Standing Firm in the Faith

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"He who stands firm to the end will be saved."
(Matthew 24:13).

We seem to be living in times of increasing uncertainty and difficulty. The United States is now engaged in a war against terrorism. We face possibilities of war in Iraq and North Korea. We face possibilities of major casualties to terrorism in our own country. We face worldwide economic uncertainty. In this country we have seen the collapse of major corporations. Many have suffered unemployment or serious financial loss as a result. It sometimes seems as if much that we thought we could rely on is proving undependable. There is a sense that everything is moving faster, becoming more intense, becoming less predictable.

How do we deal with this uncertainty? I suggest that, as committed Christians, we need increasingly to stand firm in our faith in God, who alone is certain and unchangeable. God existed before the universe was created, he will exist after the present heavens and earth are destroyed, he does not change, he is all-powerful and all-good, he is faithful, and he is far bigger than any difficulty or problem with which we may be confronted.

Psalm 46:1 declares, "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear." God sometimes takes us out of our trouble. More often he helps us get through it. He is with us when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4). When we pass through the waters or the fire, God is with us (Isaiah 43:2). "Do not be afraid, for I am with you" (Isaiah 43:5). In a world where everything else seems like quicksand, God is solid bedrock. (Unless otherwise indicated, all Scriptures are from the New International Version, and any emphasis has been added.)

In a sense, today's uncertainties are good if they lead us to depend less on ourselves and more on our God. Paul wrote of extremely difficult things he went through, and said, "But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead" (2 Corinthians 1:9). Especially when times are confusing and uncertain, we need to "trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5) - or on our own strength, or resources, or cleverness, or human institutions.

If we are to trust in the Lord in this way, we need to know, beyond a shadow of doubt, who God is, and what our relationship to him is. We need to have a clear faith, and to stand firm in that faith. In a world which tells us that there is no absolute truth, no absolute morality, and no absolute good or evil, we need to be quite sure of what we believe and what we stand for.

A. Jesus' End-time Prophecy

A useful place to begin, in considering these matters, is Matthew chapter 24. In it Jesus gave one of the great prophecies of Scripture. He was talking about the "end times", the times just before his physical return to earth. I do not know whether we are now in the end times, but we certainly are approaching them. So what Jesus said about them is very important. I shall concentrate on a small part of this tremendous prophecy. Some of the themes which it raises I will discuss in more detail later in this paper.

The disciples asked Jesus when the end times would come and Jesus replied,

"Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ', and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Matthew 24: 4-12).

Let us look at some of the themes raised by this extraordinary passage.

a. "Watch out that no one deceives you" (v. 4).

I believe that deception is a characteristic of the end times, and is increasingly a characteristic of the times we live in. Others seek to deceive us, and we often deceive ourselves. The best safeguard against deception is to be very sure of what you believe, and to stand firmly on that belief. A mature Christian, who knows what he believes, will not be "tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming" (Ephesians 4:14).

I can speak to this from personal experience. For a number of years my wife and I were members of a New Age organization. Its teachings seemed plausible and "spiritual", but they were not grounded in Scripture and in many ways were contrary to Scripture. At the time we joined it we were not well-grounded in Scripture, and hence did not perceive the falsity of these teachings. We may have learned something from the experience, but I think the time could have been better spent in other ways. I think most people who accept false teachings do so because they are not well-grounded in God's truth.

One of the characteristics of our time is a kind of "doublespeak". We use so many pat slogans and euphemisms to describe things, that we lose sight of what we are really talking about. We, as Christians, need increasingly to speak God's truth into every situation, rather than falling into "politically correct" jargon that obscures the truth. God's word is truth, and his truth sanctifies us (John 17:17). It is the truth that sets us free (John 8:32). Jesus Christ is "the truth" (John 14:6). We, as Christians, need to proclaim God's truth and believe that it will prevail.

