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4 Essentials for Finishing Well

1. A Daily Time of Focused Communion With God

The first essential is a daily time of focused personal communion with God. Many readers are familiar with the old classic Practicing the Presence of God, and that is an excellent habit to cultivate. But the foundation of that has to be a time of focused personal communion with God, and it needs to be daily. Demas didn’t just wake up one day and make a 90-degree turn. That doesn’t happen. Demas drifted little by little toward the attractions of the world. And if you and I do not practice this daily focused time of communion with God, we will find ourselves also drifting in the wrong direction.

In my Navy days before we had global positioning satellites we used a sexton to get our navigational position twice each day. At dawn and at dusk we would “shoot the stars” and get a position. And invariably after having done that, we had to make a minor course correction. Obviously if we didn’t do that, not only daily but in our case twice a day, we would soon find that we were way off course.

You and I also need that daily course correction, and we do this as we have this focused time with God. Demas was in love with this present world. Each of us, whether believer or unbeliever, is in love with something. Demas was in love with the world. The apostle John said, “Do not love the world” (1 John 2:15). But we cannot just “not love the world” and have a vacuum in our hearts. In order to not love the world we have to love God. And our time of daily focused communion with God is a time when that love of God and his love for us is refreshed in our hearts.

2. A Daily Appropriation of the Gospel

The second essential is a daily appropriation of the gospel. I have put personal communion with God first to highlight its priority because that’s the absolute basic essential. But in actual practice I put my daily appropriation of the gospel first. That is, I begin my time with God by reviewing and appropriating to myself the gospel. Since the gospel is only for sinners, I come to Christ as a still practicing sinner. In fact, I usually use the words of that tax collector in the temple when he cried out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). God has been merciful, and I’m quick to acknowledge his mercy in my life, but I say to him that I come in the attitude of that tax collector. “I need your mercy. I am still a practicing sinner. Even my very best deeds are sinful in your sight, and I am an object of your mercy and your grace.”

In the early years of my Christian life and even in my early ministry I regarded the gospel as a message for the unbeliever. Now that I was a Christian I personally no longer needed the gospel except as a message to share with unbelievers. But I learned the hard way many years ago that I need the gospel every day of my life.

At the time I was serving overseas, and I was single and lonely. Additionally I was struggling with some interpersonal relationship issues. Every Monday night I led a Bible study at an American Air Force base about an hour’s drive from where I lived. And every Monday night as I drove home, Satan would attack me with accusations of my sin. Out of desperation I began to resort to the gospel. To use an expression I learned years later, I began to “preach the gospel to myself.” And I subsequently learned that I continued to need the gospel every day of my life. That is why I list this practice as one of the four essential elements.

3. A Daily Commitment to God as a Living Sacrifice

The third essential is a daily commitment to God as a living sacrifice. And for that I direct your attention to Romans 12:1: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” As we daily reflect on the gospel and what God has done for us in Christ, this should lead us to present ourselves as daily, living sacrifices.

In using the word sacrifice Paul was obviously drawing from the Old Testament sacrificial system. Those sacrifices are set forth for us in the book of Leviticus, and all of them together portrayed the one great sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. God has not asked us to loan ourselves temporarily to him. He’s asked us to present ourselves to him as living sacrifices to use as he pleases. The fact is, objectively this has already taken place. The apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 6:19–20, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” Paul wants us to affirm in our hearts and in our emotions what is true in reality, but he approaches it by way of an appeal. He does not say, “This is your duty to do.” He does not say, “You’re not your own; you don’t have a choice in the matter.” He says, “I appeal to you … by the mercies of God.”