Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 10:22c “. . .to the end. . .”
The end, not the beginning or middle, matters most. A judge doesn’t pick the winner of a race at the starting line. The race is decided at the end, the finish line. Earthly soldiers, not knowing how the battle will end, stay steady till death. Spiritual soldiers, knowing the end and how great it will be, should also stay true to the last. Enduring “to the end” is what counts. Anything short of this is failure.
We need this reminder. Gene Gibbons recently read a statistic he shared in staff meeting. Of those who start in the ministry, only one in ten make it faithful and strong to the end. At first thought, the figure seems staggering, but on further reflection, I fear it may be accurate. As I look down the tunnel of my past life, I see many who felt called of God to preach, but have fallen by the wayside.
I wonder if the percentage for laypeople who make it to the end is much better. Of the children, youth, and college students gathered here today, will more than one-tenth of them still be serving Jesus faithfully sixty years from now? Everything in me screams out, “I hope so,” but my optimism is muted.
Making it to the end faithful and true is no easy goal to achieve. Preachers love to tell heroic tales of endurance under persecution, but there are also many stories of failure. In the early days, when those who had apostatized wanted back into full fellowship, the Church was divided as to what to do. Some who lost family members to persecution adamantly opposed the return of these backsliders.
The repentant often had to do acts of penance that honored the martyrs. It was easy to move from talking about the departed to talking to the departed. This helped lay the groundwork for the later grievous heresy of venerating the saints.
Enduring to the end is not an automatic. In fact, it is the exception, not the rule. Thus we raise the question, “Why do we find it hard to endure to the end?”
First, embarrassment. We’re not perfect. The most disappointing part of our Christian experience is ourselves. We often ride high, flushed with success, but when we stumble, we become angry at our own efforts. Our mood swings are sometimes too extreme, making us too harsh on ourselves. The grace we grant to others we forget to grant ourselves. Seasons of spiritual depression are extremely dangerous. Hear the words of a fellow melancholic, never cut a tree in winter.
When we fall and are angry at ourselves, read again of Samson (JG 13-16). He grievously fell, but didn’t stay down. He had to grovel due to his sin, but never gave up on God’s grace. His hair began to grow again, and he came back to do the greatest work he ever did, accomplishing more in his death than he ever had in his lifetime. Many consider his name in the roll call of heroes (HB 11:32) a shocker. I think it’s there because he never gave up on God’s grace. When we sin, immediately repent and seek God’s forgiveness, apologize to all who saw it, and carry on.
Second, pride. Let not him who puts on his armor boast like him who takes it off (1 K 20:11). Pride may be the number one Christian killer. Enduring to the end requires a constant sense of dependence on God till the end. Self-confidence is a recipe for disaster. “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 C 10:12). The story is often told of a youth preaching for the first time. He entered the pulpit with a cocky swagger and his head held high. After failing miserably in his first sermon, he left the pulpit humbled, with eyes downcast, his face lowered.
A friend gently told him, “Had you gone into the pulpit the way you came out, you could have come out the way you went in.” I apply that to every day life.
Many approach Christian living with a haughty, self-confident attitude. The same people, after falling into sin, are often truly crushed, contrite of heart, no longer enamored with their own ability. If we reverse the timing of these attitudes, and show humility first, spiritual falls will happen much less often. Remain ever mindful of James 4:6, “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.”
Third, ritualism. Depending on repeated outward habits will not carry us to the finish line. To endure to the end, our spirituality must extend to inner essence, to spirit and motive. Ritualism is not holiness. Religious ceremonies and symbols are good only to the extent they encourage, not serve as substitutes for, inner spirituality. Ritualism tempts people to emphasize religiosity instead of an ongoing, vital, vibrant love relationship with Jesus. Rituals will not steady us in the storms. Only people deeply and truly in love with Jesus will be willing to suffer for Him.
Ritualism tempts us to divide life into sacred and secular. As long as sacred rituals are performed, conscience begins to trifle over secular acts, deeming them unimportant. As long as religious trappings are upheld, it’s easy to begin justifying “small” sins in our personal lives. Beware little foxes; they ruin the vineyard (SS 2:15). Few believers fall overnight due to big issues. Neglect of holiness disciplines comes first, shortening and eliminating private prayer and Bible time, carelessness on how we spend time and money, and what we do for entertainment.
Outward show is not enough. Spurgeon, who helped me immensely on this lesson, told of a man who built an impressive looking lighthouse and, to prove his confidence it would endure any storm, chose to stay in the lighthouse while a terrible storm blew in. Neither he nor his lighthouse were ever seen again. The building looked good on the surface, but was not adequately anchored underneath.
Terrible storms assail us throughout our Christian life. We’d best be firmly rooted in the Rock. For us to persevere, our holiness disciplines must persevere.
Fourth, skeptics. As our culture drifts farther from its Biblical moorings, voices attacking our belief system are growing louder, more common, bolder, and more strident. What if the cynics are right and we’re wrong? Their skepticism forces us to scrutinize why we believe what we do, and to ask, do we believe enough in the Bible and Jesus to stake our lives, reputations, and eternity on them?
If we ever begin to waver, one skeptical sneer can devastate us. A mocking friend, co-worker, or fellow student can take a terrible toll with a simple, “You believe that?” accompanied with a smirk. Stand firm. Don’t waver. Christianity will be going strong long after her most virile critics lay a-smoldering in the grave, most of whom will be buried within 100 feet of a tombstone bearing a Bible verse.
Fifth, weariness. The Bible is not being superfluous when it says, “Let us not be weary in well doing” (GL 6:9). Over time, weariness takes a toll. For years we stay true but don’t seem any better for it, while others sin and seem okay with it. Temptation never lets up or retreats for long. Constant battle causes wear and tear. Unending warfare, always fighting, always braving stormy seas, grows old.
Time can be our enemy. While many fall from the ladder two steps from the bottom, many also fall only two steps from the top. In either case, both fall, and the higher one falls farthest and hardest. No fool like an old fool, and no hypocrite like an old hypocrite. Consider some of Scripture’s most infamous sins–Noah’s drunkenness, Lot’s incest, Moses’ striking the rock twice, David’s adultery, Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial. What do they all share in common? The sinners were not spring chickens or pups, but rather men of age and knowledge who knew better.
Old age makes sin worse. At least youth can claim impetuousness and inexperience. Time enlarges one’s circle of influence, making a fall more devastating. To make it a long time isn’t good enough. What matters is enduring to the end.
Sixth, anonymity. With regard to spirituality, the internet has changed everything, for better and for worse. Its two main uses are pornography and religion. Many enrich their spiritual lives via the internet, finding helpful devotions on a computer screen. Others are destroyed by the ability to commit sin with anonymity. Sin is easier and more accessible than ever, only a click away on the internet.
I asked Joe Dallas, who has worked 18 years with men who have sexual addictions of all types, if pornography is always a factor in sexual perversion. He said he hesitates to use the word “always,” but has never seen an exception yet.
Embarrassment, pride, ritualism, skeptics, weariness, anonymity–any could lead to utter failure, but God has something better planned for us. If saved, we can make it to the end. Perseverance is the birthright of not only spiritual elites, but of all who have been born again. You believe, “Justified by His blood, we shall be saved” (RM 5:9b) applies to all believers. You believe, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (RM 10:13) applies to all believers. Believe “He that endureth to the end shall be saved” also applies to all believers.