HOW TO KEEP ON YOUR WAY TOWARD HEAVEN
Printable version: Pastoral letter 160
The following article was inspired by the saintly William Gurnall (1617-1679) in his book The Christian in Complete Armour.
How we need wisdom and encouragement in order to follow Jesus well! How important it is that we learn of others who have followed before us and finished the course. Sadly, many make a ruin of their faith. Some begin well, but do not finish well.
If you would be one who not only starts the race, but finishes the race, then the following exhortation will prove to be of immense value to you. I want to share five essentials with you for keeping on your way to Heaven. These are tried and true. Others who have run well will have discovered that the following five helps have been indispensable in running well and finishing well.
But first, let us remind ourselves and assure ourselves that God’s part is sure and certain in this matter. The Lord wants every believer to finish well. Be sure of His heart in this matter. He will provide all the grace necessary. His Word, His Spirit, and His Church are all ready and waiting to come to our aid and encourage us continually along our way to Heaven. Indeed:
- Jesus wants all that the Father has given Him to “be with Him where He is and to behold His Glory” (John 17:24)
- He promises to “complete what He has begun in us” (Philippians 1:6)
- He assures us that He will “lose none that the Father has given, but raise them up at the last day” (John 6:39).
His part is sure and certain. But His faithfulness in our salvation is not to make us lazy. We are not merely to sit back and coast into Heaven! The Bible has many exhortations for us in response to God’s faithfulness. Grace is not a license to laziness but a motivator to diligence. Grace is free, but it is proven by diligence in the things of God.
The following helps to keeping on your way to Heaven are active and ongoing responses to the Grace of God. They are not new; they are not original. They are time-tested and true.
Help Number One:
If you would keep on your way to Heaven, if you would finish well, then:
Declare War upon the Sins of Your Own Heart
Most of us have no problem declaring war on sins…as long as they are others’ sins. But it is our own hearts which we must be diligent over. Indeed we should “above all else guard our hearts” (Proverbs 4:23).
Now some sins are comparatively easy to do away with. Others are very difficult. The secret sins of the heart are the most difficult and deadly of all! Pride, envy, lust, greed, these can be particularly defiant and dangerous. The diligent Christian will not make peace with them! He will declare an unending war against them. He may have to make a thousand trips to the cross in brokenness, confession, and repentance, he may have to cry out for grace many times, but he will not make peace with any sin, least of all these deep heart sins.
The Bible says that we are to “put to death whatever belongs to our earthly nature” (Colossians 3:5), considering ourselves to be “dead to sin, and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11).
God will supply all of the grace that we need to wage this holy war. But we must declare it, and settle for nothing less than victory…even if we have to die fighting!
Help Number Two:
If you would keep on you way to Heaven, running well and finishing well, you must:
Determine Not to Live After the Ways of the World
The Bible warns us: “Love not the world, nor the things of the world” (1 John 2:15). This does not mean that as Christians we become ascetics, never enjoying the good things that God has given to us. It does mean that we do not derive our pleasure from treasuring a world which scorns the very God that made it. “Worldly Christians” are strange animals. They call Christ their Saviour, but they look to the world as their satisfier.
If you love the world, the world and its cares may well choke out the good seed of the Gospel, rendering you fruitless, or worse, spiritually dead. Determine that Christ and His Gospel will be your source of joy and fullness. Resolve right now that you will not make it your aim to “fit in” to a world which crucified your Saviour. Offer your whole self as a “living sacrifice holy and pleasing to God” (Romans 12:1) as the only fitting response to the bountiful mercies of God received through Jesus Christ. Don’t be afraid to be different because of Jesus. Make it your happy aim to be as holy as you can possibly be this side of Heaven.
Help Number Three:
If you would keep on your way to Heaven, resolve:
To Keep Going when Others Quit
It is a sad truth that some begin, but do not finish. There can be little more discouraging than a quitter. Perhaps the saddest line in the Bible is the brief “For Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world” (2 Timothy 4:10).
Now it is the testimony of virtually every follower of Jesus that there are times when you must follow Him all alone. There is such sweetness in Christian fellowship, such sadness when that fellowship ceases because one with whom you walked has gone back. But it is often in the lonely times that discipleship is proven.
One with whom you are walking now may prove to be a Demas to you one day. Determine now that Christ will be your constant companion, and your deepest friend. Be deeply thankful for every brother or sister who walks with you, especially for those most loyal; but do not put your final trust in any man, but only in Jesus. Jesus alone can say “I will never leave you or forsake you”(Hebrews 13:5)
Help Number Four:
If you would keep on your way to Heaven, resolve today:
To trust in God when you cannot find Him
Praise God for those times when the Lord seems so very close. There are times when the Bible seems to open right up to us, prayer is so real and vibrant. Heaven seems within reach and God has drawn nigh.
But the Christian life also has its valleys. Jesus Christ is a Shepherd, not a tour guide. He leads us through valleys and shadow lands. He sometimes withdraws, not His covenant of saving love, but His sweetness, and for reasons sometimes known only to Him. The life of faith has its seasons: some are bright and summery; some are dreary and winter like.
If you would keep on your way toward Heaven, then you must trust in the Lord even when you cannot find Him. You must be willing to say with the Psalmist “I waited patiently for the Lord” (Psalm 40:1) when the Lord takes His time over you. The Psalmist does not tell us how long he waited! But he does tell us that he was in a pit! And God was slow enough that he had to be “patient”.
During such times we have to trust in what we have come to know about the character of God from His Word and from our history with Him. This is surely what David did when he “strengthened himself in the Lord” (1 Samuel 30:6).
Help Number Five:
If you would keep on your way to Heaven, running well until you see Jesus:
Make certain that your days on earth and your service to the Lord finish together
Beware of living too long! We dare not outlive our desire to serve Jesus. We should aim that our earthly days and our earthly service should go off stage together. Certainly as strength wanes, we may have to surrender certain forms of service. But we can always be useful to the Lord and His Kingdom in some valuable way.
If in your heart you are thinking “I will serve Jesus for a while, but then I want to retire and live out my days in ease and self-service, you may well ruin your soul in your latter days. The aged Apostle could humbly but confidently say: “…the time for my departure has come I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race…” (2 Tim 4:7). We should aspire to live well for Jesus until our very last breath, and trust God to give us grace to do so. We should believe that God will save the “best wine” for the end of our lives!
May the Lord Jesus give us all grace to run well, and to finish well. He is sure and faithful; He will give us all the grace we need to live faithfully until we see His face, and fall into His embrace.
“May the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word…
To Him who is able to keep you from falling and present you before His glorious presence faultless and with great joy – to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power, and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord before all ages, now and forevermore. Amen!”
(2 Thessalonians 2:16; Jude 24)