perseverance

Exodus 5, Job 22, Psalm 53

Today’s readings are Exodus 5, Job 22, Psalm 53.

This devotional is about Exodus 5.

With God’s direct command, some impressive miracles at his disposal, and the promise of success, you would think that getting the Israelites out of Egypt would be snap-your-fingers simple for Moses, right? It should have been like riding a bicycle downhill with the wind at your back.

Not so much.

The first attempt Moses made to persuade Pharaoh was a spectacular failure. Not only did Pharaoh say no, he punished the Israelites for asking (vv. 6-18). This caused the Jewish men and women Moses was trying to lead to turn against him. In verse 21 they said, “May the Lord look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

Moses himself was less than thrilled with God. In verses 22-23 we read, “Moses returned to the Lord and said, ‘Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.’” Moses started out very reluctant to do what God commanded him to do and, then when he did it, God made things worse for His people, not better! You can almost hear the frustration in his voice when he said, “he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all” (v. 23).

Unfortunately for us, this is God’s typical way. God does not promise that a life of faith will be easy; he does not make all opposition fall like dominoes after our first act of obedience. Often, in fact, things get worse and harder before we see any fruit or success for our labor. But, when we persevere in faith and continue in good works, God is faithful. The trials we face for our obedience make us stronger; they also cause us to see God’s greatness and power in even more magnificent ways. So don’t quit believing in God or give up obeying him when things don’t immediately fall into place. Keep serving, keep trusting, be faithful. As Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

So don’t give up before “the proper time” of harvest arrives.

Revelation 13

Today’s reading is Revelation 13.

In this chapter, an enemy of God described as “the beast” emerged and began to blaspheme God (vv. 1b, 5-6) and receive the worship of unbelievers on earth (vv. 4, 8). This beast went to war successfully against believers in God (v. 7). God allowed this persecution of his children (vv. 9-10) and John commented, “This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people (v. 10c)”

Although we do not--thankfully--receive the kind of testing and persecution that is described in this chapter, the Bible promised us that we would be tested and even persecuted if we believe in Christ and live obediently to them in this life. The comment of John that this kind persecution “calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people” is true of any believer under trial and persecution. Persecution is an attempt by Satan to separate us and our faith. He wants us to turn our backs on following Jesus and follow him along with the rest of the world.

But the time of testing is limited. Here in Revelation 13, it was limited to forty-two months (v. 5). This is why “patient endurance” is part of our response. If we continue to follow Christ despite the opposition, the opposition eventually will end. And part of endurance is “faithfulness” (v. 10)--remaining committed to follow Christ regardless of the pain or personal cost that comes with it.

Do you feel like your Christian life is under attack? Do you face critics and scoffers who try to shame you for your faith and your desire to live a holy life? Do you struggle with internal questions and doubts that cause you to question whether our faith is true?

Endure and be faithful. God is with you and will empower you when you lean on him for help. He will also limit the test to what you can bear if you are patient and endure it.

John 15

Today we’re reading John 15.

This section, John 13-16 records the final extended teaching Jesus gave to his disciples before his death. Here in chapter 15, Jesus told the disciples that they would bear fruit for him (vv. 1-17), be persecuted because of him (vv. 18-25), and testify for him (vv. 26-27). Each of these is demanding. However, Jesus does not command any of them. Instead, he describes them as products of being “in him.” If disciples “remain in me,” Jesus said, “you will bear much fruit” (v. 5b). Likewise, the world would persecute them “because of my name” (v. 21b) and they would testify “for you have been with me from the beginning.” So Jesus does not command us to do these things. Rather, his command is “remain in me” and all these things will flow out of that.

So what does remaining in Jesus mean? It means to keep believing in him, to maintain our faith in him and continue following him as Lord. This is another way of describing the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. That doctrine teaches that all those who are genuinely saved will continue from the time of their salvation until the end of their lives in faith and good works. Anyone who does not “remain in Jesus” then, goes to hell (v. 6). That person’s attachment to Jesus was superficial not genuine.

If you belong to Jesus, then, it will show in your life. Not every branch has the same level of fruitfulness but all the branches bear some fruit. Do you see the evidence of Christ’s work in your life? is there spiritual growth in your life so that you know Christ better and trust in him more now than in the past? This is a fulfillment of Christ’s promise in this passage. We can’t produce spiritual fruit on our own because “apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5b). Cultivate your connection to Christ by faith, then, and God will work on your life (“he prunes” v. 2) and through your life to make fruit through you for his glory.

