Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 10:22d “. . .shall be saved.”
“To the end” offers a silver lining in this cloud of Jesus’ predictions about persecution. The good news is, our suffering for Christ is always temporary. It has an end. Though tough and tedious, persecution is endurable because it does not last forever. Even guillotines and swords grow weary of their own savagery.
All persecution ends–by flight, respite, or death–and all who remain faithful to the end receive a huge reward, the assurance of knowing they “shall be saved.”
Perseverence to the end provides comforting proof a person truly has been born again and will go to Heaven at death. Jesus was not making a statement here on how we can earn or lose salvation. Endurance does not cause or help us keep salvation; being saved is a gift we neither earn nor lose. Endurance rather confirms the existence of salvation. One who never quits gives decisive evidence of being attached to Jesus. A true work of grace proves itself by final perseverance.
Apostasy, the blatant denial of our faith by word or deed, indicates the salvation a person claims was actually never theirs. Scripture is clear on this topic.
“They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us” (1 J 2:19 NAS). “It would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment delivered to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A dog returns to its own vomit,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire”” (2 P 2:21-22 NAS). Peter’s graphic message is clear, the alteration experienced by people who draw back is external, cosmetic. Their nature has not been changed. Luke 8:13 says they have no “root.”
We embrace once saved, always saved, and also hold to once saved, always changed. This does not infer perfection. The only way we can live above sin is to rent an apartment over a tavern. Perfection will be ours only in Heaven, not here.
Perseverance to the end entails ever having perfection as our goal and making steady progress toward it in the negatives and positives of Christian living. In our battle against sin, the war is often three steps forward and two steps backward.
Despite setbacks, our lives remain directed the right way. Time between sin and repentance keeps getting shorter. Time between sins keeps getting longer.
In addition to deleting negatives, perseverance to the end also entails a lifetime of embracing more and more positive traits. Holiness is not only negative.
A believer welcomes and adds on many positive qualities, for example, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, believing the Bible, loving fellow saints, seeking the lost, going on mission. Holiness entails loving God, kissing the Son (PS 2:12). He comes to mind, thoughts dwell on Him, more and more often.
I again reiterate, perseverance to the end is not being perfect. All saints experience times of faltering. The issue is continuance, quickly repenting after sin, and soon re-establishing our trek in the right direction. The point is not Jim Baker falling into open sin, though one of the most devastating blows ever delivered to USA Christianity. The ultimate questions are, did Jim Baker repent, show a broken heart, give evidence of true sorrow, and determine to carry on? I think the answer to these questions was yes. In his book “I Was Wrong” Baker gives strong testimony to his contrition and provides good evidence he probably is born again.
The ones to worry about are those who renounce or ridicule Christ. Also be concerned for any who claim to be born again, but give no evidence of it in their lives. They commit sins without any qualms of conscience, or show no interest in loving Jesus or the lost, in reading the Bible, in attending church. Spiritual concerns are unimportant to them. People like this are in a precarious position, having received just enough religion to inoculate them against the real thing. What they think was a born again experience was nothing more than a religious spasm.
Johnny Hunt tells that when he was born again, he immediately left behind a life of gambling, drugs, and sexual impurity. His best friend had been sharing all these sins with him for several years. When Johnny told him he had been born again, the friend said the same thing had happened to him two years earlier. Johnny immediately replied, “No, it didn’t.” Even as a new believer, Johnny knew his friend had not experienced what he had. If the friend had, he would have changed.
“He that endureth to the end shall be saved” may be controversial, but also comforts. The fact God has given us a definite way of testing ourselves, of determining whether or not we are truly saved, is a huge gift. It allows us to examine ourselves accurately. We know we have saving power if we have staying power.
I grew up a typical Southern Baptist, believing the main way we can know for sure we are saved and will go to Heaven when we die is by having had a born again experience. I knew I was saved because at age six I asked Jesus to forgive me of my sins and invited Him to come live in my heart as Master of my life.
I still believe none go to Heaven apart from being born again. The only people in Heaven will be those who on their own choose to enter into a personal relationship with Christ. No one enters Heaven because sprinkled or confirmed, or due to partaking in rituals, or based on church membership. There will be enough Baptists in Hell to convene a business meeting and vote to install air conditioning. The only ticket to Heaven is a born again experience. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (JN 3:3).
With regard to this bedrock truth, my theology has never altered, but another aspect of my religious thinking has radically changed. I have a totally different understanding of how we know for sure we are born again and will go to Heaven.
The transformation occurred when I preached through Hebrews, written to converted Jews considering forsaking Christianity due to persecution for following Jesus. They felt cheated, having left impressive priests and rituals, beautiful buildings and trappings, to accept a simple faith in a Christ worshiped without earthly priests, nice buildings, or visible trimmings and trappings. For people used to pomp and circumstance, suffering for a simple gospel was difficult. The writer of Hebrews gave his readers little sympathy and cut them no slack. Mincing no words, he bluntly told them their salvation would be suspect if they turned back.
We are in Christ’s house “if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end” (3:6 NAS). “We have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end” (3:14 NAS).
Nowhere in Hebrews did the author comfort his readers by mentioning the possibility of their having had a born again experience. He made it perfectly clear that the only way they could know for sure they were saved was by remaining steadfast to the end. By the time I ended preaching through Hebrews verse by verse, my outlook was forever changed. Since then I have believed and preached the only way we can know for sure we are saved is by enduring to the end.
Perseverance entails never quitting. To illustrate this, I open two painful parts of my past. Before my grandchildren, before my children, before my Ruthie, while pastor of a little church, I did a stupid thing. I was so embarrassed and disappointed in me that I decided to quit. At the ripe old age of 18, I was finished in ministry. It’s the only time I ever tried to quit preaching. I might have succeeded in my plan to give up, but I made a mistake. For some unknown reason, I laid my preaching Bible on the night stand next to my bed. For weeks, there it was every night, the ultimate reminder of who and whose I was, and what I was called to be.
When I was asked to preach my dad’s tenth anniversary celebration at his church, I picked up my Bible, went back to preaching, and have never looked back since. That decision has made all the difference. What if I had really quit?
At age 35, leaving with a church split, I had many fears, my career, my reputation, feeding my family, disappointing them, their not respecting me any more. The most paralyzing terror was, what if I have no place to preach. I’m glad God let me sense that horror. It reminded me, He has planted deep inside me a strong desire to never quit, and that is the only way I can know for sure I am saved.
If I go to Heaven, it will be because at age six I invited Christ into my heart. My confidence about Heaven is rooted in the fact Jesus has never let me quit. “He that endureth to the end shall be saved”–do you find here consolation or warning?