Whether it is a worldwide pandemic or a flat tire, life is hard. Things that are supposed to work as we would expect them to, often don’t. Plans that are made often get canceled or postponed due to unforeseen circumstances. These difficulties are experienced by everyone, including unbelievers. If life as a pagan is difficult, does that mean it gets any easier once you are in a right relationship with God? Does God really “have a wonderful plan for your life”, as is commonly said amongst professing evangelicals?
We will address that question later, but for now consider the following scenarios that are unique to believers. That besetting sin you war against, frustratingly never seems to go away. You keep doing the evil that you don’t want to do, and you don’t do the good that you want to do (Romans 7:19). Jesus teaches you to love your enemies (Matthew 5:44), yet you find yourself hated by an entire world of unbelievers (Luke 21:17). You struggle with patience because you know the truth concerning God’s eventual vengeance on all who hate Him and you desire to see God glorified in this way, but it does not seem to be happening quickly enough and you find yourself saying, “How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1). Yet, those same people on whom God will pour out His wrath in retribution are also those whom we desire to see turn from their wickedness, so that God will relent of His judgment and have mercy on them. Are you starting to feel the tension yet? Is it becoming clearer as you are reading this that life as a Christian does not get easier, but quite the opposite?
This difficult life should not take us by surprise; in fact, Jesus described it in precisely those terms when He said, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). In what is perhaps one of the most comforting passages in all of Scripture, Jesus reminded His disciples (and by extension all believers) that all the trials this world has to offer cannot overcome us because He overcame the world. When Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life in this trial-filled world, and He went to the cross to die for all the sins of all those who would ever believe, He overcame all the obstacles put in place by the worldly system that is controlled by the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Because of the double imputation of Christ’s propitiating sacrifice, God sees us as though we have the very righteousness of Christ. Therefore, if we are in Christ, we too are overcomers (Revelation 2:7). As you pray to God concerning a particular trial in your life, no matter how seemingly small it may be, you can pray that He would grant you the perseverance needed to be an overcomer, not because you lack perseverance, but because you already have it! Remember, it is not you who live but Christ who lives in you (Galatians 2:20). You have a perseverance that is guaranteed to get you to the finish line because it is the very perseverance of Christ working in you.
While perseverance is the inevitable result of trusting in God during times of difficulty wrought by the world, it is also commanded of us when we face temptations from the devil. In Ephesians 6:13-17, the apostle Paul likens the Christian to an armored soldier ready for battle. But, there is one key element to the soldier’s success even after putting on all the necessary components of his armor, and that is to “stand firm” (v. 13-14). Hold your ground. Don’t let the enemy advance. Persevere in resisting him! Satan is a powerful foe whom we should never underestimate; yet as powerful as he is, he can only do as much as God sovereignly permits him to do. We need not fear our adversary, nor are we to foolishly assume we can “bind Satan”, if we simply do what Scripture commands by submitting to God and resisting the devil (James 4:7).
There are times when we can ask God to give us the perseverance needed to get through our trials knowing that it is already ours in Christ Jesus, but there are also times when we need to exercise discipline by actively persevering and constantly reminding ourselves to remain steadfast. In either case, you will be blessed, for Scripture reminds us, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” (James 1:12). Do you love Christ? Do you trust in Him alone for the forgiveness of your sins? Then you will receive the crown of life! “But don’t we have to persevere through trials and be approved in order to receive the crown of life?” one might ask. Here we arrive at the ultimate conclusion…yes you do have to persevere, but you also will persevere as it is an external fruit of the change that has taken place internally from the power of the gospel. It is a mark of all those who abide in the true vine, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The world has no hope, but we do. Our hope is found in Christ and in Him alone, and that heavenly prize is far more valuable than any perishable prize we could ever strive for in this world. May this perseverance motivate us all the more to continue “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:2-3). If living for this great hope and persevering with a perseverance that cannot fail is indeed the wonderful plan God has for your life, it is surely infinitely better than any temporal “patch jobs” He could ever do for you in the here and now.
That is not to say that we cannot enjoy financial prosperity or relatively peaceful and comfortable lives, and that is not to say that we can never get along with the unbelievers who are in our innermost circles. There may even be times when God rewards us in the temporal realm. But compared to the spiritual prosperity that is ours in Christ Jesus, our temporal blessings are rubbish. Compared to the peace which surpasses all understanding, our “peaceful and comfortable lives” are war zones. We would be delusional if we really think that we can live a life that is free of trials if we can just exercise a certain amount of faith or “decree and declare” that our problems would go away. The truth is bad things always happen to us which leaves many people asking, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” According to how the late Dr. R.C. Sproul used to answer that question, that only happened once, and He volunteered. All of us are bad people, wicked sinners who deserve every form of hardship imaginable. But God is rich in mercy and desires to save those who put their faith and trust in His Son, so they can be given not a guaranteed wonderful life in the here and now, but a guaranteed perseverance that will enable us to live a not-so-wonderful life, and one day receive our infinitely more wonderful eternal blessing.