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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Finishing Strong

Apr 13, 2015

The longer I live, and the longer I live as a Christian, the more tragic cases I encounter of people I have known who were once vibrant Christians, but are now completely living as pagans, having resolutely rejected the Christian faith. I know of too many of these folks, and it breaks my heart.

They may have been very active in their churches, very much involved in Christian ministry, very keen to serve the Lord in various ways, but for one reason or another, they are now no longer walking with the Lord, and have turned their backs on all things Christian.

Of course each case is different, and these folks would likely offer all sorts of excuses and justifications for why they have rejected Christ and have gone back into the world. They may have encountered some hurt or rejection or betrayal along the way. Or they simply preferred the pleasures of sin for a season than the steadfast, resolute path of Christian discipleship.

And of course a major theological debate can arise here, but I will refrain from entering into it now. But one can of course ask if they were ever truly regenerate. Were they in fact real born-again Christians to begin with? As I say, it is not my purpose here to get into a knockdown, drag-out fight on questions of eternal security, falling away, and the like.

Those are of course very important issues, but here I simply want to point out two things: one, many people who have claimed to be followers of Christ are no longer following him, and two, there are plenty of warnings found in the New Testament which we need to pay very close attention to.

If the early church is anything to go by – and I of course think it is – then we can go there for some answers on all this. What words of advice and warning were given to new believers in the early church? Consider just this handful of passages from the Book of Acts:

“When Barnabbas arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.” (Acts 11:23)

“When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.” (Acts 13:43)

“Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.” (Acts 14:21-22)

“I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!” (Acts 20:29-31)

Here we see the constant words to remain true, and to remain faithful. The early disciples certainly thought these words of warning were very much needed. We of course get heaps more such strong warnings, especially in the book of Hebrews, with passages such as Heb. 2:1-4; 3:7-19; 10:26-31, etc.

And we also are told of clear examples of those who have fallen away. Just consider one such text, 1 Timothy 1:18-20: “Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.”

Image of Finishing Strong: Going the Distance for Your Family
Finishing Strong: Going the Distance for Your Family by Steve Farrar Amazon logo

So the warnings are all over the place, and we need to take them very seriously indeed. But perhaps another real life story is a good way to put some flesh and blood reality on to these biblical texts. I have quoted this story before, but it is always worth sharing again.

I refer to a story Steve Farrar wrote about in his book, Finishing Strong (Multnomah Books, 1995). Not surprisingly, the book is all about the need for believers to finish strong. Sadly, many folks may start well in their Christian journey, but not all of them will stay on course. Here is how Farrar discusses this vitally important reality:

In the Christian life, it’s not how you start that matters. It’s how you finish.
John Bisagno has been pastoring First Baptist of Houston for a number of years. When John was just about to finish college, he was having dinner over at his fiancee’s house one night. After supper, he was talking with his future father-in-law, Dr. Paul Beck, out on the porch. Dr. Beck had been in ministry for years and that was inevitably the subject toward which the conversation turned.
“John, as you get ready to enter the ministry, I want to give you some advice,” Dr. Beck told the younger man. “Stay true to Jesus! Make sure that you keep your heart close to Jesus every day. It’s a long way from here to where you’re going to go, and Satan’s in no hurry to get you.”
The older man continued. “It has been my observation that just one out of ten who start out in full time service for the Lord at twenty-one are still on track by the age of sixty-five. They’re shot down morally, they’re shot down with discouragement, they’re shot down with liberal theology, they get obsessed with making money…but for one reason or another nine out of ten fall out.”
The twenty-year-old Bisagno was shocked. “I just can’t believe that!” he said. “That’s impossible! That just can’t be true.”
Bisagno told how he went home, took one of those blank pages in the back of his Scofield Reference Bible and wrote down the names of twenty-four young men who were his peers and contemporaries. These were young men in their twenties who were sold out for Jesus Christ. They were trained for ministry and burning in their desire to be used by the Lord. These were the committed young preachers who would make an impact for the Lord in their generation.
Bisagno relates the following with a sigh: “I am now fifty-three years old. From time to time as the years have gone by, I’ve had to turn back to that page in my Bible and cross out a name. I wrote down those twenty-four names when I was just twenty years of age. Thirty-three years later, there are only three names remaining of the original twenty-four.”
In the Christian life, it’s not how you start that matters. It’s how you finish.

Absolutely. Regardless of your particular theological perspective here, it is clear from the Word of God, as well as from personal experience, that perseverance is essential. Not everyone who starts the race will finish the race. But Scripture makes it clear that only those who finish well are those who are truly his.

Farrar ends his book with these words:

What does it mean to finish strong? lt means that you will come to the end of your life with a strong and close relationship to Christ. It means that, unless God has taken your wife ahead of you, you will be married to the same woman that you are today. It means that you are a man who is in the Scriptures and living the Scriptures. It means that you are a man who has fought some battles for the kingdom and has the scars to prove it. To finish strong means that you are leaving your children and grandchildren the priceless heritage of a godly life.

Or as the Apostle Paul put it in 2 Timothy 4:7-8: “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.”

[1352 words]

11 Responses to Finishing Strong

  • Numerous family members over the years have left Christianity. Most of my friends are atheists and a lot of them wonder at my beliefs. As my 5 year old loves to remind me, Noah was all alone and the only one who still believed in the Lord and did what he commanded.

