“You Need To Persevere:” The Call To Christian Endurance
One of the most popular metaphors for the Christian life is that it’s a race. The older I get, and the more I study Hebrews, the more I realise the aptness of the metaphor.
The Christian life is a race, but it is not a 100-metre dash; rather, it is a long marathon. In the former, the most important quality for the athlete is speed, in the latter, it is endurance, stamina, and perseverance. No wonder many people who excel in the former don’t attempt the latter, vice versa.
Hebrews is one New Testament (NT) letter that emphasises the importance of endurance, stamina, and perseverance in the Christian life.
However, while it calls us to endurance, stamina, and perseverance, it also gives us the spiritual resources to do so.
To that call and those spiritual resources, we now turn.
The need to persevere
Perseverance and genuine faith
The author of Hebrews began his letter (which is most likely a transcribed sermon – 13:22) by showing that Christ as the Son of God is superior to the angels (Hebrews 1:1-14).
One consequence of this is that if the word of angels were so important that violation and disobedience of it led to just punishment, the word of Christ (who is superior to angels) is even more important (Hebrews 2:1-3; 12:25).
As those who have received the word of Christ, the recipients of this letter must pay careful attention to them so that they do not drift away (2:1). To drift away is to gradually abandon the words of Christ and the Christian faith. This abandonment often results from neglect (verse 3). If we ignore the word of Christ (refusing to pay careful attention), then we will gradually abandon it.
For the author, it is not enough to be among those who receive the word of Christ and profess faith in it; the true evidence of faith is that those who are confident in Christ and put their hope in the promises of his word must hold firm to that confidence and hope (3:6). In essence, they must not gradually and unthinkingly abandon the faith due to neglect.
Said differently, “we have come to share in Christ if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.” Only those who persevere to the very end have been truly saved, to begin with (Mathew 24:13; John 8:31). Perseverance and endurance are not luxuries – some accessories to make the dressing complete or an add-on that only makes the app more useful; those who persevere and endure to the end are the only ones who are truly God’s house and have truly come to share in Christ (3:6,14).
Apostasy and perseverance
The Hebrews must avoid drifting away, neglecting the word of Christ, and turning away from the living God (2:1-4; 3:12). They must stop being children who still rely on milk; instead, they must move on to maturity and partake of solid food (Hebrews 5:11-6:3).
If they keep ignoring/neglecting the word of Christ (5:11 – you no longer try to understand) due to spiritual laziness (6:12), they will be in spiritual danger. Why is this so? Well, it is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, shared in the Holy Spirit, tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age to be brought back to repentance if they fall away (Hebrews 6:4-6).
However, the author is confident that the Hebrews have borne fruits that show evidence of salvation (6:7-10). But, in keeping with 3:6,14, he encourages them to “show this same diligence to the very end” (verse 11) since only those who persevere to the end are truly saved. The author has seen fruits but he knows that fruits and perseverance are the two evidence of genuine salvation. Consequently, they must ensure they persevere in fruit-bearing until the end. They must keep on loving one another, showing hospitality to strangers, and empathising with their fellow believers who are suffering (Hebrews 13:1-3).
It is not enough to profess hope in Christ, we must hold unswervingly (firmly) to that hope (Hebrews 10:23). Again, the author is clear that those who waver and deliberately keep on sinning after receiving the word of Christ can enjoy no more sacrifice of sin; what remains is a fiery expectation of judgement (Hebrews 10:23-31).
However, the author is still confident that the Hebrews have borne fruits – they have endured persecution in various forms because they held onto the certainty of the Christian hope (10:32-34). But that is not enough. They must not throw away that confidence (verse 35) or shrink back (verse 38). Yeah, some fruits have been evident, but they must persevere in bearing those fruits. The seed on the rocky ground also sprang quickly and lasted a short time but it did not last (Mathew 13:5, 20, 21).
Perseverance as endurance
So far we have seen some of the threats to the stability of the Hebrews’ faith – neglect (2:1-3, 5:11), laziness (6:12), sin (10:26, 12:1), and doubt (10:23). In chapter 12, we see that persecution is another threat. Some of them were in danger of growing weary and losing heart (12:3) because of the various persecutions they faced (10:32-35).
The author encourages them to endure all these hardships as God’s discipline (Hebrews 12:7). They must run the Christian race with perseverance (12:1) and that requires enduring their persecutions as the discipline of a father. Instead of growing weary and faint-hearted, they must strengthen their feeble arms and weak knees and make level paths for their feet (12:12-13). Their sufferings might have tired them out but they must never give up. Whatever they do, they must stay on the path and strengthen everything that is weak and feeble.
To summarise, fruitfulness and perseverance are the two pieces of evidence of genuine faith (only those who endure to the end are true believers). Therefore, believers must consistently bear fruit, persevering unto the end. They must overcome neglect, laziness, doubt, sin, and the weariness that comes from persecution as they run with perseverance the race that is set before them. It’s a marathon and endurance, stamina, and perseverance are must-haves.
