Perseverance and "False Faith"1
Preaching through the Epistle to the Hebrews compels one, whether he likes it or not, to face head on the question of perseverance. This letter more than any other in the NT addresses the importance and urgency of remaining and enduring over time in the faith that we profess. Continue reading . . .
Preaching through the Epistle to the Hebrews compels one, whether he likes it or not, to face head on the question of perseverance. This letter more than any other in the NT addresses the importance and urgency of remaining and enduring over time in the faith that we profess.
Merely saying or declaring that one is a Christian amounts to very little. In fact, it may be an act of self-delusion and self-deception. All through the NT we come across what can only be called “false faith”. False faith is a form of “belief” in Christ that never fully takes root in the heart. There may be an initial season of joy and excitement and Bible study and church attendance, but it is followed, at some point, by drifting away from the Lord and falling into unrepentant sin and idolatry.
Perseverance functions as evidence of an existing right relationship with God. We see this, for example, both in Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14. Look at both of these texts with me:
“but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope” (3:6).
“For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (3:14).
It is of crucial important that we observe what a biblical text does not say. Neither Hebrews 3:6 nor 3:14 says that if we hold fast our confidence we “will become” a part of God’s household or a partaker of Christ. Neither of these texts says that if we don’t hold fast our confidence we “will cease” to be a part of God’s household or a partaker of Christ. Instead, our author is defining for us who is a member of God’s household and a partaker of Christ.
So, who “is” genuinely saved? The answer is right there: it is the man or woman who perseveres in faith and holds fast and firmly their original confidence in Christ all the way to the end. Or to say the same thing in slightly different terms, this is how you can know if someone already is a part of God’s people – does he or she hold fast their confidence and their boasting in hope in Christ all the way to the end. In other words, he is less concerned with whether or not they profess to believe and more with whether or not they persevere to believe.
So again, if a person does not “hold fast” their original confidence in Christ (Heb. 3:6, 14), we do not conclude that they then cease to be a member of God’s “house” (3:6) or that they then cease to “share in Christ “(3:14). Rather, we conclude that they had never become a partaker of Christ in the first place. Both Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14 are telling us that persevering or enduring or remaining in faith and hope is not a way to keep from losing or forfeiting your relationship to Christ. No, it is instead the way you show or demonstrate that you have a saving relationship with Christ.
Some so stress God’s saving grace that they end up undermining personal responsibility and holiness of life. People are told: “If you ever prayed a prayer or walked an aisle or wept during a hymn or signed a decision card or joined in with your friends at summer camp in confessing the name of Jesus aloud, you are saved and secure no matter what else you do in life.” People who have wandered away and are living in unrepentant sin and give no indication of a deep heart-felt affection for Jesus and his saving death on the cross are often told, “Don’t worry. Once saved, always saved. Your decision back then is all that matters.”
At the other end of the spectrum are those who minimize and undermine God’s saving grace by arguing that it really doesn’t matter what happened in the past, even if at some point you were genuinely born again and justified by faith in Christ. You must remain faithful and if you don’t your failure will nullify God’s grace and cut you off forever from his saving purposes. You may have once been genuinely saved but now, because you have abandoned your faith, you forfeit that privilege and fall under condemnation yet again.
Both are wrong!
Look closely at the latter half of Hebrews 3:6 where he refers to our “confidence” in Christ and our boasting in the “hope” we have in him. Clearly he is describing the initial act of faith when a man or woman claims to have put their trust in Jesus for salvation. If a person who professes to have “confidence” in Christ, a person who claims to have trusted him for salvation, “holds fast” in this hope and faith all the way to the end, this indicates that they truly “are” members of God’s “house.” Perseverance provides proof of the reality of one’s claim to know Jesus.
Our author does not say that if you fail to hold fast your confidence this means you once had it but later lost it. Rather, if you fail to hold it, it means you never had it at all. If someone does not hold firmly to the end of this “faith” or “confidence” that he/she claims to have put in Christ, this reveals that they never truly and sincerely shared in Christ in the first place.
Simply put, perseverance is the proof of salvation. No perseverance, no salvation; not because you had it but lost it, but because you never had it to begin with. So let me say it again as clearly as I can. Our author is not telling us what will be true if a person endures to the end but rather what is already true. A person’s endurance or perseverance in faith and obedience is the evidence of their vital, saving connection to Christ and their participation in him.
If that is the case, what conclusion should we draw about people who do not hold fast their confidence firm until the end? What should we conclude about those we know who have “said” they trusted Christ for salvation and at least initially displayed joy and excitement and a measure of commitment to Christ but subsequently walked away from him and now live in proud and unrepentant sin? Is it absolutely certain that they are not Christians at all? No. They may be. They may simply be living in temporary rebellion, in what we call a “backslidden” condition. If that is the case, God will deal with them as children and bring discipline into their lives and will restore them to repentance and a vibrant life of faith in Christ and obedience to his will.
But it is equally possible that their failure to hold fast their confidence is proof that they never genuinely knew Christ in the first place. Their failure to persevere in faith is the evidence that they “have not” come to share in Christ, that they have not been the recipient of a heavenly calling, and that they are not members of God’s household after all.
Therefore, if you are born again and have come to share in Christ, if you were justified and forgiven of your sins and adopted in God’s family by faith, you cannot fail to persevere. You will hold your original confidence firm unto the end.
Thus, holding firm, not drifting, not neglecting our great salvation, is the evidence or proof that we genuinely trusted Christ in the first place. Conversely, to drift or neglect or walk away from Christ, that is to say, to abandon whatever original “confidence” one claimed to experience is to demonstrate that one was never “in Christ” in the first place.