Maintaining Christian faith through the trying times of life. As a noun the term perseverance occurs in the New Testament only at
Ephesians 6:18 (proskarteresei) and
Hebrews 12:1 (hupomones). The idea is inherent throughout the New Testament in the great interplay of the themes of assurance and warning.
The background setting for the idea of perseverance blossomed out of the context of persecution and temptation. The believer was expected faithfully to endure and to remain steadfast in the face of opposition, attack, and discouragement. The New Testament writers were forthright in advising believers to be consistent in prayer (Ephesians 6:18;
Philippians 4:6), and they employed athletic imagery to remind Christians to be effectual as they trained in the ways of God (1 Corinthians 9:24-27;
Hebrews 12:1-12). Israel's failure of faithfulness in the Exodus was also a haunting picture for Christians, and the inspired New Testament writers found it to be an important basis for warning (see
1 Corinthians 10:1-14;
Hebrews 3:7-19). They were committed to making absolutely clear that the requirements of Christian living were recognized as an essential element of Christian believing. Authentic life and true belief are both necessary parts of being a Christian.
While the warnings are very stern, especially in Hebrews (Hebrews 2:3;
Hebrews 10:26-31), the New Testament writers were firmly convinced that those who truly committed themselves to Christ should persevere to the end because they had gained a new perspective and become a people who would not treat lightly the biblical admonitions (compare
Hebrews 10:39). They believed Christians would finish the race because Christians would focus their attention on Jesus, the lead runner and model finisher of their faith (Hebrews 2:10;
In the early church Christians wrestled with the problem of the renouncers during and after periods of persecution.
Christians found in the model of Peter's restoration (John 21:1) an important clue. Restoration for Peter was possible, but restoration still meant his death. Restoration for Christians, therefore, could be possible, but it demanded absolute seriousness for defectors. They would be expected to persevere thereafter even in the face of death. As time passed, however, baptism became regarded by some Christians as a bath which would provide cleansing from all types of sin, including renunciation. Some would thus delay baptism almost to the time of death to guarantee that all sins in life would be expunged. The need was seen by these Christians for a final rite to care for such post-baptismal, unconfessed sins. Others found such views of baptism and extreme unction to be foreign to New Testament perspectives.
But the perseverance of the saints is one of the great theological ideas that needs to be reaffirmed in this era. It is the human side of the salvation equation, and it deals with faithfulness of Christians in matters of God's will (James 1:25). It encompasses the taking seriously of human weakness, without denying the mysterious nature of God's patience with His people. It permits of judgment concerning the way people live in this world, but it does not exclude God's abundant graciousness.
Persevering Christians take prayer seriously as a reflection of life. They recognize the way of love and forgiveness because they understand the nature of human weakness and divine help. They know they have experienced grace beyond their human capacities. Persevering Christians recognize that the warnings of the Bible are meant for them to obey and that Christ gave His life to transform their lives. Perseverance is thus a call to faithfulness, but it is also an affirmation that somehow, in spite of our failures, God will bring His committed people through the difficulties and concerns of life to their promised destiny in Christ.
Gerald L. Borchert