Let me give a few examples. Many more will doubtless occur to you. The Palestinian suicide bombers are, as President Bush has said, murderers, not martyrs. A fetus is a baby. "Partial birth abortion" is murder. What some call an "alternative life-style" is homosexuality, which is an abomination to God. Let us not be afraid to call things what they are.

b. False Christs ( v. 5).

In difficult times people often look to some charismatic individual as a "savior" - such as Hitler or Jim Jones. I think Jesus is saying, "I am your Savior. Don't look to anyone else to save you from your difficulties and confusion. I am the only way, the only truth and the only light. No matter how attractive and persuasive this or that person may be, he does not have the answers you need." This applies even to charismatic religious leaders. We need to be careful not to idolize them, or to put our faith in them rather than in the God of the Bible.

c. "See to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen" (v. 6).

Don't be surprised, or alarmed, or thrown off course by wars, racial conflicts, famines, earthquakes and the like. Jesus has told us ahead of time to expect them They do not represent chaos or lack of control on God's part. God is in charge and things are happening as he has said they will. It's OK.

d. "All these are the beginning of birth pains" (v. 8).

A woman can endure birth pains because she knows they have a purpose. Something wonderful is coming out of them. When it seems that everything is falling apart, believe that good is coming out of it. Pearl Harbor seemed like a disaster, but I believe it birthed something in our nation that contributed in a major way to the ultimate defeat of the axis of evil consisting of Germany, Italy and Japan. The terrorist attack on this nation on September 11, 2001 seemed a disaster, but I believe something is being birthed in our nation as a result that will cause major changes for the good. God is able to bring good out of evil. I think we can say, to those who cause events like these, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good" (Genesis 50:20 ).

e. "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted" (v. 9).

Christians were persecuted in the days of Peter and Paul. Christians are persecuted today in many parts of the world. We, in the Western world, cannot assume that we are immune. Jesus tells us that we can expect persecution for his sake. "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:10). "If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also" (John 15:20). And he showed us the key to dealing with persecution. In explaining the parable of the sower he spoke of the one "who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away" (Matthew 13:20-21). We cannot handle persecution unless our faith is deeply rooted.

f. "Many will turn away from the faith" (v. 10).

When "bad" things occur, or when God fails to answer our prayers in the way that we had expected and hoped he would, some become disillusioned, and even angry at God, and turn away from God. Jesus tells us to expect this, but also not to be among those who turn away. The key is that our faith must be deeply rooted and sure.

g. "He who stands firm to the end will be saved" (v. 13).

The Greek verb, hupomeno, means, literally, to stay under. It is often translated, "persevere". Its basic sense is to persist, to persevere, to hang in there. It can have also the sense of enduring suffering.

Scripture speaks often of the importance of standing firm. Peter says that the devil, like a roaring lion, seeks whom he may devour, and tells us to "Resist him, standing firm in the faith" (1 Peter 5:9). Paul tells us to put on the full armor of God "so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then..." (Ephesians 6:13). In each of the letters to the churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 there is a wonderful promise to "him who overcomes."

A great Scriptural example of standing firm is given by Paul. "We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed" (2 Corinthians 4:8). I believe God is increasingly calling on us to say, "Whatever the circumstances, however difficult and discouraging things may appear, we believe in a God who is greater than the circumstances and we will stand firm."

I believe that the key to being able to deal with the difficult and uncertain times we are in is to know what we believe and to resolve that, no matter what may happen, we will stand firm in the faith. In order to develop the ability to do this when major challenges arise, we need to practice standing firm on lesser issues that arise from day to day. The confidence that comes from having won a lot of minor victories will help us to be able to win the big victories when the occasion arises.

B. Focus on God, Not the Circumstances

In this materialistic society our tendency is always to focus on the changing circumstances around us. Scripture tells us not to do this. It tells us to fix our eyes on God who is bigger than the circumstances, and who does not change.

