Stand Firm in the Faith!

History is filled with stories of courageous action that arise from clarity and conviction. There is something deep in the heart of most men that delights in stories of people standing firm for a righteous cause.

Three hundred Spartans and the rest of the Greek army defied the mighty Persians at the Battle of Thermopylae and fought to the last man to slow the Persian invasion.

Colonel Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine Regiment held the flank at Little Round Top in the Battle of Gettysburg and repulsed the Confederates by charging with their bayonets when they ran out of ammunition.

Wyatt Earp and his brothers defended the citizens of Tombstone from the murderous Cowboys in the famous shootout at the OK Corral.

It is not just in the realm of war or the Wild West. Men are provoked to stand firm in the arena of ideas and the battlefields of faith. Who doesn’t love the story of Martin Luther? When confronted by the power of the Roman Catholic Church and called upon to recant his writings upon pain of death, Luther is reported to have said, 

Unless I am convicted by Scripture and by plain reason (I do not accept the authority of popes and councils because they have contradicted each other), my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.

This is inspiring, but it feels remote, doesn’t it? We are far removed from the turning of the pages of history that was the Reformation. Despite our godly ambitions, how many of us will ever really have to plant a public flag like Luther, or defend to the death our loved ones on a battlefield or a shootout? Do these verses really speak to us if we don’t have a leadership role or a position of influence or a physical battle to fight?

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Not only that, I think we can all think of times when we have not stood firm. I can think of times when I crumbled during an evangelistic opportunity. There have been times when I have given in to temptation, when I failed to do my duty as a husband or father, times when I was selfish rather than served or was proud rather than humble. Maybe you can relate. Maybe you have retreated in the face of hostility against the gospel at work. Maybe you have failed to stand up for a friend who was being falsely accused.  How can we have hope for standing firm today and in the future when we have failed in the past?

The apostle Paul would argue with us on both counts here. I think if he were here, he would say, your stand for truth may be less public and less historic than Martin Luther’s but it is no less real and no less urgent and no less important to God and for his kingdom. And those feelings of courage that rise in our hearts when we see depictions of desperate heroism on the battlefield, that is a feature of manhood, put there by God, that he intends to put to use in our daily lives. And despite our weakness and failures to stand firm, God wants to empower us by his Spirit to stand firm in the gospel of his Son.

Not long ago, we looked at the first of five imperative verbs—“Be watchful.”—in 1 Corinthians 16:13–14. Today, we are going to look at the second. 

Be watchful. Stand firm in the faith. Act like men. Let all that you do be done in love.

To stand firm in the faith as a Christian means unshakable confidence in Biblical truth and courageous action in biblical obedience.

There are two parts to this little command: “stand firm” and “in the faith.”

First, WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO STAND FIRM?

The command to stand firm means what it sounds like. It means to be fixed, anchored, established. To be a rock. To be a stonewall. To be dependable. Immovable. Incorruptible. It is to be filled with conviction and to act with courage. 

Now, those are great words, but they are not necessarily Christian. Every culture in history has its heroes. You can find these qualities from the ancient Greek epic poems to the oral traditions of Native Americans. 

And there are competing visions of masculinity coming at us all the time from what has sometimes been called the “manosphere”— that’s this ecosystem of books, blogs, and podcasts devoted to calling men to express their manhood in the midst of a cultural climate that hates all expressions of masculinity. They might tell you to make your bed or do more burpees, to take responsibility for your life or just get your stuff together. Some of that is good advice as far as it goes. What these managers of the manosphere seem to recognize is that there is an unsatisfied desire in most modern men to stand firm for something.

But what concerns us, brothers, is a distinctively Christian version of standing firm. Paul calls it standing firm in the faith

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO STAND FIRM IN THE FAITH?

When the New Testament uses the word faith, it sometimes means “belief;” that is, the subjective sense of confidence that a thing is true. Hebrews 11:1–2 for instance, 

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. (Hebrews 11:1–2).

In those verses, faith is the certainty we experience when we base our hope on the truth of God’s Word. But “the faith” in the Bible often refers to something outside of us, something objective, something passed down to us and entrusted to us. In 2 Thessalonians, Paul makes it very clear that Christians are to stand firm in the faith that has been passed on to them:

So then, brothers, stand firm [exact same word as 1 Corinthians 16:13] and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

And what are the traditions that Paul is referring to here? 

