Note: The following is article #25 in a series reflecting on chapters in John Piper’s book Future Grace. More information on the book from Amazon.com is available here. A list of all the articles in this series so far is available here.
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 Timothy 4:6-8)
In Chapter 25 of Future Grace Dr. Piper looks at this passage from 2 Timothy. Near the end of his life, the Apostle Paul in a few short words sums up his life. Dr. Piper notes:
The criterion of success that Paul used to measure his life was whether he had “kept the faith.” The criterion applies to us. Will we be able to say at the end of our lives, “I have kept the faith”? Not just, have I held fast to a body of doctrines. That is not all that Paul meant. But more: have we lived by faith in future grace? Not just for a moment, or a year, or a decade, but all the way to the end?
Paul uses two potent word pictures to describe what “keeping the faith” really means. He describes it as a fight and as a race. Piper notes we can conclude two things from looking at our life as a fight and a race:
- Enduring in faith for a lifetime must be hard.
- We must endure to the end.
But what about Matthew 11:30, where Jesus describes the life of a disciple as being easy? Piper gives his own word picture, that of a monkey who has reached his hand into a narrow-necked bottle to grab a nut. Fist clutched around the nut, he discovers he can’t pull his hand out of the bottle. Opening his hand is easy, but wanting to let go of what he desires is not. And so it is with us. Faith that God is loving and kind and far superior than any pleasure of sin is easy, but actually letting go of our desires for sin and only loving God is often a hard fight.
As to point #2, the Bible is full of exhortations to endurance. As Piper points out, you can run for five miles or ten miles or fifteen miles in a marathon, but if you don’t run to the very last yard you do not get the reward. Verses such as Colossians 1:22-23, 1 Corinthians 15:2, Matthew 24:13, Hebrews 3:14 and Revelation 2:10 all speak of our need to endure. Knowing that we are in a race and a fight helps us to endure when the way becomes hard.
Dr. Piper next gives three important points to keep in mind as we fight this fight and race this race. The first is that this is a fight for joy, to keep ourselves joyful in God’s grace over and above any other joy in this life. We can pray as David did in Psalm 51:12 for God to bring joy into our hearts.
The second point to remember is that even great men of God have struggled in this fight. David Brainerd the early American missionary struggled to keep his faith and joy in the midst of horrible hardship for years. His personal journal entries detail his fight:
Though my body was so feeble, and wearied with preaching… yet I wanted to sit up all night to do something for God. To God the giver of these refreshments, be glory forever and ever… My soul was refreshed and comforted, and I could not but bless God, who had enabled me in some good measure to be faithful in the day past. Oh, how sweet it is to be spent and worn out for God!
The final thing to remember about our fight is that our victory is assured. As Piper states,
Our assurance does not lie in looking back to a momentary decision we made for Christ, but in looking forward to the certainty of God’s preserving grace, based on the all-sufficient atonement of his Son’s death.
We are promised over and over again in the Bible of the certainty of our perseverance. In John 10:27-28 Jesus promises that His sheep will never perish. In Philippians 1:6 and 2:13 we learn that it is God Himself who works in us, and in 1 Corinthians 1:8-9 that He will confirm us to the end. Whenever the race is long and aren’t sure we can make it to the end, we can assure ourselves with the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:24 that “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.”