As a young boy, I enjoyed a good game of basketball. My friends and I were avid players. We dampened all the courts and gyms around town with our sweat—lots of it. Our group was large enough to play a crowded half-court game, but often, we took over the entire slab for an all-out brawl.
It was generally “shirts and skins” for us. When the court was full, this helped us identify our team members. You either played wearing your shirt or without it—the skins. (It was a makeshift jersey.)
Without the clear distinction of a shirt or skin, it was difficult to keep up with who was on your team. This was especially true when the teams were closely matched and the game was intensely heated. Many times, we would confuse ourselves and accidentally hand the ball off to our opponent—doh! Being aware of your adversaries and allies was important.
We need to know our adversaries and allies in the good fight.
Fortunate for us, Scripture draws a clear distinction between the two. However, it doesn’t always make the detection easier. There is a sense where the distinction is blurred—at least from a human perspective.
This blurring also happened on the basketball court. Substitutions and trades would sometimes confuse us. We were rarely playing against new faces. It was the same old bunch playing the same old game with the same old rules and for the same old purpose—to win.
Likewise, the good fight is fought with friendly faces in familiar places. The adversaries (the gospel killers) and the allies (the gospel keepers) are competing in the same game under the same banner—the gospel. It’s like we are all wearing the same jersey at times.
Paul describes this observation in 2 Timothy 3, where he compares the two teams. He says that the gospel killers fight by “having the appearance of godliness” (2 Tim. 3:5). Similarly, the gospel keepers “desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:12). Again, the gospel killers gather with other professing believers under the “faith” (2 Tim. 3:8) and the gospel keepers are becoming “wise for salvation through faith” (2 Tim. 3:15).
Both continue in the gospel with their respective patterns and their respective ways. They appear to be wearing the same jersey. But by closely examining their patterns and ways, a clear distinction emerges.
Gospel killers continue in scandalous deceptions.
“Lovers of self” best describes the gospel killers (2 Tim. 3:2). Since their heart is not truly regenerated (albeit, deceiving them to think otherwise), it pours out the fruit of pride. All kinds of self-seeking desires come from it (2 Tim. 3:2-5).
They pursue things that help them reach their own aspirations, their own accomplishments, their own glory, their own pleasure. They are the heroes of their own stories. They take credit when things go well and blame others when things go sour.
Friends are stepping stones to further greatness. Jobs are resources to feed their material warehouses. Money is the symbol of their success. Fame is their end, and the gospel is their means.
Although they have an appearance of godliness, they say “no” to the transforming power of the gospel because it crushes the life they intend to have (2 Tim. 3:5). Scripture describes them as being “corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith” (2 Tim. 3:8). They may gather for worship and sing with sincerity, but they are “lovers of pleasure, rather than lovers of God” (2 Tim. 3:4-5).
Gospel killers continue in scandalous deceptions. The gospel is only a word, not authoritative truth. Sound doctrine is counter-productive to their lifestyle. It lowers their self-esteem and shames their sinful ways. It’s inconvenient and unentertaining. So the gospel—reduced to a social club—is only a cover. It suffocates their conscience so that they can sleep at night.
Gospel keepers continue in sound doctrine.
“Lovers of God” best describes the gospel keepers (2 Tim. 3:5). They are marked by a desire to behave in a manner worthy of Christ’s name. They align themselves with biblical truth. They are relentless in holding to Scripture, and they long to understand it. They don’t spend time with God when it is convenient; they schedule their day around it.
Suffering is viewed as a refining work of Christ in pursuit of godliness (2 Tim. 3:12). Their aim in life is to glorify God. For He is the hero of their stories. He is the one they seek to please. And, in loving Christ, they love others before themselves. They exalt others when things go well. They take responsibility when things go wrong.
Friends are cherished prizes and beneficiaries of their good works. Jobs are harvest fields for sharing God’s Word. Money is a gift to give and a resource to further gospel-centered efforts. Humility is their hallmark. God’s glory is their end, and the gospel is their means.
Godliness is not only desired, it is chased to the point of persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). The power of the gospel is the power unto salvation and their true source of slaying inner pride. It gives them responsibility, reason, and relationship.
Gospel keepers continue in sound doctrine. The gospel is more than an evangelistic message, more than four books of the New Testament. It is all of Scripture. It is life. It is necessary. It is satisfying. It is Christ—their source of true joy and meaning.
Like their adversary, the gospel is a cover. But unlike their adversary, it covers their sin and clothes them in righteousness.
Aligning yourself with the proper team is crucial. Either you will continue in scandalous deceptions or continue in sound doctrine. But you cannot do both.
Find your team. Grab your jersey and get in the game—fight the good fight of faith.