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, … (1 Corinthians 15:3)

Paul is saying I passed on to you what I received from others. What is that? Nothing less than all the glorious planks of theology that make up the good news of Jesus Christ. Think about what Paul passed on that we are now called to stand firm in. 

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:31–34)

When Paul says “stand firm in the faith,” he seems to mean: stand firm in all these truths and more. Stand firm in the faith that has been delivered and handed down to you. You have been given the gospel: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures. This is real and true and dependable. It is a treasure worth defending and a refuge against attack. 

So we see what God is calling us to stand firm in: The truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now how do we do that?

HOW IS GOD CALLING US TO STAND FIRM IN THE FAITH?

I think that God has put in the heart of every man an impulse to fight and defend. To stake out a bit of territory and say, I will hold the line here. I have a vivid memory of my first experience with this feeling as a 7-year old on a McDonald’s playground, stepping between my little sister and an older kid that was bullying her. 

This instinct has to be harnessed and channeled in the right direction: stand firm in the faith. This impulse is not satisfied by dedication to a football team, it isn’t satisfied by crushing the workout of the day, it isn’t satisfied playing Call of Duty, it can’t be satisfied in the arena of politics. It will only be satisfied by standing firm in the faith.

Here’s a way to think about this: the battle to stand firm in the faith is fought in the head, for the heart, and with the hand. In other words, the call to stand firm in the faith is a summons to fight for clear thinking, fearless believing, and joyful obedience.

First, it is a call for clear thinking. In order to stand firm in the faith, we have to know what that faith is. What is the truth, exactly, that we are called to stand firm in? 

Our culture today encourages us to be very confident in our own internal assessment of reality, our own views on anything and everything, while simultaneously being very suspicious of any claims to truth or certainty that come from anyone or anything else.

G. K. Chesterton had this confusion in mind, I think, in 1908 (1908!) when he wrote these words:

What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition and settled upon the organ of conviction, where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table. G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Today, people think that someone who has conviction about truth is arrogant but they think it is not arrogant to exalt yourself or your own opinions all over your social media. But Chesterton is right: If you are confident in and courageous about biblical truth, you are obedient to the Lord. We are to be humble about ourselves and our own opinions, doubtful of our own impressions. We are to be undoubting about Scripture, confident in the gospel, and sure in our conviction that Jesus Christ. When we hold these convictions in the right way, we are standing firm in the faith. 

So the question is: are we firm and clear about the convictions on the truth that arise from the Bible or are we promoting our own opinions?

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We live in a time when our culture is incredibly confused about what it means to be a human: about gender and sexuality and about race and ethnicity and about what is human flourishing. About what it means to be a man.

Let’s be humble, yes, but as the Bible requires us to be: a man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth. That is the path to the right mix of humility and courage that we see in the heroes of Scripture.

Thinking clearly starts with thinking clearly about the Bible. As CJ likes to say, “doctrine drives discernment,” so let’s learn to “test everything and hold fast to what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). If you need help learning to do this, the first way to think clearly about the Bible is to read it! To study it. To take in as much as you’re able, thoughtfully, joyfully, and consistently. You might also consider reading John Piper’s little book, Think, or his bigger book, Reading the Bible Supernaturally

Also, ask: are you growing in your knowledge of God through Christian doctrine and theology? 

  • What was the last theological book you read? What are you reading right now?
  • Have you read the Sovereign Grace statement of faith?
  • Are you coming to our Sunday classes to be stretched in your knowledge and application on a wide variety of topics that are relevant to living the Christian life?

We stand firm in the faith by growing in our Christian convictions. Standing firm in the faith is a battle in the head and for the heart, so…

Next, to stand firm in the faith is a call to fearless believing.

And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. (Exodus 14:13).

God’s command to the Israelites was that they would not fear but stand firm. They fight fear by standing firm. We show that we are standing firm in the faith when we trust God and when we fight fear. 

APPLICATION: The first challenge for most men in fighting fear is in admitting that we have fears. Maybe we’re tempted to think fear is a weakness and is something for the ladies. 

