Last year in Grace in Focus magazine, Marcia Hornok wrote an article about believers in Scripture who lived messy lives. You can read her article here (pp. 35-36). In her conclusion she said, “Anyone who thinks true believers persevere in following God cannot prove it with Biblical examples.” I received an email from a reader who thought he was accurately paraphrasing what she said when he wrote, “…search the Bible, and you won’t find anyone who perseveres.”
Marcia did not say that. What she said is that you cannot prove from the Bible that every born again person persevered in faith and good works until death. Another way of saying that is this: there are clear Biblical examples of born again believers who were not persevering when they died, (e.g., Solomon in 1 Kings 11; 1 Cor 11:30; Jas 5:19-20) and other examples of believers who were not persevering the last time we hear anything about them (e.g., Demas in 2 Tim 4:10; Hymenaeus in 1 Tim 1:19-20 and 2 Tim 2:17-18).
However, we can prove that some believers did persevere until the end of their lives. I should note, however, that there really are not a lot of examples in the Bible of believers at the very end of their lives. We can only give a small number of specific examples of believers who persevered (and of believers who did not persevere).
Old Testament examples of persevering saints are recorded in Hebrews 11. They include Noah, Abraham, Sarah (see Heb 11:13, “These all died in faith…”), Moses, David, and Samuel.
Even here there is some doubt, however, as to whether the author is telling us that all the people mentioned in Hebrews 11 persevered. Based on the OT record, and on just the mention of their names in Hebrews 11, it is difficult to be certain that “Gideon, and Barak and Samson and Jephthah” (Heb 11:32) persevered. Or that “the harlot Rahab” (Heb 11:31) endured. The author of Hebrews may simply be saying that some of these people lived by faith at a key moment in their lives.
New Testament examples include Paul (2 Tim 4:6-8) and the Eleven and Matthias (since they were all promised by the Lord in Matt 19:28 that they’d rule over the twelve tribes of Israel, and only those who endure will rule [2 Tim 2:12]). I can’t think of a single other example in the NT which clearly looks at the end of someone’s life and indicates that the person persevered.
Unless we make a lot of assumptions, we cannot be sure that more than a few dozen people in the Old and New Testaments persevered.
Timothy and Titus probably did. But we are not told. James and Jude the half brothers of the Lord Jesus probably did. Yet Scripture does not say. Apollos? Euodia and Syntyche? Clement? Lydia? The Philippian jailer? Priscilla and Aquila? Apelles? Rufus? Gaius? Demetrius? Luke? Mark? Silas? Tychicus? Onesimus? Philemon? Epaphras? Nymphas? Archippus? Probably. But we cannot be sure because we are not told.
Why is that? Why doesn’t God tell us about the last days of hundreds of believers? Since the Bible does not tell us, we can only speculate. The most natural reason is that God does not consider it important that we have a large number of examples of believers who are explicitly said to have died in faith and good works. Or maybe God expects us to assume that is the case unless there is evidence otherwise.
We have examples of born again people who persevered to the ends of their lives. And we have examples of born again people who did not.
Any theology which says that God guarantees that all who are born again will persevere in faith and good works until death needs to read the Scriptures again. Not only can’t that be proved, it can be proved to be false.
The same is true with any theology which says that if a believer fails to persevere, he loses everlasting life. That is contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture (e.g., John 3:16; 5:24; 6:35; 11:26; 2 Cor 5:1-8; Rev 22:17). Everlasting life cannot be lost.
So why persevere if it isn’t required to have everlasting life? Because perseverance is good for you (and for the people you influence: your family, neighbors, friends, and co-workers). Obeying God is the best way to live. It is the only way to have love, joy, peace, and contentment. And persevering in holiness is the only way to ensure that you will rule with Christ forever and that you will hear Him say to you, “Well done, good servant.”