In High School, I ran track. I struggled with endurance, as I was born with athletically induced asthma. There were times when the asthma seemed to go away. However, it always seemed to worsen when I competed. On one occasion, in the middle of a 5000m race, my lungs felt like they were going to collapse. I stopped, put my hands on my knees and tried to catch my breath. I waited a few seconds and tried to pull myself back into the race. I was beyond weak. I started walking off the field. I was done. My coach and my teammates encouraged me to get back on the track and finish the race. I didn’t want to finish the race. They kept encouraging me. I finally walked back on the track and slowly jogged until I crossed the finish line. There is a parable in this experience. We need endurance and encouragement to finish running the race of faith we have entered.
As a Christian man, minister, husband, father and friend, I sometimes feel like that boy striving to run the race of faith. The author of Hebrews likens the Christian life to a race, when he charges believers with the following admonition: “Lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:1-2). In no uncertain terms, the author of Hebrews explains that “you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised” (Heb. 10:36). The writer of Hebrews also captures this under the figure of a boat drifting away. He wrote, “We must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away” (Hebrews 2:1).
I have been a Christian for going on 17 years. I have seen many individuals quit the race. I have watched as ministers of the Gospel have defiantly walked off the track for any number of reasons. Many have walked away for sexual immorality, Others have walked away for money. Still others have walked away out of sheer love for the world. I have to admit, I never expected to see the high rate of apparent apostasy that I have seen in just under two decades.
The year that I was converted, I listened to a sermon by Al Martin, in which he said that over his lifetime, he had seen so many walk away from their profession of faith in Christ and still others crawl across the finish line. He said, “I prayed, ‘Lord, I don’t want to crawl across the finish line. I want to run across the finish line. Give me the grace to run to glory!” There is something so right about praying a prayer like that.
When seeking to encourage the professing believers in Corinth–who were constantly tempted to turn back to the world in a thousand different ways–to press on, the Apostle Paul utilized the race analogy. He explained, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it” (1 Cor. 9:24). Paul was highlighting the responsibility each one of us has to run in order to cross the finished line and enter glory. The Apostolic call to run in such a way as to obtain the prize, is the call to persevere in the faith. This in no way whatsoever undercuts the finished work of Christ, or the assurance that Christ will never let any whom the Father has given Him perish (John 10:28). The same Apostles who tell us that all for whom Christ has died are the same Apostles who tell us that we need to “hold fast” our hope and confidence to the end (Heb. 3:6; 4:14; 6:18; 10:23).
Jesus himself explained how many would “believe for a time” but, when “tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word” they “fall away” (Matt. 13:21). Still others believe for a time, Christ says, but they then allow “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word” so that they bear no fruit unto eternal life (Matt. 13:22). These are descriptions of those who seem to believe for a time but who walk off of the track and never finish the race because they “shrink back” (Heb. 10:38).
All of this is not to turn us inward in some sort of legal attempt to gain eternal life. The Scriptures are clear that Christ has already made those for whom he died “his own” (Phil. 3:12). Jesus gives the foundational promise, “I lay down my life for the sheep… I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:15, 28). Again, Jesus encourages us with the following truths:
“This is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40).
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44).