November 18, 2013
In his last letter to Timothy, written from a Roman dungeon, Paul summed up his life and ministry with these words, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” He knew that he could be dragged from the prison and put to death at any moment so this would most likely be his final charge to Timothy.
Amazingly, Paul’s tone is one of triumph. Although still bound in chains, Paul describes his life as a completed race, as one who has already crossed the finish line. “I have kept the faith!” There is no boasting here, no gloating in personal victory. Instead, Paul is confessing that he has guarded something precious, the faith. What is Paul referring to? In 1 Tim. 1:11 he tells us that he had been entrusted with “sound doctrine in accordance with the gospel.” With great care, through extreme hardship and with many tears Paul has labored to preserve the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Does it seem like Paul was being a bit narrow-minded? Does it really matter that much which particular version of the gospel we accept? Earlier in Paul’s same letter he had warned Timothy that in the last days there would be terrible times. He goes on to give a frightening list that at first glance would seem to be about unbelievers, but Paul is actually talking about the church! He is describing those who are part of the community of faith, who call themselves Christians and put on a perfect show of their religion. His chilling indictment is that they “have an appearance of godliness, but deny its power.” (2Tim. 3:5)
The World Health Organization reported in 2003 that the annual earnings from counterfeit drug sales were more than $32 billion. These counterfeit medications might contain a limited amount of the active ingredients but most likely none at all. They look like the real thing and the packaging could fool most people. The obvious flaw is that the fake medicine lacks any potency.
The gospel that Paul guarded with his life to the very end was the gospel of Jesus Christ, as revealed in the Scriptures. Knowing that there were counterfeits being peddled on every side, Paul used the strongest language possible to warn the Galatians, “As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:9)
F. F. Bruce called the counterfeits “percentage theology.” Counterfeit gospels are Jesus plus something else – our works, our goodness, our righteousness, or our record. Anything added to faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone to the glory of God alone is a counterfeit.
There is only one gospel that has the power of God for the salvation of all who believe. (Rom. 1:16) Paul finished his life guarding that gospel and could gladly say that he had kept the faith.