I think for most men, fear is either overlooked because it lingers as a low-grade anxiety that constantly nibbles at the edges of your peace and happiness, or fear is buried by diversions: sports and social media, hobbies and entertainment. 

We ignore or bury our fears because we know that we have significant responsibilities to lead, to provide, to protect. We fear failure, we fail shame and humiliation. 

We fight fear and stand firm in the faith when we humble ourselves first by admitting that the fear and anxiety exist. Then by getting help from others. Then by trusting in God’s promises to be near us and to help us. 

ILLUSTRATION: A few days after my son Jack was born, Nicole suffered a medical crisis: her colon ruptured and she developed a dangerous bacterial infection that nearly killed her. I was tempted by a great deal of fear and anxiety. There were several dark days where I faced the prospect of raising my son as a single dad. I’m not sure if it was CJ or Gary or both of them who referred me to Psalm 121. Psalm 121 became solid ground for me where I could stand firm in fearless believing.

1 I lift up my eyes to the hills.
      From where does my help come?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
      who made heaven and earth.
7 The LORD will keep you from all evil;
      he will keep your life.
8 The LORD will keep
      your going out and your coming in
      from this time forth and forevermore.
Psalm 121:1–2; 7–8

To stand firm happens in the head and for the heart and with the hand, so…

Third, to stand firm in the faith leads to joyful obedience. It is a great paradox here that standing firm also means action and obedience. 

I keep a handful of index cards with favorite verses and quotations stuck to my desk lamp with a little magnet. One of them is Daniel 11:32, “The people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.” I love the paradox of this little verse: which is it? Standing firm in the faith goes with taking action in obedience. 

Stand firm in the faith is a call to a life characterized by faithful obedience to Jesus Christ. Listen to what Paul tells the Philippian church,

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm [same word, again] in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel… (Philippians 1:27).

What does this obedience look like? Here are some rapid fire suggestions:

  • Choose to meet with God every day. Read your Bible and pray.
  • Bring your family to church every week.
  • Obey God in purity by delighting in Christ 
  • Show up at work on time and put in a full day’s work
  • Ask: what is my duty today? God has called us to stand firm in faith-filled obedience.

Obedience is the only reality. It is faith visible, faith acting, and faith incarnate. It is the test of real discipleship among the Lord’s people. J. C. Ryle, The Duties of Parents, 19.

Brothers, we are called to joyful obedience together. We need to help one another stand firm in this faith by obeying the Lord. Your pastors want us to grow together in this, and so over the course of the next school year, our men’s ministry is going to focus on the fight against impurity and lust and pornography and the fight for a pure devotion to Christ. And that will only be possible because of the gospel.

We stand firm in the gospel and we stand firm because of the gospel. 

  • Jesus died so that we could stand firm in the right place: in the faith. Jesus recalibrates our standing so that we now desire to stand firm in the faith of the gospel. 
  • Jesus sent his Spirit so that we could stand firm in the right way. Know that the Spirit is eager to empower us to stand firm in the faith.

Where is God calling you to stand firm in the faith through your obedience today? 

  • Is he calling you to stand firm in the faith by thinking clearly about the faith that has been handed down to us?
  • Is he calling you to stand firm in the faith by fighting fear with the promises that God has made to us?
  • Is he calling you to stand firm in faith by obeying joyfully the commands that he has given us?

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8).

This fight is real in your life: as real as Thermopylae and Gettysburg and the OK Corral, but made possible by the grace of God and empowered by the Spirit of God, all for the glory of God. I’m going to pray for us and then we are going to discuss how to stand firm in the faith together.


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • In your own words, what does it mean to “stand firm.” What about “in the faith”?
  • Can you think of a time that you had to stand firm in the faith? What made it hard? How did God help you?
  • What Steve described “the faith” as the objective body of teaching handed down to us from others, what are the doctrines that first come to mind, that you have learned from others?
  • Explain the G. K. Chesterton quotation. Where do you see people today being confident in their own opinions and “modest” about the truth?
  • Steve said that standing firm in the faith is a call to clear thinking, fearless believing, and joy obeying. From these three categories what are 1 or 2 ways you think the Lord wants you to grow right now?

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