The Christian life is often compared to running a race. But how are we to run that race in order to claim the prize that God offers to all who finish?
Most famous runners?
If I was to ask you who were the most famous runners you could think of, I bet most of you would come up with Usain Bolt and Mo Farah. They have both been incredibly successful. Mo Farah has won more global championship golds in long distance track running than anyone else and Usain Bolt is an eight tie Olympic gold medalist and holds the World Record for 100m, the 200m and the 4x100m relay!
They are also both big personalities and famous for the signs they make when they win races: Mo Farah has the Mobot, and Usain Bolt, the lightning bolt.
They are both inspirational characters. So how are they so successful? A couple of quotes might give us some clues:
Usain Bolt: “Do not think about the start of the race, think about its ending.”
Mo Farah: “Look at my success. I didn’t achieve it overnight. It has been the product of many years’ struggle…”
To be a top runner, you needed to be someone dedicated to be focussed on ending the race on winning the prize, but you also need to be prepared to face struggles. The same can be said about being a Christian.
Let us run the race…
Indeed, in our reading today, the writer to Hebrews uses the image of running and racing to make this point. He says:
“Let us run the race…”
This image shows us that to be a Christian is not a passive thing, it is active and dynamic. It’s not about buying the t-shirt and watching from the stands, but being in the race and running on the track. We’re not to be couch potatoes, but busy bees. Our faith shouldn’t just be a vague afterthought, but the driving force of every aspect of our lives.
The writer makes this point after chapter 11, where he has reminded us of some of the heroes of the Christian faith. People who has worked through great struggles in life, in order to pursue the greater prize that God had promised them. They are the kind of Christians that we are called to be.
The Christian Race:
So, how are we to run the Christian race?
Focus on the Promised Prize
Firstly, we are to focus on the prize.
The writer says,
“let us run the race set before us…“
We are not to just focus on the next step, but to consider the whole race and particularly the end of the race!
The writer began chapter 11, where he reminds us of the great heroes of faith by saying:
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (11:1)
Faith is about hope, it is about confidence that God will give us what he has promised.
When Usain Bolt or Mo Farah run a race, they hope to win. The difference for us as Christians, is that we run the race, we know we will win the prize. Unlike a sporting event, the Christian life is not a competition, where only one or two win, because as the writer has already made abundantly clear, Jesus has already won the prize for us and God has promised us that there is an amazing future waiting for us.
The examples of faith in chapter 11, includes mention of those who were heading for the Promised Land. The Israelites who had been slaves in Egypt were promised by God, their own amazing land to live in. So, they set off on a journey. It was not an aimless wandering, but one with a goal in mind, the land that God had promised. Their faith drove them on towards the prize, with amazing miracles as they crossed the Red Sea on dry land and defeated the stronghold of Jericho, with just a shout!
In the same way, as Christians we are to live our lives, with an aim to reach the promises that God has ready for us. To receive the gift of eternal life and a place in his eternal home knowing him fully and ruling with him for ever.
- Baptism is in a sense the starting line of this Christian race. In baptism we are given those amazing promises of the prize that Christ has won for us.
But we can’t just be baptised and think that is all there is to being a Christian. It needs to be accompanied by faith and faith drives us on to the prize.
Too many people are baptised as Christians, but that is as far as their Christianity goes. They are like racers who go to the starting line and sit down. There is no concern to complete the race no desire to gain the prize. If that is you, then you need to get up and run the race set before you!
Keep Going through the Pain
But we don’t just need to start the race, we need to keep going. And sometimes that can be hard and tough.
I spoke at the beginning about two runners, Mo Farah and Usain Bolt. Usain is of course a sprinter, he runs short very fast races very quickly. The 100m is all over in just 10s! Not much time to even think.
Mo Farah on the other hand is a long distance runner. That’s a very different kind of race, which needs an attitude and a mindset that will persevere and endure through the pains that come along.
The Christian life is not a sprint, it is more of a marathon, more Mo Farah than Usain Bolt.
The writer to Hebrews says,
‘let us run with endurance…’
He is writing to Christians who have started the race well, but as the race goes on the pain seems to be setting in and the temptation is to give up to stop racing and forget the prize. But he wants to encourage them to keep going, to continue the race so that they do reach the prize.
