It was in college that a long-fledgling faith was endowed with a greater love for Jesus through the word of God and I began in earnest to grow spiritually. At the same time, I was introduced to the Conservative Resurgence by men who had worked in the trenches. They painted pictures of Paige Patterson, Paul Pressler, and others that inspired a young man in his early twenties to love the Bible and understand its importance as truth.
Many of us younger pastors were in underoos, diapers, or not yet born when the conservative resurgence began and battles were fought. And even if now we question some of the methods, we don’t doubt the necessity. Regardless of whatever the present struggles, the Southern Baptist Convention would be a shell if not for the “battle for the Bible.”
We place a high priority on Scripture because we are the children of the resurgence.
Yet, over the past several weeks we have witnessed the stumbling of one of our resurgence fathers. When a man of integrity like Bart Barber speaks to the necessity of Patterson’s removal, then there is no doubt that real problems exist. It would seem that power and entitlement got the best of a man once used mightily by God to help right a listing ship.
As children of the resurgence, we have not only to learn from the positives of Patterson’s life, like his great passion for inerrancy; we also must learn the lesson from this moment—we must fight to finish well.
The same thing defines Paige Patterson as defines you and me: We are sinners in a fallen world. Now, yes, through Jesus we are sinners saved by grace, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and children of the living God. But within us remains the potential “root of bitterness,” the stubborn dying remnants of our sin-nature that seeks to easily entangle us. We can see powerful moves of the Holy Spirit in our lives yet in our same lives both quench and grieve the Spirit. It’s the same reason why within the span of a few words in Scripture, Peter went from being called “blessed” by Jesus to being told “get behind me, Satan!”
We must live with the tension that we can be faithful sons and daughters of God as well as those who don’t finish well. And it’s not just Patterson that we’ve seen in recent days, but also Frank Page and others.
In 2 Timothy 4, Paul reflected on a life that would soon be finished on earth. He was able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Paul finished well, but he was driven by the reality of the fight.
This must drive us as well.
But the enemy we wage the war against isn’t another person. Others might influence us, but we bear the ultimate responsibility for our actions. So, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:27 that he disciplined and brought himself under subjection so that he might not be disqualified. To fight this battle and finish well, there are a few things necessary:
First, we must crucify our sense of entitlement. Jesus said that to follow him we must deny self and take up our cross (Luke 9:23). The only thing we are entitled to in life is death and hell. Everything good we receive is a gift of God (James 1). Every good we experience is an act of God’s grace. We don’t escape hell and eternal death because of our own faithful acts, power, or position. We escape it and find eternal joy because of Jesus and Jesus alone. Grace is our cake and grace is our icing, too. Remembering this keeps us humble and drives us to be faithful.
Second, we must surround ourselves with encouragers but not “yes men”. We know the Proverb—iron sharpens iron. We need people in our lives who will speak often of the grace of God and point us to Jesus. We need people to remind us that even though we were children of wrath, by faith in Jesus we are now children of the King. We need people to help lift our drooping hands and spur us on to faithfulness. We need people who will encourage our strengths, giftings, and passions.
But these people cannot at the same time be yes men or women who refuse to challenge us. We need people who will speak honestly into our lives and rebuke us when necessary. We need people who love us so much that they value our holiness over friendship, that they’re willing to lovingly offend us rather than let us walk in error or pride.
Third, we must have friends who are free to probe the depths. This goes with my previous point: We need people to whom our lives our open books. These are brothers or sisters free to ask us anything with the anticipation of an honest answer. And I mean anything. These are friends to whom no dark crevice is off limits. These are the people we trust to help us dig deep to root out secret sin.
Fourth, we must remember that the story only has one hero. There are many men and women of faith who have lived gracious lives and have done noble things to whom we are indebted and for whom we must be thankful. But we can’t make them our heroes. The men and women listed in Hebrews 11 weren’t named to remind us of their greatness but to remind us their deeds of faith came from looking ahead to the eternal promises of the One Hero.
It’s easy for us to put men like Paige Patterson on pedestals for the many good things he has done. It’s easy for us to exalt others for similar reasons. It’s easy for us to want to one day find ourselves on a pedestal for others to admire.
And it’s wrong.
People fail. Jesus doesn’t. He, alone is the hero. Which leads to my last point…
To fight well to finish well, we, fifth, must daily fix our eyes on Jesus. We must keep our Savior-King and the good news about him forefront. With Jesus, we have everything. Without Jesus, we lose everything. With Jesus, we can move mountains. Without Jesus, we get crushed under foot (Revelation 14). He, alone, is our strength, our hope, our stay. He is the anchor to our soul.
Temptations come. We stumble. We get distracted. So, we must keep looking forward, reaching out, and resting in the strength of Jesus. This must be a daily reality, a constant renewal of the soul. This will fuel our faithfulness until our final breath.