As Christians, we all want to finish this life well. We want to remain faithful to God to the very end and hear “Well done, good and faithful servant!” when we reach heaven. But this lifetime is filled with pitfalls and snares that can knock us off course if we’re not careful. As the author of Hebrews warns us:
Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. (Hebrews 2:1 NKJV)
Drifting away from God is far too easy in this fallen world. Our enemy prowls around seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8), and our own sinful flesh wages war against our spirit (Galatians 5:17). If we’re not intentional about standing firm, we can slowly drift into compromise and find ourselves shipwrecked.
As we strive to finish well, we need to be aware of hindrances that can trip us up and pull us off course. Here are some common pitfalls that can prevent Christians from finishing their race strongly:
- Sin and unrepentant hearts can hinder us from finishing well
- Pride and self-reliance lead us away from God’s path
- Lack of spiritual disciplines keeps us from hearing God’s voice
- Wrong beliefs about who God is can cause us to stumble
- Unforgiveness poisons our hearts and keeps us trapped
- We need accountability and wise counsel to stay on track
One of the biggest hindrances to finishing well is ignoring or downplaying sin in our lives. As the famous revivalist Charles Finney said, “No one can possibly be a child of God who has not renounced ungodliness.” When we tolerate sin and cling to it unrepentantly, it erodes our conscience, distorts our thinking, and dampens our spiritual vitality. Like mold growing in a damp corner, it quietly spreads and does its damage.
The apostle Paul sternly warned the Corinthian church that they needed to deal with blatant sin in their midst:
Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. (1 Corinthians 5:6-7a)
We cannot sweep sin under the rug, make excuses for it, or think we can stop whenever we want. James 1:15 describes the dangerous progression of sin: “Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” Sin must be nipped in the bud through sincere confession and repentance (1 John 1:9). If we make peace with sin, we make ourselves enemies of God (James 4:4).
The Holy Spirit convicts believers of lingering sin so they can repent and get back on track with God. Ignoring or resisting conviction leads to a hardened heart and a calloused conscience. The more we tolerate sin, the more ground it gains in our lives. That’s why it’s so important to maintain a sensitive conscience through regular confession and repentance. As David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). Let’s echo David’s prayer so we can finish well!
Pride and Self-Reliance
Another obstacle that harms our walk with God is pride and self-reliance. When we start thinking we have it all together and don’t need the Lord like we used to, watch out! Pride is what caused Satan’s downfall, and it’s the sin God opposes most vehemently (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5-6). A proud Christian is a contradiction in terms because we have nothing to boast about apart from Christ (Galatians 6:14). Pride is rooted in self-deception and blindness to our true condition. In reality, we are all broken sinners saved by grace. The moment we lose sight of our need for God’s mercy, we start down a dangerous road.
God intentionally allows difficulties and trials to keep us dependent on Him. In 2 Corinthians 12, after describing his amazing vision of heaven, Paul admits God allowed a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him humble and dependent. Three times Paul begged God to remove it, but God replied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Paul realized boasting about his revelations could exalt him, so this thorn was God’s gracious reminder of his frailty.
Like Paul, the more we grow in our faith, the more we need to guard our hearts against pride and self-sufficiency. We desperately need God every day and every moment. Practicing humility requires honestly acknowledging our shortcomings and limitations. The moment we start feeling deserving, entitled, or “more spiritual” than others, sin crouches at the door (Genesis 4:7). We must constantly fight pride by giving God all the glory for any good in our lives (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Clinging to Him in humility, rather than relying on our wisdom or abilities, is the only way to finish this race. As Peter warns, “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:6).
Neglecting Spiritual Disciplines
It’s easy for busy Christians to crowd out time for spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible study, fasting, and worship. We get caught up in the demands of work, family, church, and other obligations. While those responsibilities are important, nothing should supersede nurturing our relationship with God. He must be first place. Jesus said the most important commandment is loving God with all our heart, soul, and strength (Mark 12:30). Everything else flows out from that top priority.
When we hurry through devotions or skip them altogether, we’re headed for trouble. It’s been said that neglected devotions lead to defeated Christians. Just as an athlete trains to develop strength and endurance, we need spiritual training to mature in Christ. Without regular exercise, our spiritual muscles grow flabby and weak.
The spiritual disciplines attune our ears to hear God’s voice and equip us to run the race with endurance. Jesus modeled the importance of withdrawing from busyness to pray and commune with the Father. He also rebuked Martha for neglecting time with Him in favor of other tasks (Luke 10:38-42). God desires intimate friendship with us even more than service for Him. Listening and speaking with Him nourishes our souls for the challenges ahead.
Making time to focus on Scripture also equips us for the battles and tests to come. As Hebrews 4:12 says, “The word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword.” Hiding God’s word in our hearts enables us to resist temptation and stand firm when doubts assail us. Neglecting Scripture makes us vulnerable when the enemy attacks or trials arrive. Staying in the Word keeps us spiritually sharp and ready to endure hardship like good soldiers (2 Timothy 2:3-4).
