by Harry Reeder
Over the years, I have become fascinated with the recorded “last words” of men and women, particularly those words uttered by believers. Oftentimes, these inspiring words make their way into my journal. After i mentioned this practice in a recent sermon, i had to make a new entry. It came from a Godly woman in our church whose cancer had been deemed incurable. Aware she had only a few weeks to live and concerned I might not be there when the Lord called her home, she came up after the sermon and asked me if she might give me her last words ahead of time. I said, “Sure.” With her emaciated body, sparkling eyes, and a contagious grin, she said, “Tell them at my funeral my last words were, ‘Y’all come.’”
The Apostle Paul’s last words are found in 2 Timothy. Facing death in a Roman jail, he writes: “I suffer… . But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me” (1:12). Paul, like Elijah with Elisha, places the mantle of ministry upon Timothy, calling him to be a “man of God,” gospel preacher, and faithful pastor. Consider how profound his “last words” are as they expound the hope of the gospel embraced by Paul. As he nears the end of his earthly ministry, about to die for his devotion to Christ, his words are simple yet profound: I have no regrets. Why would Paul—about to die a martyr’s death—say, in effect, “I suffer without regrets willingly and even joyfully”? Paul lived by faith in Christ, and he died in faith for Christ. His last words unfold the five dynamics of this triumphant “saving faith.”
Saving Faith Is Personal
In 2 Timothy 1:12, Paul declares he has no regrets as he is about to die for Christ. Why? The words to the Philippian church from his first imprisonment ring forth: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). In 1 Timothy 1:12, he repeats the I six times, saying, “I suffer,” “I am not ashamed,” “I know,” “I believe,” “I am convinced,” and “I entrusted.” Paul’s relationship with Christ was personal. God’s grace had brought him to faith, so he personally believed in the person and saving work of Christ. To be saved, you must know Christ by faith personally. No one else can believe for you.
Saving Faith Is Rational
To be saved, you must “know” you are a sinner and need a Savior, that you cannot save yourself, and that God graciously sent His Son to save sinners. Paul declared “I know” because God had laid hold of him. The religious terrorist who killed Christians now became one, and the Lord used him to win untold numbers to Christ. The one who desired to destroy the church became the greatest church planter in history. He had no secondhand faith—it was personal and it was rational: “I know.” While you can never know Christ exhaustively, you can know Him accurately.
Saving Faith Is Emotional
When people come to Christ, they know the truth of Christ passionately, that is, with “conviction.” Paul’s last words state emphatically that he was “convinced” of what he knew. The passion of the Apostle Paul’s heart and life illustrate how he grasped the knowledge of Christ wholly. Not only must we know Christ personally and knowledgeably, we must embrace Him with conviction. He is not only the Lord of glory, He is also our Lord and Savior. This knowledge must fill our minds and command our hearts.
Saving Faith Is Volitional
Saving faith is not only personal (I), rational (knowledge), and emotional (conviction), it is also volitional (trust). It is an act of the liberated will. The authenticity of true believers is marked by fully entrusting themselves to Christ as Lord and Savior. Let me illustrate. I can see a chair and “know” it is a chair. I can be emotionally transparent and vulnerable by publicly declaring it a chair with full conviction. Yet, the moment that you know I truly believe it is a chair is when I entrust myself to it by sitting upon it. I may know that I am a sinner and cannot save myself and that Christ is the Son of God and Savior of sinners. I can be emotionally drawn to such a message with a certain passion and conviction. Yet, the singular evidence that I personally know and that I am surely convinced that Christ is my Lord and Savior is when I rest upon Him and trust Him alone as He is offered to me in the gospel.
Saving Faith Is Directional
Paul doesn’t direct his faith to his conversion experience (I know when I believe), his theological knowledge (I know what I believe), or even faith itself (I know that I believe). Paul’s relationship with Christ is person to person, and he declares, “I know whom I have believed” and “He is able.” Christianity will always lead us to a religious way of life, but it is not the religion that leads us to Christ. It is the relationship with Christ that leads us to live a sacred life coram Deo—before the face of God.