The Faith that Conquers (4)
Part 4: Conclusion
In it for Life
They were exactly a half-mile long. The soybean rows were long and straight, verdant green against the clay loam and blue sky. There was only one problem — the weeds grew alongside the soybeans. So, our family would set out at one end, hoes in hand, and wage war on the weeds. The battles were all exactly a half-mile long. My parents were smart. They put the water and lemonade at the other end — an incentive to get there. But along the way, the sun beating down, you would inevitably encounter a nasty thistle patch that really slowed you down. Mid-way through those half-mile rows is where I learned my first lesson in perseverance. It was not my last. Each of us takes one master class on perseverance after another in this life.
When enduring these classes, the time inevitably comes in our life when we are tempted to just give up. The burden we bear may feel crushing. The race may have simply worn us out. A tragic event may leave us shaking our fist at God. We may feel utterly alone. We may be in pain that seems unending. Sooner or later, a little voice in the back of our mind says, “Just give up. God’s not there.”
If we have the faith that pleases God, we will respond with five simple words:
I will never give up.
The Crowning Virtue of Faith
The crowning virtue of faith is perseverance. Never giving up defines a faith-full life. Perseverance defined our Lord’s faith. He never gave up on that long, lonely road to the cross — no matter that his dearest friends were fighting amongst themselves and that one would betray him. It defined the faith of Abraham — boldly starting a journey to an unknown land and leaning fully on God, even when asked to slowly ascend the mount and offer his beloved son. It defined the faith of Paul, who could so easily have given up when flogged, beaten with rods, shipwrecked or stoned and left for dead.
Most of us can probably quote the opening verses of Hebrews 11, especially when someone asks us to define faith. But the conclusion of the Faith Chapter (actually in chapter 12) may be even more important, and one we may not stress enough. After recounting amazing, beautiful lives that were faithful, the writer brings us to this dramatic conclusion:
The idea here is a simple one. Faith is like a marathon that spans our life. What defines marathon runners is that they just keep going. They never give up. As you may be aware, every marathon runner has the experience of “hitting the wall,” that point in the race when the thighs are burning, the feet are aching and every joint and sinew cries out, “Just stop!” Getting past that wall is the key to finishing the race.
So it is with our faith. There will come a “wall” when the muscles and bones will scream at you, “Just give up!” When that moment comes, you must keep going — just like the faithful worthies in Hebrews chapter 11. They never gave up. Neither should you.
It’s worth digging into the word translated “perseverance” in the Revised Standard Version. The word crops up over and over in the New Testament as a critical ingredient to growing faith for life. Here are just a few examples (all contain the same Greek word):
Endurance is critical to running the race of faith, and we are ultimately saved by our faith and God’s grace.
After long years of reflection, John uses perseverance as a key summary word of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
Like John, James picks perseverance as a critical ingredient of a complete life of faith.
The Greek word is hupomeno. In the King James, it is often translated “patience.” But the Greek word does not convey the ideas we usually associate with patience today — either slowly waiting for something to happen or being longsuffering under a long, extended trial. Strong’s Concordance puts it differently: “To undergo, i.e. bear (trials), have fortitude, persevere.” The root word (meno) is one we all know quite well. It is the word that Jesus uses at the Last Supper in his powerful final exhortation: “Abide with me.”
The real meaning of hupomeno is perfectly illustrated by the picture of Jesus going to the cross (shown here in a painting by Titian). He literally “bore up” the cross. Despite the crushing burden, he labored on, one foot in front of the other. God sent Simon to help him. But the picture is one of unwavering perseverance. This was Jesus’ marathon. He hit the wall, but he steadfastly kept going.
He did not quit.
James provides another powerful example to drive home his point on the importance of perseverance to a life full of faith. He takes our minds straight back to Job.
Many scholars consider Job the oldest book in the Bible. There is no way of knowing whether that is true, but there is at least one good reason to support this view. Human suffering is universal — across time and in every corner of the globe. But there is a reason for it (as discussed in Part 3). The purpose is to refine our faith like gold, each flame removing still more impurity.
The crowning virtue of Job’s faith was that he simply would not give up his faith in God. His wife taunted him to curse God and die. His three “friends” kept badgering him to “fess up” — he must be guilty of egregious sin to have suffered such an avalanche of suffering. Through it all, Job never gave up. Such perseverance is what defines faith. James uses it as Exhibit A to inspire our faith to persevere (Jas 5:11 above).
