"...let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb 12:1-2).
For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry (Heb 10:36-37).
"And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved" (Matt 10:22).
What is endurance? Why is it so important? Does Endurance save us? What of the popular teachings that indicate an easy road and rosy prospects once one becomes a Christian?
There are several aspects to the word "endurance" which are involved in the verses just cited. Let us explore them briefly as we seek God's wisdom.
The apostle Paul often refers to the Christian life as sports. Competition. If one thinks of Olympians, we realize the dedication involved. "Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified" (1 Cor 9:26-27).
In verse 25 he said, "...everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things." We see here a self-discipline. Dare we say? "WORKS." He writes in Ephesians 2:10 that we are "created in Christ Jesus FOR good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." Because we are "His workmanship," or "masterpiece."
This striving and dedication is aimed at a goal. Just as in athletics, there is a prize, a medal, a wreath. What is the Christian's prize? In Paul's words, "I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil 3:14). ETERNAL LIFE!
Are we saved through our Endurance and Works? No. "But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident," for "the just shall live by faith" (Gal 3:11). And..."For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Eph 2:8-9).
But there is a striving to be faithful and productive and to be able to hear the Master's "well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord" (Matt 25:21). This earthly life is but a preparation stage, and how we conduct ourselves here will indicate what further responsibilities our Lord will give us into eternity.
ANOTHER ASPECT of Endurance is the trials and temptations which God allows us to undergo. There are essentially two reasons He allows them: 1) Testimony against Satan, and 2) Testing of our true character.
The most notable example of the first reason is Job. Satan challenged God regarding His "righteous servant" (Job 1:8). Satan scoffs at Job's life of ease...so God gives Satan permission to do all sorts of heinous things to Job. And never once does Job curse God.
Before His crucifixion, Jesus informs Peter, "Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren" (Luke 22:31-32).
In this incident we see Peter ultimately strengthened. Peter was tested, and he fails; because he is operating on his own strength. But you notice Jesus lets him know that He is praying for him. And once resurrected, has a special conference with Peter as He draws Peter out of his guilt, into His love, and commissions Peter to ministry, and foretells the manner in which he will glorify Christ in death (John 22:15-19).
Jesus promised His believers, "In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).
Our works are tested by fire (1 Cor 3:10-15). If we have been diligent, the test will yield lasting treasures. Slothfulness will yield no rewards, but being saved by the "skin of our teeth." So, those who teach that God's "grace saves us just as we are," it doesn't matter, we can continue living just as we were before we were "saved," God "doesn't really care what we do," we can live anyway we please; are WOEFULLY MISTAKEN!
Finally, what of persecution? torture? death? What is the Christian duty when called upon to "recant the Faith or die?" What if the torture is SO EXTREME that the person cannot endure any further? Will God forgive such a denial?
What of "he who endures to the end will be saved." This is not, as some claim, "salvation by works." "If we can just be 'good enough-long enough,' we'll be saved." The context makes it very clear. The context is persecution and torture.
A most notable example of the early Church's understanding of this, is found in Fox's BOOK of MARTYRS. Around 249 A.D. Nichomacus was put on the rack after refusing to sacrifice to pagan gods; but under severe torture, recanted. Whereupon, God struck him dead. A 16 year old girl, Denisa, seeing this, exclaims, "O unhappy wretch, why would you buy a moment's ease at the expense of a miserable eternity!" Whereupon, she was beheaded.
Numerous accounts indicate God's mercy for many who were being burned at the stake, or other tortures, by receiving their spirits before it was unbearable for them; illustrating God's promise, "...but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted (tested) beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear (endure) it" (1 Cor 10:13).
Endurance does not CREATE our salvation. "Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul" (Heb 10:38-39). But it INDICATES our TRUE NATURE. "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us" (1 John 2:19).
Jesus taught that one must "count the cost" to following Him (Luke 14:18). "And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, he who loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matt 10:38-39).
"If you faint in the day of adversity, Your strength is small" (Pro 24:10). "Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong" (1 Cor 16:13).
(Scripture quotations are from the NKJV)