Athanasius (ca. 295-373) was a fourth century pastor, theologian, and leader who loved God with all of his heart and stood strong against the onslaught of Arian heresy, even when no one else would stand with him. Over the last two weeks we have considered aspects of his life that were commendable, and some that were unfortunate. We have seen that Athanasius was a broken hero, so now the question is, what can we learn from his life?
First, Athanasius sincerely loved the Word of God and the God of the Word. As his good friend Gregory of Nazianzus wrote, “From meditating on every book of the Old and New Testaments, with a depth such as none else has applied even to one of them, he grew rich in contemplation, rich in splendor of life” (Oration 21.6). This long meditative journey shaped his soul and prepared his mind for the battles that lie ahead, and formed in him a confident and accurate conviction about what the Bible does and does not say. Were it not for this fundamental passion, he could not have stood for truth and Arianism may well have taken permanent hold of the church. Like Athanasius, our love for God and his Word may well bear unexpected fruit, so let us follow his example and gladly cling to the gracious words of our Creator.
Second, beyond mere Bible reading and personal meditation, Athanasius did the painstaking work of thinking about the overarching themes of the Bible, that is, he engaged in theological reflection. The simple lesson I take from this is that theology matters. Ideas about God, right or wrong, have consequences, and we must seek to understand, uphold, and defend what is biblically right no matter what the cost or consequence. Theological reflection can lead to idle speculation, but when it is founded upon a genuine passion for God and his Word, it leads to God-honoring stability for the church. Theology matters, and like Athanasius, we should give ourselves to thinking about the overarching themes of the Bible.
Third, Athanasius provides us with a stunning example of what it means to persevere in Christ. He endured much suffering for the sake of truth, and he did so by fixing his eyes on Christ, taking up his cross, and following the Lord to the day of his death. He feared God more than people, and he leaned hard upon the presence and promises of God, and therefore he was able to press on. His life is clearly displays the truth that perseverance is a fruit of faith, so may we too look to Christ and persevere unto death.