“Fight the Good Fight of Faith”

(1 Timothy 6:11-14 – Micah Smith’s Confirmation – June 2, 2019)

1 Timothy 6:11-14 – But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing.

Dear Redeemed in Jesus Christ; and especially you Micah, on this day of your confirmation:

There are certain contests in which we want to see a certain outcome. For example, Micah you are interested in sports. When your basketball team plays another, you strive to do your best because you want to win. On the other hand, losing a game may be disappointing. But there are certain contests in which the outcome is critical; we cannot imagine it any other way. For example, in the battle of good vs. evil. Micah, you have enjoyed watching superhero movies. In these, you want the hero to win. If the evil villain was to triumph and the beloved hero was to go down in defeat, it would seem all wrong. In the end, good is supposed to win over evil.

Our text reminds us that there is a far greater contest that we all are involved in. It goes beyond play and imagination. It is very real, and the eternal outcome is all-important for each of us. “Fight the good fight of faith,” the apostle Paul exhorts us. These words may be thought of in terms of sports or battle. Here, Paul speaks of fighting the good fight in words that bring to mind an athletic contest, like the races and wrestling matches that were part of the ancient Grecian games. An athlete would fight the good fight in the sense of earnestly engaging in the contest, struggling with all his might, and doing his best to win the prize. Earlier in this epistle, the apostle Paul also spoke of fighting the good fight in terms of battle, when he wrote to the young man Timothy, encouraging him to “wage the good warfare” (1 Timothy 1:18).

As believers in Christ, Paul’s words remind us of the reality that we are engaged in a contest, a conflict between good and evil, in which there is no neutral ground. When we were baptized into Christ, when the Holy Spirit gave us saving faith through the Gospel, we were enlisted in a spiritual battle. We became part of Christ’s Church Militant. As believers, we sing in the hymn: “Onward Christian soldiers! Marching as to war, With the cross of Jesus Going on before.”

Today, as Micah is confirmed in the faith which God began in him through Holy Baptism, the faith which God has continued to strengthen in him through instruction in His Holy Word, let us all take to heart the encouragement to “Fight the Good Fight of Faith”: 1) Recognizing the opposition, 2) Knowing your true Champion, 3) Standing firm in His saving truth.

1) Recognizing the opposition

As with any athletic contest or battle, we need to recognize the opposition. Thus we may properly prepare to fight the good fight and win. With respect to the battle of good and evil, the apostle Paul points to two sides when he says: “But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.”

We note first how Paul addresses the young pastor, Timothy, as a “man of God”; because he was entrusted with the things of God. He was responsible for ministering to others through God’s Word and Sacraments; to the end that, through these means of grace, the Holy Spirit might cause believers’ faith to grow and remain firm unto eternal life. How vital this is for each of us, as men and women of God, fighting the good fight of faith. For we can rightly identify the opponent of our faith, the evil foe, only as God’s Word properly instructs and prepares us.

Already before our text, Paul has been warning the man of God to “flee these things” –identifying all that is opposed to true faith in this world, and all that threatens to steal away salvation and eternal life in Christ. In chapter 1, Paul warned of the fate of those who fell away “from a good conscience and from sincere faith.” They had begun in the faith; but by embracing falsehood, they shipwrecked their faith and were delivered to Satan (1:5-6, 19-20). In chapter 4, Paul warned of those who “depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:1-2). This happens, on the one hand, when people listen to false spirits who preach salvation by works, instead of faith in the works of Christ alone. So sinners are led to a religion of self-righteousness, as if their own holy life could get them right with God and win the prize of heaven. On the other hand, saving faith may be lost when people listen to false spirits who preach what itching ears want to hear. Thus sinners are led to a religion of worldliness, feeling secure in a path of sin without true repentance. This is Paul’s concern in chapter 6. Before our text, he warned about false teachers who are in it for personal gain, for love of fame, riches, and pleasures. Paul warned of that deceitful path of worldliness: some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:10).

Therefore “O man of God… flee these things,” Paul exhorts Timothy and every one of us. Flee these things as fleeing from a deadly, venomous serpent. As Paul wrote in Romans 16:17: Note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.” Often in superhero movies, at first the deceitful villain is not recognized for who he is. At first, the hero may fight another bad guy; but once he is defeated, the true and more powerful villain steps forward. But as we are led by God Word, He has already revealed to us the evil foe. Behind all that is false and worldly and destructive to saving faith in Christ, there lies the serpent, the father of lies, Satan. In Ephesians 6:12 Paul reminds us: For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

And besides all that tempts and wars against us in this world and Satan’s kingdom, Scripture also leads us to recognize the opponent within. As fallen children of Adam, we have inherited the sinful nature, which is at war with the Spirit. Paul described the reality of our daily conflict as Christians, in Galatians 5:17: For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.”

