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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

 

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“Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned.Three times I was shipwrecked; night and a day, I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” (2 Cor. 11:23–29)

 Paul persevered in faithfulness up to the day, when, as Eusebius says, he was beheaded on the Ostian Way, outside of Rome.
  We might be tempted to say, “Well, that was Jesus and Paul; we can hardly be expected to persevere under such difficult circumstances.” But perseverance is not simply a unique characteristic of Jesus and Paul. The leaders of the early church urged the believers to endure under trial. When Barnabas came to Antioch in Syria, “and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose” (Acts 11:23). After Paul preached to the Jews at the other Antioch, in Pisidia, we read that “many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God” (Acts 13:43). In the cities of Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, where they had previously made many disciples, we find Paul and Barnabas making a return visit and “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). These and many others were urged to persevere.
  Talk of persecution and suffering for the sake of Christ may sound strange to modern American ears. But it is raging in various parts of the world today. Researchers say that during the twentieth century, more people were killed for their faith in Christ than in all the centuries since the time of Christ combined. In our own history, there has been little or no persecution of believers for faith in Christ. But times are changing in America. The tide has turned. Signs of persecution are on the horizon.

The Challenge of False Teaching and Deception

  Persecution and suffering are not the only challenges that face followers of Jesus. False teaching was a major concern for the early church. Paul had to confront it in Corinth, Galatia, Colossae, and Thessalonica. Paul warned the Corinthians about “false apostles,” saying they were “deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (2 Cor. 11:13–15). A theologically orthodox friend of mine who attended a liberal seminary told me that one day he arrived at his preaching class to find the blackboard emblazoned with the words “Be sneaky.” The professor explained that the soon-to-be pastors needed to introduce liberal theology into their churches in a way that wasn’t obvious, so the people didn’t revolt. As an old man, the apostle John also had to confront false teaching of an early gnostic type in his congregation. The heretics finally left the church, but not without leaving behind poisonous ideas about the nature of Christ that John had to combat.³ False teaching is no less a problem today. There is arguably more false teaching confronting the church today than at any time in history.

The Challenge of Spiritual Warfare

  Yet another challenge is what Paul describes as “the schemes of the devil” (Eph. 6:11). He laid out an important, valuable set of instructions about how to withstand demonic schemes of seduction and outright attack (Eph. 6:10–20). Peter also warned his churches about this very real danger (1 Pet. 5:8–11), as did James, who gave the encouraging exhortation to “resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). The schemes of the devil can take any number of forms, too many to enumerate here. Our best defense is to follow Paul’s advice to put on the full armor of God and remain alert.

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