Summary: Believers are encouraged to not lose heart and give up, even in the face of trials and difficulties. To continue in the faith we should continue doing good toward others, continue in prayer, and continue in the word.
I take as our subject today, the call in Scripture to persevere—to steadfastly continue in the faith no matter what happens.. Some of you have walked with the Lord for many years. You have fought some battles. You have not done it perfectly, but you have continued to follow the Lord. You have endured hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.i And the Lord commends anyone who does that! Jesus said to the church in Ephesus: “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name” (Rev. 3:8).ii They had been faithful to the Lord. They had continued in the faith. They had held to the word of the Lord. They had not denied His name. And the Lord set an open door before them. They didn’t have to have a lot of strength for the Lord to give them new opportunities. They had a little strength, and the Lord honored their faithfulness.
Paul was a great evangelist. He brought the gospel to unchurched people. He led many people to the Lord. But his ministry did not stop there. He understood the necessity of perseverance. He knew the Great Commission was to not only lead people to Christ, but to also establish them in the faith. Our mandate is to “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). We are to led people to Christ. But then we are to disciple them. We are to teach them to live according to the commandments of the Lord.
Therefore, we find passages in Scripture like Acts 13:43: “Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.” That is an interesting phrase: “continue in the grace of God.” Doesn’t that happen automatically in Christians? Why would a minister need to persuade Christians to “continue in the grace of God”? Why would Jude tell Christians to “keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 21)? Why would Peter tell believers to be “diligent to make your call and election sure”? Do we have any part in that? Apparently, there is something we are responsible to do, or the exhortation would be meaningless.iii All these passages call believers to “continue in the faith.”
In Acts 14:21-23 we have this account concerning Paul and Barnabas: “And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.’” I doubt that message was any more popular then than it is today. People don’t want to hear they may experience tribulation. Most want to hear about God making their path easy. They want to hear about health and wealth. But by telling these believers the truth, Paul and Barnabas were strengthening them in the faith. They were equipping them to deal with persecution and hardship.
I want to address our subject today under two headings. First, we will consider the temptation to not continue in the faith: the temptation to draw back, turn back, let up, or neglect this great salvation. Then we will explore the means by which we do continue in the faith.
I. TEMPATATION TO NOT CONTINUE IN THE FAITH.
That temptation would not be there if God were a permissive, indulgent father. If He did not chasten and correct us; if there were no cross for the believer to bear; if discipleship did not involve some trials and tribulation, then we might continue in order to just get our fleshly desires and ambitions fulfilled.iv But authentic Christianity is not an exercise in self-indulgence. It requires self-denial and disciple. It includes opposition from the flesh, the world, and the devil. There are battles to fight and temptations to resist. Therefore, in exhorting Christians to “continue in the faith,” Paul acknowledged, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”
That tribulation separates sincere followers of Christ from half-hearted people who are in it for the loaves and fishes—in it for the fulfilment of their own fleshly desires.v The wheat and tares grow up together in the visible church.vi But there are times when God shakes the church, and in that shaking reveals people’s true motives. The year 2020 has been a time of shaking for governments, businesses, and churches. The church closings due to the pandemic has tested our resolve to “continue in the faith.”