Just as regular meals sustain our physical bodies, consistent spiritual nutrients are absolutely necessary to finishing this race well. Protecting time for prayer, Bible intake, worship, fasting, and other disciplines shows we’re serious about going the distance with God. It’s an investment that yields incredible eternal rewards.
Wrong Beliefs About God
Our spiritual journey depends heavily on understanding God’s true nature and character. Misconceptions about Him undermine our faith and trust. For example, if we view God as harsh, condemning, impatient, or uncaring, we’ll avoid drawing near to Him. Or we may strive to earn His favor through works rather than resting in His grace. Wrong beliefs keep us from accessing His comfort, wisdom, and power.
The Accuser works overtime sowing lies in believers’ minds about God’s character. He portrays God as waiting to accuse us, indifferent to our struggles, and impossible to please. Such distorted views sabotage our relationship with Him. Thankfully, as we study Scripture, God’s Spirit leads us into truth and dispels falsehoods planted by the enemy (John 16:13).
The more we know God as He truly is – loving, patient, merciful, gracious – the more we trust Him to lead us faithfully. We have nothing to fear in abandoning ourselves to His perfect care. He trained David’s hands for battle and gave him victory after victory. As Psalm 18:30 says of God, “As for God, His way is perfect; The word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him.”
Whenever doubts about God’s goodness surface, we must take those thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). Immersing our minds in Scriptures about His trustworthy nature defuses the Inciter’s lies.
Jesus’ words in John 14:9 cut through faulty views of the Father: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” Everything Jesus displayed about God’s character – His compassion, wisdom, power, kindness – represents the Father’s nature perfectly. Getting to know Jesus better equips us to finish strong in faith.
Unforgiveness and Bitterness
Nothing gunks up our lives like refusing to forgive others. Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping someone else gets hurt. It grants enemies power over us, steals our joy and vitality, and blocks our prayers (Matthew 6:15). Resentment keeps past wounds continuously raw instead of allowing healing. It primes us for depression, anxiety, and bitterness that rot our souls from the inside out.
God makes releasing forgiveness to others a condition of receiving His forgiveness (Matthew 6:14-15). He knows how critically important it is for our spiritual health. We show we grasp God’s immense mercy toward us by extending mercy to those who’ve wronged us. As Colossians 3:13 puts it, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
Unfortunately, pain often feels easier to hold onto than release. We secretly enjoy rehearsing wrongs done to us and playing the victim. But what feels comfortable can be extremely destructive. As believers, we don’t have the luxury of nursing grudges since it hinders God’s work in us.
Stewing in unforgiveness grants control over our moods to people who may not even be aware they’ve offended us. It chains us to the past instead of walking in freedom. And it prevents us from being channels of God’s forgiveness to others, since unresolved anger blocks the flow.
But by God’s grace, we can choose to forgive even when emotions rebel. As we surrender perceived rights to retaliate or punish, deep roots of bitterness lose their grip. Scripture promises when we honor God by forgiving, He will heal the wounds that lie beneath the surface (Isaiah 58:6-9). What’s more, our prayers flow unhindered to the One with power to truly deal justly (Romans 12:19). Completely releasing others from our judgment frees us to enjoy peace and move forward lightheartedly.
As Hebrews 12:15 warns, “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Let’s diligently guard our hearts against bitterness’s toxins by choosing the freedom of forgiveness.
Lack of Accountability
Finally, one of the best ways to avoid pitfalls and run this race well is inviting trusted friends to walk closely with us. Their wisdom, exhortation, prayers, and support help us stay on track when we’d rather stray. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.” We all stumble at times and need fellow believers to get us back on our feet.
King David benefitted greatly from Nathan the prophet confronting him after his affair with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:1-13). David was blind to his own sin until his friend shed light on the situation. Afterward David repented deeply, and God mercifully restored him. David didn’t finish well in his own strength but because he had godly people around him who knew when to speak truth.
In addition, Moses would have burned out trying to judge Israel’s disputes singlehandedly had his father-in-law Jethro not stepped in. Jethro wisely told him to delegate responsibility and share the load with other leaders (Exodus 18). Saying yes to accountability and counsel prevents the pride that comes before a fall.
Even Jesus surrounded Himself with Peter, James, and John, sharing His most intimate moments with them. How much more do we need faithful companions who encourage us, exhort us, and pray for us? The writer of Ecclesiastes observes, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor.” When we try going solo, we miss the camaraderie and counsel God intends to bless us with.
As Proverbs 27:17 notes, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Accountability partners help keep us humble, dependent on God, and obedient to His will. Their support motivates us not to grow weary in doing good. Choosing relationships that spur us onward and upward enables us to endure to the finish line.
So let’s beware these common hindrances that threaten a strong ending to our faith. Through God’s power at work within us, we can sidestep the enemy’s traps and remain focused on the Lord. Clinging to Him in humility and obedience, surrounded by godly encouragers, allows us to cross the finish line with joy. By avoiding compromise and keeping eternal rewards in view, we can confidently claim Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 4:7-8: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” May the Lord find us faithful!