Spiritual Growth: (4) Fight the Good Fight

March 23, 2003 / No. 3142

Dear radio friends,

     Our message today is taken from the Word of God in I Timothy 6:11, 12.   There we read, “But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.  Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.”

     These words need very little introduction other than that each one of us must be ready to hear them as spoken by the Lord to us.  They are, of course, Paul’s word to his young friend and fellow minister Timothy, words of intense focus, deepest passion, and warmest love.  “Timothy, fight the good fight of faith.”  They are spoken by a great fighter in the battle of faith, the apostle Paul, who was a great spiritual warrior.  He will say to Timothy in his second epistle to Timothy (chapter 4), “I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith.”  Paul’s whole life from the road to Damascus was about keeping the faith.  And he was able to fight this fight of faith because he had been made at peace with God.

     Now writing to his beloved Timothy, the experienced warrior Paul says, “Timothy, the Christian life is a battle of faith.  It matters not, Timothy, if in your life you attain to wealth, influence, power, happiness.  But this matters, Timothy:  strive always to live out of the faith, the faith union to Christ.  And hold tight His truth in your heart.”

     Removing ourselves, now, from the person of Paul and Timothy and from the specific situation in which the holy Scripture was first written in I Timothy 6, we believe now that this Scripture is written for us upon whom the ends of the world are come.  For Paul also wrote to Timothy, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for us.”  Each one of us, now, and especially to you who are young men and husbands and heads of households, each one of us is called to fight the good fight of faith.  Let us hear these words from God.

     We should look at the first verse that I read (v. 11) as the necessary preparation for fighting the good fight of faith.  We can fight only if we have first fled these things and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and meekness.  Only when those two things are true of us can we go on to fight the good fight of faith.  The apostle addresses us as “man of God,” and that address underscores the difference that God’s grace has made and what God has made us by His grace.  We are made, by grace, to be men of God, women of God, children of God.

     In the Old Testament the title “man of God” was used to designate a person who was set apart by God to do God’s work on earth, as Moses was called “the man of God.”  In the New Testament this word “man of God” is used to describe every believer.  Once again, in II Timothy 3:16, where we read, “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God,” then we read in verse 17, “That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”  The child of God is referred to as the “man of God,” God’s man, God’s possession, owned by God, purchased through the transaction of the cross.  Now the title or ownership is in the hand of God.  The child of God does not say, “I’m my own.”  Or, “I’m owned by mammon.”  Or, “I’m owned by lust and greed or the world.”  But we are God’s peculiar possession.  A man of God.  Let that sink in.  Paul looks at Timothy and sees God’s grace.  He sees what God has made him to be, that God’s grace has distinguished him and brought him so that he is now devoted to God.  Is that true of you?  Are you a man of God?  Do you fight the good fight of faith?

     But, as I was saying, if we are to fight that good fight of faith, we must first of all flee certain things and follow after other things.  What things are we supposed to flee?  The apostle says, “O man of God, flee these things.”  What things?  You will have to read the chapter (I Tim. 6) and go back to verse 3, where we are warned of arrogant, proud disputers of God’s Word, which would bring in strife of words.  Then the apostle went on in verses 6-8 to speak of covetousness and greed and materialism.  The things, then, that we are to flee if we are to fight the good fight of faith are especially the prevailing and overpowering sin of materialism, of living for things, pleasures, and possessions.  The apostle says to us, “Flee, run away, avoid with fright.  Don’t back up gently from these things.  Run, because the Bible sees covetousness, the lust for earthly things, as a strong evil.”

     The apostle has warned Timothy in verse 10.  He says, “Some covet after these earthly things.”  Literally, they reach out for them.  Those earthly things, you know, are always held just about an inch or so from your grasp.  They want you to reach out for them.  They are just around the corner — your boat is about to come in.  But God says that, when you begin to covet after and compromise and live for the earthly things, soon you will wander from the faith, you will err from the faith, you will lose focus, you will lose the path.  God says, “I have set you as My child on the path.”  You are going to be influenced, tempted by sin, to reach out — just beyond your fingertips there is going to be money or influence or sports or sex or something.  You think, “I can almost reach it.”  The apostle says, “Flee that!”  Because those things of materialism, greed, and lust will intertwine in your heart.  It will not happen overnight.  But suddenly you are going to wake up and you are going to ask, “What am I living for?  What is sucking up all my energy?”  Flee these things of materialism, greed, and lust.  And follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.

