As a frequent traveler, I have missed my flight or ride on occasion and have also watched it happen to others. Once, I had a long time to fill as my flight was delayed almost two hours. While waiting, I observed a plane that was ready to leave. The ticket agent announced the last call for the flight several times. Finally the door was closed, and the plane pulled away from the jetway. A short time later, two young ladies came running from the other end of the concourse to the counter and asked if they could board, but the ticket agent said, “I’m sorry, it’s too late.” I thought of all the times that I had missed my plane. It is frustrating when you intend to be somewhere and something happens that you are delayed. You may be almost there, but do not quite make it. Pray that the Lord helps you that no matter what happens, you will not be too late for what is really important.
The Bible says that at the end of time many people will not be ready for the Lord’s return. It will be a terrible experience to realize they need to be ready now or risk not being ready at all. They will be almost saved, but totally lost. What good will it do for you or me to say on that day, “I was almost saved?” Do you think that will bring you any comfort on the day of judgment?
When I come to the end of my life in this world, whether by death or translation, I want to be ready, don’t you? The Scripture records the dying testimony of a man who, coming to the end of his life, was ready. A short time before his death, the apostle Paul wrote a letter to Timothy. He knew that very soon he would be martyred and sacrifice his life for the cause of the gospel, but he wasn’t sad because he was ready. He said, “For I am now ready to be offered” (2 Timothy 4:6, first part, KJV). Notice that Paul didn’t say, “I’m almost ready.” He was able to say, “I am ready.” How could he be so sure?
Acts 9:3, 4 says that Paul was on the Damascus road when, “As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ Then the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’ … ‘Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do’ ” (verses 5, 6). Some manuscripts also add the words, “It is hard for you to kick against the pricks,” plus the words, “Lord, what do You wish for me to do?” The Lord told him to go to Damascus and wait until Ananias came.
In Acts 9:17, it says, “Ananias … entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Ghost.’ ” Paul not only received his sight, but he received spiritual eyesight and he was filled with the Holy Spirit. “Immediately … he received his sight; and he arose and was baptized” and “Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God” (verses 18, 20). Paul continually preached this same story about Jesus.
The Damascus Road experience was a turning point in Paul’s life. He was converted. The word in the New Testament that is translated conversion means to turn around. Paul’s life was completely turned in the opposite direction from where he had been headed before. He had set out to persecute Christians, but left Damascus preaching Jesus.
When Jesus said to him, “Why are you persecuting Me?” Paul saw himself in a new light and realized that by persecuting these men and women, he had hurt the heart of Jesus. He realized what a terrible, wretched person he was. And unless we realize how terrible and wretched we are, there is not much of a chance that we are going to be converted. There will be no change in our heart or our life as long as we think we’re pretty good. Do you know that if you or I hurt even one of the Lord’s children, including little children, we have hurt Jesus Himself and in the day of judgment we will have to give an account? In persecuting the Christians, Paul was persecuting Jesus. We need to talk and act toward other people in the same way we would with Jesus.
The Pharisees and Sadducees had a high opinion of themselves, but not too many of them were converted. One of the first steps to being converted is to realize that in the heart and spirit dwells no good thing, as Paul says in Romans 7:18. When he saw that he was a wretched sinner who had been hurting Jesus by persecuting His followers, then he realized his own need of Jesus.
The Bible says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). Are you going to cling to your preconceived ideas about yourself or are you going to believe what the Bible says? As a Bible-believing Christian, I have to believe when the Bible says that there is no good thing in me, it is the truth. I have no righteousness except that which I receive from Someone outside of myself.
Upon Paul’s return to Jerusalem, he went to the temple to tell the Jews what happened to him on the Damascus road and to make confession to the people regarding the terrible things he had done. He was found in the temple by an angry crowd who ran to seize him and kill him. This effort was halted by the Roman commander of the garrison in Jerusalem and he took Paul from the crowd and arrested him. But Paul sought another chance to tell his fellow Jews what Jesus had done for him and on the steps of the garrison barracks, chained and on the way to prison, Paul asked if he could address the people.
He told them of the Damascus experience, how in his blindness he was finally able to see himself as he truly was. He was able to understand the Scriptures he had memorized as a Jewish scholar and that righteousness comes from the Lord. He now saw that in persecuting God’s people he had been hurting Jesus. He wanted them to know what Jesus had done to change his life and that He could do the same for them. Paul had repented and now wanted to confess to his countrymen; and he had many confessions to make. He was responsible for the imprisonment or death of many Christians and his participation in the stoning of Stephen. Imagine how difficult it was for Paul to confess to these Jewish Christians that he was the one responsible for the death of their wife or husband, their pastor, deacon or elder.