Pioneer of Our Faith
When everything has been said about faith, one powerful exhortation remains: Look to Jesus if you want your faith to persevere. He is the pioneer and perfecter of persevering faith. When we are weary, look to him. When we feel crushed, look to him. When we feel alone, look to him. Just like Jesus, we conquer when we have a faith that perseveres.
The last week of Jesus’ life is an extended lesson on perseverance. The week began with his full knowledge of what lay ahead. When the week began, Jesus explained to his Apostles what was coming in a cogent summary:
Jesus could not have been plainer. His pending death, however, did not so much as register with a single one. But he never gave up!
Not only did they not understand the horrible set of events about to unfold, but their minds were also selfishly focused entirely elsewhere. James and John illustrate the core problem:
At some point, their mother joined in to further plead the case for her sons. Not surprisingly, the request from the Sons of Zebedee had a toxic effect on the rest of the Apostles:
Jesus was walking a dry and dusty road to his certain death. The twelve were fighting among themselves. It was a very lonely walk for Jesus. But he never gave up!
The time came for Jesus to share his final meal with the Apostles. The infighting was still festering — even in the quiet confines of the Last Supper. Fully mindful of the squabble, Jesus began the evening with no words, just a powerful lesson. He washed their feet, a silent parable teaching them to love one another. Do you know what I have done to you? Still they squabbled, utterly blind to the shadow of the cross lengthening across his countenance. Worse, one of them was determined to betray him — that very night. The Apostles were extremely insensitive to their Lord Jesus. But he never gave up!
Finally, reaching Golgotha, he felt the searing pain of hands and feet being terribly nailed to the wood. He was stood upright — the long pole of wood dropped into the hole, jarring every nerve in his being. Parched, in pain and hearing the taunts of commoner and elite alike, Jesus looked to the heavens for his help. Despising the shame, he endured the cross. He never gave up!
This is the champion to which we look. He perfected perseverance. At no point are we put to the test he endured. Yet his strength, his perseverance can be ours. That is what real faith does.
A Conqueror Be
Faith is ultimately about victory. That is the message John drives home in the verse with which this series began:
After reflecting a lot on this passage, I’m left to wonder: Why was it John who brings us this powerful message? Perhaps it’s one of those nuggets that required a long time to fully comprehend and John, alone among the Apostles, had more time.
But I think there may be more to it. What if John struggled with regret? What if he spent many long moments recalling his petty antics leading up to Jesus’ death? What if John’s request to be seated in the Kingdom next to Jesus, with his brother James, stung when he laid it alongside Jesus’ suffering on the cross — a suffering he witnessed in person? Was a persevering faith in Jesus the real victory in overcoming John’s own weakness?
We cannot know. What we do know is that John is the author of Jesus’ final, resounding chorus in Revelation. That refrain is all about the victory we gain when faith perseveres to the end. Be a conqueror! That is Jesus’ final call to us.
Here’s our Greek friend nike once more — center stage in Jesus’ final refrain. We will conquer every obstacle in life if we gain victory the same way Jesus did it. Jesus gained victory with a faith that persevered to the end. The same is true for us. Jesus repeats this refrain seven times, with poetic simplicity and power. In every case, victory comes from a faith that perseveres (each verse from the Diaglott).
The key is having the faith today that ensures we are there then. Jesus’ faith conquers every challenge and leads to eternal life — as it did for the Lord Jesus Christ.
We all want this kind of faith. But things happen along the way. We grow weary. We get discouraged or feel defeated. We feel alone. We get distracted — with myriad distractions now in the very palm of our hand. We must conquer every obstacle with faith — an unswerving trust that never quits. That is the only path to victory.
We need a faith that grows — a faith that bears a bountiful harvest of the Fruit of the Spirit. Such a faith knows every battle will be won — because the battle is the Lord’s. Such a faith knows calm in every storm — because things are not what they seem. Such a faith knows it will be tested — but realizes our trust in God is what truly saves us. Such a faith knows to persevere, since victory comes to those who overcome all through faith.
We need a Renaissance of Faith in our Community. This faith renewal must be focused on trusting God in a world ever more hostile to faith. As we grow faith together, we should be united by the victory we share — not riven by loss over endless debate on theology. Our faith must be a faith of the head, heart AND hands. It cannot be a “head-only” faith centered solely on doctrine. We should be confident in the storms around us — yet prepared to reach out to those whose faith wanes.
In his ministry, our Lord Jesus asked a probing question that has never held more meaning: When the Son of Man comes will he find faith on earth? We make the answer now. How we respond has never been more critical to our future.
(Kansas City, MO)