Question: "What did Paul mean when he said he had kept the faith?"
Answer: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). This is one of the better-known and most-quoted passages of the apostle Paul. These words written just before Paul’s death are a powerful affirmation of his unyielding love and undying faith in Jesus and the gospel message (Galatians 1:4; 2:20; Philippians 1:21).
The word translated “kept” means “to keep by guarding, to watch over.” The Greek word for “faith” is pistis, which has to do with a conviction based on hearing (cf. Romans 10:17). Paul’s trust in Jesus never wavered. His faith was as solid on the day of his death as it had been the moment he first believed on the Damascus road (Acts 9:3). He was firm in his faith in the midst of the mob’s violence (Acts 16:22; 2 Corinthians 11:25; 1 Thessalonians 2:2). He stood uncompromising before the dignitaries Felix (Acts 22:10, 22), Festus (Acts 25:9), and Agrippa (Acts 25:26). He boldly confronted Peter when that apostle showed signs of compromising the teachings of Christ (Galatians 2:11-16).
The expression “I have kept the faith” has two possible meanings. One is that Paul had faithfully declared the gospel and guarded its truth, keeping its message unadulterated. Elsewhere, Paul called this the “pattern of sound teaching” and encouraged Timothy to “keep” it as well (2 Timothy 1:13; cf. 1 Timothy 6:20).
The other possible meaning of “I have kept the faith” is that Paul had fulfilled his divine appointment in this world, viz., that he would be Jesus’ messenger to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; 22:21). When Jesus commissioned Paul, He was clear that the appointment would mean much suffering (Acts 9:16). But Paul gladly accepted the summons and never wavered in his commitment, trusting that he would soon experience “an eternal glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Keeping the faith is never easy. Without question, Satan sought to derail Paul’s work by opposing him far and wide. There were Galatian legalists, Colossian Gnostics, and Judaizers at every turn. There were forged letters (2 Thessalonians 2:2). There were slanderous attacks on his integrity, his personal appearance, and his unpolished speech (2 Corinthians 10:10; 2 Corinthians 1:6). Not to mention the physical beatings he took (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). He was truly “hard pressed on every side” (2 Corinthians 4:8). Paul’s faith was the victory: “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day” (2 Timothy 1:12). What God had committed to Paul, Paul committed back to God. And through it all, Paul looked forward to the moment when he would hear the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21).
As believers in Christ, we, too, should “keep the faith.” What has God called you to do? Do it with all your might (Colossians 3:23). Just as Paul “longed for His appearing” and anticipated receiving the “crown of righteousness” (2 Timothy 4:8), so should we serve the Lord and faithfully fulfill His plan for our lives.