But the people would not listen to Paul and Jesus had said to him, “ ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me’ ” (Acts 22:18). Paul thought that if he confessed and told them about Jesus, they would turn around just as he had. But the Lord knew differently and sent him far away to the Gentiles (verse 21).
Later in Acts 26:12–19, we find the account of Paul before Agrippa. He shared his conversion experience with Agrippa and concluded by saying, “Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (verse 19). Paul had made a decision in his life and was determined to follow it through.
Realizing his true condition and need of a Saviour, he repented and surrendered. He said, “Lord, what do You want me to do” (Acts 9:6)? There is no such thing as salvation without confession. Sins that are unconfessed are unforgiven. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). But remember, the first word of the text is “If.” Sins that are unconfessed are written in the books of heaven against our name and if not confessed, they remain, and we will meet them at the end of the millennium. Paul confessed his sins and consecrated himself to Christ as a servant. He dedicated his life and everything that he had to Jesus. From then on, he had confidence in salvation. Because of these decisions, Paul was able later to say, I’m ready.
Paul says in Romans 1:15: “So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome.” From the Damascus road and every day after, whatever God wanted him to do, he said, Lord, “I am ready. I’m Yours.”
Paul came to the end of his life with the wonderful experience of having no regrets; of knowing he had made the right decisions; that the time for his departure was at hand and he was ready. He recounts very briefly the experience of his life when he said, “I have fought the good fight” (2 Timothy 4:7).
Paul had a good deal to say about this fight in his epistles. He mentioned the fight to gain absolute control over his body. He said, “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection [absolute slavery], lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified [that is, rejected]” (1 Corinthians 9:27). The fight involves bringing the body, appetite and passions into strict subjection to the higher powers of the mind. Paul also wrote, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Ephesians 6:11–13).
In this fight, one of two things will happen to everyone in the world. There’s no truce. When the devil comes as a roaring lion, we will either conquer him in the strength of the Lord or be conquered. “In every soul two powers are struggling earnestly for the victory. Unbelief marshals its forces, led by Satan, to cut us off from the Source of our strength. Faith marshals its forces, led by Christ, the author and finisher of our faith. Hour by hour, in the sight of the heavenly universe, the conflict goes forward. This is a hand-to-hand fight, and the great question is, Which shall obtain the mastery? This question each must decide for himself. In this warfare all must take a part, fighting on one side or the other. From the conflict there is no release.” Sons and Daughters of God, 328. There is a war going on, and there is only one winner.
Ellen White wrote to encourage a young man who was not winning the war to fight and to win the war. When you are in battle and you lose ground, if you’re going to win, you have to recover that ground again. And this young man had lost some ground. She wrote, “Pure religion has to do with the will. …
“Your promises are like ropes of sand, and you regard in the same unreal light the words and works of those in whom you should trust.
“You will be in constant peril until you understand the true force of the will. You may believe and promise all things, but your promises or your faith are of no value until you put your will on the side of faith and action. If you fight the fight of faith with all your will power, you will conquer.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 513.
Are you fighting with everything you’ve got? God has promised to help, but He doesn’t promise to help us unless we try with everything we have, with all our will power. “Your feelings, your impressions, your emotions, are not to be trusted, for they are not reliable. …
“But you need not despair. … It is for you to yield up your will to the will of Jesus Christ; and as you do this, God will immediately take possession and work in you to will and to do of His good pleasure. Your whole nature will then be brought under the control of the Spirit of Christ, and even your thoughts will be subject to Him. You cannot control your impulses, your emotions, as you may desire; but you can control the will, and you can make an entire change in your life.” Ibid., 513, 514.
There is no victory without a fight. You choose.
“Will you not say, ‘I will give my will to Jesus, and I will do it now,’ and from this moment be wholly on the Lord’s side? Disregard custom and the strong clamoring of appetite and passion. Give Satan no chance to say: ‘You are a wretched hypocrite.’ Close the door so that Satan will not thus accuse and dishearten you. Say, ‘I will believe, I do believe that God is my helper,’ and you will find that you are triumphant in God.” Ibid., 514.
Have you said, Lord, I choose to yield my will to You and fight the fight of faith with everything I have? I will give my will to Jesus and I will do it now. “By steadfastly keeping the will on the Lord’s side, every emotion will be brought into captivity to the will of Jesus. …
“Talk faith. Keep on God’s side of the line.” Ibid. If you do this, God will be your helper.