John 10

Today, read John 10.

There have been so many religious leaders throughout human history and they have spawned so many different religions. Some of these are connected to Jesus in some way, denying some biblical doctrines about him while affirming others. How does someone know that they have found the truth?

A big answer to that question is given to us here in John 10. Jesus described to the religious leaders (v. 1--“you Pharisees”) many truths about himself and his followers. Using the metaphor of shepherds, sheep, and the pen those sheep are kept in, Jesus taught that the true sheep know the difference between him--the good shepherd (v. 14) and false leaders (vv. 1, 8, 10, 12-13). Because they are true sheep, they know Jesus, Good Shepherd (vv. 3, 14). Because they are true sheep, they enter through Jesus, the true gate (v. 9). All of this describes the spiritual life that God gives to those who genuinely come to Christ. Following Jesus is not a matter of rationally choosing him over other leaders and instead of other religions. It is the result of the new life that God gives by faith. That new life--we call it regeneration--causes us to recognize Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the only way to the Father (to paraphrase 14:6).

Do you ever wonder why some people follow Jesus intensely for a time, then are diverted by the voice of another shepherd? It is because they are not really sheep. Do you ever wonder why some sincere people don’t receive Jesus as the one the Bible describes him to be? It is because they are not true sheep. Anyone you meet who tells you that they are spiritual, that they love God, and/or that they like Jesus but don’t think he was really God is telling you that they are not part of God’s flock (vv. 25-26).

One of the benefits of being part of God’s flock is eternal security, which is taught here in verses 27-30. Verse 28b says, “they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” The reason is given in verse 29, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” There is no need to worry about losing your salvation. Your salvation is not up to you because salvation is a gift given by God that makes you a sheep. It is not dependent on you to remain saved because Jesus and the Father are holding on to you. So, take joy in the gift of eternal life and follow the voice of the shepherd. Continuing to follow him--the doctrine we call preserving in the faith--is evidence of your genuine nature as one of his sheep. Like literal sheep, you may stray at times, but when the shepherd calls you in repentance, you will listen and follow him. This is how you can know that you have eternal life. Let it give you confidence and joy as you serve him today.

Mark 14

Today the schedule calls us to read Mark 14.

Some people are just really dependable. Hopefully, each of you reading this has multiple people in your life that you can count on no matter what. In our hearts, we probably all aspire to be someone who can be counted on by others. Maybe you would go so far as to say that you are someone that others can trust to be there in any situation.

Peter did. He had a close friendship with Jesus and a fierce determination to stand with Jesus no matter what. Christ warned the disciples, “You will all fall away” in verse 27. He even quoted scripture (Zechariah 13:7) to prove his point. Peter spoke right up to say, “Not me. Not me, Lord. You can count on me, no matter what.” Or, to quote rather than paraphrase verse 29, “Peter declared, ‘Even if all fall away, I will not.’” Jesus pushed back and said, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times” (v. 30). Instead of pleading with Jesus for his grace to prevent that from happening, Peter raised his promise to say, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” (v. 31).

Of course, Jesus was right and in verses 66-72 Peter did exactly what Christ had prophesied. Instead of standing and dying with Christ, Peter did everything he could to distance himself from Jesus. The reason, of course, was fear that he would also be crucified with Christ--exactly the thing he told Jesus he was ready to do. But, when “it got real” as they say these days, Peter’s bravado didn’t hold up.

One reason why this passage was given to us is to show us the tender mercy of Jesus. Peter failed Jesus but Jesus loved him and restored him anyway. Perseverance in the faith is taught in scripture and is an important doctrine for believers to understand. But most, if not all of us, will fail to stand for Jesus in some way or other at some time in our lives. Either we will be ashamed of something in his word that the world ridicules or we will not identify with his people because of fear. If this has happened to you and you feel the shame that Peter felt in this passage, take heart! Jesus is loving and forgiving even when we don’t follow him perfectly.

How does this passage square with the doctrine of perseverance? Remember, perseverance is the truth that those who are truly regenerated and belong to Jesus will follow him from the time of their salvation until the end of their lives, continuing and growing in faith and good works. How do Peter’s failures not contradict this doctrine? The answer is that Peter did not renounce Christ in his heart; he allowed fear to keep him from honestly affirming what was true. Peter did not genuinely fall away from Jesus; he distanced himself from Jesus because he was afraid, even though he still believed in Jesus.

