product of His grace and not of our works. We must also remember that the true reward for those listed as the faithful in chapter 11 of Hebrews was "a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (v.10).

      Jesus tells us right up front that our reward for suffering for the sake of His righteousness could only be collected in heaven (Matt. 5:12). How can we put a price on that, or even calculate its value? Has the Church degenerated so far that it would rather seek the applause of men than the approval of God? Are we more interested in money, recognition, and our face on People magazine than we are in hearing God say, "I am your reward?" I may be able to work my way onto the pages of People magazine, but it is only by grace that my name will be read in the book called LIFE.

      The author of Hebrews knew that Christians were not immune from having short attention spans. We need to have numerous reminders (2 Pet. 3:9) that our faith is not in vain, that God is true to His Word, and that there will be a reward for our confidence in God as we suffer for our love of Christ (Matt. 5:12; Luke 6:23). At times we all have a wandering eye like the Israelites, always ready to find a better deal with a flashier god. But we must make the Lord God Almighty our first priority, for all else will be destroyed when the Lord makes everything new (Matt. 24:29; Mark 13:31; Rev. 21:5).

      When we are sincerely involved in our Lord's work, two things occur: We recall the hope we have in what awaits us, and we remember in gratitude all that He has already done for us. Hope and faith work in these two directions. They point us back to Calvary and God's gift in Jesus, and they also direct us "forward to the city with foundations whose architect and builder is God" (Heb. 11:10). "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith" (Eph. 2:8). As we "wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies," we find that it is "in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently" (Rom 8:23-25).     

      Our author shows us that his readers were not the first to grow weary in waiting for their Deliverer.

He quotes Habakkuk, who cried out to God because of the oppression that was surrounding his nation. God told Habakkuk to be patient, that divine righteousness and justice would surely visit the earth. "Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay" (Hab. 2:3b). Because faith is bi-directional, looking into the past and the future, we err when we forget what God has done for us and lose faith and hope in what He has prepared for us. We doubt God's love when we neglect to believe His words. We tend to "shrink back" from our commitment to our Lord when we lose our gratitude, hope, and faith in God's promises and provision. We do this by focusing only upon our surroundings and taking our eyes off of Jesus. When we stop looking at Him, we sink like Peter on the water.

      The Lord's righteous ones must live by faith, and the believer must maintain his faith when tempted to wonder if Christ will ever return as He promised. We are also warned against throwing it all away in a fit of temper because life is not progressing as we had planned, or because God is not behaving according to our personal schedule.

      But God's behavior is in accordance with His own character: compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love, faithful, forgiving, and punishing (Exod. 34:6-7); and we do well to remember all the ways that God has shown Himself to us. Too quickly when we encounter trials and tribulations in the wilderness, we forget our deliverance from sin and slavery. When the water seems to vanish (Exod. 17), we forget to recall the supply of manna (Exod. 16).  So we are told to remember how God has led us (Deut. 8:2). We need to sit down and actively recount God's previous provisions for our spirit and flesh. "Count your blessings, name them one by one. . . . See what God has done," the song reminds us. Our faith in God fails when we focus on the now and forget how faithful God has always been, especially as He has not dealt with us in accordance with what our sins deserve (Ps. 103:10).

      This takes us back to the need to persevere. Just as God perseveres in loving us into His kingdom up to the final instant of our lives, so too must we persevere so that we may receive all that God has promised. Luke 8:15 says, "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." Perseverance is an active, positive endurance or steadfastness. It is an action word, like an athlete staying in shape, or like a farmer who continues to work to produce a crop.  Wishing to be in shape for the game does not create stamina, just as storing the seed in the barn does not produce a crop. Because of this, the author of Hebrews also shows us that perseverance is a need. "You need to persevere" (10:36), not just desire, in the Christian life.

      Too many Christians in America have become so used to the good life that they have little patience with persevering in anything, be it long bank lines, extended waits in airports, or something as exhausting as continuing to do good (Gal. 6:9).

We live in an "instant" society where quicker equals better, and ultimately we incorporate that into our relationship with God. Many have fallen for a false theology that expects God to be as immediately satisfying as microwave popcorn and as easy to use as a cordless telephone. How is it we have concluded that the ineffable, infinite, and eternal God should be as easy to get to know and work with as a television remote control: Point, click, scan, view, follow our every desire. It is not without reason that Paul had to remind us, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers" (Gal. 6:9-10).

      Why does it seem that doing good for fellow believers is oftentimes one of God's most troublesome requirements for us? Why would Paul have to remind us to do good to fellow Christians? Since our deepest betrayals sometimes come at the hands of our closest companions, could it be that our most difficult trials may also come through our fellow believers? But persevere we must, for there is no escaping trials and tribulations. 

      How long must we persevere, anyway? Right up to the point that we have "done the will of God" (Heb. 10:36). We will know we have completed God's will when He dismisses us from earth and ushers us home to heaven. So perseverance is related to faith, for our faith manifests itself in our continued obedience to God's will under any circumstances. Those possible circumstances we will see in the next chapter of Hebrews, and fortunately very few of us, if any, will ever have to endure them. Do you know anyone personally who, because of faith in Christ, has been jeered at, flogged, chained in prison, stoned, killed by a sword, or sawed in two (Heb. 11:36-37)?  The author of Hebrews knew what he was speaking about when he encouraged us to persevere in our faith and to hold on to our hope. He knew it would take great stamina and patient endurance to remain faithful to God when our enemies desired to see our bodies chained, flogged, and sawed in half. He knew what the future held for some Christians, and his pastor's heart desired that they not be counted among "those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved" (10:39).

      It is only by faith in the keeping power of God that this can be accomplished. Peter says that our inheritance is "kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Pet. 1:4-5), and that we "are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls" (1:9). The same Jesus Who has gone to prepare a place for us in heaven is also interested in preserving us long enough to enjoy it, and it is by the keeping power of God and the faith that He has given us that this will be accomplished. So take courage in God's Word: "For in just a very little while, ‘He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith'" (Heb. 10:37-38).