You are out of town and for Sunday you visit one of the local churches with your family. After all, whether at home or away, you want to be with God’s people for corporate worship.
As you and your family enter the church building, you are greeted in the foyer by a friendly family. They make you feel right at home. As the service begins, without putting you on the spot, you are acknowledged and welcomed as first time visitors.
The music is God honoring and God exalting. No man-centered, seeker-sensitive stuff here. Then the pastor gets up to read the Word. After reading, he prays. In His prayer he praises God for His greatness and then he brings the needs of the congregation before the throne of grace.
By this time you are thinking to yourself, “This is great. Warm. Welcoming. God exalting.” The pastor then preaches from the Bible on the Perseverance of the Saints. His text: 1 Peter 1:5-9.
But then, at the end of the service, things take quite a different turn. The song leader gets up and asks everyone to turn to the last hymn. The congregation starts singing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our Faith.” You look over to your wife in wonder. You are sure that in your home church you sing the classic Martin Luther hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
As the service ends, people around you are congratulating each other that their faith is so strong that they will persevere through any trial. As you greet the pastor, he asks you if your faith is a mighty fortress to withstand any trial.
So is one’s faith the reason that person will persevere? I mean, if someone truly believes, they will never stop believing, right? Is the mighty fortress one’s faith?
The apostle Peter wrote his first epistle to persecuted Christians. The Roman emperor Nero increased the heat of the persecution these Christians were already facing by burning Rome and putting the blame squarely on the Christians. Nero burned Rome including its cultural and religious artifacts so that he could rebuild it for the glory of his majesty and renown of his name. According to Tacitus, the Roman historian, Nero rolled Christians in pitch and then set them on fire while they were still alive and used them as living torches to light his garden parties.
Peter referenced these trials throughout this epistle.(1 Peter 1:6; 2:12-15; 3:9, 14-17; 4:12-16, 19; 5:10). But from the very outset he wanted to encourage them that they would persevere in the faith even through these most trying times. But why?
In 1 Peter 1 :5-9 faith/believe is mentioned 4x. Faith is a gift of God(Ephesians 2:8) “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction is things not seen.”(Hebrews 11:1)
“We cannot be said to believe that which we distrust too much to commit ourselves to it.”
But why will believers persevere? What was the reason Peter gave these downtrodden Christians that they would persevere?
“who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
1 Peter 1:5
A: God’s power!!!!
The Greek φρουρεο means “fortress.” Like a mighty army unable to penetrate the fortress, so no trial could penetrate the faith of these Christians under severe persecution because of God’s protecting and keeping power.
Jesus specifically prayed this in His high priestly prayer.
“Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost ”
The Prince of preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, knew of God’s power to guard him and actually was what God used to bring him to faith.
“The doctrine that He would keep the feet of His saints had a charm indeed for me. I must confess that the doctrine of the final preservation of the saints was a bait that my soul could not resist. I thought it was sort of life insurance – an insurance of my character, an insurance of my soul, an insurance of my eternal destiny. I knew that I could not keep myself, but if Christ promised to keep me, then I should be safe for ever; and I longed and prayed to find Christ, because I knew that, if I found Him, He would not give me a temporary and trumpery salvation, such as some preach, but eternal life which could never be lost.”
At the end of the service you can encourage each other that despite your wavering and weak faith at times, God’s faithful to guard us, protect us and keep us by His power.
With Martin Luther you can therefore unequivocally declare
“A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he, amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing….
…Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,”
“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”