This question comes up quite frequently -- "Can a Christian lose his or her salvation?" The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints addresses this question. But, it also addresses 3 more fundamental questions:
- Why do we have to endure?
- What does perseverance look like?
- How do we persevere and endure?
These are some of the things we hope to address in today's passage, but we'll also hope to see that God’s grace is also an unfailing grace.
(A) The Call: substance that endures to the end (Mark 13:1-13)
As the passage begins, we read of the disciples admiring and focussing on the wonderful stones and buildings. Here they are admiring the beautiful architecture, but Jesus seems to be a party pooper and downer, telling them that everything will be turn to dust and destroyed. Context is important to help us understand. Where did they come from? He came out of the temple (Mark 13:1). From Mark 12:38-44, Jesus spoke about the scribes and the widow’s offering. He was warning them about focussing on appearances rather than the reality. The scribes appeared religious and pious but these things are not essential (Mark 12:28-40). What mattered is not the external form, but the inside. The widow appeared poor, but God sees her heart of worship and sacrifice (Mark 12:41-44). The disciples heard these, and once they stepped out, were still fixated on the exterior. You can be in the best circles, and next to the best teacher, and still get it wrong.
In Mark 13:5-13a, Jesus warns them that there will be false messiahs who will lead many astray, political and natural disasters on a global scale and deeply personal persecution and tribulation. Jesus is painting a sobering picture. Jesus actually consistently promise us suffering. Do you hear this promise, or are you used to a Jesus that offers only comfort? Like the disciples, we often want to focus on
the comfort and good things. Perhaps in Singapore, our Christianity is still comfortable. In America, being a Christian is becoming increasingly hard and costly. Every Christian has to count the cost of following Christ. Have we? The past century has seen the most conversion, but also the most Christian martyrs. What is the cost for you? It could be taking a stand for what you know to be a gospel truth. It could be wrestling with Jesus’ teaching.
These opening verses in Mark 13 teach us that the things on earth, things that we see and might even place our security in will be destroyed. Something as wonderful as the stones in a nicely designed temple building will not last forever! It might also seem really scary, because we realise that external things can’t keep you enduring to the end. Trials and difficulties are real and we need something deeper that will keep us to the end. But there is also a promise in Mark 13:13 -- "but the one who endures to the end will be saved". Eugene Peterson calls it “a long obedience in the same direction” toward the upward call of Christ. Do you hear it? Have you responded to it? The call is clear and we are to endure! It is only in this intentional endurance that we will go to the end, through the persecution and problems of this world.
(B) The Condition: do not fall away; confess Christ! (1 Jn 2:18-25)
We'll turn now to 1 John 2:18-25 to help us understand a bit more. Here, John is writing to Christians. The forms of persecution written about in Mark 13 are real and
evident to these Christians. He is writing to them to encourage them and also to warn them of certain things. John writes about the Antichrist and antichrists. We are not going to go into a study of what these are, but suffice to say, these are people that oppose the faith.
John writes about people that do not endure to the end, and also those who do. Those who do not ensure are referred to as people who "went out" (1 John 2:19) and left the community. It is basically to forsake Christ. On the contrary, those who endured to the end did not deny Christ, but confessed Christ (1 John 2:22). From this description, we also see that those who "went out from us" were initially part of the "us". They were people in the church! These could be people that turned up to church, were in your small group, could have also encouraged you at one point or another. How could it be that people who appeared to do the right thing were actually those that did not endure? All of the correct forms and right things they did were not enough to keep them enduring. What is the warning? It is not that we go around to figure out who are the antichrists among us and grow suspicious of the people in your community. The point is more simple and pressing. Are you clear about who you are in Christ? Since there are these people who could do all the right things and still get it wrong, how are you caring for the Christians around you? Are you serious in your conversations with those around you? Do you hear the urgency in this passage and how have you been living out this call and warning?
John also teaches us that confessing Christ seems to be the proof of our endurance to the end. Our confessions and professions are not merely words, but also carry with them certain claims, and these claims shape our actions, thoughts and decisions. To confess Christ is outrageous in this world! We are saying that God in Christ paid the price for our sins, that we might be free from it. Jesus, fully God and fully man, paid for it by laying down His life. He didn’t just die, but also rose bodily, and in the process, sin and death has been defeated at a cosmic level. These large claims about our world, should also shape our thoughts and lives in large ways. Every professing Christian has to ask himself, what does it mean to profess Christ? Do you grieve at sin? Do you rejoice and delight in the inexhaustible wealth of your salvation? Give thanks to God for the grace showered to you and also be an encouragement to those around you, because many of us struggle to believe this fully. If you struggle, it’s ok. Come before God and ask Him for mercy
(C) The Certainty: abide in God’s unfailing grace, through the Spirit’s power (1 Jn 2:18-25, c.f. Jn 6:36- 40, Mk 13:11)
John follows the important call to confession by showing us what we must do to endure. They were to let what they heard from the beginning continue to abide in them (1 John 2:24). To abide is to dwell and to stay, and even to be kept and held. It gives us a different picture doesn’t it? God is not telling us to run through persecution. Rather, the good news that we have been given calls us to abide, rest and be kept in God, who will bring us through it.
But how does it work? By whose will and by whose power do we endure do the end?
- It is the will of the Father (John 6:36-40). It tells us that we are certain and secured in Christ. God is the actor and giver, and when God acts and gives, He does so decisively. Faith is not about how strong we arebut it is about who our faith is
placed in, who holds on to us. Does this mean we don’t act? Not entirely. If we have a sovereign God, we are to also listen to what He says. We have to obey what He commands us too and the Bible tells us that God is absolutely sovereign, but He also calls us to certain actions of a certain nature.
- It is in the power of the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:20, Mark 13:11). We have a reasonable faith empowered by the Holy Spirit. We also have a confessional faith.
God is working in us as we are in Christ every single moment. We think that Sundays or Wednesdays are days we come to be refueled, and then we go out and continue our lives until the next time our tank is empty. But these passages show us that our relationship with God is different! He isn’t the petrol kiosk but the actual vehicle and provision of everything we need. He helps us to act! We've seen how God's grace is amazing, true, triumphant and wooing. His grace has taught us to fear and also relieved our fear. His grace is also an unfailing and enduring one that has brought us safe thus far, and will bring us safely home.