When we focus on our circumstances we become victims of our circumstances. Our joy, our peace, become dependent on the changing circumstances around us. Scripture tells us to "be joyful always" and "give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thessalonians 5:16, 18). Paul wrote, "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation" (Philippians 4:12). Paul's contentment, his state of mind, his peace "which transcends all understanding" (Philippians 4:7), were not at the mercy of changing circumstances over which he had little control. They rested on his faith in God, who is eternal, all-powerful, all-good, faithful and unchanging.

When we focus on God's truth we are no longer at the mercy of the circumstances around us. I think this is part of what Jesus meant when he said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31-32). Knowing and relying on God's truth sets us free from the hold of our circumstances..

1. Focus on the Things Which Are Eternal and Unchanging.

"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see... By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what is visible" (Hebrews 11:1-2). Our faith, our confidence, does not depend on what we perceive of the changing circumstances around us. It rests on God, who is eternal and faithful and does not change. "I the Lord do not change" (Malachi 3:6). God "does not change" (James 1:17).

For example, all the circumstances were against Abraham and Sarah having a child in their extreme old age. But God had promised that they would have a child, and Abraham believed that promise because "he considered him faithful who had made the promise" (Hebrews 11:11). "Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed" (Romans 4:16). Based on the circumstances, Abraham could have had a confident expectation that he could not have a child. But he put his expectation, not on the circumstances, but on God's promise. "He did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised" (Romans 4:20-21). His hope in God was an anchor to his soul (Hebrews 6:19).

"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:18). "Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things " (Colossians 3:2). "Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1-2). If we "seek first [God's] kingdom and his righteousness", other things will be taken care of (Matthew 6:33).

In the time of Moses, the people of Israel focussed on the circumstances - the powerful people, fortified cities and giants - and concluded that they could not take Canaan. The advice of Joshua and Caleb, who focussed on God's promise that he would give them Canaan, was ignored (Numbers chapters 13 and 14). The result was that the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years, and a whole generation of Israelites failed to receive the promise of God.

David, who also had to face a giant, had his priorities right. To the men of Israel, who were looking at the physical circumstances, Goliath seemed huge and frightening. David looked at God, and saw that God was much bigger than Goliath. He said to Goliath, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel whom you have defied. This day the Lord will hand you over to me... The battle is the Lord's and he will give all of you into our hands" (1 Samuel 17:45-47).

Many of us have our own Goliaths. We come up against something that seems too much for us to handle - whether it be personal, city-wide, national or international. We need to remember, as David did, that the God who created the universe by his word is bigger than our problem, and that the battle is the Lord's. If we submit ourselves to God (James 5:7), if we are "strong in the Lord and in his mighty power" (Ephesians 6:10), we can prevail no matter how overwhelming the circumstances may seem. God is bigger than the circumstances. Paul said, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13).

Jesus told us to expect problems. "In this world you will have trouble" But he went on to say, "But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). John has told us that he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God "overcomes the world" (1 John 5:5). Paul wrote, "We are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Romans 8:37).

2. Believe in the Power of God.

God is all-powerful. He is the Almighty. If he were not, he would not be God.

"With God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26). "Nothing is impossible with God" (Luke 1:37). God "can do all things" (Job 42:2). Nothing is too hard for the Lord (Genesis 18:14; Jeremiah 32:17, 27).

We need to believe that God "works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will" (Ephesians 1:11). "The plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations" (Psalm 33:11). No plan of God will be thwarted (Job 42:2). God's "purpose will stand"; what he has planned he will do (Isaiah 46:10-11). God declares, "as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand" (Isaiah 14:24). God knows the plans he has for us (Jeremiah 29:11), and he will carry them out. If we keep God as our anchor, and do not waver, he will bring us into the destiny he has planned for us.

God is our refuge and strength .(Psalm 46:1). David, who had more than his share of troubles, was firm in his faith in God. After God had "delivered him from all of his enemies", he wrote, "The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold" (Psalm 18:2; see also Psalms 61:3; 144:1-2). He is "My rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me" (Psalm 31:2). "He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my foot on a rock, and gave me a firm place to stand" (Psalm 40:2). There are many similar passages.