Perseverance does not make us immune to failure. It means that we will, by the grace of God, grow strong enough to overcome our failures and stand for Christ as we grow in maturity. This happened to Peter. In the very text where Jesus restored Peter (John 21), he also prophesied that he would die for Christ someday (John21:18-19. This prophecy of Christ was fulfilled, too. God was gracious to Peter and strengthened the man who failed until he became the dependable disciple he aspired to be in Gethsemane.

May God continue this growing, stabilizing work in our lives, too. Confess and forget your failures to stand for Christ and call on his grace to strengthen you in the future when you are put to the test for him.

Hebrews 12

Today we’re reading Hebrews 12.

The point of yesterday’s “Hall of Faith” chapter was not to exalt believers of the past. It was to encourage us to keep following God, just as they did, even when it is painful, difficult, and costly. Verse 1 here in Hebrews 12 draws the experience of the believers in chapter 11 to our life when it says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,” But, just so we don’t get our attention diverted to one of these great believers or to anyone else, the author of Hebrews wrote, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.... Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (vv. 2-3). When we focus on the cost of discipleship to us or to others, it is easy to get discouraged. When we focus on Jesus and all he endured and accomplished for us, it gives us strength to keep going.

No one else on earth will ever suffer as much for Christ as Christ himself suffered for us. Re-read that sentence. It’s powerful!

And, no matter how much you have suffered in this life, the author of Hebrews reminds us that, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (v. 4). The rest of chapter 11 encourages us to remember that many of our trials in this life are God’s work of discipline (vv. 5-13), to fight sin in our lives so that we will become holy like God is (vv. 14-17), and to remember that our experience of God is not fearful like it was for the ancient Jews leaving Egypt (vv. 18-21) but joyful because of all that God has done for us in Christ (vv. 22-24). Given all that God has done for us already and all that he promises for us in his future kingdom (vv. 28-29), the author of Hebrews urges us to listen to God’s word (vv. 25-27), to be thankful and worship God with awe (v. 28). I don’t know what struggles you are facing in the circumstances of your life today, but don’t quit on God; turn to Jesus and “consider him” for the strength you need to keep trusting and obeying the Lord.

Hebrews 6

Today let’s read Hebrews 6.

The book of Hebrews contains sections of teaching punctuated by warnings not to turn away from following Jesus. When we read verses 4-8 today, we were reading the scariest and most difficult to interpret warning section in Hebrews. It’s the scariest, in my opinion, because it says “It is impossible for those... who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance” (vv. 4, 6). It is the hardest to interpret because the description of the person who fell away sounds like a genuine convert to Christ. They “have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age” (vv. 4b-5). So it sure seems like someone lost his or her salvation in this passage.

Given these things, there are different ways of interpreting this passage. Some chalk it up to a hypothetical situation--if it were possible to fall away from Christ, such a person could never be saved. Others believe that it does describe someone who lost his or her salvation. I believe the author is describing someone who looks like a genuine Christian in every possible way but never truly came to know Christ. Why do I think that? Verse 9: “Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation.” The last phrase, “things that have to do with salvation” is a contrast to verses 4-8. Those things in verses 4-8, then, describe things that are not salvation. They look like it but are not genuine. The warning is about being careful not to fake your faith. If you see all the transforming power of Jesus in operation in the church but you pretend to follow Jesus instead of actually trusting him, then you turn away, you won’t ever come back to Christ and find genuine salvation.

Notice, though, how much ink the author of Hebrews spent reassuring the readers of their security in Christ. That’s what verses 9-20 are all about. The author of Hebrews knew that his warning was scary but he did not write it to shake the faith of true Christians. He reminded them of the evidence of their genuine faith in verse 10, how they had shown love in tangible ways to others. This is evidence of God’s transforming work of faith in their lives and “God is not unjust” so he won’t ignore the real evidence of a person’s conversion on the day of judgment.

