The newly appointed manager of a chain of hotels was on his first inspection trip. In the kitchen of one of the hotels observed a particularly unhappy looking dishwasher.
“Cheer up, my good man,” the new manager said, giving the gloomy fellow a friendly pat on the shoulder, “I started as a dishwasher, and now I am the general manager.”
“I know,” came the startling reply, “but I started as general manager and now I’m the dishwasher.”
In Romans 11:19-23 Paul teaches this important spiritual point for all to hear and heed: it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. The Jews mistakenly thought that being born (starting off) Jewish was enough to save, but God’s salvation was through faith in Jesus; they needed to believe in Him. Gentiles had lived abominable, shameful lives as pagans, but their sinful start didn’t have to determine their spiritual destination; faith and obedience to Jesus had the power to change everything. And some Gentiles who had just been saved seemed to have mistakenly thought that once that they had believed in Jesus that they could live as they pleased; but God expected newness of life, led by the Spirit.
Starting poorly doesn’t mean that we have to finish poorly. Hell is not a foregone conclusion for even the worst of sinners; faith and obedience to Jesus still has the power to change everything. And just as true, starting well doesn’t mean that we will finish well. It’s not enough to have simply been baptized, we must live as and remain a faithful disciple.
Our eternity is not based on how we start, but on how we finish.
Jesus’ promise to the church in Smyrna was “‘…Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Revelation 2:10, NAS95. Are you growing toward a strong finish, or are you slouching toward a weak one?