16. Persevering Grace

Amazing Grace by John Montgomery Boice 1993

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 1 PETER 5:10

You may recall from chapter 1 that we began looking at the subject of grace by listing the many adjectives linked to grace in Christian theology and hymnody.

In the back of the Trinity Hymnal, the hymnbook we use in our church, the following categories for grace are listed: converting grace, the covenant of grace, efficacious grace, the fullness of grace, magnified grace, refreshing grace, regenerating grace, sanctifying grace, saving grace, and sovereign grace (as well as such combined listings as the love and grace of God, the love and grace of Christ, the love and grace of the Holy Spirit, and salvation by grace). The hymns themselves use words like abounding grace, abundant grace, amazing grace, boundless grace, fountain of grace, God of grace, indelible grace, marvelous grace, matchless grace, overflowing grace, pardoning grace,

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plenteous grace, unfailing grace, unmeasurable grace, wondrous grace, the word of grace, grace all sufficient, and grace alone.

Theologians add to the list by speaking of common grace, electing grace, irresistible grace, persevering grace, prevenient grace, and pursuing grace.

In this study we come to one of those theological phrases: persevering grace. It means that God will persevere with those whom he has called to faith in Christ so that none will be lost and that, because he perseveres with them, they also will persevere, resisting and overcoming the world, the flesh, and the devil, and thus being ready for Jesus when he comes for them. But in turning to this phrase, there is a sense in which we are actually only summing up the other phrases. For when we say that God perseveres with us by grace or according to his gracious nature, we are also saying that he has chosen us by his electing grace, has called us by his irresistible grace, has blessed us with his abounding grace, is sanctifying us by his efficacious grace, is unfailing in his persevering grace, and will eventually bring us through the trials of this life to heaven — and that this is by his amazing grace alone.

Or to put the doctrine in other words, persevering grace means that God never begins a work he does not graciously bring to full completion. He is the Omega as well as the Alpha, the beginning and the end of all things.

This reminds us of Philippians 1:6, one of the three greatest verses or sections of the Bible having to do with perseverance: “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

The two other outstanding passages are in John and Romans:

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.

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My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one. (John 10:27-30)

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

Another Perseverance Promise

Yet these are not the only verses in the Bible that teach perseverance, and it is actually to another one that we turn now because of its use of the word grace: “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10).

Here are a few important things to know before we begin to examine this verse in detail.

1. First Peter was written to Christians scattered throughout certain areas of Asia Minor; modern-day Turkey.

Peter calls these people “God’s elect, strangers in the world” (1 Peter 1:1).

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2. These believers had been suffering many kinds of trials.

There are four reference to their trials in the letter (see 1 Peter 1:6-7; 3:13-17; 4:12-19; and 5:9). These references indicate that the suffering the Christians were experiencing included malicious slander from unbelievers, possible persecution from government authorities, and spiritual assaults from Satan.

3. Peter wanted to encourage them by the certainty of the coming glory.

He does this throughout the letter. In chapter 1 he speaks of the believers’ “living hope” (v. 3) and of “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you” (v. 4). He says that their trials have come so that their “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” (v. 7). In chapter 3 he reminds them that “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (v. 18). In chapter 4 he says, “Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (v. 13).

This is what the text we are studying also does. It encourages the Christians of Asia Minor by reminding them of the glory that is to be theirs when they complete their earthly course and are with the Lord Jesus Christ in heaven, and it assures them that in the meantime God will strengthen them and keep them for the work they have to do here.

The text is a benediction, that is, a word of blessing. But it is important to note that the verbs in the verse are future, not optative. That is, they express a promise, not a wish. If it were the latter, the verse would say something like: “May the God of all grace … restore you and make you strong.” Benedictions are often like that, and this is the way the King James Version actually translates Peter’s words: “The God of all grace … make you

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perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.” But the verse is actually a promise in the future tense, not a wish, and what it promises is that “the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

It is this future tense that makes 1 Peter 5:10 an important verse about perseverance.

No Escape from Suffering

The first truth we see when we turn to this text is that perseverance does not mean that believers in Christ are automatically delivered from all suffering. In fact, the verse teaches the opposite. It teaches that we will experience suffering, though it will be of relatively short duration (for this life rather than for eternity) and that suffering will be replaced in time by an eternal glory.