The author of Hebrews wrote this chapter to stimulate us to keep following Christ and serving him: “We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised” (v. 12). But he did not want the believers to think that their salvation was dependent on their good works. Verses 13-18 describe how our salvation is tied not to our good works but to the unshakable promises of God. Just as he swore by himself to Abraham and delivered on that oath (vv. 13-15) so he also has promised to save those of us “who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us” (v. 18). This hope is secure, like an anchor, according to verse 19 because it is tied to Jesus our high priest (v. 19).

In this life you will have ups and downs. You may have moments of strong, deep faith and other moments of questioning. You will have moments of victory over sin and other moments of defeat. Don’t put your confidence in these things. Look at the output of your life for evidence of real faith--yes, but remember that our “hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.” When we stand before God, it is his work on our behalf that will carry us into God’s presence. Given that, we work to glorify God with the time we have on this earth because of the confidence he gives us by grace.

Hebrews 3

Today’s reading is Hebrews 3

Although the grace of God caused us to believe in Christ and keeps us believing in him, the pull of sin never goes away in this lifetime. The sin nature that each of us was born with pulls us toward temptation like a magnet pulls a nail. This chapter in Hebrews taught us that Christ was greater than Moses but just as Moses, the great lawgiver, dealt constantly with sinful rebellion from the people, we--the church--see people who claim to be among us pulled into wickedness and unbelief.

Verses 12-14 urge us to keep an eye our hearts in order to guard against the pull of unbelief. Verse 13, in particular, reminds us that how easy it is to be drawn back into sin. By calling it “sin’s deceitfulness,” the author of Hebrews labels the tendency that we all know too well. That tendency is the tendency to think we can sin without anyone ever knowing or that we can sin without any negative consequences or that we can sin because, in our case, it is justifiable. These lies and others call to us and tempt us to disobey God’s word and to pull away from following Christ.

One of the defenses against sin’s deceitfulness is the community of other believers we call the church. Verse 13 commands us to “encourage one another daily... so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” This is a call to fellowship that is much deeper than chatting over donuts and coffee on Sunday morning. It is a call to fellowship that urges us to get involved in each other’s lives, not so that we can pick each other apart and question each other’s salvation, but so that we can redirect each other’s attention back to Christ and away from the lies that sin is constantly telling us. Verse 14 tells us that continuing to cling to Christ to the end is really the only way to know that we belong to him: “We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.” We don’t hold to this conviction in order to share in Christ; rather, holding our conviction is the evidence that we did come to share in Christ on the day of our salvation.

Think about your friends in our church. Is there anyone who seems to be wavering in faith? Anyone who seems like they are dropping out? Anyone who’s commitment to the Word of Christ seems to have cooled? Maybe the Lord is bringing that person to your mind today so that you can encourage him or her to hold on to Jesus and not trade him in for the false promises of disobedience and unbelief.

Numbers 17–18, Psalm 55, Isaiah 7, James 1

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Numbers 17–18, Psalm 55, Isaiah 7, James 1. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read James 1.

James says so much in such a few verses. He moves swiftly from one topic to another and it is sometimes difficult to see whether the topics are supposed to be related in some way or not. His opening words in verse 1, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” are provocative. Most people do not get joy from different kinds of trials. We do not perceive it as a reason to rejoice nor do we rejoice instinctively when life gets hard. That’s why James commands us to “consider it pure joy.” It is an act of deliberate mental decision; instead of instinctively getting sad or angry when we face trials, James tells us to consciously choose to consider our trials something to rejoice over. Why? Verse 2: “because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” Since verse 1 called these “trials of many kinds,” we know that he is not only speaking of persecution but, in addition to persecution, he means any problem in life that offers a choice between faith and unbelief. It might be spiritual, physical, financial, relational, intellectual, or whatever; if it is something that would usually make someone question God and why they trust in him, it is a trial like the one James is discussing. And why should we consider the trials of our faith to be “pure joy?” Because, verse 3b says that “the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” In other words, things that do not wreck our faith only make it stronger. When we face trials, then, we should rejoice because God is growing us. He is strengthening our faith so that we learn to trust and love Christ more and become better equipped to serve him on the other side of the trial. The end of all this perseverance through trials is “that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (v. 4b). God places us through trials to compete us spiritually and morally. In those moments where faith is called for, God is building us, refining us, making us more like Christ and more effective for him. Whatever trial you find yourself in today, learn to thank God for it. When it comes to mind, thank God for what he is teaching you. When you are looking for the easy way out, thank God for how he is completing you as a Christian. When your faith in God’s character is shaking, thank God for the trial and don’t give up your faith! 

