We have all been living through crazy and stressful days, during the ongoing pandemic. The worry, restrictions, isolation, financial squeeze and emotional pressure has affected every person of whatever faith and creed. Yet for Christians, the bible is full of encouragements about how to live and thrive under pressure.
The early church didn’t live under a pandemic, but they did live under sustained persecution and daily trouble. They learned and taught an important lesson: we don’t have to crumble in our faith when things aren’t working out the way we like – we can stand firm in faith, and likewise in life. So, I want to remind you of three aspects of why we need to stand firm in the New Testament; personally – the devil wants to pick you off or destroy you; as a church – there are always threats to the life, purity and maturity of Jesus’ followers; in our faith – we face doubts, questions and opposition to our trust in the Lord.
- You are in a battle. Ephesians 6:13 tells us that in the day of evil, God calls us to stand and having done everything to stand. When you are under enemy attack, the Christian doesn’t have to fold, each of us has a spiritual capacity to stand and not be moved. In a similar way, in 1 Peter 5:9, we are exhorted to resist the devil, standing firm in our faith. The knowledge that the enemy prowls like a lion should prepare us to expect attack or discouragement, and to resist him in prayer and action. Every Christian in the world undergoes suffering, Peter tells us, and so we fight to stay strong in our faith. Jesus himself reminds us of the reality of persecution which will come especially in the End Times; he tells us in Luke 21:19 to stand firm so that we will win life. We can endure more than we think we can, the power of the human spirit especially in God’s strength, is able to rise above shaking and disaster. The knowledge that eternal life awaits us and a glorious kingdom to fully enter, enables us to stand firm.
- The church is under constant threat. Paul reminds his friends in Philippians 1:27 that the church needs to stand together, standing firm in one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel. There are many things that could divide us as Christians, but the message of the gospel, the core convictions of every Christian, the awesome reality of what it means to be church with Jesus’ life at our centre, is worth standing together for, and not be moved. Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 16:13, as part of his closing remarks, Paul calls his friends to be on their guard, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong, and to do everything in love. Why does he say this? Because there are many things which could divert or distract us. As a group of Christian brothers and sisters, it is our duty to help each other stay focused on God’s call and our devotion to Christ, and not to be compromised. The apostle James too, encourages believers to stay steady under suffering, standing firm because the Lord’s coming is near. As a farmer is marked by patient walking through different seasons, towards harvest, a trusting response to suffering produces corporate perseverance and resilience, and inspires us to patiently wait together for the Lord and his vindication.
- The gospel is being opposed. The Christian faith is seen as one of many truths and religious ways in our world today, and the devil loves nothing more than to dull our faith through doubt or questioning. Galatians 5:1 reminds us that is for freedom that Christ has set us free, and we should stand firm against slipping back into old bondages and ways of living. Jesus has liberated us to a life of great grace; he has freed us from sin and old religious ways of trying to please God through self-righteousness. That spiritual freedom is ground we do not want to lose, so we need to remind ourselves to stand firm in the freedom of gospel grace and truth. In a very different argument, Paul calls for standing firm in the hope of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15v58. In this significant chapter, he restates the truth of Christ’s resurrection and therefore the hope of our own. For those Christians who were losing sight of that glorious truth, Paul declares that the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. And this emphasises the need to stand firm not just in Christian living here and now, but in the great hope of our future, and our glorious resurrection life with Christ. Linked to this, Paul also urges his fellow brothers and sisters, in Philippians 4v1 to stand firm as we await Jesus’ coming in glory. We live in the light of the cross, shaped by Jesus’ death and resurrection; we also live in the eager expectation of his return in glory. Because we are certain of the first, we can be confident of the second. The New Testament letters are infused by this great longing for Jesus’ second coming, it motivates everything Christians do. Is our faith like limestone which can be eroded away by the constant drip of doubt and cynical opposition, or like granite which does not change its shape, texture or sparkle whatever challenges or questioning is channelled against us?
The good news for us today is that God wants to help us stand firm. Finishing well in the Christian life is our common goal; we all want to receive the ‘well done good and faithful servant’ exclamation over our lives by the Lord. Remember, as is written in 2 Corinthians 1:20-22, ‘it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.’ You are already stronger than you know, because of what God has done for us and for his Spirit living inside us. So, against personal attack, against the challenges faced by the church, against doubt and testing of your faith, even in the global shaking of this pandemic and how we ride it out, the Lord exhorts you to stand firm and let nothing move you. God bless you today.
William Porter is the Team leader at the Beacon House of Prayer, Stoke on Trent, and Houses of Prayer Network.