Where did Peter get this understanding of suffering in the Christian life? It is no great mystery. He learned it from Jesus Christ. This was one of the themes of the last discourses of Jesus before his crucifixion, recorded in chapter 14-16 of John’s Gospel. In chapter 15 Jesus spoke of the world’s hatred, which would lead to persecutions: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you … If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (vv. 18-20). In the next chapter he tells of religious persecutions: “They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me” (vv. 2-3). His final words in the discourse were: “In this

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world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (v. 33).

Obviously, Peter had learned from this. His personal experiences as a Christian as well as his observations of the life and experiences of the early Christian community assured him that Jesus was not being hypothetical when he forecast suffering and persecution for his followers. Suffering is a very real thing.

You will also notice something else important if you glance back one or two verses and place verse 10 in that context. In verses 8 and 9 Peter is talking about Satan, the devil, and he is saying that the suffering he is concerned about here is the suffering Satan causes. He calls Satan the Christian’s enemy. “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”

There are many names for the devil in the Bible. Devil itself is one; it means “disrupter” or “destroyer of peace.” Satan means “accuser”; we are told in Revelation that Satan, “the accuser of our brothers, … accuses them before our God day and night” (Rev. 12:10). Satan is called Belial, meaning “something low or morally depraved.” He is called “the tempter,” “the god and prince of this world,” the “chief of demons,” Beelzebub (meaning “Lord of the flies”), Apollyon, a “murderer from the beginning,” and “the great dragon … that ancient serpent called the devil.” In our text he is compared to a “lion looking for someone to devour.” A lion is a fierce and powerful animal and a subtle stalker of prey. So when Peter warns us about our enemy the lion, he is assuring us that however wonderful the doctrine of perseverance is, it does not mean that we shall be spared Satan’s onslaughts and that, in fact, we had better be prepared to resist him and so stand firm in the faith to which we have been called.

But how can we do that if Satan is really as powerful as the

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Bible says he is? The answer, of course, is that in ourselves we cannot resist him even for a moment. We can only do it by the grace and power of God, which is where our text comes in. For it assures us that in spite of these satanic threats to our security, “the God of grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ … will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

Peter had learned this from Jesus, too. You will recall how Jesus told Peter at the Last Supper that “Satan has asked to sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31). The devil must have meant, “I know you are placing a lot of hope in these twelve disciples that you will be leaving behind when you return to heaven. But it is a hopeless gamble, and I will show you how hopeless it really is. If you will just let me get at Peter, your leading apostle, I will shake him so badly that all his faith will come tumbling out like chaff at threshing time, and he will be utterly ruined.” Satan is a liar, but I do not think he was lying at this point. He must have remembered how easy it had been for him to ruin our first parents in Eden long ago, and he concluded that if he had brought Adam and Even to ruin when they were in their unfallen and pristine glory, it should have been easy to knock down Peter, who was (unlike Adam) already sinful, ignorant, brash, and ridiculously self-confident.

And he was right. Peter had boasted that he would never deny Jesus. He said, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death” (v. 33). But when Satan blew upon him he fell. In fact, it took only a little servant girl to say to Peter, “This man was with him [that is, with Jesus]” (v. 56), and immediately Peter denied that he even knew the Lord.

Yet what Satan had not counted on was what Jesus also told Peter in the upper room. He warned him that Satan would indeed attack him and that he would fall, but he added, “I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when

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you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (v. 32). If Peter could explain that statement to us, he would probably say something like this: “When Jesus told me he had prayed for me so that my faith would not fail, he was telling me that I could not stand against Satan alone. And neither can you! Satan is much too powerful for us. So do not make the mistake I made, assuming that because I loved Jesus I could never be led by Satan to deny that I ever knew him. Satan can bend us any way he wishes. But if we are joined to Jesus, we will find that he is able to keep us from falling, or if he allows us to fall, he is able to keep us from falling the whole way and will in any case forgive us, bring us back to himself, and give us meaningful work to do.”

Some years ago I heard Professor John Gerstner reflect on this story, claiming (in jest) that before his fall Peter had written a hymn that is not in the hymnbook I use but which I have occasionally heard sung. It goes, “Lord, we are able …” But what Peter learned is that we are not able, not in ourselves, and that if we are to stand against Satan, it must be by the persevering grace of God, who has promised to restore us and make us strong, firm, and steadfast.

