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How to Keep from Falling Away

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: John 16:1–33

The trials and challenges of life just keep coming, but they do not have to overcome us. We can survive them courageously and ultimately with joy when we have the right perspective on God, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the power of prayer.


We arrive today at the final section of teaching from the Lord in the upper room. At this moment, in other places around Jerusalem, religious leaders are huddled together in closed-door meetings, soldiers are gathering their swords, and Judas is bargaining for the price of his own soul.

There is tender concern and love in the Lord’s heart for His disciples. In fact, this passage begins in verse 1 with the Lord telling them, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.” This expression “falling away” carries the idea of losing heart.

Jesus is now going to summarize several themes that He has taught the disciples over the course of these last few days. He is like a preacher wrapping up his sermon by saying, “Now let’s review the main points before we close.” There are five points He is going to review here in John 16.

Point number 1: Persecution is guaranteed! You might think Jesus would have recruited more followers by saying, “If you follow me, you will have it made.” But He is not interested in recruiting followers; He is interested in making disciples. So, He tells them the truth: “They will put you out of the synagogues” (verse 2).

That was serious. The synagogue was the place of fellowship, friendship, weddings, festivals, village meetings. To be barred from the synagogue was to be cut off from every friend and family member, every advantage, every economic possibility. For the Jewish person, to be barred from the synagogue meant living and dying alone.

But that is not all. Jesus goes on to say in verse 2, “The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” They are going to be hunted down in the name of some religion. And by the way, before his conversion, Saul of Tarsus will fulfill this prophecy (see Acts 7:58; 8:1).

Is Jesus just trying to terrify His disciples? No. He explains, “But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you” (verse 4).

Now Jesus does not stop with what they can expect. He goes on to tell His disciples how they can survive—and survive with joy.

Jesus’ second point is this: The Helper is on the way! Verses 6-7:

“But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”

We have already discussed the Lord’s comments on the advantages of the ministry of the Holy Spirit to the believer. He is our constant, indwelling, ever-present Helper. “Helper” here is paraklētos, literally, “one called alongside of you.”

Jesus is saying, “I’m eventually going up, but the Spirit is coming down to create the New Testament church, to indwell all believers, to effectively walk alongside of you, guiding you into all truth” (verse 13). Persecution is guaranteed, but the Person of the Holy Spirit is on the way!

Here is Jesus’ third point: Sorrow and confusion are only temporary! He says in verse 16, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” Some of the disciples admit they are confused by this.

Jesus is referring to His death—when He disappears—followed by His resurrection three days later when they will see Him again. Jesus says they will experience deep anguish but then great joy. He illustrates that kind of emotional swing by going into the delivery room at the local hospital—at least for us today:

You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” (verses 20-21)

I have often thought that a second-born child is the result of a mother forgetting her anguish and only remembering her joy. And since I am a second-born child, I am grateful my mother went through it all over again.

Now here is the fourth point Jesus is rehearsing: Prayer is the primary lifeline. The Lord’s resurrection is going to answer many of the disciples’ questions. Jesus says in verse 23 their questions will eventually be replaced by prayers to the Father in Jesus’ name. And He promises in verse 24 that their prayer life will bring them joy and many answered prayers, according to the will of God.

The Lord’s fifth and final point is this: Courage will always be needed. Verses 32-33:

“The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.”

Do not miss that, beloved. Jesus does not say you will find peace in your circumstances. Rather, you will find peace in Him in the midst of your circumstances.

When our children were young, before bedtime my wife would read novels and biographies to them, typically in the living room with our children perched around her. One of them would be brushing their mother’s hair, which was their clever way to get their mother to read longer than usual. It’s a memory I cherish to this day. One of the books my wife read was the missionary biography of Adoniram Judson.

Judson was barely into his work in Burma when he was taken captive and charged as an English spy. His wife, Anne, explored every possible channel to have him released.

Meanwhile, Adoniram was imprisoned in a tiny cell with other prisoners. The temperature was unbearably hot, and they were not allowed to bathe; the conditions were putrid and terrible. One day the officials decided to torment Adoniram even more by hoisting him up by his thumbs. Pain filled every fiber of his being. When he returned to his cell, Anne, would arrive for a visit and she would always say to him, “Hold on, Adoniram; God will give us the victory.” After months of incarceration, Adoniram was released to serve as an interpreter between the English and Burmese, as they sought to reach a peace settlement. He was separated from Anne for some time. During that time no one told him that Anne was dying. 

Months later he was freed to return home, his body so broken it was a miracle he could walk. As he slowly limped toward his home, he saw a child sitting in the dirt, a little girl so covered with filth that he failed at first to recognize her as his own daughter. When he arrived at their simple hut, he went in, and squinting through the darkness he saw Anne, weak and frail. Hugging their youngest daughter to his chest, he knelt down and wept, calling his wife’s name over and over. One author wrote, “His hot tears fell on her face and slowly her eyes began to move with recognition.”[1] She struggled to speak, and then as she passed away, her last words to him were, “Hold on, Adoniram; God will give us the victory.”

This is the message of Christ to His disciples. As chapter 16 concludes, the Lord speaks these words in verse 33:

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.”

That sounds a lot like, “Hold on; God will give you the victory.” No matter how challenging, how painful, how difficult, hold on. God will give you the victory.

[1] David Jeremiah, Escape the Coming Night: A Message of Hope in a Time of Crisis, updated edition (W Publishing, 2018), 106.

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