In 1998, I ran the Tulsa Run road race with Paul, David & Libby, our three oldest kids. Cheryl took a picture of the four of us at my favorite time of a race: when it was OVER! After the Tulsa run they had huge tables of cokes, Gatorade, water, and big selections of candy bars and all kinds of snacks. We had run that race together, and in the picture I had a big smile, because we had gathered up all the “rewards” and now we could celebrate! The race was hard – but it made the rewards very sweet!
The running of a race is often used as an illustration of the Christian life, and it is an apt illustration. A race has a beginning, but it requires perseverance to reach the end. And that is how it is with the Christian life, too. Unfortunately, many people don’t seem to understand that the Christian life involves perseverance. Perseverance demonstrates that our faith is real, and is necessary if we are going to see the reward of heaven. James 1:12 shows us “What Real Faith Looks Like” when it says:
“Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”
I. The Proof of Perseverance
We saw earlier in James 1 that the trials we experience are not “bad”, but are part of God’s purpose for our lives. And we saw that one of the purposes for trials is that they test our faith, to demonstrate whether it is genuine or not. Verse 12 picks up this idea and elaborates on it some more. It says: “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial, for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life.” It tells us that perseverance in trials demonstrates whether the faith we claim we have is genuine or not.
In The Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13, Jesus said when the gospel “seed” is sown, that some
“fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprung up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.” In :20-21, Jesus explained the meaning of this picture. He said: “The one on whom seed was sown in the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.”
Jesus said there is a kind of person who SAYS they have faith in Him, but whenever difficulties come, their so-called “faith” withers, and they don’t continue to follow. The idea is that the trial, or the affliction, is an opportunity to see whether a person’s faith is genuine or not. When a person perseveres through their trials, you can be confident that they have eternal life.
One of the mistakes we have made as Baptists over the last few generations is pronouncing as “saved” anyone who makes a profession of faith. We have people say things like: “If you prayed that prayer, you are saved.” That may be well-intentioned, but the fact is, it is just not true. In fact, Jesus said, “NOT everyone who SAYS to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Mindlessly repeating some canned words does not save you. Anyone can “parrot” the words a prayer. We need to get back to understanding that a “profession of faith” is just that – a PROFESSION. It means that the person CLAIMS to have faith. But a “profession of faith” is not the same as genuinely POSSESSING saving faith.
For a person to be saved, there must be genuine repentance and faith in the person’s heart, and a real regeneration from the Holy Spirit which changes their heart. And you can’t always tell instantaneously whether that has really happened. It takes time and the experience of persevering through difficulties to see if it was real. That is what this verse is talking about. When you make a profession of faith in Jesus as your Lord & Savior, you are invariably assaulted with various trials not long afterwards. As we saw, Peter says we are not to be surprised at this, “as though some strange thing were coming upon you.” We must all be tested, to demonstrate whether our faith is genuine. When you come through the trials that afflict your life, and you still believe and you are still following the Lord, then you can be certain that you are really saved. The trials and tests of life demonstrate that your faith is genuine.
In this economy, many people are buying gold as an investment. But of course they want to know that their gold is genuine. There are a number of tests to ascertain the authenticity of gold: you can bite it – like a lot of the Olympic athletes did their gold medals. Gold is soft, and your teeth will make an impression in it if it is genuine (although you may not want to do that, either to your gold or to your teeth!) You can also drag the item across an unglazed ceramic plate. If it leaves a black streak, it is not gold. If it leaves a gold streak, it is genuine. There are a number of such tests, but they say that by far the best is to test it with nitric acid. Because of the risks of using the acid, they say it is wise to let a jeweler do this, but in this test, you put your object in a small stainless steel container, and put a drop of nitric acid on it. If there is a green reaction, it means that the object is NOT pure gold; it is either a base metal, or gold plated. A milk-colored reaction indicates that it is gold-plated silver. But if there is no reaction, it indicates that what you have there is indeed genuine gold. Now, when that object comes through that acid without a green or milky reaction, it does not MAKE that object gold. It just demonstrates that it really WAS gold the whole time. You may have heard of the expression, “the acid test” – this is where that comes from; the nitric acid test for gold.
