It’s possible that sometime in your life things will totally fall apart and you will feel that you have nothing left. Let me tell you, there are two things that God will never take away. God will never take away the gospel. In the most difficult days of your life you still stand before God clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Your sins are forgiven. Even your doubts are forgiven because Christ fully trusted the Father on your behalf. And, second, God will never take away his promises.
The Example of Paul
As we think of the endurance of the saints, of enduring to the end and finishing well, there is no better example in Scripture than that of the apostle Paul. As he sat chained in a Roman prison, anticipating an imminent execution, he wrote to Timothy:
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up 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 loved his appearing. (2 Tim. 4:6–8)
Paul was confident he had endured to the end and had finished well. Sadly, however, just a few sentences later he had to write of one of his coworkers: “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica” (2 Tim. 4:10).
Here were two men who had ministered together—Paul and Demas—mentor and mentoree. One endured and finished the race and looked forward to the crown of righteousness. The other man peeled off, deserted his mentor, and was never heard from again. We don’t know what finally happened to Demas. We don’t know whether he ever repented or not, but the Scripture ends with the fact that “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me.” In Philemon 24 Paul calls Demas a fellow worker along with Mark and Aristarchus and Luke. Demas was apparently a promising young man with a promising future; yet as far as we know he did not make it to the end.
This is a sobering thought. In God’s gracious providence you have many years ahead of you, and you expect to finish the race, to stand firm, to endure to the end. But there was a time when Demas also thought that way. He didn’t initially join Paul’s team with the intention that he would later desert Paul when the going got tough. No, he undoubtedly expected to also stand firm and finish well.
This is a sobering thought even for those of us who are older because, as the famous baseball player Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” So we cannot presume that even at our age we will finish well. We never finish until the day we die. And so all of us, young or old, need to heed the warning that comes to us from the example of Demas.
4 Essential Elements for Finishing Well
Over the last few years I have given a lot of thought to how one finishes well. Although a number of things could be said, I have come to the conclusion that there are four fundamental actions we can take to help us finish well. There may be other issues that are important, but I believe these four are fundamental. They are:
- a daily time of focused personal communion with God
- a daily appropriation of the gospel
- a daily commitment to God as a living sacrifice
- a firm belief in the sovereignty and love of God
Now these four essentials are viewed from our perspective; that is, these are things we must and should do or believe. But standing over all of them is the grace of God. The same apostle who said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” also said in another context, “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10). Paul attributed all of his endurance, all of his faithfulness, to the grace of God. And so as we look at our responsibility, keep in mind that we are enabled to fulfill that responsibility only by the grace of God.
1. A Daily Time of Focused Communion with God
The first essential is a daily time of focused personal communion with God. Many readers are familiar with the old classic Practicing the Presence of God, and that is an excellent habit to cultivate. But the foundation of that has to be a time of focused personal communion with God, and it needs to be daily. Demas didn’t just wake up one day and make a 90-degree turn. That doesn’t happen. Demas drifted little by little toward the attractions of the world. And if you and I do not practice this daily focused time of communion with God, we will find ourselves al