Spiritual resource 1: The example and priesthood of Christ
But the author did not leave his audience without spiritual resources to encourage and strengthen them for the race.
One of these resources is the example of Christ.
The pioneer of our salvation himself was perfected (qualified for his work as high priest) through what he suffered (Hebrews 2:10, 5:8). He took on our human nature, suffered when he was tempted, and experienced death (2:14, 18; 5:7). He endured the cross and the attendant shame in addition to opposition from sinners (Hebrews 12:1-3, 13:11-13).
When temptations and persecutions tempt us to grow weary and lose heart (and abandon the faith), we should remember that our Lord and Saviour, the Son of God par excellence, had to endure the same.
The sufferings we experience do not evidence that God has abandoned us; rather, “the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastens everyone he accepts as his son” (Hebrews 12:6). And the sufferings of Christ are the perfect example.
So, the first encouragement is that Christ has identified with us in our sufferings, which means those sufferings are evidence that we are God’s children rather than his enemies.
Similarly, the Christ that suffered has now ascended to the throne of God (12:2), where he ministers as our high priest. And since he has identified with us in our sufferings, he is able to give us the mercy and grace that our times of need require (Hebrews 4:14-16). We can go to God’s throne with confidence and receive all the help we need when sufferings and temptations threaten to undo us. Our high priest has been there and he knows exactly what we need so we can endure hardship as God’s discipline and persevere in faith, hope, and love.
Spiritual resource 2: The certainty of God’s promises
The second resource is the certainty of God’s promises.
Christ looked at the joy that was before him (his exaltation to the Father’s right hand) and for that reason, he endured the cross (12:1-2). In the same way, when we consider the certainty of God’s promise, it will give us the confidence to persevere.
God made a promise to Abraham and backed it up with an oath to give him double assurance. And after Abraham had waited patiently, he received the promise (Hebrews 6:13-15). God keeps his word.
Consequently, we who have also fled to take hold of the hope set before us must be greatly encouraged. If he was faithful to his promises to Abraham, he will be faithful to us, especially given that our hope is continuous with Abraham’s (Galatians 3:6, 19). In essence, “it is impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:18).
Again, “you need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised” (Hebrews 10:36). The joy set before us (what he has promised) should encourage us to persevere. And to increase our confidence, the author reminds us that “in a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay” (verse 37).
Together with the Old Testament (OT) saints, we look forward to a heavenly city (Hebrews 11:39-40). Well, the fact is that God has actually prepared such a city for us (11:16). It’s not a possibility; it has already been actualised. We are actually receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:28).
If God cannot lie, then our hopes – the eternal inheritance, the heavenly city, the Sabbatismos – are as solid as a rock. And if our hopes are so certain (and glorious), wouldn’t we endure and persevere amidst sufferings and other challenges so we can partake of that sure hope? Won’t we follow the example of our saviour?
How much more when we realise that these same sufferings are actually preparing us for that infinite blessedness (Hebrews 12:10). As Paul said, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Spiritual resource 3: The perfection of the work of Christ
The promises of God are so certain because it is Christ that secures them.
This Christ is the Son of God, who is superior to Moses and the angels (Hebrews 1-3). He is the Melchizedekan priest who is superior to the Aaronic priests (Hebrews 5:1-6, 7). Unlike the earthly priests, he did not require sacrifice for his own sins since he was (is) holy, blameless, and separate from sinners (Hebrews 5:1-4, 7:26-28). Also, unlike them, he became a high priest by the power of an endless (indestructible) life, which means his priesthood is permanent and eternal (Hebrews 7:16, 23-25).
He did not offer the blood of goats and bulls (10:1-4) or gifts and sacrifices, that only constitute external regulations (Hebrews 9:9-10), that could not take away sin; instead, he offered his own perfect self (Hebrews 10:5-14). And because he was (is) perfect, he only offered himself once for all (Hebrews 9:26).
Also, he did not become a priest in earthly tabernacles; instead, he ascended to the right hand of God’s throne in heaven, the true tabernacle (Hebrews 8:1-2, 9:24) where he ministers as the high priest of the good things that are already here (9:11).
Because of the perfection of his person, his work is perfect. Whereas the law could not perfect the consciences of its adherents, Christ by his once-for-all sacrifice has cleansed and perfected our consciences (Hebrews 7:11, 18; 9:14; 10:2, 10, 14, 22).
He has also inaugurated (and now mediates) the new covenant, where sin is finally, fully, and definitely dealt with such that God can remember our sins no more, put his laws in our minds and hearts, and make the least and the greatest of the members of the covenant to know him (Hebrews 8:8-12; 10:16-18).
And as our eternal priest, he is able to save us completely because he always lives to intercede for us (Hebrews 7:25).