This “acid test” for gold is a great picture of what happens when a Christian perseveres through his trials. Our trials are like acid – and sometimes they feel that way, too! They are painful; they are difficult to endure. But when we come through those “acid tests” with our faith intact, it demonstrates that the faith that we SAID that we have in Jesus is real. Now, we need to understand an important difference here: persevering through your trial does not MAKE you a Christian; just like that gold coming through the acid test did not MAKE it gold. It just revealed what it already was. In the same way, you don’t become a Christian by persevering through your trials; you show that you really WERE a Christian the whole time. When you persevere, you demonstrate that your faith is genuine, and that you will indeed receive the crown of eternal life.
This is exactly what I Peter 1:6-7 says: “Now for a little while you have been distressed by various trials, so that the PROOF OF YOUR FAITH, BEING MORE PRECIOUS THAN GOLD … tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Your faith is tested like gold, the Bible says, and is shown to be real when you persevere through your trials.
That is what some of you are going through right now. You have claimed that you are a Christian – well, you are being tested in that. Maybe you are being ridiculed or persecuted for your faith. Are you going to “ditch” what you believe because of the opposition, or hold on to it? You may be tested by the loss of friends or loved ones or through financial trouble – are you going to hold on to your faith despite those losses? Maybe you are being tested with the temptation to love something else more than God, and to make some other person or possession or purpose more important than following Jesus. You need to see that all of these trials are part of the “acid test” of your faith, which will show whether you really possess the faith or not. Persevere! Hold to your faith! Demonstrate that the “profession of faith” you made was really genuine, by persevering in your faith during the “acid test” of your trials!
II. The Results of Perseverance
James 1:12 says that the person who perseveres in the tests of their faith will be “approved” and will “receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” Those are the “results” of perseverance. You might call it the “reward” of perseverance – and many good people do – but I hesitate to call it “reward” lest someone think that we “earn” our salvation by persevering. We don’t. The Bible makes it clear that we are not saved by anything good that we can do. “By grace you are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” We are saved when the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, and we realize that we have rebelled against God, but that Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins, and we repent of our sins, and put our trust in what HE did on the cross for us, and turn to follow Him. God saves us NOT because of anything that we do for Him, but on the basis of what Jesus did for us. Salvation is by God’s mercy and grace. But as we said just a moment ago, tests demonstrate whether our faith is genuine or not. Passing those tests does not MAKE us saved; it just shows that we really ARE. James says that passing the tests results in a “stamp of approval” that shows we will receive eternal life.
A. The Stamp of Approval
James says that when the tested man perseveres, he is “approved.” We can think of that word as being like a “stamp of approval”. If you have a piece of gold jewelry, often times there will be a little bitty imprint in it, that says “14k gold” or “24k gold” indicating that it is genuine. That is basically what the Greek word here, “dokimos” means: “approved.” It is a stamp of authenticity. Passing the “acid tests” of life in a sense “stamps” you with a seal of “approval” that you genuinely belong to the Lord.
In Romans 16:10, the Apostle Paul says: “Greet Apelles, the approved in Christ.” The word “approved” there is same word James uses here, “dokimos.” Basically, Paul is saying, Apelles has “dokimos” stamped on his life; he is “approved”. You can “read between the lines” here and deduce that this man Apelles had evidently been through some tests, and he come through them with flying colors, so that Paul was confident that Appeles had a genuine, persevering faith. He was “dokimos”; “approved.”
In the same way, when you & I pass the “acid tests” that God allows to come our way, then our faith has been “tried and tested” and we are “dokimos” – stamped with the seal that we really do belong to God.
But here’s the thing: God’s approval is different from man’s approval. As men, we often look at people and say, “Oh, yeah, they are saved. They have ‘prayed the prayer.’ They have been baptized. They joined the church.” Too often we see give them our “stamp of approval” – we basically “approve them for heaven” and say “once saved always saved” – when they haven’t even been tested yet – or worse, when they appear to have FAILED the tests. YES we believe “once saved always saved”, but we need to remember it is IF really saved, then always saved. Not everyone who makes a profession is genuinely saved. We have to see what the tests of time and trials will reveal.
