1 Timothy 6:12 (NKJV), “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”
1) Bear your cross
As believers, we carry a burden with us wherever we go, whether we want to or not: our cross. If we are being honest with ourselves, to follow Christ means to bear this weight for the rest of our lives. In Christ’s words: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24 ESV). We each have a cross to take up. We each have a path to follow Jesus on. This reality is intertwined with the verse from 1 Timothy, and is speaking to those who are desiring to seek and follow after God; an exhortation to those who are desperate for the Narrow Way. To fight the good fight of faith means to pick up your cross every day and follow Jesus.
To pick up your cross is one and the same as fighting the good fight of faith. If you truly bear the burden of Christ’s cross in your life, then it will require you to walk differently than when you were walking freely, according to your own will. Let us not deceive ourselves; when we give our life to Jesus, it’s not a one-time punch card that then enables us to feel good about our eternity, thus allowing us to forget about God and do whatever we want. Being baptized into Christ’s life means you have died to your sin--you are not the same person anymore. As Christ took upon Himself all of our sins and gave Himself over to death, so too do we die with Christ in His death when we believe in His name and follow Him. But in giving up our life to the Living God, we then receive His life. Because, just as Jesus rose again after three days, so too do we rise again as a new creation, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV).
2) The cross can be heavy
We as new creations in Christ actually do not have it any easier in this life than non-believers. On the contrary, since--as Christians--we now bear the burden of our cross, we are called to a path that is narrow: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.” (Matthew 7:13 NKJV). Broad is the way to destruction, “But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:14 NKJV). What is Jesus trying to say in this scenario? He is speaking the same message as He spoke through Paul in 1 Timothy: have faith in God. Believe. In Jesus’s words, “Stop doubting and believe” (John 20:27 NIV). Because, without God, the narrow way is impossible. Alone, we are unable to walk in the manner that Christ calls us to. But, praise be to God, we also know that “with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26 NKJV).
And it is by believing in Jesus and following Him that we are able to walk the narrow way and do what He calls us to do. Jesus will lead us into places that we may not want to go, and He will move in our hearts in ways we may not be comfortable with. But we do not walk the narrow path simply to please God, or do good enough works to justify ourselves before Him, or progress down a path of promotion to become more “holy”--that, as we ‘do less bad things’, we somehow make ourselves more loved by God. No, this way of walking with God will only lead us to the same broad paths of destruction, because God loves us as much as He ever will right now. Like any relationship, God wants us to trust Him with our love, time, energy, hopes, etc. so that in doing so, we can grow a deeper knowledge of the love He already has for us and has demonstrated through Christ.
This present and active relationship that God calls us to with Himself is the only possible explanation as to why Christ calls us to the narrow road--it’s so that we can get to know Him even more. The only One who walked the narrow way without error was Jesus, and Jesus alone. And with this reality, the truth of fighting the good fight moves away from any semblance of us relying on ourselves, and toward an utter desperation for God to do the fighting for us. So, the point is not to become perfect as Jesus is perfect--since we know that is impossible--but, rather, to grow more in love with God through the fights that He calls us into. It is only by His grace that we truly change.
The only way that we can wage the wars in our life that Christ calls us to, is by obedience and faith in the One who sends us into them. Would God really send us into battles against sin, temptations of the flesh, and the kingdoms of darkness, simply to have us fight on our own? Does it make any sense to think that, “Now that I’ve received Christ and believe in Him, I have to work harder and be better in order to [fill in the blank].” If this method of thinking were true, then the entire Gospel would be false--Christ would have died for nothing. But, because we know that is not true, Christ’s payment really was that sufficient; in every way, Jesus paid the price.
3) Have faith that God can, and will, deliver you
The confrontation of our sin is something that is, at the core, very convicting and is a reality that must be addressed if we are to grow in appreciation for Christ’s sacrifice. No one wants to hear that they are broken, wretched, sinful, and wicked beings; that they are innately rebellious--“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Psalm 14:1-3 NIV). But, can it be, that the God who paid for our sins and rebelliousness in His own Blood is that holy? That He is that good? That, despite our sinfulness, this God of the universe still loves us and was (and is) willing to come to us and take the consequence of our sin? It is true; believe it.
There is no limit to God’s love, and there is no amount of sin you can commit that can separate you from His grace. But, though God has written out your adoption papers in Christ’s blood, you are still able to deny His call. “For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14 NKJV). How does God choose amongst us--are there people who are better than others, and more worthy of being saved? Can this question honestly be asked in light of the sacrifice of Jesus, who paid the ransom for all? Why would God call many if only to choose a few? It is because the good fight of faith that allows us to lay hold on eternal life is not found within ourselves but within the Son of God.
We know that faith is a gift from God, yet is also an action accompanied by belief. Paired with this is God’s call to repentance, that, once the Holy Spirit has convicted our heart of our sin, we submit ourselves to God’s will and turn to Him. It is those who have given their lives to Christ who will be saved--Christ is the way because only through Him is the playing field entirely made fair. In the Gospels, Christ constantly told those who didn’t believe to simply believe--to have faith. This union between God’s sovereignty and man’s active decision to believe is the ground on which faith stands. Though the truth of faith is incomprehensible, God calls us to play a part in it nonetheless: believe. Believe in the Son of Man, and believe that He is who He says He is, and you will have eternal life.
It is in this act of believing that we then must be moved to confess our faith openly. Like the servant given a single gold coin, what good is the profit we have gained if we do not use it to produce more (Luke 19:11-27)? If we truly believe in Christ, then we are called to share the good news of His resurrection with others. It takes a step of courage to be willing to do this, because more likely than not, the Gospel will step on peoples’ toes. Once again, who wants to be called a sinner? But it doesn’t matter what we want; the truth does not change. The most loving thing someone can do is share the good news of Jesus Christ--that by His blood we are redeemed from our sin, and that in His resurrection we have new life. We all are sinful--that reality is the great equalizer. And in the eternity to come after this life, we will receive our portion that is due. Would it be just of God to punish the same sin twice? No, so those who are covered by the Lamb will not have to be paid for again.
4) The fight is not forever
To be sure, the approaching reality of eternity is something that should motivate us as believers in fighting the good fight. The task of picking up your cross and following Jesus is a culmination of believing in God and who He says He is, trusting that He will fight your battles, and hoping in His deliverance to come. That, when we fall to whatever sin that seeks to get us off the narrow path, we can remember that the answer to our failure is simply found in Christ, and not in our own abilities. But, to be sure, if you are still alive, then you have not failed and God is not done. No matter what, Christ died for our sin so that we might know the Living God, and that He would dwell within our hearts.
To fight the good fight is this: trust in the grace God has given; trust that God really is that good, and that He wants you to run to Him every time, no matter what. We know someone does not follow Jesus if they are actively and willingly abusing His grace. But, in following Christ, He does teach us to rise, “for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again” (Proverbs 24:16 NIV). How does one get up from falling? Christ alone is our resurrection; only in Him can we rise up once again. No matter how many times it takes, rise up in the name of Jesus and keep fighting the good fight.
Nonetheless, understand that the fight is not forever. One day, we will leave this life behind, and there will be no more fight to be waged. The war is won by God, rest assured, but this temporal place is not our home. We were not made to be separated from God, but in Jesus, we no longer have to be. And it is in the Lamb’s Book of Life that our names will be written--those who have His name written on their heart. When we leave this world behind, we will enter a place beyond any of our greatest dreams or imaginations; a place where “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4 NKJV). Right now, we exist in the “former things.” But, these lives we lead here on earth are like wisps of smoke; we are here today, and gone tomorrow…