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From the Fall 2015 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

Running the Marathon of Faith: Persevering to Life’s End

by Thomas A. Tarrants, III, D.Min.
Vice President for Ministry & Director, Washington Area Fellows Program, C.S. Lewis Institute

ollowing Jesus Christ is not a sprint but a marathon. We must persevere in trusting Christ and following Him until we cross the finish line on the day of our death. The sooner we recognize and embrace this fact of kingdom life, the safer and stronger we will be. As Jesus said to His first disciples, “The one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 10:22).¹
  When the day of Paul’s death was at hand, he could confidently say,

The time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Tim. 4:6–7)

  Will that be true of you and me? Understanding the challenges we face in following Jesus and how to deal with them will help us persevere, and that is what we will explore in this article.
  These challenges can be subsumed under three broad categories: the world, the flesh, and the devil.² We face opposition from those of the world who don’t know God and who oppose His kingdom. We are troubled and tempted by the desires of our old nature, the flesh. And we are targets of the devil, our “adversary,” who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). As this unholy trinity works against us, we encounter persecution, suffering, temptation, trials, and tribulations, just as Jesus did.

The Challenge of Persecution and Suffering

  Jesus gives us a glimpse of the importance of perseverance in the parable of the sower. Integrating the parallel accounts in Matthew 13:18–23 and Luke 8:9–15, we get a fuller picture. The “rocky ground” hearer, who received the Word of God with excitement and joy, endured only until he encountered tribulation and persecution, then he fell away. The time of testing revealed that he had no root and thus could not persevere. The “thorny ground” hearer also endured for a time and appeared to be producing fruit, but he was eventually seduced by the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, the pleasures of life, and the desire for other things, and the fruit was choked out; he did not persevere. Only the “good soil” hearer, the one who heard and understood the Word of God and held it fast in an honest and good heart, bore fruit “with perseverance” (Luke 8:15 NASB), demonstrating the presence of genuine spiritual life. The fruit in view is the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in a person’s life and is ethical in character. One lesson we can take away from this parable is that all professing believers will encounter the challenges and obstacles of the rocky ground and the thorny ground, but being rooted in union with Christ and being grounded in His Word, they remain steadfast, withstand the challenges, and persevere in faith and obedience.   With this overview clear in our minds, we can see many instances of the necessity of perseverance in the Bible. Perhaps the most obvious is Jesus Himself. He was grievously tempted by the devil, rejected by many of the common people, treated with scorn, ridicule, and contempt by the religious establishment, opposed at every turn, eventually arrested, falsely charged by the Jewish leaders, spat upon, humiliated, tortured, and finally crucified. Yet He persevered in faithfulness to God to the end.
  When Jesus sent out His disciples on their first missionary outreach, He told them that they would be hated by many and would encounter persecution, suffering, and the possibility of death, but “the one who perseveres to the end will saved” (Matt. 10:22). Later, as He taught them about the terrible times leading up to His second coming, Jesus again reminded them that “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 24:13). Ancient tradition tells us that all of the eleven original disciples died a martyr’s death, except for John. They persevered in faithfulness to the end.
  Paul’s perseverance is inspiring. Soon after Paul met Jesus on the Damascus road, the Lord said to Ananias, whom He sent to minister to Paul, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:16). And suffer, Paul did. Comparing himself to the false prophets who were trying to mislead the Corinthians, Paul said,

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