In my most recent words of encouragement (June 19, 2019), I addressed the importance of knowing that we, as Christians, should all have one major objective in our lives: Heaven. I also presented three ways we can live for Heaven by living like Jesus: loving like Jesus, forgiving like Jesus, and dying (to the empty promises of this fallen world) like Jesus. I then concluded by telling you that if you live for Heaven by living like Jesus, your life’s journey will be filled with joy and peace, and your final destination – Heaven – will be more than you can imagine.
Today, I want to take this message one step further by looking at some of the final words of the Apostle Paul as recorded in the Word of God and then sharing with you how his words provide additional insights into our goal of living for Heaven.
Almost all Bible scholars agree that, of the thirteen (some say fourteen) letters of Paul in the New Testament, his final letter was his Second Letter to Timothy. Writing from Rome, where Paul was a prisoner, and where he would in fact die for his faith in Jesus Christ, Paul penned these words:
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. (2 Timothy 4:7–8, NIV)
In only a handful of words, Paul beautifully summarized the goal of his entire life as a Christian: the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, would award to him in Heaven. However, Paul also revealed three interconnected ways to achieve this goal: fight the good fight, finish the race, keep the faith.
Fight the good fight
When Paul referred to fighting the good fight, he was talking about engaging in the spiritual battle in which we are all immersed:
Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:10–12, NIV)
Paul even identified six supernatural weapons with which to fight this battle:
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:13–17, NIV)
Importantly, when Paul wrote his Second Letter to Timothy, Paul did not say the spiritual battle had to be won by Paul or by Timothy or by us. Rather, Paul emphasized that just fighting the good fight is the key to victory – victory through Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57).
Finish the race
Paul also gave us a second way (together with the first) to obtain the crown of righteousness: finish the race.
Your life is a race. It is a race against time, against evil, and against this fallen world. But it is also a race toward something: Heaven.
Some treat life like a sprint; they run as hard and as fast as they can, but then they fall away when their initial burst of supernatural energy is gone. However, life is much more like a marathon; it begins the day we are born and concludes with our last breath.
To obtain the crown of righteousness, you need only finish the race. Like fighting the good fight, you don’t have to worry about how long the race lasts or where you finish on the scoreboard. Just run the race – and finish. Finish in the arms of Jesus.
Keep the faith
The third of the three interconnected ways to obtain the crown of righteousness seems simple enough: keep the faith. But this can be every bit as difficult as fighting the good fight and finishing the race because there will be so many obstacles in your path as you live your life for Jesus. Sin and temptation – from seemingly little things to major traps such as anger, jealousy, envy, and pride – are all around you, and Satan is prowling like a lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8b).
To win the crown of righteousness, you need to cling to your faith in Jesus Christ. No matter how terrible the storm or how dark the night, your faith is your lifeline. It binds you to God. He will not fail you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5–6, 1 Peter 5:7).
So remember Paul’s words to Timothy, and let them be your legacy one day:
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
-- Dr. John Morris