Introductory Note:

The night he was betrayed, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet—modeling humility, intimacy, and perfect love. John says this of Jesus: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” To the end. What a perfect picture of someone finishing well. He knew where he was from, and he knew where he was going. He knew what he was called to do. And out of his intimacy with the Father, he was able to love and serve his companions—even his betrayer.

It seems like a good week to share “Finishing Well,” co-written by Monica and Jeremy Chambers, who will join us for Renovaré’s Pastors Retreat in a few weeks. Their essay explores the characteristics of those who are faithful and loving to the end—a wonderful topic for Holy Week.

Renovaré Team

The famous line from Matthew 25:23, Well done, good and faithful servant,” echoes in our hearts as these are words that we all long to hear from the Father. We want to know that we were faithful to the end! To use Paul’s words, we want to be able to say that we fought the good fight, finished the race, kept the faith.” Yet as we see so many who fall away and leave the faith, we must take this question very seriously: what does it take to finish well? No matter your stage in life, you will find the answer to this question to be instructive, and you will find the good news to be refreshing: you can still finish well, by His loving care it can be done! 

In his classic and comprehensive book, Conformed To His Image, Ken Boa covers twelve approaches to spiritual formation and exposes the reader to a library’s worth of excellent theological resources. After examining spiritual growth thoroughly he concludes with a chapter on What it takes to finish well.” Boa suggests seven characteristics of those who finish well:

  1. Intimacy with Christ

  2. Fidelity to the spiritual disciplines

  3. A Biblical perspective on the circumstances of life

  4. A teachable, responsive, humble, and obedient spirit

  5. A clear sense of personal purpose and calling

  6. Healthy relationships with resourceful people

  7. Ongoing ministry investment in the lives of others

The first two points address our being (ontological), the next three focus on knowledge and belief (doxological), the final two orient around our intentional ongoing practice (praxeological). Notice the communal aspect of these points — this list is an invitation for the Body to go deeper together. This isn’t just individualistic, but has communal implications.1

Let’s expand on each of these points a bit: 

1. Intimacy with Christ

    Intimacy with Christ is the unitive approach that Paul spoke of when he said, it is not I that live, but Christ that lives within me” or when he spoke of our lives being hidden with Christ in God” or when he speaks of us being in Christ.” It is this ongoing walk of knowing Christ. 

    We’re not talking about fabricated or illusory intimacy but of actual deep knowing. For example, there’s a difference between knowing a lot about a celebrity and actually being their friend. 

    2. Fidelity to the spiritual disciplines

      Fidelity to the spiritual disciplines simply means an ongoing participation in the grace that God is bringing to us as we cultivate attention toward Him. These can include various historic Christian practices: prayer, scripture reading, silence, solitude, fasting, worship, journaling, etc. 

      3. A Biblical perspective on the circumstances of life, and 4. A teachable, responsive, humble, and obedient spirit

      We see Boa’s points 3 and 4 as being combined. A Biblical perspective on the circumstances of life means that one is prepared to go through trials and testings trusting in the Lord the entire way, always giving glory to God in the ups and downs of life, relying on His power and not one’s own. This kind of trust requires teachability, humility, and a surrendered posture — not only to God but to the faith community around us, allowing them to also remind us of what is true and good when we might find it difficult to see. This can be summed up perfectly by the famous passage, Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding, in all your acknowledge Him and He will make your path straight” (Prov. 3:5 – 6). 

      5. A clear sense of personal purpose and calling

        One must believe and know that the Lord is calling them into the adventure of intimate and infinite depth with Him. This calling impacts our occupations, relationships, and practices. This conviction regarding His call on one’s life is a central rallying point and a lighthouse” during seasons of storms and darkness.

        6. Healthy relationships with resourceful people.

          This is essential for when one is in over one’s head.” It is vital to have wise counselors and mentors who have gone before and can point the way and remind us of appropriate perspectives. Resourceful people also tend to point us into life-giving opportunities that we might have missed.

          7. Ongoing ministry involvement in the lives of others. 

            This is best illustrated by the Dead Sea: since there is no outlet” the water becomes too salty for normal fish to thrive, so with the exception of microbial life, everything else dies in the Dead Sea. But other lakes with an outflow are able to provide life in an ongoing, sustainable way to those who depend on them. If we are self-oriented only and never learn to pour out love toward those around us, then we destroy one of the very things that enables us to thrive. Notice how this comes after all the other points in which we are receiving from the Lord and others. When we are trained in a posture of receiving from Him, we will minister to others well.2

            We can sum it up as: being, knowing, doing.3 Some like to use the metaphor hands, head, heart—which still follows the format that we observed above: ontological, doxological, praxeological. 

            There is a beauty to the all-encompassing nature of this list of characteristics of those who finish well.4 It involves all aspects of life. This helps us to remain centered in Christ. The seven characteristics point us back to the faithful road of knowing Jesus as we walk through all the difficulties and joys of life. Our lives and ministries have ingredients that pull us away from some of these practices. We must continue to be vigilant and intentional so that we can remain faithful to the end. 

            These guidelines show us how to work out our faith diligently as Paul commands us to do in Philippians 2:12 – 13. In John 17:3, Jesus reveals to us the secret of all eternal life: knowing the Father. We need all these factors to move us into deeper knowing of God. As we, the Body of Christ, humbly submit to God and explore what it means to know Him, we can collectively and continually move towards finishing the earthly side of this adventure of infinite intimacy with goodness and joy. Remember, you can still finish well.

            1. Our friend J.R. Woodward, who works with The V3 Movement” (a church planting network), also shared a similar set of observations regarding the people who seem to finish ministry well toward the end of their lives. Notice the similarities to Boa’s list: (1) They have broad perspective (theologically and biblically informed), (2) They took time to engage in experiences that deeply renewed them, (3) They practiced spiritual disciplines, (4) They had a life long learning posture, (5) They had 10 – 15 mentors during their lifespan (this included the possibility of an author who is long since deceased but whose writings have a mentoring effect). ↩︎
            2. This line of thinking is also reinforced in Faith for Exiles, where George Barna says that the rare people who grew up in Christian families AND remained faithful throughout their lives had the following elements: (1) Experiencing Jesus (real encounters, not mere intellectual assent), (2) Cultural discernment (the ability to test the spirits, as 1 John speaks of), (3) Meaningful relationships, (4) Countercultural mission and values, (5) Vocational discipleship. ↩︎
            3. This is further enriched with Trevor Hudson’s Cycle of Grace,” in which the follower of Jesus begins by realizing their acceptance” and their belovedness in Christ, then proceeds to receive sustenance” and ongoing spiritual nourishment from the Lord by participating in His means of grace, then the follower begins to truly unpack the significance” of who they are in Christ, and finally they are ready to produce fruitfulness” as an overflow of the grace and goodness of God in their life. Acceptance leads to sustenances which leads to realization of significance which leads to fruitfulness. The danger is when we reverse this cycle and try to begin with fruitfulness as a foundation for our acceptance. Hudson has observed that this reversal of the cycle is a fine recipe for burnout. ↩︎
            4. They even seem to have some historical grounding, as we see that the church has observed this throughout history. For example, the earlier era church leaders spoke of the threefold way of purgation, illumination, and union” as a means of progressing through a season of life focused on behavior and outward action, then moving toward knowledge-oriented cognitive grasping of the faith, and eventually moving toward an ontological union with Christ (as Jesus speaks of, abide in Me, and I in you” in John 15, or as Paul speaks of, not I that lives but Christ who lives within me” in Galatians 2:20). ↩︎

            Photo by Jr Korpa on Unsplash

            Text First Published April 2022 · Last Featured on April 2022