This is important to remember because there are millions of people on church rolls all across America who made “professions of faith” but who have failed the tests that subsequently came their way. At some point we need to stop putting a “seal of approval” on those whom God has not approved. We need to stop claiming “once saved always saved” for people who did not persevere in their faith, and there is no real evidence that they were ever genuinely saved.
B. “The Crown of Life”
But when a person does pass the “perseverance test”, James says you can be confident that they will “receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” This is just what Jesus told the church at Smyrna in Revelation 2:10, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
Now the “crown” here in Greek is not the kingly crown, the “diadem”, but the Greek word “stephanos”; the victor’s crown, the wreath given to the winner of the races or the Olympic games. Josephus the Jewish historian tells us that they had the Greek games even in Jerusalem in the days of Herod the Great, so James and Jewish Christians there knew about the “victor’s crown” which was awarded to the winners of the games.
Paul talks about that crown in I Corinthians 9:25, II Timothy 2:5. He Himself looked forward to the “crown” that he would receive from the Lord in II Timothy 4:7-8, where he said: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith. In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”
What is this “crown”? Without going into all the grammatical details, I’ll just tell you that the great Southern Baptist Greek scholar, A.T. Robertson, tells us that the Greek here indicates that the crown IS life. There is not some other reward; eternal life IS the great reward! It IS “the crown.” When you persevere in your faith, you are stamped with a seal of “approval” that your faith in genuine, and you and others can be confident that you will indeed receive the greatest treasure there is: eternal life in the presence of God in heaven.
But notice again the qualifier here. James says the crown of life will be given “to those who love Him.” This is a HUGE qualifier! People tend to overlook these things in scripture. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that people are fond of quoting Romans 8:28: “God causes all things to work together for good” – but they omit the qualifier: “TO THOSE WHO LOVE HIM and who are called according to His purpose.” You can’t just claim the promise without the qualification. You can’t know that all things are working together for good in your life unless you LOVE GOD.
And it is the same with this verse. The “crown of life” is promised “to those who LOVE HIM.” Do you qualify for this? Do you love God – or do you love the world? Do you love God? Or do you love something else better?
— God has not promised the crown of life to those who acknowledge Him. As we will see in Chapter 2, the demons do that!
— He has not promised the crown of life to those who merely SAY they love Him, but live like they love the world!
— He has not promised the crown of life to those who “like” Him, but don’t really commit their lives to Him and follow Him.
He has promised the crown of life to those who LOVE Him, and who demonstrate that love by persevering for Him.
When you really love someone, that love will make you persevere. Genesis 29 tells us that Jacob demonstrated his love for Rachel by persevering for her. It says he worked 7 years to earn her hand in marriage, but that those 7 years “seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her.” Jacob loved Rachel, and he showed it by persevering until the day that they could marry.
Love perseveres. We saw in I Corinthians 13 that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” Love perseveres.
And the same thing is true of our love for the Lord. You will endure much for the Lord when you really love Him. Saying that you love Jesus is good. But you will demonstrate whether you really do by persevering in your faith. If you persevere, then you can be confident that you will indeed receive eternal life.
I have heard a number of people bemoan the fact that in America we used to give trophies to the winners, but now we give trophies to everyone. I’ll let others debate whether that is a beneficial setup for little kids playing baseball, but I will say this: unfortunately this same attitude has been applied to the spiritual realm. We want to give everyone a “trophy.” We seem willing to grant virtually everyone “the crown of life” – whether the Bible gives us any good reason to believe they really have eternal life or not.
This is where scripture differs from what many of us have been told all our lives. We’ve been told: “Pray this prayer and you have the crown of life.” Scripture says: “Commit your life to Jesus, and persevere in your faith, and THEN you can know that you have the crown of life.” It is an entirely different thing! MANY people are living today under a false sense of security that because they “prayed a prayer” years ago, they are saved, even though they have repeatedly failed the “acid tests” of life and allegiance to Jesus. The Bible offers no assurance of salvation to those who do not persevere. Scripture offers no “crown” to those who do not pass the tests of life. There is no Biblical assurance of salvation for those who do not LOVE HIM! James says later in this chapter, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.” That applies here too. Do not be deceived! Not everyone who prays a prayer is saved. Not everyone who says to Him, “Lord, Lord” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Rather, the Bible says clearly: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him”! THAT is “What Real Faith Looks Like”!