The word “tenacity” comes into English “from Latin tenacitas ‘an act of holding fast,’ from tenax (genitive tenacis) ‘holding fast, gripping, clingy; firm, steadfast'” (Online Etymology Dictionary). It’s not a word that’s used in any of the Bible translations I frequently read (WEB, NET, TLV, KJV), but the same concept is expressed with terms such as “hold fast” or the related idea of endurance.
When we hold fast to something on a physical level, it’s either because we love it so much (e.g. hugging your child tight) or because we need something to keep us from falling or getting pulled away (e.g. clinging to a rope when climbing a cliff or holding onto a tree branch to keep from being swept away in a flash flood). Something similar is happening on a spiritual level.
When we’re living in covenant with God and have a relationship with Him, He wants a close and loving relationship with us. He also expects an exclusive relationship, but there are other things pulling at our time and attention that could draw us away from Him if we don’t hold on tight. Putting something before Him, making covenant relationships with conflicting things, or holding tight to something other than God would mean that we’re being unfaithful to Him (Ex. 34:12-14). In contrast, holding fast to God involves having a faithful, love-filled relationship with Him.
What are you Holding Onto?
In the Old Testament, Joshua warned ancient Israel about the importance of staying faithful to God. With God’s guidance, Joshua led them into the promised land, fought and conquered the land under God’s leadership, and saw the people settled in their promised inheritance. The surrounding nations weren’t completely gone, though, and neither were the influences from Israel’s past. So when Joshua was old, he called Israel together to give them instructions and warnings.
Therefore be very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that you not turn away from it to the right hand or to the left; that you not come among these nations, these that remain among you; neither make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause to swear by them, neither serve them, nor bow down yourselves to them; but hold fast to Yahweh your God, as you have done to this day. …
“But if you do at all go back, and hold fast to the remnant of these nations, even these who remain among you, and make marriages with them, and go in to them, and they to you; know for a certainty that Yahweh your God will no longer drive these nations from out of your sight; but they shall be a snare and a trap to you, a scourge in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good land which Yahweh your God has given you.”Joshua 23:6-8, 12-13, WEB (emphasis added)
Here, Joshua presents the people with two options. They can “hold fast to Yahweh your God” or they could “hold fast” to the ungodly nations around them. Similarly, we see other people in the Bible holding fast to either good or bad things. A psalmist tells the Lord, “I hold fast to your rules” (Ps. 119:31, NET). Yahweh promises good things to those who “hold fast to my covenant” and keep the Sabbath (Is. 56:1-7, WEB). God praised Job to Satan as an example of “a pure and upright man,” saying, “he still holds firmly to his integrity” (Job 2:3, NET).
In contrast, there are others who “hold fast to their deception” (Jer. 8:5, NET). Proverbs says, “The evil deeds of the wicked ensnare him. The cords of his sin hold him firmly” (Prov. 5:22, WEB). Jesus chided people who rejected God’s law to “hold fast to human tradition” (Mark 7:1-8, NET). Clearly, we need to be careful what we’re clinging to. Are we holding on to God, or to things that are trying to tug us away from Him? Trying to do both isn’t going to work. “No man can serve two masters,” Jesus said, “for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24, KJV). We need to make sure the one we “hold to” is God.
Holding on to Hope
There are strict warnings about who or what we choose to hold onto in this life. We can’t have divided loyalties when we come to God. He’ll work with us through our doubts, but He expects us to choose Him when it comes down to it. The admonition to us today is still the same as the one Joshua gave Israel: “hold fast to Yahweh your God.”
God also told people in the Old Testament to hold onto His covenant, including the Sabbaths (which are a sign of being in covenant with God). That continues today. For example, Paul told the Corinthian church to “hold firm the traditions” and “hold firmly the word which I preached to you” in an epistle contextualized by his discussion of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (1 Cor. 11:2; 15:2, WEB). Paul also gave similar instructions in three other letters (2 Thes. 2:15; 1 Tim. 1:18-19; Tit. 1:8-9). We need to carefully hold on to the truth God gives us and obey his instructions. And when we do that, we’re holding on to some amazing things.
Christ is faithful as a Son over his house. We are his house, if we hold fast our confidence and the glorying of our hope firm to the end. … we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence firm to the end.Hebrews 3:6-7, 13 WEB (emphasis added)
Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. …
And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy.Hebrews 4:14; 10:23 NET (emphasis added)
God wanted to demonstrate more clearly to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable, and so he intervened with an oath, so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things, since it is impossible for God to lie. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and steadfastHebrews 6:17-19, NET (emphasis added)
Look how positive this wording is. We’re to “hold fast” to our confidence in Christ and the glory of hope, the confession of our faith and hope, and the hope of joy set before us in the future. Holding onto God, His word, righteousness, and goodness also means holding onto hope and joy. It makes me think back to part of our Isaiah study from earlier this year about the joy found in keeping covenant with God (see “Isaiah Study: Joy in the Sabbath Covenant With God“). In a close relationship with God, obedience flows naturally from love and honoring God brings joy while strengthening hope.
“Hold on to What You Have”
We can sum up the Bible’s “hold fast” instructions with this verse: “hold fast to what is good. Stay away from every form of evil” (1 Thes. 5:21-22, NET). Our spiritual walk requires tenacity–a conviction to hold tight to God and the goodness associated with Him while rejecting the things which would want to pull us away or present alternative things to cling to.
Something that helps us greatly in our quest to hold fast to good is that Jesus holds fast to us. He says that He and the Father hold Their people in Their hands (John 10:27-29). He also holds the keys to death, the spirits of God, the angels of the churches, and the keys to David’s kingdom–wonderous things we can only begin to understand (Rev. 1:16-18; 2:1; 3:1, 7). It’s in the letters to the churches in Revelation that Jesus describes Himself as holding these things, and it’s also here that He counsels us to keep holding on.
I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have so that no one can take away your crown. … The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches.Revelation 3:11, 13, NET
The “crown” here “refers to a wreath … worn as a symbol of honor, victory, or as a badge of high office” (NET footnote on Rev. 3:11). It’s not so much a symbol of ruling as it is of victory. Think of the laurel crowns in ancient Rome and Greece that still influence our language today; we use the word “laurels” for “a tangible symbol signifying approval or distinction” (Vocabulary.com).
We’re part of a spiritual war. We’ve joined up on God’s side–the one guaranteed victory in the end. Until the time when we receive our crowns of victory, we’re called to be soldiers in a war that mostly takes place on a spiritual plane but also bleeds into the physical realm. I have a book about this called Like An Anchor Study Guide: The Armor of God coming out early next year, but for now I’ll direct you to my series of blog posts on Spiritual Warfare if you want to read more about this.
You will be hated by everyone because of my name. Yet not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.Luke 21:17-19, NET
Jesus Christ and God the Father are the ones who make victory possible. We get to play a role, too. It’s our job to hang on to them and endure. That’s how we win. Spiritual tenacity is a vital component to living a victorious, godly life.
Featured image by S. Hermann / F. Richter from Pixabay
Song Recommendation: “Move (Keep Walkin’)” by TobyMac