This is the first blog in a 3-part series on the subject of perseverance.
A smart dead guy called Jonathan Edwards once said this: “Perseverance is a necessary consequence of salvation.” What that means is that when someone is truly saved, when someone really becomes a Christian, they will continue on through the whole of their life loving Jesus and obeying his Word. They will sin and stumble along the way, at times they may even make a complete mess of things, but if they are really a Christian, if they are truly converted, they will always eventually repent of their sin and return to running after Jesus. If they don’t, if they chuck it after a week, a few months, or even after 20 years, then they were never actually a Christian, no matter what they said or did in the past. They are dead in sin and they will face the consequences of sin, which is the good and just wrath of a holy God in hell forever. Perseverance is deadly serious, and a lack of perseverance is just plain deadly. Real Christians run the race all the way to the end, and by doing this receive the reward for running.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:1–2)
The main point of this text is the one command: RUN! Everything else supports this, explains it, or gives motivation for it. RUN! Run the race set before you! Don’t stroll, don’t faff, don’t wander aimlessly. Run the race with endurance, all the way to the finish line, because everything is hanging on it.
We are going to split the text into two parts. We’re going to check out what we are to do (run), and how we’re supposed to do it. What and how? In each part we are going to look at three things. So let’s dig into the first section: What are we supposed to do? Run! Remember, that is the big point of the passage. What does real running mean? Don’t mess about, don’t let anything get in the way, and don’t give up.
Don’t Mess About
The book of Hebrews was written to a church that had become far too comfortable in the world. They’d lost their edge and had started to drift through life, and now the circumstances around them were changing and it was becoming unpopular and uncomfortable to be a Christian. There was a real temptation to pack it in and return to the comfort and safety of their former lives.
This book is written to warn people not to turn away from Jesus. It is packed full of warnings against rejecting Christ and reminders of the consequences of rejecting him.
Hebrews 2:1–3 warns, “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it…. How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” As believers we are supposed to pay close attention to the things we hear and read from God’s Word. It’s not a game; not paying attention results in drifting, which leads to inescapable judgement. Don’t mess about with God and his Word.
Hebrews 3:12–13 warns again, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Take care, don’t mess around, examine your heart, be accountable to and encourage each other so that you can’t lie to yourself and become hardened to sin. One-to-one accountability and the corporate accountability of church membership are really importan, because sin is deceitful and everyone reading this is a sinner. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
The author of Hebrews is worried that people aren’t taking proper care in their run; he’s worried that they are developing a lazy sense of security and comfort. He’s worried that people are messing about with God, and he writes this book to warn against this kind of laziness and foolishness. The author of this letter desperately wants us to see the danger of messing about and drifting away in the Christian life.
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb. 5:12–14)
God expects Christians to be moving forward in the race, to be growing up from infants to adults. We are supposed to move from milk to solids: we are supposed to grow in righteousness, become more like Jesus and be able to tell good from evil. There’s no place in the Christian race for standing still, chilling out, and resting on our accomplishments or decisions. The reality for the believer is that we are either moving forwards towards Jesus or backwards away from him.
We never remain in the same place, because the Christian race is run uphill, as if against the flow of an escalator. When we stop running, when we mess about and start to take it easy, we start to drift back towards where we began. You see, fallen hearts want to run away from God, not towards him.
John 3:19–20 says, “This is the judgement: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” When left to our own devices, we move away from God, and we live in a world whose constant flow is also away from God and godliness. And don’t forget, we also have an enemy who is more than willing to give us a boot back down the escalator or to dangle nice things in front of us to distract us and get us to stand still.
So let’s come back to our text and see why the author of this book is so desperate for us not to mess about. Messing about results in drifting, and drifting leads to disaster, and so the command comes: RUN. Real effort is required. Dig in, dig deep, and move forward.