The Christian life feels precarious, sometimes. Do you feel like that? We’ve all seen dear brothers and sisters who we thought were following Jesus wholeheartedly—and perhaps they were—disappear from the scene and seem to abandon their faith.
Putting aside how we should read these occurrences it can make us feel like we’re one step away from the same fate. We are, I hope, the most acutely aware of our own sin. We certainly have the best vantage point for being so. Sometimes I feel like I’m one false step away from blowing everything up.
I suppose, from one way of looking at things, I am. It’s always possible that I do something damaging to my relationships, my marriage, or my church that I would struggle to recover from. I think it’s incredibly dangerous to think otherwise—“it couldn’t be me” is a recipe for Christians with the mess of imploded lives strewn around them. Watch yourself lest ye fall, indeed (1 Corinthians 10, Galatians 6).
And yet, we believe that God protects his own, that we are not responsible for keeping ourselves within his love, that the security that comes from being a Christian is we did not build the fortress. Are we protected from outside attack? We read that we are (Romans 8). Are we protected from wandering astray? We read that we are (Psalm 139). Are we protected from the wily snaggle-teeth of death’s dank maw? We read that we are (1 Corinthians 15). We dwell in the fortress of the Lord, which we are not responsible for maintaining. We can find safety behind our walls. Nothing can move God’s church (Psalm 125).
All well and good, as far as it goes. But I can hear the barely restrained scoffing. Because history is a book written for our instruction. The Church has often suffered. Christians have often suffered. You have often suffered.
Even when we think of ‘protection’ from the angle the Bible means: not the physical protection and flourishing of our bodies but instead God keeping us tucked in and following him, ensuring we stick with the flock that follows the shepherd (Isaiah 40)—even then we might point out that we are full of faith one day and crippled by doubt the next. Perhaps even as you read this the foundation is shaky underneath your heart, you aren’t sure if you can keep going. Friends are proving their words to be flimsy by their actions, the church is inconstant in your life, the people of God keep letting you down.
If you’re honest, you’re often tempted to give up the faith as a bad job. I get it.
Eugene Peterson speaks of the “saw-toothed history of Israel” in his book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. Israel was triumphant one day and wandering the desert the next; one day they were with Jesus intimately with rapt attention, the next they were cursing him in a courtyard. But, Peterson insists, they remained the people of God.
God was still with them. Still steadfast. Still judging them and granting them mercy. Still relentlessly gracious. He cannot be stopped. His will to give you mercy is beyond your capacity to escape, and beyond the capacity of circumstance to disrupt (Psalm 23).
Which is to say, my performance does not speak to God’s protection of me. My level of faith does not speak to God’s protection of me. My life does not speak to God’s protection of me. God’s word does, and he says he will protect me. He has associated himself with humanity irrevocably by taking on our flesh, and with you specifically by dying for your sins, dear friend. He will not let you go.
My experience of my life, its pains and heartaches, do not speak to God’s guiding protection over me. My rampant doubt—and we live in an age where doubt is easier than faith—does not speak to God’s guiding protection of me. He will preserve his people.
I’m a firm believer in the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, sometimes unfairly parodied as ‘once saved, always saved.’ Which is to say: God will get his people to the end. But how does he do so? One way is by warning us not to fall. Which means we need to take the warnings seriously—do not stray out of the fortress! There be dragons.
And it means we need to take the fortress walls seriously. We didn’t build them. We don’t maintain them. We don’t need to keep ourselves in, just live lives of humble obedience as best we’re able, and repent when we’re not.
If today is a hard day, cling as best you are able. If today is a good day, love those who are clinging as well as you can. Do not cause any of them to stumble (Romans 14).
You can be assured of this: the good God loves you, wants you, and is for you. He won’t let you go, and will chase after you with mercy for all of your days. Then, right at the end, the claws of death will be pulled, and everything sad will come untrue.
Of this I am certain. Keep going.
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