The Bible uses a number of different pictures to illustrate the Christian life. Sometimes it talks about the Christian life as a battle—a battle against all the forces that would try to hinder us on our way to heaven. Other times it likens the Christian life to a building: laying the foundation, and then going on and continuing to build the superstructure of our lives on the foundation of Jesus Christ.
Other times the Bible talks about the Christian life as a race. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews tells us to “run with patience the race that is set before us.” The word patience here indicates that the Christian race is not a 100 yard dash or a sprint, but rather a marathon. When we start out in the Christian race, we must make every effort to stay in the race.
Starting something is generally much easier than continuing in it. If you’ve ever started a diet you know how true that is. You start out with great enthusiasm. You have a goal to lose so many pounds in a certain length of time and the first 5 or 10 pounds just drop off pretty easily and there’s excitement and a sense of achievement. But then as the weeks go by and the newness wears off and the enthusiasm dies down, it becomes harder to stay the course. Your body metabolism gets into a routine with the new diet and it becomes more difficult to lose each pound. Eventually you give up and go back to your old eating habits. It’s much easier to start well than it is to finish well.
But in the Christian life, finishing well is tremendously important. Yes, you need to start well. You need to have a solid foundation of repentance and turning away from sin and placing your faith completely in the merits of Christ and surrendering your life totally to God; but you not only need to start well, you need to continue well, and then you need to finish well.
Dr. Howard Hendricks once did a study of the biographies of men and women in the Bible. He found that there were 100 detailed biographies within the covers of the Bible; but he also found that out of those 100 people, approximately two-thirds of them finished poorly. That’s a startling statistic. Two-thirds of them either turned to immorality or they drifted away from the faith or they ended their life in a backslidden condition. That should cause all of us some concern.
One of those who finished well was the Apostle Paul. He started well. He met Christ on the road to Damascus and instantly surrendered his heart and life to Jesus. He was instantly transformed from a persecutor of Christians to a preacher and defender of the Christian faith.
He continued strong. He became a missionary and saw many souls brought into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. He endured many trials and suffered much persecution for his faith. He encountered many hardships on his many missionary trips. But through it all he stayed the course. He remained faithful. He continued to run well.
But how did he finish? As I’ve already said, it’s one thing to start well and even to continue well, but it’s another thing entirely to finish well. How did Paul finish? Let’s allow him to speak for himself. In 2 Tim. 4:6-8 we find these words:
6 For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. 7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.
What amazing words of confidence! “I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course.” These words were written from the Mamertime prison in Rome. Actually, they were probably dictated to someone. Paul’s cell was a dark, damp dungeon, reached only by a rope or ladder from a hole in the floor above. He had no windows, no lights, no toilet, no furniture, and no running water. His circumstances were not favorable. He was facing death by beheading any day now. He knew he was at the end of his race, but he could say with confidence, “I’ve fought a good fight; I’ve finished my course. There’s a crown laid up for me. And some day very soon, Jesus is going to personally hand me that crown and at that moment, it will be worth it all. The race will be forever over and I’ll be with Jesus for all eternity.”
How do we finish well? The writer to the Hebrews tells us in chapter 12 and verses 1 and 2: “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus.” That’s how we make a good finish—the same way we started: LOOKING UNTO JESUS.