One of the last verses penned by the aged apostle Paul contains five rather remarkable words.
Paul begins by giving us an action-filled, emotive word picture: "I have fought the good fight." That's important. Most people fight the wrong fights. But what does Paul mean? So he gives us another action-filled, emotive word picture: "I have finished the race." That's also good. But what is Paul getting at?
At the end of 2 Timothy 4:7 Paul explains exactly what he means: "I have kept the faith." Not, "I tried to keep the faith." Not, "I used to have a lot of faith." Not, "I lost my faith somewhere along the line." Instead, near the end of his life, the apostle Paul could boldly say, "I have kept the faith."
Why was that so important to Paul? And why should that be just as important to you and me today?
Millions Walking Away
In my new book, If God Disappears: 9 Faith Wreckers and What to Do about Them (SaltRiver, Tyndale House Publishers), I address nine reasons why millions of American adults have left the church. In many cases, they've not only lost their faith in the church, but also in Scripture and God himself.
Believe me, as the son of an atheist--and as someone who "paid his dues" studying atheistic doctrines under a German existentialist philosopher--I know there's nowhere else to turn.
Thankfully, through my intensive study of Scripture, church history, and contemporary experience, I have become convinced that it's not too late for someone to come back to God--whether he or she walked away from the faith or felt God was the one who left.
I believe the greatest crisis among Christians today is the loss of faith. Not the loss of salvation-but the loss of faith in God, in the Bible, in the church, or in Christian beliefs.
Like most individuals, you probably know someone who has left the church and experientially lost his or her Christian faith. Maybe it's even been your own experience. Sadly, many people feel their church isn't a safe place to talk about something like this and, as a result, of all the U.S. adults who consider themselves to be Christians, 31 million have quit going to church. They tell pollsters they don't associate with any group of Christians anymore. That speaks to a lot of pain.
There are only 230 million adults in the U.S. So we're talking about what's already happened to 2 out of every 15 adults in America.
If any Fortune 500 company lost 31 million customers, their stock would be worth 47 cents. So, why don't we talk about this huge crisis? Well, actually, that's why I'm writing this article. Because this crisis is real and we need to know what to do about it. Not surprisingly, this crisis isn't something brand-new.
Biblical Examples, Warnings
Think about the most famous Bible characters. Did any of them wander away from the faith? Did any overtly rebel against God? Sadly, yes.
What happened to mighty Judge Samson (Judges 14-16)? What happened to powerful King Saul (1 Samuel 15-31)? What happened to wise King Solomon (1 Kings 11)? They all fell away.
What about the good kings of Judah-Abijah (1 Kings 15, 2 Chronicles 13), Asa (1 Kings 15, 2 Chronicles 16), Jehoshaphat (2 Kings 22, 2 Chronicles 18-20), Joash (2 Chronicles 24), Amaziah (2 Kings 14, 2 Chronicles 25), Uzziah (2 Kings 15, 2 Chronicles 26), Hezekiah (2 Kings 18-20, 2 Chronicles 30-32), and Josiah (2 Kings 22-23, 2 Chronicles 34-35)?
They followed God for a number of years, then (with the exception of one king you've never heard of), each one turned away, at least for a time. They didn't lose their final reward, but they lost God's blessings and reward for staying true to Him until the end. We see this throughout the Old Testament.
Only good king Jotham (2 Kings 15, 2 Chronicles 27) walked "steadfastly before the Lord his God" all the days of his life. Only Jotham. The most exemplary king in all Israel history. And what do we do? We've all but forgotten him. Why? Because Jotham was boring. He never rebelled against God or did something self-destructive or wicked against other people. Instead, Jotham was truly good. He loved God. He loved his family. He loved his people. He should be our hero.
When we get to the New Testament, what is the single greatest warning in the Gospels and Acts? In the New Testament letters from Romans to Jude? In the book of Revelation? Keep following the Lord--endure to the end--don't fall away.
Jesus himself repeated warned against losing one's faith-or causing others to lose their faith. In fact, Jesus said it would be better to be drowned (something most ancient Israelites deeply feared) than to cause someone to lose his or her faith.
No One Is Exempt
Of course for many years I thought these biblical warnings didn't apply to me. Then thirteen years ago, I was hit with a rapid-fire series of crises: emergency surgery for my oldest daughter (who was diagnosed with endometriosis, a painful cancer-like condition), more surgery, terrible news no parent wants to hear, and then-on top of all that-two vehicle breakdowns, unexpected house repairs, and a stack of unpaid bills.
I felt that the hand of God was crushing me in every way. In my despair-and I say this with deep trepidation--I started doubting God's character. I couldn't read the Bible--not a single verse. I couldn't pray, even over a meal, for days on end.
Experientially I was in the process of losing my faith. Why? Because I'd failed to heed the clear warnings of Scripture. I'd let my circumstances temporarily overshadow what I knew to be true.
Thankfully, in time God restore my faith. And not just barely. Instead, the Lord gave me a much stronger and more vibrant and robust faith.
Now, like the apostle Paul, I want to be able to come to the end of my life and say: "I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7).
I trust that is your heart's desire and pledge before God, as well.