At the end of chapter 10 he says:
“You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” ( 10:36)
In his list of great heroes of faith in chapter 11, he reminds us of the kind of things that the heroes of faith had to endure. It is a reminder to the Christians he was writing to, that their pain and suffering is nothing new or unique to them:
“Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawn in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and ill-treated– the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.” (11:36-38)
Just as in long distance running, if you want to win the prize you need to go through the pain. There will be suffering on the way to the goal. We need to run with endurance, we need to keep going through the pain.
- There are sadly many who start off as Christians and run the race well, but when the going gets tough, they give up, they forget the prize and withdraw from the race.
Perhaps you know that is you. Maybe you have been a keen Christian in the past, but you gave up because it felt too much of a sacrifice or there was too much pressure or ridicule from non-Christian friends or family or perhaps you just grew weary or bored of it.
Or perhaps you are in a place where you are about to give up for one or all of those reasons.
Don’t give up. Yes, it can be painful to be a Christian at times, but this race is worth completing, the promised prize is worth more than anything else and so many others have faced the same pressures and difficulties as you – and probably far worse, but have kept going through the pain to win the prize.
Throw off Sin
So, to run the Christian faith, we need to focus on the prize and keep going through the pain, but there is one other thing that the writer tells us we need to do:
‘throwing off … the sin that so easily entangles’
When you watch Mo Farah run, he wears a t-shirt, shorts and trainers and that is it! Runners do not wear much! In ancient times, when Hebrews was written they actually ran completely naked!
And of course they do not wear much. You are not going to win or even complete a long distance race, wearing wellington boots, jeans, and a big coat! If you want to run to win the prize, you need to strip down and wear the bare minimum!
When it comes to running the Christian life, it is not too many clothes that are the problem, but sin. That is the attitude, speech and behaviours that go against God’s will for our lives, that act more out of our selfish and warped desires than out of love for others or God.
If we want to run the Christian life, so as to win the prize we need to throw off our sin or else it will trip us up and we will come crashing down.
In the list of heroes of faith, we are told about Moses. You may know the story, that although he was an Israelite in Egypt, he was brought up in Pharaoh’s palace. He could quite easily have continued with that life, ignoring God and ignoring the plight of his fellow Israelites, whilst enjoying the sinful pleasures that being a part of Pharaoh’s court would have given him.
Yet, because of his faith, his desire to grasp the prize that God had promised for him and his people, it says,
“By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be ill-treated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” (11:24-26)
He knew that to run the race of faith, he had to throw off the sin that so easily entangles. We need to do the same thing, if we are to run the Christian race.
- Many may start the Christian race, but they find themselves caught up in sin that pull them away from faith. Drink and drug addictions, sexual flings, anger issues, jealousy, laziness or just become too proud of their own achievements to humbly accept their need for God.
It may be that that has happened to you in the past. It’s not too late, Jesus’s death on the cross, means that those past sins can be forgiven. You may have been tripped up by them in the past, but seek his forgiveness, throw them off, pick yourself up and start running again that you might gain the promised prize!
Our Greatest Example:
So, to be a Christian, to live by faith, means to look to the prize, endure the pain and throw off our sin. There are many examples in the Bible to show us how to do this, but there is of course one great example: Jesus.
The writer says, if you want to run the race, to gain the promised prize, fix your eyes on him!
Not only was he completely sinless, but in throwing off sin, he scorned the shame of the cross. The cross was designed to be the most humiliating form of punishment, an attempt to ridicule, belittle and humiliate the enemies of Rome. Yet Jesus scorned its shame, so that he could be obedient to the Father and so not sin. Jesus was the greatest saint.
Throwing off sin may seem like a sacrifice, but it is nothing compared to the sacrifice Jesus was prepared to make to deal with your sin.
Yet, in dying on the cross to bear our sins, he also endured the greatest pain.
You may struggle to run the Christian life and face great pains, but they will be nothing compared to the suffering and pain, Jesus endured for you on the cross.
Yet, Jesus endured the greatest pain to win the greatest prize. He did it all for the ‘joy set before him.’ He did it to win our salvation and to welcome us into his home as his brothers and sisters.
Are you up for the race?
Jesus is indeed, the author and perfector of our faith! Will you fix your eyes on him, get up and run the Christian race that God has set before you?