“From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me.”
(1 Tim 4:8)
Paul seems to be certain of his final destiny in this passage but is he claiming that once one becomes Christian that heaven is a guarantee upon our deaths?
The context of this passage tells us that Paul was writing this letter on the eve of his announced execution. The study notes from the Ignatius Study Bile explains this passage thussly:
“The reward of everlasting righteousness (Gal 5:5) that awaits the saints, who have persevered in the grace of God (James 1:12; 1 Pet 5:4). The image alludes to the garland or victory wreath used to crown winning athletes in the ancient Olympics (1 Cor 9:25). Paul’s confidence that such a reward awaits him rests on his sense of accomplishment, since after 30 years of ministry, toil and suffering, he has remained firm in the faith without straying from the course set for him by Christ (2 Tim 4:7; Acts 20:24).”
Does this mean though that even though we have persevered up to now that we are guaranteed heaven? If we died today possibly, if we have no unforgivien mortal sin on our souls at the time of death but how do we know that we will persevere until the end since we are not imminently clear that we are on the threshold of death at the moment? Earlier in his ministry Paul himself wasn’t so sure of his final destiny because he didn’t presume to know the future while the race was still in progress. He said: “If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16) or even more clearly, also early on in his ministry. He says: “I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.” ( 1 Cor 4:4)
No, it is quite clear that our final destiny, our salvation is not necessarily assured once we’ve truly accepted Jesus into our hearts as our Lord and Savior. There are many Scripture passages describing this reality. Jesus Himself said that even those who call on Jesus as their Lord shall not necessarily enter the kingdom of heaven (Mat 7:21).
Don’t be discouraged because we have a just and loving God. He does indeed promise us eternal salvation if we persevere and that no trial shall be too great to bear with Him at our side for our trust in Him lightens our burden. Jesus explains: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mat 11:29-30).
Lay your burdens at the cross and pick up your own and do it daily (Luke 9:23) knowing that whatever burdens may come He will give you whatever strength you need once you put your confidence in Him (Sir 52:23,26).