One of the more interesting Bible studies is the one where we study the actual character of God. We are blessed as Christians because unlike unbelievers, pagans, and skeptics who can only witness God's power and timelessness and call it something else (i.e. mother nature, the universe, the eco system, the gods of the earth), we as Christians have at our disposal a book which not only reveals the God whose power created all of this, but also reveals something about God Himself.
Unlike Star Trek and all of its imitators whose goal is to search for knowledge and other life forms, we Christians have access to the information about the one who created the stars and all forms of life. From the Bible we can know what God created as well as when He did, why He did, when it will end and what it all means. In addition to this we can also know the thinking, the character, and the demands of the one that made all things.
That is what I want to do briefly here tonight. I want to focus on one characteristic of God, a characteristic that factors quite significantly in His relationship with us.
God's character has so many different facets. He is holy, He is merciful, He is wise, He is gracious and kind, He is just and righteous, and He is also perseverant. And it is His perseverance that I wish to speak about tonight.
What is Perseverance?
Before I talk about God's perseverance, I should explain what perseverance is so we will all be on the same page. The dictionary defines perseverance as follows, "To try hard and continually in spite of obstacles and difficulties" or, "the quality of being persistent". We say that a student perseveres in a difficult class, the final four on Survivor persevered the heat, bugs and discomfort, that phone solicitor sure is persistent when she calls.
In the Bible this word is never directly used to describe God, rather it is used to describe how people should be or act:
- The original Greek word translates to the English words, perseverance, endurance, steadfastness.
- In Romans 13:6 Paul speaks of rulers who need to persevere in the task of governing the people.
- In Ephesians 6:18 he exhorts Christians to persevere in prayer and watchfulness on behalf of the church.
This is accurate because man is weak and has to focus, has to continually will to reach goals whether they be material or spiritual. Humans beings are easily distracted, fall victim to sin, often quit because of obstacles or tests, and so for us perseverance is a virtue to be cultivated and practiced if we want to achieve our goals.
For God there are no obstacles, no weakness, no temptations to quit and so perseverance is not something He must acquire and practice. This is one reason why this particular word is not used in describing Him. But this is not to say that He does not exhibit this trait as part of His natural character. The Bible does not use the word perseverance to describe God and His actions but the Bible is filled with examples of God exhibiting this very quality.
The Perseverance of God
Let me give you three examples of this.
God Perseveres in Judgement
Have you notices that from the Garden of Eden to the battle with the serpent in the Book of Revelation God continually judges His creation?
If you are a parent, teacher, or any kind of manager, you will know how difficult this can be. Anyone who is responsible for upholding the rules, the policy, the law, the quality of something, knows that it is difficult. You want to quit, compromise, change, let things slide, let someone else do it. You get tired of having to discipline, judge, admonish. This is why the youngest in the family are often "spoiled". It is why grand-parenting is fun, you do not have to judge, discipline, or punish.
From the beginning of time God has judged every man and woman, every family, every leader, every nation, everyone in both the spiritual world and the physical world. And He has done this perfectly, consistently, and justly. When we see how He perseveres in judgement it should do two things for us:
- Comfort us in the knowledge that the evil ones in this world will be judged. God will not quit until all justice is done.
- Warn us that we too will be judged so we must prepare for that time by believing and obeying Christ.
Nothing will stand in the way of God's judgement, He will persevere. This should make us happy or afraid depending on how we will be judged.
God Perseveres in Mercy
When I read the Old Testament, especially the records of the various kings of Israel, I am amazed by God's persevering mercy. Now the Bible uses other words for this, words like lovingkindness or longsuffering, but these refer to the same thing. Various leaders would commit horrible sins (for example, burn their children on alters to pagan gods) and yet God would preserve the nation from its enemies and provide food and shelter for decades. Even allow these evil men to rule for 20 to 30 and sometimes 40 years. And then another king would come along and ask for forgiveness and make an effort at repentance and God would forgive and restore them to even more peace and prosperity.
Over and over again we see God not being stopped from loving His people and blessing them. He persevered for centuries in His love for a people who were unlovable. I take great comfort in this because in my own life, only a God who perseveres in love and mercy could continue loving me as I drift in and out of love with Him, sometimes all in the same day. My confidence in my salvation is not based on my love for Him, it is based on His persevering mercy towards me. There are days when I get it right; there are stretches where my love perseveres through the temptations and obstacles and weak flesh. This feels good and it is a high point spiritually for me.
But Paul says in Ephesians 1:4, God's love and mercy for me was present before the creation of the world and He has and will persevere in it, despite the ups and downs of my love, until and beyond the end of time.
God Perseveres in Sanctification
The process of sanctification, some have learned in our Romans classes or doctrine class, is the process where God, through the cross of Christ, through the Holy Spirit, through His inspired word, through the ministry of the church, through His providential care, God through these agencies helps each Christian grow and mature in Christ. God is relentless in this process. None is excused, no one is forgotten, no one mishandled. Every single Christian is in the process of being matured (or sanctified) by God. The problem is that we forget or neglect to attend to the activities and exercises (worship, study, service, prayer, fellowship) that stimulate our development, but God never does.
The preacher can only get to us in the building so we can have a healthy spiritual workout, but God perseveres every single day and night challenging us, examining us, encouraging us to do away with sin, to grow in the Spirit, to let go the world and let more of our lives be in the control and power of Jesus Christ. You can leave the church building and the brethren behind when you depart from here, but God perseveres in His task of remaking you into the image of His Son wherever you go, He is there.
It is a good thing that God perseveres, because if He did not we would be like those astronauts in the movies who accidentally cut themselves off from the space ship and drift away into endless space. We do that to ourselves with sin and ignorance and neglect. We cut ourselves off from a loving God and drift into the blackness of hell.
But God perseveres:
- In Judgement: To remind us to stay close.
- In mercy: To reattach us to Himself through His love whenever we begin to drift away and reach out for rescue and safety.
- In Sanctification: Not letting us remain as we were but transforming us each day into a new creation ready for an eternal life with Him through Christ in heaven.
This will never stop, the God of heaven will always persevere in these until all is complete.
The question tonight is, "How have we responded to His pursuit of us in these ways?" Have we prepared for the judgement to come by believing in Jesus and dying with Him in baptism? Have we responded to his mercy by showing mercy to others? Have we submitted to His efforts to rid us of our worldly habits and desires and focus our attention to and love for Christ? If we have, then take courage because no matter what, God will persevere with us until everything in us is perfected. If we have not, then know that God perseveres in calling us again, through this lesson and invitation to come to Him now as we stand and sing.