Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you… – 1 Timothy 6:11-12 ESV
We have been so indoctrinated with the concept of salvation by grace that we have somehow construed it to mean that the life of a Christian requires little or no effort at all. There is no doubt that we play no part in our salvation. As Paul reminds us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV). But this is the same man who told Timothy to “pursue righteousness and a godly life.” The Greek word translated “pursue” in this verse can mean “to run swiftly in order to catch a person or thing, to run after” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance). It can also mean “to press on: figuratively of one who in a race runs swiftly to reach the goal”. It is an action word. Paul is telling Timothy to take his salvation seriously and to run after it with a vengeance. This is not an isolated case of Paul using this kind of terminology. He uses the same word in his letter to the believers in Philippi. “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me” (Philippians 3:12 NLT). “I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:14 NLT). He used it again when writing to the believers in Corinth. “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts…” (1 Corinthians 14:1 ESV). Paul was passionate about pressing on. He was not content to remain as he was. Paul knew that God had saved him, not just to one day take him to heaven, but to transform him into the likeness of His Son – during his lifetime. And if God’s goal for him was godliness, then Paul was going to make it his goal as well. He wanted what God wanted. And he wanted other believers to share in his passion for pressing on.
Paul also told Timothy to “fight”. The Greek word he used is agōnizomai and you can see that it is where we get our word “agonize”. It means “to endeavour with strenuous zeal, strive: to obtain something.” It was a word used to speak of competing in the games of gymnastics so common in Greek society. It conveys the idea of sweat, effort, pain, and exertion of energy in order to achieve something. Timothy was the fight for the true faith. He was to contend with false teachers, bad doctrine, lazy believers, the constant threat of persecution and the opposition of Satan. Being a follower of Christ was not going to be easy. It was going to require courage and a willingness to put everything he had into it. Again, this was not the only time Paul used this word. He put it to use in his letter to the Corinthian believers. “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25 NLT). Paul used the same word when referring to himself in a second letter to Timothy. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful” (2 Timothy 4:7 NLT). Paul was a fighter for the faith and a pursuer of godliness.
The third word of encouragement Paul gives Timothy is to “hold tightly”. He uses the Greek word epilambanomai. It means to “take possession of” and carries the idea of grasping something in order to make use of it. As Christians, we have eternal life provided for us because of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. But eternal life is not just something waiting for us in the future. It is to impact the way we live our lives right here and now. I must fully grasp and hold on to the reality of my eternal security in Christ. If I can begin to understand that I am saved and nothing can ever change that fact, it will give me a boldness and a peace that allows me to live my life on this earth without fear. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6 ESV). We must live in this life with our minds set on the life to come. This is not all there is. We cannot forget that this world is not our home. God has something far greater in store for us. That is why the writer of Hebrews prefaced the verses above with the warning: “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have…” (Hebrews 13:5 ESV). We must pursue, fight and hold tightly. Living as a Christian requires that we put something into it. Yes, our sanctification is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit, but we must submit to His leadership in our life. We must obey. We must desire what God desires. Godliness must become our highest priority and it must be something we consider worth all our energy to get our hands on.