Four Things God Will Do

In one respect, the King James translation of 1 Peter 5:10 is not as accurate as the New International Version, because it turns the promise “God … will … restore you” into a wish: “The God of all grace … make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.” I mentioned that matter earlier. However, there is one way in which the King James Version is closer to the Greek text than the New International Version, and this is the way in which it lists the four things Peter says God will do for believers. For some reason the New International Version breaks them up, saying

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that God “will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” But in the original text these are merely four powerful verbs, each in the future tense: “will perfect,” “will establish,” “will strengthen” and “will settle.” There are no additional words. In other words, the verse simply lists four things that God will do for all believers.

1. God will perfect you.

The word the King James Version translated “perfect” means “to make fully ready” or “to complete.” It was used of making fishing nets ready by mending them, which is probably where the New International Version translators got the idea of restoration. Or perhaps they were thinking of Peter’s experience of having denied Jesus and of later being restored. But it is not really this that Peter is thinking of. He has spoken of suffering, and the idea is not that we are restored from suffering but rather that suffering is used by God to complete or perfect what he is doing with us.

The same idea emerges if we think of grace. The verse begins “and the God of all grace,” which means that God is the source of every grace and will supply what we need to go on to spiritual wholeness or perfection. Earlier I listed the graces of electing, calling, sanctifying, and so on. At this point, in view of our being attacked by Satan, it might be more helpful to think of the Christian’s armor, which God also graciously supplies.

Paul lists the articles of a Christian’s armor in Ephesians 6, making some of the same points Peter is making in his letter:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes … Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with

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the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the world of God. (Ephesians 6:10-11, 14-17)

2. God will establish you.

The idea conveyed by this verb is to be established in a firm defensive position so that the attacks of the devil will not dislodge the Christian from it. The one who is established will be able to hold his or her ground.

If you and I have any understanding of ourselves, we must at times worry greatly about being dislodged from where God has placed us. We know how weak we are and how fierce an antagonist Satan is. What if Satan should attack our home? Can my husband and I really hold it together? What if he attacks our children? Our marriage itself? Suppose I lose my job? Or my health? What about my Christian witness? Suppose the people I work with ostracize me because of my Christian faith, make fun of me, shut me out of office confidences, or pass over me for promotions? Will I really be able to stand firm under such pressures? Or will I be ashamed of Jesus and disgrace him by refusing to speak up for him or by compromising what I stand for? What if I should even deny him, as Peter did?

Those fears are not groundless, because we know that Christian homes sometimes are broken up, that Christians often fail to stand for Christ, and that some do occasionally deny him. In the midst of our fears this text comes as a great promise. “God will establish you.” He will keep you through just such pressured situations. And if, in accord with his own wise counsel, he should allow you to stumble for a time and fall, you can know that Jesus has nevertheless prayed for you and that your fall will not be

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permanent. In fact, when it is past you will be stronger than you were before, and you will be able to use your experience of the grace of God to help others.

3. God will strengthen you.

The previous promise, that “God will establish you,” had to do with holding one’s ground. That is, it concerned a defensive stand. This promise goes further. It concerns an offensive action. It says that God will “strengthen” us to resist Satan, which is exactly what Peter told us to do in the previous verse: “Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (v. 9). We cannot resist Satan in our own strength, but we can if God strengthens us.

4. God will settle you.

The last of these four promises is that God will “settle” us. The word means “to be made to rest securely,” like a strong building on a sure foundation. It is important for this reason. The purpose of the attacks of Satan is to dislodge us from our foundation, which is Jesus Christ. He will do that if he can. God’s purpose is to settle us in or on Jesus, and God has arranged things so that the attacks of Satan, rather than unsettling us, actually serve to bond us to that foundation even more firmly than before. That is why Paul told the Romans, “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4).

That happened to Peter himself. Before he was tempted by Satan, Peter thought he was secure, but he was not because he was trusting in himself. After he had been tempted, he knew that he could never prevail against Satan in his own strength and therefore stayed close to Jesus. It was from that proximity to Jesus and by resting on that foundation that Peter was able to

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strengthen his brethren in like situations, which is what Jesus said he would do and what he is actually doing here.

