The Golden State Warriors had the best regular season record in the NBA, ever. They etched out Michael Jordan’s 1995-96 Bulls by a single game with a 73-9 record on the year.
But they lost the final game of the season.
What good is the best record, when you lose the last game?
The Bible is full of stories of godly people who didn’t finish well.
2 million Jews crossed the Red Sea in faith (Heb. 11:29), and yet died in the wilderness in unbelief and rebellion (Heb. 4:16-19).
King Solomon wrote three books of Scripture and was the wisest man who ever lived, but he died in idolatry, sexual immorality, and shame (1 Ki. 3:6-15; 11:1-43).
King Uzziah pursued God, but then he became proud, rebelled, and was inflicted with leprosy until he died (2 Chron. 26).
Did each of these people lose eternal life? Or did they prove that they were never truly “saved” to start with?
I’m not prepared to say Solomon “proved” he wasn’t saved. And if you could lose eternal life, it wouldn’t be called eternal life. It’d be called temporary life.
Then what do you lose? You lose the spiritual equivalent of what Steph Curry and the Warriors lost. You lose the prize (1 Cor. 9:24-27). Not the free gift of eternal life, earned by Jesus’ work on the Cross. No, you lose the prize of God’s approval, earned by faithful believers who finish well.
Oh, the difference between gifts and rewards! Gifts are free; rewards are earned!
The reward depends on how we finish; the gift depends on how He finished!
Oh, the difference between God’s acceptance and God’s approval! His acceptance is unconditional, through faith in Jesus Christ; His approval is conditional, earned through faithfulness to Jesus Christ.
There are two bits of good news in all this.
Good news, part 1: Jesus did the hard work for you. He lived a perfect life under the law of God, and then He died the death you deserved, so that through faith in Him you could receive the free gift of eternal life.
Good news, part 2: If you’re reading this, you’re not finished yet. It’s not about how you start, but how you finish. The Warriors had the best start ever, but didn’t finish well; their opponents, the Cleveland Cavaliers, had a rocky start, but they finished well and earned the prize.
You could’ve had the worst start ever, but there’s still a chance for you to turn this around, to finish well, to earn the prize so beautifully envisioned with these words from our Lord:
“Well done, good and faithful servant” (Lk. 19:17).