Four years ago, I enrolled at a small Bible college with thirty or so other students that were eager to study God's Word and prepare them for ministry. I just began my senior year yesterday. Out of the original thirty or so students from my class, only 8 are left.
Only 8 people out of 30 stuck it out to complete their four-year degree at Bible college. Now, I can't say for sure that everyone that left did so for the wrong reasons. But I am willing to bet that a lot of them left because to them, it just wasn't worth it anymore. Somewhere along the way, the idea of spending thousands of dollars to get a degree that would only profit them if they entered full-time vocational ministry stopped being appealing, so they quit. They threw in the towel. They gave up.
Sadly, this doesn't only happen in Bible colleges and seminaries. This happens in the Christian walk. Most of us know a person or two who once professed the name of Christ but has since renounced that belief and entered into a lifestyle of sin and rebellion. They were once passionate for God's glory but now they are only passionate about themselves.
Why is that? Why is it that some believers persevere while others who professed the name of Christ eventually wander back into the ways of the world? Now, before we address this issue directly, we have to deal with a few preliminary issues.
First, I want to be clear that the ultimate cause of a person's perseverance in the faith rests in the sovereignty of God. Jesus says in Matthew 10:27-29, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of my hand." [ESV]
All that the Father chose from eternity past and gave to His Son will endure to the end and be saved. No one can prevent that.
But second, God's sovereignty in salvation - including perseverance - does not negate the responsibility of man.
What I mean is this: in this time between Christ's first and second coming - within the already and the not yet of our present existence - there exists a tension when it comes to perseverance. On one hand, God will see to it that all of His chosen persevere to the end, but there is a very real responsibility on our part to fight the fight of faith and to run the race to win!
That's why the book of Hebrews is filled with warnings that tell us not to neglect so great a salvation. The simple fact of the matter is that people walk away from the faith all the time. Apostasy is a very real danger.
Now, with those preliminary matters behind us - the fact that the ultimate cause of perseverance is the sovereignty of God but there is a real responsibility on our part to persevere - we can return to our initial question: why doesn't everybody make it? Why do some quit?
On a human level (in other words, what causes men and women to personally renounce Christ), we can find one reason in II Corinthians.
Paul says in II Corinthians 4 that we (Christians) are "afflicted in every way," that we are "perplexed" and "persecuted." [ESV] And then he says again in verse 8 that, "we who live are always being given over to death." [ESV]
Basically, Paul says that the Christian walk is hard! That's why people walk away. I think we downplay this sometimes. While most of us won't experience physical suffering in which we are in danger of losing our lives, we face very real trials, turmoils, and tragedies in our walk with the Lord every single day. Look at what following God got Job!
More recently, a group of well-known evangelical Christians released a statement on the Biblical view of sexuality and marriage and have faced enormous backlash because of it. We all, at some point or another, face pressure from the surrounding culture to give in to its sinful whims.
Then, from another angle, take some of Christ's more difficult teachings. Christ literally tells us that it is our duty to take up our cross - to take up our torture device - every single day of our lives. Christ's message was one of complete denial of self and total submission to His Lordship in every aspect of life.
So Christianity is hard on one level because of its very nature and teaching and on another level because of the world's response to those tenets of faith. In other words:
There's a reason people walk away from the faith.
There's a reason only 8 of us stuck through 4 years of Bible college to receive degrees in ministry. There's a reason not everyone who professes Christ makes it to the end of their lives still boldly standing up for God's glory. The Christan life is a hard one. People walk away because they don't want to deal with the difficulty.
Now we turn to our next question. Why do we do it? Why do true believers stick it out? Simply put:
Because it's worth it.
Look at what Paul says at the end of chapter 4.
II Corinthians 4:16-18: "So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." [ESV]
Paul says emphatically that the suffering we experience in this life - whether it's from an oppressive government or an atheist at our workplace or whatever form it may take - doesn't even compare to the glory that we will one day experience!
We can take heart in this one fact and endure whatever life throws our way! In the greatest loss, in the deepest pain, in the most troubling circumstances, we can say with confidence that it doesn't compare to the glory we will one day experience! In fact, Paul describes our affliction as "light" and "momentary," whereas out future glory as "eternal"!
Christan, if you are struggling today, take heart! The fight is worth it! The race is winnable! And the prize is unimaginably more glorious than anything this world has to offer. Take Paul's advice and don't pay attention to the sufferings in your life - look not to them, but to the things that you can't see with your eyes but can only hope for in your heart! It's those things that really matter. It's those things that are eternal.
That is why we do what we do. That is why we run. Because it's worth it. Those who fall away may think they are shedding the heavy burden of Christianity, but in reality, all they are doing is forfeiting an inheritance that is far beyond even their wildest dreams! Don't throw that inheritance away like they did! Hold on to it and make it your own! Press on and don't lose heart!
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