Helping one another persevere in the faith

Reflections on a life of Christian faithfulness

July 29, 2020

The New Testament presents the Christian life as a journey, a pilgrimage—what one Christian author has described as “a long obedience in the same direction.” In Scripture, we see a picture of the Christian life with all of its anquish and simulatenous hopefulness. A spiritual struggle, a battle, continues throughout one’s life. This struggle is quite real as exemplified in the life of the apostle Paul in Romans 7:14-25 and his teaching in Ephesians 6:10-17. And his own difficulties on full display in 2 Corinthians 11 must not be ignored.

The tension between the now and not yet

Yet, for Paul, these challenges are not an excuse for a joyless or slothful life. In fact, his approach is quite the opposite. Deliverance from the struggle is clearly promised, but it is an eschatological hope. We need to recognize that believers live between the fulfillment and consummation of ultimate redemption. We are “in Christ,” but the old age of flesh is still in existence. While our justification has been accomplished by Christ at the cross and affirmed by his resurrection (Rom. 3:24-4:25), we nevertheless are “in Christ” and “in Adam (Rom. 5:12-21). Between Christ’s resurrection and his return, there is an interval, which is the time in which we currently live, a time characterized by tension as believers struggle with sin, weakness, suffering, and death (Rom. 8:17-27; 2 Cor. 4:7-5:5; Phil. 3:10-14).

The entire Christian life is lived in light of the tension between what we already are in Christ and what we hope ultimately to be some day. Conversion is only the beginning; the new has not swallowed up the old. We do not attain sinless perfection in this life, nor are we ever freed from the tension and struggle with indwelling sin. Believers remain in the conflict of which we are ever aware and responsible. Christ followers are called to persevere in the midst of this struggle so as not to be overcome by the world, the flesh, or the devil. We seek to make progress in godliness with the hope of complete transformation into Christlikeness at the time that we receive our resurrected bodies at the consummation of our redemption (Rom. 8:29-39). 

We sometimes read about professing believers who deny the faith they once professed or who experience what seems to be a moral collapse. While there are various factors and life issues that contribute to these events, one of the problems for the church is that the New Testament picture of tension and struggle is not adequately portrayed, causing people along the way to give up or give in. The picture of the Christian life, as presented by Paul and the other apostles, must continually be presented in the church’s teaching and preaching. For a proclamation that promises only peace, pardon, and power will ultimately result in disillusioned followers of Christ who live with a sense of defeat and duplicity. 

The entire Christian life is lived in light of the tension between what we already are in Christ and what we hope ultimately to be some day.

While the understanding of struggle and tension is never an excuse for slothful living, believers need not be depressed nor conclude that grace has lost the struggle. Instead, perseverance is a marker of genuine life for true and persevering believers. We must constantly be judging indwelling sin as an offense toward a holy God. We live with the lifelong struggle while also living with the sense of joy, peace, and thankfulness for the life of grace and for the eschatological hope of ultimate transformation. The conflict seen in Romans 7 and 8 is real and does not represent only a minority of the regenerate community. Instead, it applies to the whole church as we constantly declare our dependence on God, the grace provided for us in Christ, and the spiritual enablement that comes from the Holy Spirit, the giver of life.

Helping one another pursue faithfulness

Are there practical ways that will encourage faithfulness in this life as we await our ultimate redemption? Perhaps Paul’s concluding words in his first letter to the Thessalonians will provide a helpful guide. Participating in a grace-filled church community that shows compassion for those in their struggle will be extremely helpful (1 Thess. 5: 14-15). Encouraging believers to regularly read the Bible devotionally and to develop a prayerful lifestyle is another important step. 

We are told in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 to be joyful, to pray continually, and to give thanks in all circumstances. Joy is not the same as happiness; it does not depend on our circumstances and is the antidote to gloominess. Whether in the midst of conflict, in times of desperation, or on a peaceful day, we are exhorted to always be in an attitude of prayer. We may not be happy about all of our circumstances, but even in them, we are to be thankful, because it is God’s will for Christ followers to be people of gratitude. Ambrose of Milan said, “No duty is more urgent than returning thanks.” When our lives are one constant “thank you, Lord,” we are liberated from selfish ingratitude and lives of debilitating self-interest.

As we participate in this journey with others in the church, we are called to encourage theological and spiritual discernment (1 Thess. 5:19-22). We are not to be gullible on the one hand or overly critical on the other, but we are called to a life of wisdom and discernment that comes from knowing and understanding God’s Word and his will and way for believers. We need to surround ourselves with other believers who have Spirit-enabled insight into the meaning of Scripture and its application for the contemporary world. 

Believers need to prioritize the importance of making progress in this pilgrimage while also finding ways to help others along the journey. We are able to do this as we are sanctified through and through in every aspect of our being (1 Thess. 5:23-28). This journey is not individualistic, but it is to be carried out in fellowship with others, praying with and for others, investing in their lives and asking others to do the same for us. Genuine fellowship and love for others is vital for progress in the Christian life and for the gospel to advance.

May God help us all develop lives of faithfulness carried out in grace-filled communities that will provide encouragement for us and for others—a community in which we can celebrate together and cry together. We must recognize that the Christian life is not some one-time decision but is an ongoing purposeful and intentional commitment for a lifetime. Both the struggle and the deliverance are true and real in the lives of believers. Although Paul speaks autobiographically about these things in Romans 7 and 8, it is apparent that he speaks by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as well as by implication for all of us who are constantly in need of God’s grace, enablement, and blessing. May God grant us grace to persevere in this life so that those who live and serve with us in community as well as those who come behind us will find that we were faithful to the end.

David Dockery

David S. Dockery is distinguished professor of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and president of the International Alliance for Christian Education. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24