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Finishing Strong

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The longer I live, and the longer I live as a Christian, the more tragic cases I encounter of people I have known who were once vibrant Christians, but are now completely living as pagans, having resolutely rejected the Christian faith. I know of too many of these folks, and it breaks my heart.

They may have been very active in their churches, very much involved in Christian ministry, very keen to serve the Lord in various ways, but for one reason or another, they are now no longer walking with the Lord, and have turned their backs on all things Christian.

Of course each case is different, and these folks would likely offer all sorts of excuses and justifications for why they have rejected Christ and have gone back into the world. They may have encountered some hurt or rejection or betrayal along the way. Or they simply preferred the pleasures of sin for a season than the steadfast, resolute path of Christian discipleship.

And of course a major theological debate can arise here, but I will refrain from entering into it now. But one can of course ask if they were ever truly regenerate. Were they in fact real born-again Christians to begin with? As I say, it is not my purpose here to get into a knockdown, drag-out fight on questions of eternal security, falling away, and the like.

Those are of course very important issues, but here I simply want to point out two things: one, many people who have claimed to be followers of Christ are no longer following him, and two, there are plenty of warnings found in the New Testament which we need to pay very close attention to.

If the early church is anything to go by – and I of course think it is – then we can go there for some answers on all this. What words of advice and warning were given to new believers in the early church? Consider just this handful of passages from the Book of Acts:

“When Barnabas arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.” (Acts 11:23)

“When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.” (Acts 13:43)

“Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.” (Acts 14:21-22)

“I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!” (Acts 20:29-31)

Here we see the constant words to remain true, and to remain faithful. The early disciples certainly thought these words of warning were very much needed. We of course get heaps more such strong warnings, especially in the book of Hebrews, with passages such as Heb. 2:1-4; 3:7-19; 10:26-31, etc.

And we also are told of clear examples of those who have fallen away. Just consider one such text, 1 Timothy 1:18-20: “Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.”

Image of Finishing Strong: Going the Distance for Your Family

So the warnings are all over the place, and we need to take them very seriously indeed. But perhaps another real life story is a good way to put some flesh and blood reality on to these biblical texts. I have quoted this story before, but it is always worth sharing again.

I refer to a story Steve Farrar wrote about in his book, Finishing Strong (Multnomah Books, 1995). Not surprisingly, the book is all about the need for believers to finish strong. Sadly, many folks may start well in their Christian journey, but not all of them will stay on course. Here is how Farrar discusses this vitally important reality:

In the Christian life, it’s not how you start that matters. It’s how you finish.

John Bisagno has been pastoring First Baptist of Houston for a number of years. When John was just about to finish college, he was having dinner over at his fiancee’s house one night. After supper, he was talking with his future father-in-law, Dr. Paul Beck, out on the porch. Dr. Beck had been in ministry for years and that was inevitably the subject toward which the conversation turned.

“John, as you get ready to enter the ministry, I want to give you some advice,” Dr. Beck told the younger man. “Stay true to Jesus! Make sure that you keep your heart close to Jesus every day. It’s a long way from here to where you’re going to go, and Satan’s in no hurry to get you.”

The older man continued. “It has been my observation that just one out of ten who start out in full time service for the Lord at twenty-one are still on track by the age of sixty-five. They’re shot down morally, they’re shot down with discouragement, they’re shot down with liberal theology, they get obsessed with making money…but for one reason or another nine out of ten fall out.”

The twenty-year-old Bisagno was shocked. “I just can’t believe that!” he said. “That’s impossible! That just can’t be true.”

Bisagno told how he went home, took one of those blank pages in the back of his Scofield Reference Bible and wrote down the names of twenty-four young men who were his peers and contemporaries. These were young men in their twenties who were sold out for Jesus Christ. They were trained for ministry and burning in their desire to be used by the Lord. These were the committed young preachers who would make an impact for the Lord in their generation.

Bisagno relates the following with a sigh: “I am now fifty-three years old. From time to time as the years have gone by, I’ve had to turn back to that page in my Bible and cross out a name. I wrote down those twenty-four names when I was just twenty years of age. Thirty-three years later, there are only three names remaining of the original twenty-four.”

In the Christian life, it’s not how you start that matters. It’s how you finish.

Absolutely. Regardless of your particular theological perspective here, it is clear from the Word of God, as well as from personal experience, that perseverance is essential. Not everyone who starts the race will finish the race. But Scripture makes it clear that only those who finish well are those who are truly his.

Farrar ends his book with these words:

What does it mean to finish strong? lt means that you will come to the end of your life with a strong and close relationship to Christ. It means that, unless God has taken your wife ahead of you, you will be married to the same woman that you are today. It means that you are a man who is in the Scriptures and living the Scriptures. It means that you are a man who has fought some battles for the kingdom and has the scars to prove it. To finish strong means that you are leaving your children and grandchildren the priceless heritage of a godly life.

Or as the Apostle Paul put it in 2 Timothy 4:7-8: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”



 

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