Someone may say, I am so weak that I cannot resist. What should we do if we feel this way? “Many a man cries in despair, ‘I cannot resist evil.’ Tell him that he can, that he must resist. He may have been overcome again and again, but it need not be always thus. He is weak in moral power, controlled by the habits of a life of sin. …
“Those who put their trust in Christ are not to be enslaved by any hereditary or cultivated habit or tendency.” Temperance, 112. Imagine friends, though my past life with its habits of sin has had an effect on my character, God says there is deliverance in Jesus.
“The tempted one needs to understand the true force of the will. This is the governing power in the nature of man—the power of decision, of choice. Everything depends on the right action of the will. Desires for goodness and purity are right, so far as they go; but if we stop here, they avail nothing. Many will go down to ruin while hoping and desiring to overcome their evil propensities. They do not yield the will to God. They do not choose to serve Him.” Ibid.
We must fight if we want to have victory.
“You may believe and promise all things, but your promises and your faith are of no account until you put your will on the right side. If you will fight the fight of faith with your will power, there is no doubt that you will conquer.” Ibid., 113.
“The very feeblest prayer that we can offer, Jesus will hear. He pities the weakness of every soul. Help for everyone has been laid upon Him who is mighty to save.” Ibid., 114.
When Paul says, “I have fought the good fight” he is talking about the struggle for our will. If we yield our will to God and choose to follow and obey Him and exert all the effort we have, He has promised to help us to gain the victory. He has promised you victory.
Then Paul makes this exciting statement: “I have finished the race” (2 Timothy 4:7). Many times in his writings, Paul likens the Christian life to running a race. He says, I have finished my race, I have finished the path marked out for me to run. The people who receive the prize are not those who begin the race but those who finish it. We must be running the race every day if we want to finish the course, for none of us knows how many more days we have left to run.
Paul says, “Therefore, also we having such a great cloud of witnesses set around us, let us lay aside every weight [hindrance], and the easily entangling sin” (Hebrews 12:1, literal translation). This weight is the easily entangling, or besetting, sins Paul speaks of. We all have besetting sins. What constitutes a besetting sin for one is not the same as for another, but be assured, we all have them. Paul says to take those sins which are easy for you to be entangled with and lay them aside; get them out of the way so that you can run the race.
Have you ever tried to run a race with weights on your legs? It’s all right for a practice run, but you never want to do that in a real race. Have you laid aside that besetting sin, keeping your eye on the mark and saying, I’m going to reach the prize of the high calling in Christ Jesus; I’m going to reach the end of the course? If you don’t, you will not be able to say, I have finished the course.
“When tempted to murmur, censure, and indulge in fretfulness, wounding those around you, and in so doing wounding your own soul, oh! let the deep, earnest, anxious inquiry come from your soul, Shall I stand without fault before the throne of God? Only the faultless will be there. None will be translated to heaven while their hearts are filled with the rubbish of earth. Every defect in the moral character must first be remedied, every stain removed by the cleansing blood of Christ, and all the unlovely, unlovable traits of character overcome.” Maranatha, 58.
It is easy for us to look around and say, “Well, so and so is worse than I am.” Will it give you satisfaction at the end of your life to say, I didn’t finish the course, but they didn’t either? We must have compassion for those who realize they are not ready, but are waiting for a better opportunity, like Felix (Acts 24:25). They need to know that the very best opportunity is today. “Now [today] is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). We must have compassion for those who have lost their faith and are doing nothing to rid their lives of besetting sin, nor surrendering their will to God. Those who no longer fight nor run the race, who are going nowhere, or are sidetracked by spending more time with faithless things than with the word of God that would build up their faith, are allowing the devil to have the victory in their lives. The world offers an abundance of distractions that can weaken one’s faith in the word of God.
It is a fact that there will be Seventh-day Adventists who will go to heaven alone because those in their very own family are not fighting the fight of faith nor running the race. Jesus said in Matthew 10, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (verse 37).
Each of us has to decide if we will run the race or wait for family or friend. The best way to encourage others to run the race is to run it yourself. Do not wait. Exhibit an influence that will encourage others to cast aside their sins and run too.
When you come to the end, will you, like Paul, have kept the faith? Who is going to receive the crown of righteousness? Paul says, “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day” (2 Timothy 4:8 KJV). The crown is laid up for the one who is ready, for the one who fights the good fight. It is laid up for the one who finishes the course and has kept the faith.
This world is full of people who are hoping and desiring to be saved, but they’ll be lost if they do not choose today to get ready. They are waiting for a better opportunity which never comes. The only way to be ready when you come to the end of life’s road is to decide to be ready today.
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.