Summary: Philippians 4:1-9. What does genuine, lasting faith look like? Find out as Paul encourages his readers to "stand firm".
AGAIN I SAY REJOICE
PERSEVERING FAITH FOR UNCERTAIN TIMES
- One of the most difficult things for the Christian community to deal with is the falling away, so to speak, of people who were thought to be believers. We have all heard of, and many of you personally know of, people who at one point in time claimed Christ as their Savior, but have now completely rejected the faith. Perhaps they were brought up in the Christian church and professed to follow Jesus as a young person but as an adult they have rejected him. Or maybe you know of an adult who supposedly accepted Christ and was in church for a while, but now they want nothing to do with him. Unfortunately, stories like this abound.
- In fact I have just started reading a book entitled Godless by Dan Barker. You probably have never heard of him unless you’ve seen this book; but the foreword to his book was written by Richard Dawkins. If you don’t know who Richard Dawkins is, I would suggest familiarizing yourself with him. He is one of the most prominent atheists, if not the leading atheist in the world today. His most recent book, The God Delusion, has sold over 1 million copies and has come to be very influential in the minds of some people.
- But in Godless, the book authored by Dan Barker, the reader gets a glimpse into the life of an evangelical preacher turned atheist. The book is an autobiography of sorts, as Barker tells his own story of how, after years in the pastorate, he deconverted (that’s their word of choice) to atheism. And he took his Christian family, except one brother, along with him.
- A whole family of Christians completely abandoning the faith. In fact, it only took his mother two weeks to become an atheist. After two weeks of her son’s prodding she exclaimed with relief that “religion is a bunch of baloney.”
- Now as much as secularists would like to think we are not, Christians are, or at least should be, thinking people. We should be able to think through and reason through what we see, hear, or read. Any thinking Christian immediately asks themselves upon hearing this tale, especially that of the mother, “How real was their “faith” to begin with?”. If it only takes two weeks to “deconvert”, was there ever really a conversion in the first place?
- From a biblical and theological standpoint these folks, and all of those like them, are relatively easy to address. Scripture is clear that if you completely reject the faith, never to return again, you were never a true believer in the first place. You may have thought you were. Others may have thought you were. You may have even held church office, but you were a phony. In discussing those whom he labels “antichrist”, those who oppose Christ, John wrote in his first epistle that: They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.
- Scripture is equally clear that no true believer ever loses his or her salvation. Those who are truly saved remain saved and persevere to the end – not under their own strength, but because God himself holds on to them with his omnipotent hand.
- And I would like to address such perseverance today. We know that there are those around us who, sadly, do not persevere and show themselves to be unbelievers, as they were all along. But how can we, through the Spirit of God and by his grace, build a faith that endures the tests of life. How can we cultivate faith that remains after our own sinful desires, the world around us, and our enemy Satan throws all that they have to offer at us.
- What does it take to have a persevering faith? How does real faith reveal itself? First it must be noted, as I hinted at earlier, that we hold on to God because God holds on to us. We persevere because God preserves us. Peter says in his first letter that we are kept by the power of God. And John in his gospel quotes Jesus as saying that nothing can snatch us out of the Father’s hand. So the fact that we endure as believers to the end is a complete work of God’s grace.
- But from our human vantage point, what are some things we can do in this process? Let’s look together at the word of God in Philippians 4:
[READ PHILIPPIANS 4:1-9]
- I mentioned last time that v.1 of chapter 4 belongs with the thought pattern of the end of chapter 3. In light of our assured glorification in Christ, we are to stand firm; to keep progressing in spiritual maturity. And v.1 now transitions us into the first part of chapter 4 up to v.9. In fact, the command “stand firm” is the main verb in these first nine verses. Paul will give the Philippians some specifics on how to stand firm.