Continuing Christian commitment in the face of difficulty. Born in a context of hostility, persecution, and the death of their Lord and his disciples, the endurance of Christians in the face of persecution and temptation underlies most the New Testament.
Pictorial athletic imagery was used to summon Christians to faithfulness as they prepared themselves for the race of life (cf. Rom 12:11-12; 1 Col 9:24-27; Heb 12:1-14). The repeated failures of Israel to maintain faithfulness to God in the exodus and at later times provided the New Testament writers with forceful models of the nature of tragedy and unrealized hopes among God's people. These examples supplied the raw materials for Paul and others to formulate clear warnings to Christians about turning or retreating from the way of faithfulness and authenticity of life (e.g., 1 Cor 10:1-12; Heb 3:17-19).
While the warnings seem most severe in Hebrews (2:1-3; 5:11-6:8; 10:26-31)a fact that has led many Christians to avoid reading the book—their point is rooted in the firm conviction of the writer that with the power of Christ believers will be able to endure no matter what the circumstance (6:9-19; 10:35-39) and persevere to the end (12:1-2).
The early Christians, however, were not superhuman. They failed their Lord in times of persecution and temptation, just as Peter did during the dark days of the crucifixion (John 18:10-11,15-18,25-27). But failure did not automatically mean their rejection in the manner of Israel's failure in the wilderness. Peter's restoration was for Christians a model of hope beyond painful denial (21:15-17). Yet restoration involved serious consequences. Reacceptance by Jesus and restoration for Peter meant he would have to endure to the point of death (21:18-19).
Because of the serious nature of renunciation in the early church, some Christians sought various means to ensure their endurance with God and their final acceptance into the kingdom of heaven. Some, viewing baptism as a cure-all for every sin, postponed their baptism until the point of death. Others developed a last rite that would sacramentally guarantee their acceptance from the time of their baptism or their final participation in a communion service.
Most evangelical theologians consider such views to be foreign to the New Testament perspective. They view endurance as a crucial aspect of a human's response in faithfulness to the gracious, loving God who in giving Christ provides acceptance and salvation (John 3:16). Endurance, then, is an inherent part of authentic "believing" that is expected of every Christian. Inadequate believing withdraws in times of confusion (John 6:66), but true commitment endures by looking to Christ for the resources of life (6:68).
Because Christians (like the authentic children of God in the Old Testament) take human weakness seriously, they realize the crucial necessity of divine support. Thus, prayer becomes a vital part of the Christian pilgrimage (Matt 26:41; Acts 12:5; 14:23; Rom 12:12; 2 Col 1:11; Php 4:6; 1 Thess 3:10; 1 Peter 4:7). It is a key element in adequately arming the Christian for endurance in the battle against the forces of evil (Eph 6:18). That battle is a lifelong one. To finish the race by keeping the faith offers to the one who endures the anticipation of a reward that is symbolized in a "crown of righteousness" (2 Tim 4:1-8).
Gerald L. Borchert
See also Apostasy; Assurance; Backsliding; Denial; Perseverance
Bibliography. G. L. Borchert, Assurance and Warning; D. A. Carson, Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility; I. H. Marshall, Kept by the Power.