Monday, February 24, 2014

I Just Can't Go Any Further! - Perseverance of the Saints

“I just can’t go any further!” 

These were the weary words of my young friend midway through our bike ride on the local backcountry roads. “Do you have a cell phone so I can call someone to come and get me?” he continued to plead. Indeed I did, but there was no signal available. He thought of turning back but what he did not realize was that it was as far to go back as it was to continue – plus a hill that we had effortlessly coasted down would become a nearly insurmountable obstacle on the way back.

He had no choice but to persevere. Once he realized this he picked himself from the ground on which he was lying, mounted his bicycle and pressed onward. Much to his amazement he was able to complete the journey with no further self-remonstrance. Indeed, he was propelled forward on the cresting wave of immutability.

As I devotionally read the passage below my mind went back to the event recounted above which so graphically illustrates one of the great doctrines arising out of the Reformation – “the perseverance of the saints.” This is the “P” in the well-known TULIP acrostic.

“We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 1:3 NIV 

In one verse Paul describes three qualities of the life of Christian which he is confident to remember before God. Aware of the pitfall of self-aggrandizement he ties each one to its divine motivational source. Of our work it is by the faith of the Son of God; of our labor it is by the love of God and turning to the grace that we are addressing here – endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Christian is able to persevere... 

...solely as the enduring result of One who has persevered on his behalf. “For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:3 We can sing “no turning back, no turning back” all day long but if it springs forth only out of the cistern of human determination it will suffice us not one bit.

Are we encouraged to press on? Indeed! Paul was able to press on – persevere – as a result of being apprehended by Christ Jesus: “but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” Philippians 3:12b NIV 

Moving forward one verse in 1 Thessalonians the apostle plumbs the unfathomable depths of the well from which such hopeful perseverance finds its source: “For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you,” 1 Thessalonians 1:4 NIV Maintaining our analogy here the plumb will never reach the bottom—for if it could man would garner this attribute unto himself. 

The 18th century pastor and commentator John Gill says it this way: “for this choice does not arise from the merits of men,… but from the free grace and good pleasure of God; and is the source and spring of all grace, and the blessings of it, and even of good works; and is a sure, immutable, and irreversible act of God,” Another way to put it is that Christian is chosen not because he is choice—he becomes choice as a result of being chosen. 

This great truth compelled Paul... 

...throughout his missionary journeys. It caused him to learn to be content in whatever state he found himself – whether abounding or abasing. And as the culmination of his earthly sojourn began to become clearer and nearer it remained his steadfast hope: “because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.until that day.” 2 Timothy 1:12 

It is this sure and unwavering hope that results in no licentious fatalism but is the driving force “instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age,” Titus 2:13 

Endurance is the fruit of election...

...the sovereign purpose of our Eternal God. The root and the fruit must never become confused – lest we find ourselves mired in the quicksand of legalistic perfectionism. This is that which Paul warned the Galatian Church against: “Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” Galatians 3:3 

For Christian our compelling gaze is transfixed upon the one of Whom it is written: “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2 

The endurance of the Son was firmly rooted in the Father’s favor: "You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased." Mark 1:11  His resultant obedience did nothing to improve His Heavenly relationship—it was all about His relationship with us by which He became our Faithful Intercessor. 

From the Pulpit Commentary we read: “he is the Leader of the whole army of faith, whose standard we are to follow, and whose own completed victory is the enabling cause as well as the earnest of our own.”

Obedience is a result not a cause... is a fruit not the root. This can be seen most adequately in Christ’s own prayer to His Father: "I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.” John 17:6 This discourse firmly declares the purpose of God which is incapable of failure.

Today it seems – especially in the vacuous realm of electronic media – so much of what purports itself to be Christian doctrine is nothing more than platitudinous “guru-ism.” It is empty self-help theory-ism—empty shadowy promises devoid of any capability to produce lasting fruit for the agency is laid at the doorstep of humanism denying the true effectual agency of which Paul wrote: “so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.” 1 Thessalonians 3:13 

The singular purpose of God is declared so clearly here: “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;” Romans 8:29 His foreknowledge and His foreordination cannot be subject to the cleaver of dualism for they are one. It is not possible to embrace one while leaving the other on the chopping block. There is nothing in the agency of man that is capable of frustrating this inalterable calling.

So Christian, have you fallen off your bicycle...

...and are lying prostrate with exhaustion? You may have come to the end of yourself—but you have not come to the end of the Father’s purpose in and through you. Church, it may not seem that you are fulfilling your purpose in the earth. Yet you will for He has determined to “present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.” Ephesians 5:27 

“For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us.” 2 Corinthians 1:20  

And for our benediction: 

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

Solus Christus – In Christ Alone 

1 comment:

  1. Surely I and we are the clay on the potter's wheel. "...when we reach the end of our hoarded resources, our Father's full giving has only begun..."