Stories detailing alleged moral failures by high profile Christian leaders have filled my newsfeed in recent days. I’ve learned not to be shocked by them, but not because I am a cynic. I’m not shocked because three-plus decades of life in ministry has shown me all too well the dark war constantly being waged between a spirit that is willing and flesh that is weak, and not just in the hearts of those I shepherd. That war will rage in my own heart until the Lord completes His work in me on the day when he appears and I shall finally, blessedly be like him (1 John 3:2).
However, two recent bombshells have occupied my thoughts more than others have over the years, because of what they have in common. They are the stories of two men at the finish line of ministry life after decades of otherwise faithful service. One has aggressively denied the allegations and, for the sake of his family and his larger testimony, I pray that those allegations indeed prove false. The other leader has openly admitted his sin and, for the sake of his family and his larger testimony, I pray for an outpouring of Christ’s mercy on his apparently repentant heart.
But I also pray their stories will serve as a cautionary tale to all of us on the importance of running well to the finish.
Let’s first remember that the number of those in ministry who finish well far exceeds the number of those who don’t. We don’t hear about them because a lifetime of faithfulness in ministry isn’t “re-tweetable.” I’m afraid even those who claim Christ would much rather populate their feeds with the stories of scandalous failures among leaders than the stories of men they actually know who have shown themselves to be worthy of the call. Those men are out there by the scores. They just don’t make the news.
But when stories of men cut down by sin at what should be the triumphant valedictory moment of ministry life reach our ears, in addition to praying for the men themselves, we should also reflect on our own lives. Are we setting our lives up to finish well?
The means for doing so ultimately do not rest in strategy, but in grace. I’m not against practicing wisdom in how we handle ourselves in our dealings with the opposite sex, or media intake, or in how we build accountability in our lives. Those things are important. I have strategies in place in those areas of life myself. But by themselves, those strategies have no power to withstand our flesh. The only one who has the power to triumph over my flesh is Christ. That’s why setting ourselves up to finish well is entirely about grace.
In 1 John 3:2, immediately after looking forward in to that day when Christ’s appearance would complete his personal sanctification, John writes: “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:3). John challenges his reader to leverage the certainty of their final glorification for the capacity to live a holy life now. He tells us that as we fix our eyes on who Christ is, and what he promises to make us, our lives become transformed by grace into reflections of the One in whom we have placed our final hope.
So, the key to finishing well for anyone, regardless if they are in ministry or not, is to fix our gaze on Christ and relentlessly pursue a vital relationship with Him. The moment we stop that pursuit is the moment we become capable of anything. We must adopt a passion for this pursuit that Paul testified to in his own life in Philippians 4:12. We must remember that as long as we draw breath we are not yet perfect, regardless of any faithfulness that has characterized our lives before, and press on to make this perfection our own, because Christ Jesus has made us his own.
I want to finish well. I want to finish well because I don’t want to bring reproach on the church I lead. I want to finish well because I don’t want to wound the family I love. But most of all, I want to finish well for the glory of the One who saved me by grace and who, by that same grace, is transforming me into His reflection. When this purpose becomes my singular pursuit, and I seek to engage the One who saved me by His grace as the defining habit of my daily living, my desire to finish well is met by His capacity to make it a certainty.
Let’s all, by His grace, finish well.