We have a natural tendency to rely upon ourselves. But God has arranged even the assaults of Satan so that we will be weaned away from self-reliance to trust God instead. Few experiences in life are more useful in settling us on the only sure foundation than the temptations and sufferings that come to us from Satan.

Grace and Glory

Earlier I spoke of the glory that is mentioned in this verse as the Christian’s ultimate destiny and sure hope: “God, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ …” Glory is the obvious place to end a study of the subject of the persevering grace of God. Grace perseveres with us precisely so that we might be brought to glory.

But glory is a difficult term to define. The Hebrew language has two words for it: kabod, which has the idea of “weight,” therefore of that which has value; and shekinah, which refers to the unapproachable light that surrounds and represents the Deity. In the New Testament the word for glory is doxa, which is used to translate both Hebrew words and embraces both of the Hebrew ideas. All three words are chiefly used of God, as in Psalm 24, which describes God as the King of glory.

Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.

Who is he, this King of glory? The LORD Almighty — he is the King of glory. (Psalm 24: 9-10)

The psalm is teaching that God alone is of ultimate weight, worth, or value, and because of that, he only is worthy of our highest praise.

The problem with understanding glory comes when we realize

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that the word is also used in connection with our destiny, as in 1 Peter 5. Peter speaks of our being “called … to his eternal glory.” What does that mean? It could mean merely being called to God himself, that is, to God’s presence. But when we look at other relevant Bible passages we see that it means more than this. It means that we shall also share in God’s glory, that we shall be glorified. In other words, it does not refer only to where we will end up as Christians, but also to what we will be and how we will be received when we get there.

In my judgment the most stimulating thing that has been written on glory is an essay by C.S. Lewis, titled “The Weight of Glory.” Quite possibly it is the best thing this brilliant English scholar and Christian apologist ever wrote. Lewis begins by admitting that for many years the idea of glory seemed unattractive to him because he associated it only with fame or luminosity. The first idea seemed wicked. Why should we want to be famous? Isn’t that un-Christian? And as for the second, well, who wants to go around looking like a high-powered electric light bulb?

However, as he looked into the matter, Lewis discovered that wanting to receive God’s approval was not at all wicked. He remembered how Jesus said that no one can enter heaven except as a child, and he reflected on how natural and proper it is for a child to be pleased when he or she is praised. There is a wrong way of desiring praise, of course. It occurs when we want praise to come to us rather than to someone else. Moreover, it is always easy for a right desire for praise to slip over into a warped and evil desire and so be harmful. But pursued in the right way, pleasure at being praised is the exact opposite of the pride Lewis had at first thought it signified. It is actually humility of a childlike sort. Since God is our Father, it is right that we should want to please him and be pleased at having pleased him.

This is not due to anything in ourselves. Salvation is God’s work

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from start to finish. But what Lewis is saying is that for Christians the day will come when we will stand before God, he having persevered with us until the end, and then he shall look upon us and be pleased with what he sees. He will say when he looks at us, “It has all been worthwhile. It was good for me to have sent my Son to die on that cross, suffering the pain, agony, and torment of the crucifixion to save this sinner from his sins. He is what I wanted to make him. He is like my Son. I am satisfied. I am very well pleased.” When we hear that, we will be well pleased, too. And, far from taking glory to ourselves for what has happened, we will glorify him who has in that way glorified us.

Lewis says that the opposite of glory is to be ignored by God, to be rejected, exiled, and estranged. To be glorified is to be noticed, welcomed, received, acknowledged, and let in.

He has this encouragement, too:

If we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendor of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy. At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of the morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in. When human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch.

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Lewis was a professor of literature, not a theologian, and he freely admits that much of what he has written about glory in his essay is human speculation. But he has captured something of the wonder of what is in store for those who have become the objects of the electing, sanctifying, and persevering grace of God. Isn’t it splendid? And shouldn’t it transform how we look at the experiences we are passing through now?

The English hymn writer W.H. Burleigh thought so. He wrote:

Let us press on, in patient self-denial,

Accept the hardship, shrink not from the loss;

Our portion lies beyond the hour of trial,

Our crown beyond the cross.

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