God is in charge of history. He "sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers" (Isaiah 40:22). "The nations are like a drop in a bucket" (Isaiah 40:15). He "brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing" (Isaiah 40:23). "There is no authority except that which God has established" (Romans 13:1; see John 19:11).

We see many occasions in Scripture in which God gave his people victory in spite of what, in the natural, seemed like impossible odds. Consider the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus chapter 14) , the battle of Jericho (Joshua chapter 6), Gideon's army (Judges chapter 7), the protection of Jerusalem from the Assyrians (Isaiah chapter 37), and Jehoshaphat's victory over a vastly superior force (2 Chronicles chapter 20). After the crossing of the Red Sea, Scripture records that "when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him" (Exodus 14:31).

Scripture also records times when God withdrew his protection from his people (see Joshua chapter 7), and even brought defeat and seeming destruction to them (see 2 Kings 17:7-20; Jeremiah 30:30-35). This tells us that, if we are to rely on God's strength in difficult times, we had better be truly submitted to and serving God. "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7). It is only as we submit ourselves to God that we can exercise his authority over the forces of evil. We have the "incomparably great power" of God working in us (Ephesians 1:19) because we believe (which implies obedience), and because we have the Holy Spirit living in us (see Acts 1:8). God gives the Holy Spirit "to those that obey him" (Acts 5:32). It is only those who do the will of the Father who can enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 7:21). See my paper on "The Importance of Obedience".

In the same way, I believe our nation can only survive in these difficult times if it has the protection and favor of God. If we forget or ignore God, if we, as a nation, violate his laws, we cannot expect to keep his protection and favor. In Deuteronomy chapter 28 God spelled out at great length the blessings that would come to his people Israel if they obeyed him, and the curses that would come if they disobeyed him. I believe the same principle holds true today. God has blessed our nation for over two centuries because we were founded on godly principles, and he has given us remarkable success economically, militarily and in other ways. When we depart from those godly principles, we may lose his blessing and protection, and may find ourselves in very difficult circumstances, with no one to look to for help beyond the circumstances.

3. Rest Our Faith on Who God Is, and Not on the Circumstances

In the time of Daniel, three young Israelites were threatened with being burned alive if they did not bow down to an idol. They told the pagan king, "The God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up" (Daniel 3:17-18). Their faith, their commitment to God, did not depend on what God did. It was based on the unchanging character of the eternal God.

This is a major point of the book of Job. Satan said to God, in effect, "Of course Job fears and serves you. Look at all the blessings you have given him. Take them away and he will curse you." So God allowed satan to destroy Job's wealth and his family, and to inflict him with a very painful disease. Job continued to worship and serve God. He said "shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" (Job, chapters 1 and 2).

God does not want "fair weather friends". He wants people who are committed to serve him and worship him no matter what their circumstances are, and no matter whether he does or does not seem to answer their prayers. As we come into difficult and confusing times we need to ask ourselves, "Do I serve God for who he is, regardless of the circumstances, or do I serve him only when things are going well?" In the parable of the sower, Jesus says of the one whose faith is shallow and has no roots, "When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away" (Matthew 13:21) Will we fall away when trouble or persecution comes, or will we by perseverance produce a good crop?

C. Look for God's Purposes in Our Difficulties

I believe that, if we submit ourselves to God and obey him, he wants to bless us with good things. His plan is to prosper us and give us hope for a future (Jeremiah 29:11). He knows our needs (Matthew 6:32) and he "is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us" (Ephesians 3:20). But he is more interested in developing our character than he is in improving our material circumstances. His desire is that we should "all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12-13). He wants us to be transformed (metamorphosed) into his likeness (Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18). He wants us to "put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:24; see Colossians 3:10) To achieve this character transformation, God may allow, or even cause, circumstances which are difficult and painful.