    Noah was saved.

  • Well said Jo Deller.
    Bill, I have seen nearly everyone I have grown up with fall away. I am 43. The churches are full of people who don’t love the Lord Jesus and don’t want to talk about him, let alone abbey him. Sometimes it absolutely feels like our family is all alone in their faith. But the Lord is faithful. He brings others into our lives with whom we can have fellowship.

    My thoughts are that it all starts when we stop spending quality and quantity time in the Word and start listening to man’s wisdom and not the Lord’s. The bible says it should be read day and night. Who am I to argue with that? Obviously Jesus knew how much soaking in the Word would be required to make it through this world intact as a believer.

  • Thanks Bill. I have been thinking about this over the last few days. It seems to me that if we apply the question of eternal security to the scriptures, we will not get a direct answer but another question ‘are you truly saved? Test yourself!’

    If anything I can appreciate the Calvinist doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints. I know that can raise quite a bit of debate, but I believe it hits the mark because the Scriptures are very clear on perseverance, or to put it another way – finishing well.

    The problem is that if people are asking the question can I lose my salvation then it is often with the motive well if I’m saved I can just go keep on sinning. On the flip side if we can lose our salvation then the motive can be equally as bad I’ll just live for myself and give my life to Christ at the end of my life. Neither is allowed for in the Bible.

    David Clay

    Darwin

  • An excellent commentary, Bill. Who knows whether the 90% fall-away is accurate but regardless…it is probably a tragically high number. I believe that learning what Spiritual gift one has been given and then USING that gift is key to remaining faithful. Working within God’s plan for our lives, as exhibited by the gift we have been given, will encourage us and bring Glory to God, which is the reason we have been given this life. Making the transition from knowledge to action is a critical step. There is a time to stop thinking and start DOING. Today is the very best day to take action.

  • It is becoming clearer each day how much the world is against God and his followers, and it is so easy to not want to be different to the mass. We stand out when we are different, and our opinions are twisted, re shaped and turned against us so we stand out further, making us uncomfortable to be different! That is why I believe so many fall away, it’s all about being comfortable here in this world! The word of God stands strong, and it has to be part of our daily life, so we are constantly reminded of the battle, temptations and ridicule which followers of Christ will endure! I have noticed the difference when making Gods word a daily habit, compared to when I haven’t looked at my Bible for a while, and it’s frightening how much more comfortable you fit into the world without it, and how easy it is to compromise your belief! I’m so grateful I’m aware of the power of living with the word and being aware of the power of this world and its forces! I want to win the race, no matter how much I stumble,fumble and make mistakes, I pray each day that God will use me and all my weaknesses to further his kingdom!!

  • If one may venture a criticism, a lot of modern evangelism consists of telling people who are not Christians that they are.

  • I see Three factors as being responsible in part for this position ‘Christians’ find themselves in.
    1. New versions of the Bible miss out/change whole parts of Scripture affecting Doctrine and salvation.
    2. The Lie, Evolution, has not been recognized as the Spear point into the side of the Church bringing about Apostasy. Go to Creation.com for information on this subject.
    3. The Law (10 Commandments) is missing as The Judgement of God on Sinners and consequently although people have this idea they are ‘saved’ they do not know what they have been saved from and are thus Not Repentant! Psa 19:7 ‘The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple’. Notice the use of the word ‘Converting’

  • I am working on finishing strongly and surround myself with others who are doing likewise. My recently published autobiography: “An abundant life: from MP to missionary” deals with some of the struggles and disappointments I have experienced. I have written it to encourage others to persevere. I have had many friends who have done so in spite of much greater adversity than I have ever faced.

  • Ha – You did it again Bill. I just spoke on finishing well last Sunday night.
    Yes – I have had some jaw-dropping moments when I hear the bad news about someone I was not expecting.
    Here’s one take on it – gratefulness.
    Once a person has discovered that the one and only God actually likes them, as if our foul sin really was forgiven – like actually really truly. Makes one want to spend a lifetime trying to say “thankyou” in words and actions, just to bring some sort of appreciation where it is warranted!
    The other day I was sorting out public domain songs in the Easyslides resource. I couldn’t help but notice the different tone of hymns. They really pushed hard on the sin issue. I’m not too keen on archaic words and some melodies that don’t quite get there, but the WORDS!!!!
    I guess a person in the 1880’s could still sing them without meaning it, but surely it would be a bit less likely than sitting through a cruisey “find your life and keep it” message. (As opposed to Matt 10:39)
    Bit tricky getting saved without knowing you were lost first. That’s a serious kind of lost; as in very badly, hell-bound, dead-in-our-sin, no way to fix it, beyond repair type of lost.
    Thanks Jesus – seriously!

  • The “savage wolves” is probably not a very good interpretation. In the King James it is “grievous” but the Greek it is weighty or burdensome. What many church elders do not understand is that those people they are trying to be “accepting” of are actually sapping the strength out of the congregation. It is a trick the Devil has used for many years. This is precisely the reason why a wise church leader needs to expel those who continue in sin in the hope that they will come to their senses so he or she can then spend his or her energy (and the energy of the congregation) on those where the effort can be effective.

    1Co 5:5 To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

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