Finishing Well


Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
—1 Corinthians 9:24-27

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
—2 Timothy 4:7

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”–and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
—James 2:14-26

I mentioned my Dad in yesterday’s post, “The Gospel of Manliness.” In a post from a couple years back, I said that my Dad did not finish well; a reader wanted to know what that meant.

I’ve had a chance to think about finishing well lately, and the conclusion I’ve come to roils me inside, especially when I consider our preconceived notions of what it means to be a Christian in America 2007 (and beyond).

Paul knew he was finishing the race of faith well. He noted as much to Timothy, his protegé. How did Paul finish? Running the race, clearing the hurdlesHe won the prize after losing his head.

Peter got a second chance from the Lord. Jesus prophesied how His impetuous disciple would live and die. Peter finished well—crucified upside down.

That’s not how we think of finishing well, is it?

For most Americans, finishing well means retiring rich to a condo in the Florida Keys, drinking margaritas while listening to Jimmy Buffet all day. Oddly enough, the Christian version of that dream varies little, except it drops the booze from the margarita and subsitutes Salvador for Mr. Cheeseburger in Paradise.

So much for martyrdom.

Which makes me wonder how well most of us will finish.

At one point I believed that the true saint of God lives in such a way that the worldly must kill him or her to snuff the blinding light. I know most people in this country don’t believe that. But if we’re running the race with all our heart, with our eyes fixed on Christ, how is it possible that our end isn’t at the hands of those who hate Christ? If we’re REALLY living out the Gospel, how can we possibly end up poolside on the beach counting our money?

My Dad walked away from the Faith and finished badly. Like watching a train wreck, most people who witnessed his self-destruction couldn’t take their eyes off the disaster. It was that obvious.

But what happens when it’s not obvious? What happens when folks start easing up on the race track, then absent-mindedly wander off it over the course of years, never to cross the finish line? How many people start out brilliantly in Christ but spend the next fifty years on a runaway train headed for disaster—and they don’t even know it?

What kind of prize does one receive when one retires to that beach condo? From God’s perspective, isn’t that its own reward?

And what a bitter prize it may be.

6 thoughts on “Finishing Well

  1. Dan,
    Sorry to hear of your father’s loss of faith and demise. That hurts. My father died suddenly, never having known Christ. It was a shot to the solar plexis. I always believed he would come to the Lord, had done everything I knew to reach him, but he would have none of it. It is bitter to bury the unbelieving.

    • SLW,

      My Dad actually went to seminary but was forced to leave because he simply could not handle Greek, more of a necessity back then than today. He begged me not to take Greek at Wheaton, but I wound up a Greek honor student. Left Dad shaking his head at how his son got it but he didn’t.

      I don’t know what to think about my Dad’s eternal state. He taught Sunday School for years and was the youth leader in his church for the years that I was part of the youth group. But after he lost his job under such awful circumstances, his bitterness just destroyed him.

      So I know that he started off believing, but what to make of his awful finish? I guess that depends on who you talk to. A Reformed view would say that he was never saved OR that he had eternal security, despite how he ended. A more Arminian view would say that he turned his back on God and lost his salvation.

      Frankly, I find all these answers lacking in one way or another.

  2. Another great post! You are on a roll.

    I agree that American Christians have a totally warped and unbiblical view of success. Most couldn’t give you a coherent definition of what being successful is from God’s perspective.

  3. Holly

    How truly sad about your father and his entrance into eternity. Your post reminded me of my own father. He was baptized as a little boy in a creek and was raised in the Baptist church, but as he grew into adulthood and discovered the great intellect God blessed him with, he went to Ivy League schools and became a renowned nuclear physicist and mathematician. My father has achieved so many great honors in this world. Bt somewhere along the line, he walked away from the Lord. My dad is a good man, but wants nothing to do with Christ.

    For over a decade, ever since I came to know Jesus, I have prayed for my dad — that God would grant him repentance and faith toward Christ. My children and I intercede for him every morning without fail. When we visit him and my mother, we try to model a life of faith in front of him. But his heart is SO very hard towards the Gospel. It pains me every time I think of it.

    I know time is short for many of us, we don’t know the number of days God has allotted to us, and the thought of my dad not coming to Christ and then going out into eternity … it is a horrifying thought. Too horrid to even ponder.

    So I continue to pray for my dad, and while he is on this earth, I do my utmost to make his life as happy and as blessed as I can. If he never comes to Christ, this life is the best he will ever experience.

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