     The point is:  you cannot flee materialism unless you are following righteousness, godliness, etc.  The Christian life is not just “don’ts.”  The Christian does not simply stand before temptation of lust and greed and materialism and say, “No, no, no.”  But the Christian, when he says “No,” turns around and begins to follow something else.  The word “follow” means “pursue, track down.”  It is a word translated “persecute.”  When Paul persecuted the church before his conversion, he tracked down Christians to their doorstep.  So, the Word of God says, “follow, pursue righteousness.  Don’t just think about it.  Don’t say, ‘Well, it would be nice to be a godly person — to have more faith, love, patience, and meekness.’  But run those things down!  Track them down.  All of those things.”

     This is necessary preparation if we are to fight the good fight of faith.  You cannot fight the good fight of faith without this preparation of first fleeing the earthly, the temptations, and following after the righteousness and godliness.  You cannot fight unless you first do that.  First we must have these things in our lives before we fight the good fight of faith.

     But after that necessary preparation, we are brought into a very intense contest, conflict.  Fight the good fight of faith.  The word “fight” means “contend, struggle.”  It is a word that Paul used frequently in the New Testament from the athletic games of his day, with which Paul was familiar.  It refers to an intense struggle, to strip down, to practice, requiring grit and determination.  Always the Bible says the life of the child of God requires grit, struggle.  It is not soft and easy.  Fight the good fight of faith.

     What is the good fight of faith?  The apostle is simply saying, “Live your life now out of your union to Jesus Christ.”  That is the good fight of faith.  That is the real issue in this life.  Live by faith!  Live as one who is of Christ in this world.

     This issue is the real issue.  Will there be a church dedicated to Jesus Christ on this earth?  Will there be people of God living in faith in the risen Savior?  This is the battle.  And it is a battle not because the outcome is in doubt.  The outcome has been determined at the foot of the cross.  Jesus says He has the victory.  He is risen.  There will be faith on the earth.  There will be a church.  The battle is not in doubt because it is not our strength that will determine the outcome.  We have the victory in our Lord Jesus Christ.  The Lord fights for us.  But, nevertheless, this is a real fight right now because our faith in Jesus Christ is opposed.  Union to Jesus Christ is hated in this present world.  There will be a fight because there are sworn, merciless enemies — Satan, the world, and our own sinful flesh — which will come up against our faith.

     Therefore, the word is “fight!”  Very often this fight of faith rages within us in secret.  Some of the most severe battles of the Christian man’s life are fought in secret in our own individual souls.  In the secret recesses of my heart, in the halls of my imagination, in the chambers of my heart, in my mind, the battle against my sin, my pride, my lust rages on and on, day after day.  It is not very hard to fight when you have people who are applauding you.  But when you must fight in secret and you must fight a relentless foe, you readily become discouraged and cast down.  Fight the good fight of faith.

     The question is always this:  are you living in submission to the only Lord and Master Jesus Christ?  Are you bowing today before His Word?  You cannot fight without His Word.  You must arm yourself with the Word of God, with the armor of faith.  What is the basis of your decisions?  What do you want out of life?  What do you count most dear?  Fight the good fight of faith.  Answer those questions with the word “Christ.”  It is by faith that you see the unseen Savior who has loved you and given Himself for you, has paid the debt of your sins and covered your sins in His own blood, and has carried away your transgressions.  Now you see Him as the risen One who is standing at the right hand of God, who empowers you unto a new and holy life.  Seeing now your Savior, you will be filled with peace and hope, and willingly you will battle the foes of your own soul.  You will fight your sin.  You will fight that magazine.  You will fight that pride, that lust, that anger.  You will fight anything that comes between you and your soul and Christ.

     Lay hold, says the apostle, of eternal life, whereunto thou art called and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.  There is the strength how to fight.  That is how we fight.  We fight by laying hold.  If you do not lay hold of eternal life to which you are called, you will not have the strength to fight.

     The idea is not that if we fight then we get eternal life.  That is not the idea.  But the idea is that eternal life is promised to us.  We must lay hold of that promise.  We must believe that promise, by the grace of God, and so be strengthened in our fight.  Paul says to Timothy that he had eternal life.  He had been called to eternal life.  There the Word of God is referring to the powerful call of God whereby God addresses us, the elect sinner, in our soul.  He addresses us by His own living Word.  He calls us unto Himself.  He bestows upon us eternal life.  God has given to us that life in Christ right now, which will never die.  “He that believeth in me hath passed from death to life,” said Jesus.  He has eternal life.  Not will have it perfectly in glory.  But we have it right now, right now.  Not something that we earned, but something that Christ has freely given to us.  Now, lay hold on that.  That is how you fight.  Hold on to that treasure in Christ.  Get a grip on it.  Hold on to it.  Know the truth.  Do not be apathetic, indifferent.  But lay hold onto eternal life.  In this way you fight.

