Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test [having been approved by God], that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him. (James 1:12)
This post builds upon our previous post Approved in Jesus: Justification and Sanctification.
In Romans 16:10, Apelles is approved in Christ (ESV). One of you asked what that means and it’s an important question. We saw last time that Apelles had been justified by God thorough faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Appelles was also being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, more and more dying to sins and living for righteousness, following Christ as the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls.1 But in Romans 16:10, Paul is probably pointing to the fact that Apelles perseveres, endures, and overcomes in walking with Jesus over the long haul. Apelles clings to Christ, because Christ’s right hand upholds Apelles.2 We are well kept and safely kept when the Lord keeps us.
We Are Preserved by God (Father, Son, and Spirit)
All true Christians have been justified by God, are being sanctified by the Lord, and are also preserved by God. It’s a package deal. We can’t have one without the others. “Because of God’s unchangeable love, He has decreed and made a covenant with believers that they will persevere, that they are inseparably united to Christ, who continually intercedes for them, and that the Spirit and the seed of God abide in them. Consequently, they can never completely or finally fall out of their state of grace, because God’s power preserves their salvation through faith.”3
Here are three sample Scriptures on the Lord’s preservation of Christians. 1 Peter 1:5 “Through faith you are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” Philippians 1:6 “God who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” John 10:28-29 Jesus said, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”
That last Scripture is especially powerful and encouraging. It speaks of Jesus’ followers being doubly secure in the double grip of God the Son and God the Father. Imagine that you take a pen and make a fist around it with your right hand. Then you take your left hand and wrap it around the right hand with the pen inside.4 The pen is doubly secure. Other Scriptures speaks of believers being preserved by God the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s presence within us is God’s guarantee that He really will give us all that He promised. And the Spirit’s seal upon us means that God has already purchased us and that He guarantees to bring us home to Himself.5 Our grip on Christ may falter, but He won’t lose His triple grip on us. Our assurances lies in God, not ourselves.
Psalm 37:23-24 The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.
We Are Preserved by God So That We Will Persevere
This is the point of James 1:12 at the top of this post. I’ll repeat it: “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” We are saved by God’s grace so that we may live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.6 The good news of the Christian gospel is that all Jesus’ followers already have God’s approval (regeneration, justification, and adoption) because of Christ’s doing, dying, and rising for us, not because of anything that we do. Now we are God’s workmanship [His handiwork and masterpiece], created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.7 The Lord works in us so that we live out His preserving grace by persevering. The Lord approved of of His own creating work in Eden and saw that it was good.8 So He also approves of His own saving work in His believers and says, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”9
Let’s live to be approved by Christ, not by the unbelieving world. In view of God’s mercy, let us offer ourselves to Him as a living and holy sacrifice—the kind He will find acceptable. This is the way to worship the Lord by our words and deeds, by our lips and our lives.10
Prayer: Almighty God and loving Good Shepherd, thank you for your salvaging grace. Bring us back to you, away from all the ways we have wandered. Help us to begin again to hallow your name, advance your kingdom, and to do your will on earth as the angels obey you heaven. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
To be continued.
Notes (various translations): 1 1 Peter 2:24-25. 2 Psalm 63:8. 3 Larger Catechism #79. 4 I heard this illustration from Pastor Brad Rine. 5 Eph 1:13-14. 6 Col 1:10. 7 Eph 2:10. 8 Gen 1:4,10,12,18,21,25. 9 Matt 25:21. 10 Allusion to Rom 12:1-2.