No wonder that God’s promise of eternal inheritance (9:15), eternal redemption (9:12), and final salvation are so secured. The perfect saviour has offered the perfect sacrifice that has secured all of God’s promises.
Therefore, it makes no sense for the Hebrews to be tempted to return to Judaism, there is nothing there. All of God’s promises are Yes and Amen in Christ, not Moses (2 Corinthians 1:20). Judaism may be safer but all it holds are promises, promises that have been already fulfilled in Christ. Far better to endure the hardship that comes from the Christian faith knowing that it is there (in Christ) that all of God’s redemptive purposes have been accomplished.
Spiritual resource 4: The examples of other believers
Some may object that Christ only endured sufferings and temptations because he was divine. Apart from showing that Christ took on real human flesh (2:14), the author shows examples of other believers who have exhibited faith and perseverance.
Whatever the Hebrews were facing, others had faced even worse. If those could persevere in faith, hope, and love, then they had no excuse.
In chapter 6, he encouraged them to “imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised” (verse 12). Then he gives the example of Abraham (13-15). He would then expand this list in Hebrews 11 showing how faithful men and women from Abel to Rahab had persevered in faith (verses 1-31). For the sake of space, he made a quickfire overview of judges, prophets, kings, and warriors who did exploits through faith (verses 32-34). But in case we think faith is all about “making exploits,” he then showed those who because of faith persevered and endured as they faced various forms of persecutions (verses 35-39).
To bring it closer to home, he encourages them to imitate the faith of their leaders who spoke God’s word to them (Hebrews 13:7). They have displayed the virtue of patience and endurance in their way of life and the Hebrews must imitate such enduring faith.
When we are tempted to give up on the faith because of neglect, sin, doubt, laziness, and persecution, we must cast our minds back on those who have faced the same temptations but endured and persevered. There are over 2000 years of examples for us to imitate. What excuse do we have?
Spiritual resource 5: The negative examples of those who fell away
The author talked about apostasy in Hebrews 6 and 10 as negative examples meant to encourage the Hebrews to persevere. They were to consider the end of apostates and say, “that won’t be me.”
His favourite examples of apostates are the Israelites that left Egypt but didn’t enter the promised land. These ones also received God’s word but there was no genuine faith (Hebrews 3:19; 4:2). Though they were members of God’s “church,” they had a sinful and unbelieving heart (3:12) and could not enter the promised land.
The Hebrews should therefore understand that some will be part of God’s covenant people who will not possess genuine faith. They will also hear God’s word and partake of the workings of God in the visible church; they will profess faith and join God’s people as a holy body separated from the unbelieving world. But their fruitlessness and apostasy (lack of perseverance) will expose them as false believers and they will perish (2 John 1:9).
Therefore, the Hebrews must pay attention to their faith and ensure they don’t have the same sinful and unbelieving hearts. They must bear fruit and persevere in that fruitfulness until the very end. What happens to false believers who fall off should encourage them to keep the faith.
Spiritual resource 6: The mutual encouragement of believers
Finally, the author encouraged the Hebrews to mutually encourage others to persevere in the faith.
They must see to it that none of them has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God (Hebrews 3:14). Instead, they must encourage each other so no one will be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (3:15).
One of the signs that made the author uncomfortable about the spiritual state of some in the church was that they were no longer attending church (Hebrews 10:25). He wanted them to understand that Christian perseverance requires mutual encouragement. They must spur one another towards love and good deeds and encourage one another especially as they see the Day approaching (verse 24, 25).
The flesh, the devil, and the world (Ephesians 2:1-3) are out to undo us. Their single aim is to make us drift away from the faith and they have many resources in their arsenal – neglect, sin, laziness, persecution, doubt, etc.
God has exposed their devices and he has given us spiritual resources to resist them and continue to persevere in the faith. Truly, he has given us all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).
Therefore, we must constantly use those resources to overcome the temptations to apostasy. We must be on our guard at all times knowing that our enemy is prowling around looking for whom to devour.
It’s a marathon, brothers and sisters, and there is no time to be slack. We must keep running until he calls us home (2 Corinthians 5:1-10) or appears the second time, not to bear sin but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him (Hebrews 9:28).
Christian, seek not yet repose,
Cast thy dreams of ease away;
Thou art in the midst of foes:
Watch and pray.
Principalities and pow’rs,
Must’ring their unseen array,
Wait for thine unguarded hours:
Watch and pray.
Gird thy heav’nly armor on,
Wear it ever, night and day;
Ambushed lies the evil one:
Watch and pray.
Hear the victors who o’ercame:
Still they mark each warrior’s way;
All with one sweet voice exclaim,
“Watch and pray.”
Hear, above all, hear thy Lord,
Him thou lovest to obey;
Hide within thy heart his word,
“Watch and pray.”
Watch, as if on that alone
Hung the issue of the day;
Pray, that help may be sent down:
Watch and pray.
Source: Trinity Hymnal #471