     Let me use an illustration.  Young men, when you are playing football, and you are the running back, you hold on to the ball.  Why?  The coach says, “Tuck the ball away, protect the ball, hold on to it.”  Why?  Because the opponents are going to try to get it away.  They are going to try to strip you of the ball.  They are going to try to jar the ball so that you cough it up.

     But this is no game.  Your enemies want to strip the ball so that you let go.  Your enemies do not want you to live with the hope of eternal life in your heart.  They are going to try to knock it loose.  They are going to threaten you.  They are going to hit you hard.  They are going to say, “Where is your God?  What good does it do for you to serve Him?  You don’t need to worry about eternal life.”  Or, if they cannot knock it out of your hands, they will try to seduce you.  They will say to you, “Oh, you don’t need to grip it so hard.  Just relax.  Sit down.  Enjoy yourself.  It’s Friday night.  A few beers, a little music, some party….”

     God says, “Lay hold on eternal life.”  Lay hold on it firmly by faith, so that you may fight.  Out of that hope of eternal life, out of that promise of God, we fight the good fight of faith.  Sometimes I fear, when I see how weakly and feebly we hold on to eternal life.  Rather indifferently and loosely we say, “I’m a Christian, but let’s not be too much a Christian.”  Of these influences that our parents, the former generation, warned us about, which creep in more and more into our life and into the church, more and more the generation today seems to say, “Oh, they’re not going to hurt us.  Oh, yes, we need the Word.  Church is a good thing.  Sunday is a wonderful day.  But it’s a nice day too, and we’ve had a busy week, so why can’t we take Sunday a little bit more loosely?”

     Beloved, what will happen when the jars come?  And they will come.  When the sicknesses and the trials and the loss come into our life?  Are you holding on to eternal life?  Are you fighting the good fight of faith?  When those trials come, do they drive you to despair?  Do you begin to murmur?  Do you say, “What’s the use?”  Or do you lay hold on eternal life and by that grace fight the good fight of faith?

     What happens when you as a young person are confronted with all the pleasures and all the treasures of the world, and the world says to you, “We can put them in your hand!”  Young man, the world is saying this to you, “We can put right into your hand everything — money, pleasures, sex, possessions, good times.  We can put it right into your hand.  There is only one thing you’ve got to do.  Will you please loosen your grip on eternal life?  Will you quit holding on to it so much?  Just put it down on the table here.  We’ll watch it for you and we’ll fill your hands with all of these things.”

     Child of God, lay hold of eternal life.  The great issue of your day is faith in Jesus Christ.  The great issue is the battle that has raged over the earth and that is being heated for its final climax.  Your enemy is sworn to destroy you, to destroy your faith, that there be no faith left on the earth.  How are you going to fight?  You can fight only when you lay hold on eternal life, when you live out of the hope of your Lord.

     Then you may be confident.  For we shall not be defeated.  The victory is of the Lord.  We are more than conquerors through Him that hath loved us.  It is not of our strength.  “Did we in our own strength confide,” said Martin Luther, “our striving would be losing.  Were not the right man on our side, the man of God’s own choosing….”  Oh, yes.  The victory is in Jesus Christ.  That is our confidence.

     But that confidence does not make us indifferent.  It must make us cautious and courageous.  It makes us cautious.  Keep yourselves in the love of God.  Keep yourself close to His people.  It makes you very cautious, so that you do not unnecessarily expose yourself to spiritual temptation.  But it also makes you courageous.  Then I know I can endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.  I know that whatever comes to me in this battle of faith, He will give me the strength that I might fight on.

     Fight the good fight.  It is a good fight.  It is worth it!  All of the other fights, wars, efforts of men in which they seek to build their nations and secure their safety — all of these other wars are not good fights.  They are not good wars.  And ultimately the world, apart from Jesus Christ, is going to crash down in flames of judgment.  But this is a good fight.  It is a good fight because the promises are sure.  The fight is a good fight because we fight in Christ.  He is by our side.  And it is a good fight because it ends in perfect victory.

     Remember, the time is short.  The coming of the Lord draws nigh.  Now is the time to fight under His banner, with His eye upon you.  God make you a faithful soldier of Jesus Christ.  God give you to be strong in faith.  Lay hold on eternal life and fight the good fight of faith.

     Father in heaven, we thank Thee for Thy precious Word.  Apply it to our hearts by the Holy Spirit.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.