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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Finishing Well

by Dennis Pollock

John 17 is one of the most precious and amazing chapters in the Bible. In it we are allowed the phenomenal privilege of eavesdropping on one of Jesus’ prayer times. We don’t have to wonder what Jesus prayed about when He talked with His Heavenly Father. We can go to this chapter and discover exactly the kinds of things He brought before God in prayer.

During the time of this prayer Jesus was nearing the end of His earthly life and ministry, and His mind was very strongly exercised over His disciples and their success and fruitfulness after His departure. But He was also keenly aware that the exciting, dramatic, and difficult days of proclaiming the kingdom of God to the chosen people was at an end. And He had a sense of accomplishment about this, feeling that His work was done, and that it had been done well. In the fourth verse He prays: “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.”

Not all of Israel had repented and believed His message, of course. Indeed most had not. Still, Jesus knew that He had been faithful to proclaim the message of God, do the works He was assigned, and set in motion a kingdom which would eventually encompass the entire earth, reaching to every nation, every language, every culture, and every race of men and women living on our sin-infested planet. Sometimes when I read this statement of Jesus I think of a to-do list. I often use these devices to keep me on task and focused on the priorities of the day. Usually I overreach a bit in writing down tasks I would like to accomplish, and end up finishing the day with some boxes left unchecked. But sometimes I manage to get everything done I set for myself for that day, and can look with satisfaction at my to-do list, having every square filled with a beautiful red check mark.

In Jesus’ case, His to-do list was not one of His own making. It was prepared for Him by the Father. His tasks had been appointed by God, and at the end of His days, as He prays this poignant prayer in John 17, we hear Him declaring that every box was checked, every task accomplished: “I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.” Just as He began His ministry well, Jesus finished His life and ministry very, very well. The attacks of the evil one, the withering criticisms of His enemies, the weaknesses and immaturity of His disciples… nothing had been able to turn Him aside from His mission, or even slow Him down.

One Out of Ten

In Steve Farrar’s book, Finishing Strong, he relates the following story:

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.

Over the years John would hear of some of these men who had left the ministry, been caught up in immorality, left their wives, and so forth, and would draw a line through their name in the back of his Bible.

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.”

Farrar finishes with the conclusion: “In the Christian life, it’s not how you start that matters. It’s how you finish.”

Paul’s Finish

In the little epistle of 2nd Timothy, the apostle Paul, recognizing that the end of his life and ministry is quickly coming to an end, writes the following words to his son in the faith, Timothy:

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness… (2 Timothy 4:6-8)

Finish LineIt is instructive that Paul does not say, “I am about to die.” He uses the word departure. Elsewhere he similarly describes his view of death, writing, “…knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). According to the inspired Scriptures, death is not simply being laid in a grave and rotting while the worms feed on your flesh. It is rather a journey, an instantaneous teleporting (to use today’s language) from earth to heaven and to the presence of Jesus our Savior. There is no trace of self-pity as Paul writes about his coming demise. He is not an old man pining for his youth, or a condemned man desperate for freedom and a few more years of life. He is a servant and a friend of Jesus Christ, eager to be with his Lord.

Paul uses three expressions to summarize his spiritual history and current state:

  1. I have fought the good fight.” -- Here we see that the Christian life has a certain militant nature about it. We have an enemy; we will face resistance; we will be vigorously opposed by circumstances, demons, tragedies, betrayals, disappointments, and discouragements which will seek to throw us off track and forsake the One who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.
  2. I have finished the race.” -- Paul likens our walk with Christ to a race that must be run. This race is not a sprint, but a long-distance endurance race which will test our resolve and sometimes leave us panting and spent. But as we abide in Jesus, He will revive us, refresh us, and give us the strength and the will to carry on. There is a finish line. Our present stresses, difficulties, and challenges will not last forever. One day we shall cross that line and be transported into a place where all pressure will be forever lifted and ended.
  3. I have kept the faith.” -- Here we have the ultimate cause for rejoicing. The faith in Christ, which came so powerfully to Paul during his dramatic encounter with the Savior on the road to Damascus, was still strong and at work in his life these many years later. He was still a believer, still a follower, still a disciple of Jesus. The years had not dimmed his spiritual vision nor quenched his zeal. Now an old man he burned with that same holy devotion that moved him to write to the Corinthian believers years earlier, “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”


Keeping His Works

A major aspect of serving Jesus and finishing well is a dogged determination to do works that please Him day after day, month after month, and year after year. We do not enter the kingdom of God by good works, but works of service to Jesus are by no means inconsequential. Indeed they are the evidence that we possess genuine spiritual life. Jesus tells us that “by their fruits you shall know them.” And in Revelation He declares, “And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations” (Revelation 2:26). I like that! We are to keep His works not for the next million years, or billion years, but just until we pass off the scene. None of us knows how much time we have left on this earth, but for me it is somehow comforting to know that all Jesus expects of me is to keep doing what He shows me to do for the next x amount of years, or x amount of days, and then one day it will be over.

When I wake up in the morning, God has some things He wants me to do. Stay close to Him, love my family, be kind to people I meet, help the weak, exercise the ministry to which He has called me… I don’t have to be everything or do everything. I don’t have to imitate some other super-Christian! I just need to be me and do what He is showing me to do. I know I won’t do it perfectly, but I will make a good effort at it, and by His grace, that will be enough. And if I just keep doing this day after day, one day will prove to be my final day, and then I will be counted an overcomer, and will be given “power over the nations.”

The Scriptures tell us that possessing a passion to do these works is a central component of the new birth. Paul declares that Jesus “gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). But these works can never stand alone. We do not go about preaching good works. We preach Jesus Christ, and a transformed life of good works that will surely follow those who trust in Him.

Vines and Branches

The good works of God will always and surely flow out of a life which is closely related to Jesus. Our Lord tells us, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me” (John 15:4). When a young man and woman are married, the natural outcome of that relationship is nearly always children. Whether they have taken classes in sex education or think that babies come from long-legged storks, it makes no difference. When a man and a woman are married and live under the same roof, babies are almost sure to come.

Likewise, when human hearts are joined to the Lord Jesus in that abiding relationship of love, trust, faith, and devotion, good works and abundant fruit will surely result. In Romans we read, “Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another–to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God” (Romans 7:4).

Finishing well is, as Dr. Beck counseled his young son-in-law, a matter of keeping our hearts close to Christ. And from that fellowship we will be moved by the Holy Spirit to keep Christ’s works day after day. As our youth stretches into middle age, and middle age dissolves into old age, we shall find that our faith and our zeal are not diminished, and our passion for doing the will of God does not wane. And when the time of our departure comes, we will be able to say, like Paul, “I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”

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