2) Trusting your true Champion

Therefore, “Fight the good fight of faith,” O man of God. Wage the good warfare as one desiring good to triumph over evil. Fight the good fight, but not by trusting your own strength; rather, by clinging in faith to Him alone who is your true Champion – Jesus Christ, your Savior.

Remember David, when he went up against Goliath. What were the odds that a young man, unseasoned in battle, would win against the great giant and champion of the Philistines? According to human strength and wisdom, not a chance. But the young man of God stepped forth, speaking words of faith against the foe: “You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you” (1 Samuel 17:45-46). And so he did. David knew the battle belongs to the Lord; and trusting His saving Name and Strength alone, he fought and won.

Likewise “O man of God… fight the good fight” trusting your true Champion. He is great David’s greater Son. He is the Lord of Hosts Himself, who has come in the flesh to stand in your place, to fight and win salvation for you. It is to Him that Paul now turns our focus, identifying Him as: “Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate.”

We remember how Jesus stood on trial, making His “good confession” before Pontius Pilate. Nothing in the appearance of the Son of David suggested any strength or possibility of victory. Jesus stood on trial in great humiliation, apparently defeated by worldly powers. Yet He faithfully witnessed the truth. His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36-37). He had come to bring His Kingdom to sinners. What were the odds that this beaten and bloody man could win any battle against a foe, or win a Kingdom for His people? As Jesus hung on the cross breathing His last, Satan and all his evil hosts were ready to celebrate victory over the Holy One of God.

But the battle against evil is not won by worldly strength or appearance. The battle belongs to the Lord of hosts. And when He had taken our place, suffering for every sin of ours; when He had made the once-for-all blood sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world, he shouted that battle cry of victory: “It is finished!” (John 19:30). For God had removed all the condemnation of His Law that had stood against us, nailing it to the cross. And soon, that old evil Goliath and all his hosts in hell knew it. For by Jesus’ cross, “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:15).

Now our risen Savior shares with us His victory of salvation over sin, Satan, and death. So here, Paul encourages the man of God: lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” In Timothy’s case, this good confession of faith seems to refer to the time of his baptism before many witnesses. Micah, as you have learned from Scripture, you were also called to eternal life in Jesus by the grace of God. This was not by your own reason or strength; but the Holy Spirit called you by the Gospel and enlightened you with His gifts. In Baptism, God the Father poured out the Holy Spirit and faith on you, uniting you to His Son, making you His child. By the power of God, you renounced the devil and confessed Christ as your Savior. The faith into which you were baptized by the Triune God was witnessed by your parents, sponsors, and the Church. It is the same faith you are confirming today. Therefore O man of God: trust your true Champion, Jesus Christ, in whom you stand cleansed of sin, freed from Satan’s power, and an heir of eternal life.

3) Standing firm in His saving truth

Even in human tales of good vs. evil, how often new villains rise up and the heroes have to keep fighting to keep them down. In reality, Scripture reveals how our spiritual opponents Satan, the world, and our sinful flesh, continue to rise up to tempt us. Therefore, as we go forward trusting the victory Christ has won for us, we are encouraged to “Fight the good fight of faith,” by standing firm in His saving truth.

Paul reminded Timothy that in having “confessed the good confession,” he stood with Jesus, “who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate.” And he went on to encourage him: “that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing.” Paul was simply urging Timothy to remain faithful to all the truth of God’s Word; for by this, faith continues to be strengthened unto eternal life.

Likewise ours is a “good confession” as we faithfully repeat Jesus’ own witness to the truth. When our faith is put on trial, yet we stand with Jesus in His truth. Against all the evil opposition that rises up against our faith, Ephesians 6:13 encourages us: “Take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” As soldiers of the cross, we stand with Christ’s truth like a protective belt around our waist. We stand with His righteousness covering us like a breastplate. We stand with the shield of faith, by quenching the fiery arrows of the evil one. We stand with the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, by which we can ward off the temptations of Satan, the world, and our flesh. When we fall we turn again to the Word of God, where He assures us of the forgiveness Christ won for us.

Fighting the good fight of faith means standing firm in God’s saving truth in Christ. It means returning each day to our Baptism in repentance, confessing our sins and having them washed away by the blood of Jesus. It also means coming to the Lord’s Table to partake of the heavenly food He provides. Micah, having been properly instructed in His Word, you are prepared to receive Holy Communion. As Scripture teaches, Jesus gives you His true Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins. Partake of this Sacrament regularly, that by this means of grace also your faith may be strengthened.

Thus we “Fight the good fight of faith,” recognizing the opposition, knowing our Champion in Christ, standing firm in His saving truth. So to life’s end we may boldly confess with Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7-8: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.