“I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.”
The apostle Paul to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:7 NIV)
When I was a defensive line coach at Geneva College we often finished football practice with a conditioning drill called “Run Through the Line.” Our head coach Geno DeMarco loved it because of the discipline, concentration, and finishing stamina it required of the team. The drill demanded that an entire team of 100 players commit their personal best effort in sprinting through the finish line as absolutely necessary to the team’s success. The number of sprints was usually set at 5 and the distance was most often set at 10 yards. That seems very easy at first glance which is exactly what the freshmen thought! The seniors knew better. The team was broken up into four classes: freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Each group had a quarterback who called out the snap count for his group. On the snap count the players would come out of their stances, sprinting 10 yards through the line. If any player did not sprint past the line, bursting at full speed through the line, the repetition did not count. In fact the total count would go back to zero, not only for that group but for the whole team. Now you get a better understanding of just how demanding 5 X 10 yard sprints can be for a team of 100 men. If any player jumped offsides the count would go back to zero for the whole team as well. It was not unusual for the team to end up doing 20 sprints or more.
Overcoming adversity as a team is one of the major objectives of “Run Through The Line.” It is also a major objective of the Holy Spirit for God’s people throughout history. Players who are called out by the coaches for coasting through the line are called out by their teammates as well. 300 pound linemen don’t like to run period, let alone be forced into several extra sprints by their teammates. Angry shouts of blame can rise above all other words in these drills. The teams with strong leaders however challenge and encourage; calling out the best in their teammates. Coach DeMarco loved the drill as well because it was a great metaphor for our lives. He used to say, “When things get tough in your job, your marriage, when you are tempted to distrust the goodness of God, will you quit?” From my experience I would add, Will you blame those around you? Will you fight only for yourself? Or will you fight as one man, the way Israel fought against its enemies? Will you call up your brothers to become something greater than they could ever be on their own?
Running through the Line was a metaphor for how we will face trials in our lives and ultimately how we will run through the line in death directly into our Lord’s presence. Thank God the apostle Paul ran through the line! He penned the passage at the opening to young Timothy shortly before his execution from a filthy Roman jail that wasn’t much more than a hole in the ground. His letters to Timothy are among his “prison epistles.” They are filled with great joy and wisdom that is grounded in a contented soldier’s sense of his service and the reward of heaven that awaits him. “Endure hardship with us as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” In the verse immediately following our focus passage he writes, “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.” (1 Timothy 4:8) This is the imperishable crown that represents our place reigning with Christ (Romans 8:17) in the glory of heaven and in the New Earth we will inherit with all of God’s people (Revelation 21:1-4).
The older I get, now 56, the more intent I am to finish strong in my life. I want to say by God’s power at work in me that I will fight the good fight, I will finish the race, and I will keep the faith. This is my hope that you will make it your prayer. “By your mighty Spirit at work in me Lord Jesus, I will fight the good fight. I will finish the race, bursting through the passageway of death. I will keep the faith.”
These three powerful epitaphs, as it were, describe Paul’s journey of faith. As I study God’s word I believe they are intended to become living confessions of faith that describe our lives as well. Each of the three statements have a dimension that represents God’s immutable action toward us and a dimension representing our responsibility to partner with God in bringing it to pass. I want to emphasize here God’s awesome power to transform us into the very image of His Son (Romans 8:29). We can live like the Son, who in the incarnation was made for the battle, built to finish, and pressed on undeterred from his Messianic mission. Like Jesus and Paul, we were made for the battle. We were built to finish. And we were made to cherish and defend the faith.
Made For The Battle
“Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.” Psalm 24:7-8 NIV
Psalm 24 describes our God as the “King of Glory”, the LORD strong and mighty
in battle. The Hebrew word for glory is “kavod” and it is translated glory but its Hebrew root word means weight as in the military armaments that were used in war. The Lord Almighty is frequently called the Lord of hosts (Zechariah 4:6) meaning that He is the commander of all the heavenly armies. Our God has great weight in himself. He has weight in the fullness of his attributes and His works. We are being conformed into the image of God’s Son Jesus (Romans 8:29). He is our warrior King who has won the battle over sin, death and the evil one. He has made us too for the battle and given us the full armor of God. The apostle Paul in Ephesians 6:11 states,
“Finally, 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.”
Built To Finish
“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6
We are built through the power of the gospel to finish the race. The Bible’s assurance; we are saved through faith in Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9-10), we are being saved presently in the power of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:17), and by Christ’s good work in us, we will be saved when He returns to gather his church.
We are responsible too for our whole-hearted commitment to run through the line. The author of Hebrews makes clear that our heart’s focus on Jesus, the author and completer of our faith journey, must be our vision (Hebrews 12:1b-2a ESV).
“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”
Made To Defend
“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” Jude 1:3 ESV
Keeping the faith means that we advance the good news about Jesus in a hostile culture, we live it powerfully, loving recklessly and confronting evil all while meeting physical needs and spiritual needs of our neighbor. We proclaim our faith through personal testimony and defend it against attack. Defending from attacks within the church from those who are believers (Galatians 1:6-8). And from the ungodly who sneak into our fellowship. “For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God…” Jude 1:4 ESV
So you see, we are made for the battle, we are built to finish, and made to defend the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. We can make Paul’s great declaration our confession and prayer, “I will fight the good fight. I will finish the race. I will keep the faith.”
Author: Leo Wisniewski is the Director of Locking Arms Men, a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania based community of Christian men. Locking Arms is building an authentic brotherhood that desires to love God, love one another, and love their neighbor. For more information on Locking Arms go to: www.lockingarmsmen.org
To contact Leo for comments or questions email: firstname.lastname@example.org