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Numbers 8, Psalm 44, Song of Songs 6, Hebrews 6

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Numbers 8, Psalm 44, Song of Songs 6, Hebrews 6. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Hebrews 6.

As someone who believes the Bible clearly teaches that true salvation can never be lost (John 10:27-30), Hebrews 6 presents a significant challenge because it seems to describe a genuine Christian who somehow becomes unsaved. Verses 4-5 describe the person in question in not merely as one who “believes” in Christ. That would be easier to handle because we know that there are different kinds of “belief” (see James 2:19). But our passage, Hebrews 6:4-5 seems to go overboard to describe someone who has received the gift of new life from God. This person has “been enlightened” has “tasted the heavenly gift” has “shared in the Holy Spirit” has “tasted the goodness of the word of God” and even has tasted “the powers of the coming age” (vv. 4-5). The word “tasted,” commentators point out, doesn’t just mean “sampled” like a child might taste, then refuse his vegetables, because the author of Hebrews used the same word in Hebrews 2:9 to tell us that Christ would “taste death for everyone.” So the description here is not of someone who merely professes salvation; this person has deeply experienced Christ in multiple meaningful ways. Yet, the author of Hebrews said, “It is impossible if someone experiences all this and falls away to be brought back to repentance.” Falling away must mean a departure from the Christian faith in some way because the end of verse 6 says they “are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” In other words, they have joined the ranks of those who rejected and crucified Christ originally. So what do we make of this passage?

Clearly this person has been associated with the Christian community that we call the church for some time. He has seen God do things and heard God’s truth. But the passage does not say that he put his faith in Christ. It does imply that he expressed some form of repentance for verse 6 says that his repentance cannot be “brought back.”

There have been many attempts to explain this passage and this devotional is not the best place to weed through them all. What I would say about this passage is the following:

First, “falling away” does not seem to mean a cooling toward Christ or a period of wandering or questioning one’s faith. It seems to be more deliberate and intentional that that because verse 6 says a person like this is “crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” This is a public, explicit denial of Jesus, a Judas-like departure where the person in question joins the ranks of those who consciously chose to put Jesus to death. So someone who has moments of weak faith does not seem to be in the same category. Though Peter denied Christ three times, he did not join those who were crying “crucify him” so this seems to be a meaningful difference.

Second, what else does the passage say about this person? Verses 7-8 use the metaphor of farm land to describe why this person can’t be restored. The reason is that he or she received all of this goodness from God but never produced a crop; instead, all they produced was “thorns and thistles.” This indicates that, although they had all the blessings of the Christian faith showered on them (vv. 4-5), it landed on a hard heart that never produced the evidence of true faith that the Bible says always accompanies salvation. 

Third, speaking of what “accompanies salvation,” the author of Hebrews in verse 9 contrasts his readers with this person who falls away. And, what is the difference between them in verse 9? The readers show lives that evidence “the things that have to do with salvation.” They are productive for Christ; verse 10 specifies how: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”

So this passage is a warning that tells us not to judge anyone’s Christianity based on their association with the church for a long time or even their profession of repentance. Those are necessary for salvation, but they are not proof of salvation because there can be false professions and self-deceived people. Instead, the Bible always commends a productive, enduring faith. Verse 11 demonstrates the importance of this when it says, “We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized.” So, while we do believe in what is called “eternal security,” a better way to describe this aspect of our doctrine is the “perseverance of the saints.” Our eternal security, like every aspect of our salvation, is totally dependent on the grace of God. But the genuine gift of God in salvation is productive—it shows itself in a person’s life by how that person responds to the truth. When someone receives all of God’s gracious gifts and becomes more like Christ, showing their love for Christ by working for him and helping his people (again, verse 10), that person is demonstrating the things that accompany salvation. When someone receives the gracious gifts of God but continues to produce more “thorns and thistles” of sinful patterns (v. 8) and ultimately rejects Christ and campaigns for his disgrace (v. 6b), that person is hopelessly lost. So, cultivate your faith! Respond to God’s word and let it produce a holy life, one that is growing in the fruit of the Spirit and the love of God’s people. The one who believes in Jesus and grows in him to the end will be saved—not because you did something to earn salvation but because you have genuinely be born into new life that has changed your life more and more to the glory of God.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.