“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7
“You only fight the fights you can win? You fight the fights that need fighting!” A.J. MacInerny to President Andrew Shepherd, “The American President”
This is hard, because I don’t do this really well myself. I guess that’s why it’s a good post to write. I’m doing it mostly for me. Hopefully, you’ll find it helpful too.
St. Paul definitely fought the good fight. He even went for it when he couldn’t win. He’d been shipwrecked, flogged, stoned, left for dead, and more. He was a smart guy, so I’m sure he saw a lot of those beatings coming. He didn’t have to go to Rome. When he was on trial in Jerusalem, he could have gotten off easily. But, no, he appealed to the emperor and his Roman citizenship. That pretty well sealed it for him. Rome is where he was imprisoned for a long time and eventually executed. He told the ship’s captain who was taking him to Rome not to sail according to plan. Bad time of year, bad winds, bad storms. Paul tried to warn him, but they shipwrecked. Told you so.
Paul could have not kept his foot on the gas so hard. That might have meant he’d lived longer, made more missionary trips. God, however, knew better. Rome was the center of the world. What better place to proclaim Christ than Rome?
To all appearances, Paul was going to lose. He knew it was coming. Jesus told him that He would show Paul “…how much he must suffer for My sake.” Paul didn’t fight the fights he could win in the body. He fought the fights that needed fighting for souls. Even when those souls rejected and tried to kill him.
As for me, I can’t tell you how many times I have not spoken about the Gospel with people I know. I couldn’t find a way to insert it in the conversation. I couldn’t think of how to bring it up without – in my mind – making it a complete non-sequitor. It might have been embarrassing. It might have put them off. But maybe I should just dive in. Fight the fights that need fighting. Get the message out and let the Holy Spirit worry about how the message is received. Just go after it and do the best I can.
Paul had a lot to make up for in his mind. I’m sure he carried the shame of having persecuted Christ and killed so many innocent Christians. He knew he was forgiven, but we don’t forget as well as God does. He says, “I will remember their sins no more.”
I need to fight those fights. I need to wade in and do what needs to be done. I might lose a friend. I might tick someone off. I could lose in any number of ways, but certainly not as much as Paul did.
That’s the real trick, isn’t it? That’s earthly loss. Heavenly loss is something else.
What I’m really talking about is good works, right?
“20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless[d]? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.” James 2:20-22
We need to fight the fights that need fighting, regardless of whether it looks like a winning position in this world. You see, faith saves. And faith without works is dead.
Then what happens after we die? Well, my Lutheran upbringing tells me we go to heaven as believers. Cool. But I’ve also come to learn that we will face judgment. For example:
“But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.” Matthew 12:26
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” 2 Corinthians 5:10
“You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.” Romans 14:10
But Jesus will step in and acknowledge us to His Father as we have acknowledged Him. I still don’t take this judgment lightly, because we will face it, and I believe it will be terrifying to see God’s wrath poised to strike us. I’m pretty fearful of that time, because I know what I can remember. Bad enough without all of the rest I can’t remember!
One other piece about heaven. There are levels of heaven. Check out Matthew 11:11 – “Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
Or Matthew 5:19 – “Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 6: 20 indicates that we can actually make heaven better by virtue of how hard we work for Christ in this world. “20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
There will be those who will sit in places of greater glory in heaven than others. Those who shirk the tasks God has given, those who are of minimal faith and works will occupy places of lesser glory.
Am I saying we need to start working the system? No! We need to listen to everything Jesus told us. He did so, because He wanted us to know and act. He wants our actions as a loving response to our faith in Him.
Revelations and the letters to the seven church should also give us a chill. Each letter contains reprimands and warnings about the works they do and don’t do.
“And I will give to each of you according to your works…And he who overcomes and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations.” Revelations 2:23b & 26.
“I know your works…I have not found your perfect before God…He who overcomes shall be clothes in white garments and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life, but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” Revelations 3:1, 2b, & 5.
Aren’t we saved by faith? Yes. Recall, however, the above passage from James, which tells us that faith without works is useless. Why?
Simply put, we do what we believe we should do. If we don’t think that we should share God, help the downtrodden, and do all things Jesus told us to do, well, we have to question just what we really believe.
I use my works as a mirror, some sort of indicator as to whether I’m fighting the fights God wants fought. I must admit I do a lousy job. I must do better. Because I want to please God. I don’t want my name blotted out of The Book of Life. I want to see Jesus and everyone else in heaven.