God tells us, "Those whom I love, I rebuke and discipline" (Revelation 3:19). "Endure hardship as discipline" (Hebrews 12:7) . "God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees" (Hebrews 12:10-12).

Athletes train by working against resistance. I believe God trains us in a similar way. If we need to learn how to love, he may place us among people who are difficult to love. If we need to learn patience, he may allow situations that try our patience. If we need to strengthen our faith, he may allow situations that seem impossible, so that we are forced to depend on our faith in God. And so forth.

Hence we find that Scripture tells us to welcome difficulties when they come. "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds" (James 1:2; see also Romans 5:3). I believe this is an example of the broader principle that "we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). When "bad" things happen to us, we need to ask, "How can God be using this for good? What can I learn from it? How can I grow because this is happening?"

(I want to make one thing clear. Paul did not seek suffering as something good in itself, as some have done who whip or otherwise torture themselves. Indeed, when threatened with a flogging, he avoided it by pleading his Roman citizenship. But when difficulties and suffering came, Paul saw in them an opportunity for growth. Jesus prayed that he be spared the agony of the cross. He did not seek or desire the pain. But when he became convinced that he could not avoid it, he accepted it. "For the joy set before him [he] endured the cross, scorning its shame" (Hebrews 12:2).

What are some of the purposes for which God may allow, or cause, difficult circumstances?

a. To test our faith.

"For a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire - may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed" (1 Peter 1:6-7). James also refers to "the testing of your faith" (James 1:2).

b. To cause us to rely on God.

Paul writes that in the province of Asia, "We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead" (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).

c. To enable God's power to work through us.

"But [God] said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness'. Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). When we are at the end of our rope, have no more strength, and can see no human solution to a situation, then God is able to move in our behalf.

d. To cause us to give God the glory.

Before he gave Gideon the victory over a vastly superior force, God caused him to send most of his army home, "in order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her" (Judges 7:2; see also 2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

e. To learn God's ways.

"It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees" (Psalm 119:71).

f. To build our character.

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (James 1:2-4). "We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us" (Romans 5:3-5). The discipline of hardship "produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:11).

The word "perseverance" in these passages is hupomene, which is the same word used in Matthew 24:13 to mean "stand firm". It is as we deal with difficulties and suffering that we develop the ability to stand firm to the end. Having to deal with difficulties and suffering can be seen, then, as a way of training ourselves to be godly (1 Timothy 4:7). Note also that Paul says that the perseverance that comes from sufferings and difficulties produces hope. The very things that, to the natural mind, may seem hopeless, actually lead to hope.

g. To teach us to be content in all circumstances.

"I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances" (Philippians 4:11). Paul had learned to base his contentment, not on the changing circumstances, but on his relationship with God, who does not change. In order that we also may learn to be content in all circumstances, we may have to experience, as Paul did, some difficult circumstances.

God does not want us to be "murmurers and complainers" (Jude 16 KJV; see Numbers 11:1-2, 14:29, 16:41; Deuteronomy 1:27). He wants us to "do everything without complaining" (Philippians 2:14) and to "give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

When faced with "bad" circumstances we often ask, "Why me?" (We seldom ask this when good things come to us!) Or we say, "It is unfair." But consider this. We did not deserve our salvation. We are saved by grace, that is, by God's unmerited favor. "It is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8). We did not deserve or earn the many blessings God has poured out on us. "Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?" (Romans 11:35). So if God sometimes allows us to go through difficult circumstances for our own good, what right have we to complain? As Job said, "shall we accept good from God and not trouble?" (Job 2:10). For fuller discussion see my paper on "Pain and Suffering".

If we can see trials, difficulties and sufferings as things that God uses for good (if we allow him to), they will be much easier to accept and live under. When we see that the ultimate outcome will be good, we can have the courage and determination to stand firm to the end.

D. Put Our Trust in God

In order to do these things, we must put our trust in God.

"Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God" (Psalm 20:7). "Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld" (2 Chronicles 20:20). (This is God's 20:20 vision for us.) The battle is the Lord's" (1 Samuel 17:47).

