We continually hear about those who have followed Christ for many years whose lives have been marred by moral failure, corrupt financial practices or the destructive behaviour resulting from the arrogance of authority. It is as prevalent in our leaders as in those who follow; as common in the pulpit as in the pew. The fallout from these failures affects not only their own lives and ministry, but the devastation it leaves in its wake is slow to recover, affecting the lives of many others. Such was the case in the Old Testament where we see the start of King Asa’s reign described in II Chronicles 14:2, “ Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the LORD his God.” His finish was described in II Chronicles 16:9-10. “..You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war. Asa was angry with the seer because of this; he was so enraged that he put him in prison. At the same time Asa brutally oppressed some of the people.” Verse 12 also relates, “In the thirty ninth year of his reign Asa was afflicted with a disease in his feet. Though his illness was severe, even in his illness he did not seek help from the LORD, but only from the physicians.” We also read about Uzziah King of Judah in II Chronicles 26:4. “He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father Amaziah had done.” He started well. His finish is described in II Chronicles 26:16. “But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the LORD his God, and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense.” We read further in II Chronicles 26:21, “King Uzziah had leprosy until the day he died. He lived in a separate house-leprous, and excluded from the temple of the LORD.”
In contrast to the above we see the apostle Paul describe his finish in II Timothy 4:7-8. “I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me at that day, and not to me only, but unto all them also who love his appearing.” What was it that so characterized the life of the apostle that he was able to finish well? We find three things that enabled him and will also enable us to finish well in his statement found in Philippians 3:14. “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” First and foremost, he established the goal of his life. Secondly the word press implies that Paul needed to exert effort to meet this goal. Thirdly, he anticipated resistance. Paul not only experienced resistance to his goal but he expected it to occur.
Paul established the goal for his own life based upon God’s goal for Pauls‘ life. This is seen in Romans 8:29. “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the first born among many brothers.” His goal is also seen in Ephesians 4:13. “Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Paul states further in II Corinthians 3:18, “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” This goal was ever before Paul throughout his life. Is this our goal as well? Or have we substituted for this goal others which are noticed and acclaimed by others and may bring us a sense of self satisfaction? If it is our goal to attain to the fullness of Christ, then we must exert effort as Paul did when he fought the good fight , and pressed toward the goal.
We need not shrink back from the thought of effort in the Christian life. Dallas Willard comments that Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Leroy Eims once commented on the common phrase as two friends leave one another, “Well, take it easy.” Leroy said that we should say, “Tackle it with all the gusto you can muster, not “take it easy!” Jerry Bridges has remarked in his book Disciplines of Grace that it will require effort to avail ourselves of the means of His Grace; His word, prayer, and fellowship with other followers of Christ. This effort which avails us of the means of His Grace enables us to live in the Spirit as described in Galatians 5:16. “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” As His Spirit leads us in our time in the Word, prayer, and in fellowship with others, we are kept on target as we run the race. Leroy Eims once characterized it this way. “When is the last time you were tempted to some sinful behaviour while you were sharing the gospel with a non-believer or praying at the bedside of a sick friend?” Our enemy would have us think that the way to live by the Spirit is to stop gratifying the desires of the sinful nature. The truth is just the opposite. The way to stop gratifying the sinful nature is to live by the Spirit! This will require effort to which we can expect resistance.
Paul was well acquainted with the resistance to running the race. He related in II Timothy 4:10 the following statement. “For Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.” Our enemy uses the world to attack the flesh in attempts to delay, divert, discourage and destroy our lives and ministry. James 4:7 relates: “Submit yourselves then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” It is with our goal firmly established, in a continued effort to live by the Spirit, that we are enabled to overcome the resistance to finishing well.
It is my prayer that each of us involved in the Navigator ministry in Kansas will finish well. To this end, therefore, I would urge you to fix your eyes upon our Redeemer (Hebrews 12:2), prepare your minds for expected resistance (I Peter 5:8-9), and commit your hearts to a race that is finished well. (I Corinthians 9:24)