God does not want us to be unaware of the circumstances around us, but he wants us to remember that he is greater than the circumstances and that all things are possible for him. He wants us to do everything that is in our power, and then to stand in God's power and not our own (Ephesians 6:13).

Will we put our ultimate trust in the daily newspaper or TV news report? In the words of a political, business, economic, educational, religious or other leader? In the world's international, political, economic and other systems? Or will we put our ultimate trust in the word of God, which is truth (John 17:17) and "stands forever" (Isaiah 40:8)? See my paper on "the Authority of Scripture". Will we trust in the Lord, or will we lean on man's fallible understanding (Proverbs 3:5)? Whose report will we believe?

Our greatest protection from the confusion of this world is the certainty of God's truth. "You word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105). "Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light" (Micah 7:8).

Paul expresses the issue clearly, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2). When we put our trust primarily in the systems, philosophies and spokesmen of this world we are conforming to the pattern of this world, rather than becoming transformed into the character and likeness of God.

Paul tells us that Jesus gave us the ministries of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers "to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work" (Ephesians 4:11-16).

If we are not solidly rooted in Christ, we will be "blown here and there by every wind of teaching." Jesus warned us not to be deceived, and not to believe those who claim to be Christ, and I believe that warning applies also to those who claim to have answers to today's problems which are not founded on God. If we are not solidly rooted in God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), we have no stability and assurance. But if we are built up in our knowledge of God, and in the unity of his body, then we have something solid and enduring to hold onto.

1. Know What We Believe

First, we must know what we believe. "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (1 Peter 3:15). If we cannot tell someone else, in simple terms, what we believe and why we believe it, can we be sure that we really believe it? We need to know that we know that we know certain basic truths about God and our relationship to him, so that we can never be shaken from that knowledge. For this we need to have a solid grounding in the essentials of our Christian faith. As times grow more difficult, the need for such a grounding increases.

2. Continue in Our Belief.

Jesus told us to "hold to my teaching" (John 8:31). Paul wrote the Corinthians, "By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise you have believed in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:2). He wrote the Colossians, "once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation - if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel (Colossians 1:21-23). To the Romans he wrote, "Consider, therefore, the kindness and sternness of God; sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off" (Romans 11:22). To the Galatians he wrote in deep distress that they were "turning to a different gospel - which is really no gospel at all" (Galatians 1:6-7). He feared lest all his efforts on their behalf had been in vain (Galatians 4:11.) .

"See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father" (1 John 2:24-26). "See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God" ( Hebrews 3:12). "Do not be carried away by all sorts of strange teachings" (Hebrews 13:9). John warns of deceivers and says "watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for" (2 John 8). Jude urges believers to "contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude 3). We need not only to continue in our faith; we need to contend for it, proclaim it, assert it against opposition, and demonstrate it in our lives.

E. Conclusion

In times that are increasingly difficult, uncertain, confusing and full of deception, our greatest source of strength is to be able to hold on to what is true and unchanging. If we find ourselves floundering in a quicksand, we need to find the solid bedrock of God. If we are to stand, to persevere and, indeed, to be conquerors, we need something greater than ourselves to hold on to. That something is Almighty God. We need, always, to "be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power" (Ephesians 6:10).

David, who bore a heavy load of difficulties, dangers and discouragement before he became king, wrote, "My soul finds rest in God alone. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress. I will never be shaken" (Psalm 62:1-2). God, and God alone, is our rock, our fortress and our salvation. This needs increasingly to be our position as times grow more difficult.

I believe we will find that our faith is increasingly being tested. If we are to meet these tests, we need to work now to establish a faith that is true and unshakeable, and cannot be moved. God has given us everything we need for such a faith. He "has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him" (2 Peter 1:3). We need to work with it and build a faith that cannot be shaken so that, no matter what happens, we will be able to stand firm to the end.

James Morrisson, January 2003.

 

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     11/18/2003