Run To Win

11th June 1932:  Cleveland high school student and future Olympic champion Jesse Owens (1913 - 1980) holds his hands in the air while crossing a finish line to break the world 100-meter record.  (Photo by New York Times Co./Getty Images)

11th June 1932: Cleveland high school student and future Olympic champion Jesse Owens (1913 – 1980) holds his hands in the air while crossing a finish line to break the world 100-meter record. (Photo by New York Times Co./Getty Images)

The most alive people on the face of the earth are Christians, according to something Jesus said:

My purpose is to give life in all its fullness. (John 10:10 TLB)

The world thinks the exact opposite; they think the Christian is a bore. They believe that the Christian is held captive to his beliefs; they think we don’t think for ourselves; that we are incapable of experiencing joy and happiness. How sad for them that are so wrong.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. (Galatians 5:1 NIV)

The very best life on earth is the Christian life. Nobody else has the potential to live as full a life as the Christian. Nobody else may experience the fullness of joy and happiness as that of a Christian. Nobody.

The outstanding feature of the Christian life is that it is life. But it’s not the common life lived by the common man, it’s a Spirit-birthed life of God, which makes the Christian a new creation.

No wonder, then, the Christian life is so often compared to a race in the New Testament. It is a race; an energetic competition in which the Christian is competing against his sinful nature; always keeping at least one step ahead in the race for eternal life. It’s a fight that never ends because sin never rests. It’s always trying to overtake you, and if you’re not careful – if you are not running like your life depends on it – it will.

Hebrews 12:1, 2 gives us some characteristics of the Christian race. Let’s take a closer look.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (NIV)

The key to understanding what the author of Hebrews is getting at here is remembering a verse back in chapter 10:

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Hebrews 10:36 NIV)

Running the race is persevering; it’s a determination to do the will of God in your life. And that’s not an easy thing to do, which is why you are have to persevere. As we determine to live our life according to God’s will, it will take everything in us to be successful. It will take, as our writer noted, focusing on Jesus. As we live like that, we’ll notice these features:

The Christian life is an energetic life.

...let us run with perseverance the race

When you’re in a race, you’re wide awake. You don’t nap along the way. You pay attention, you watch, you move in determination. What the writer says here echoes what Paul wrote to young Timothy:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7 NIV)

We should run the race, and we should also make note of the Greek wording in Hebrews. The phrase, “let us,” is given twice in the NIV but in the Greek it is given only once, “”let us run.” The first instance, “let us throw off…” might be better rendered, “having thrown of…” The assumption is that the Christian has definitely taken steps to overtake the sin in his life as he runs the race. The second instance, “let us run…” is better understood as,”let us keep on running…” It’s written in the present tense and means to be constant and unceasing. Dealing with the sin that may slow us down must be definite and final and the running must be constant and ceaseless.

That takes energy! The Christian life is not for lazy slackers. We are the contestants and we must run to win, our objective is to cross the finish line, as Paul understood:

Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8 NIV)

The Christian life is an ordered life.

...the race marked out for us

It is not a race where we run all over the track, with no sense of direction, in all directions. Our direction is not haphazard or random. The direction of the Christian life is definite and well-defined. The notion that God’s will is indiscernible is a myth. It’s ridiculous to think the God would hide His will from the Christian when He admonished the Christian to follow it! The Word of God and the example of Jesus should be more than enough for us. Add the Holy Spirit into the mix and there is no way the Christian should not win his race!

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21 NIV)

The Christian life is a persevering life.

...run with perseverance...

Some versions say, “patience,” but the idea is not dissimilar. Christians are in the long race. We are not sprinters. This letter was written to some Hebrew believers who had suffered long and hard and were growing impatient. The question they all asked is a question to which there may be no answer in this life: “Why doesn’t God do something?” For them, and for all Christians everywhere, it must be enough to know that God and God alone knows the beginning from the end and that He supplies all the grace we all need.

It’s going to take a while to win this race, but we win it we will if we persevere; if we keep at it and don’t give up.

To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. (Romans 12:7 NIV)

Indeed. We’re not running the race to win just for the sake of winning! Eternal life is the reward!

The Christian life is a focused life.

...fixing our eyes on Jesus

Distractions will cause a runner to slow down. The Christian must live his life – run his race – focused on the goal: Jesus Christ. If we’re busy looking around at all the other runners in the race, we’ve already lost. How they’re running their race should be of no concern to us, unless we’re encouraging them along the way. They are not our guide or our standard. Jesus is. He is the reason for our faith; the reason we are running in this race in the first place! He’s already run it and won. He has shown us how to run to win. Why waste precious moments and energy looking to others when the winner is right in front of us?

The Christian life is a self-denying life.

let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.

When a runner runs a race, he doesn’t wear a business suit! He wears the right kind of clothing to compete. In fact, in ancient times it wasn’t unusual for a runner to compete completely naked. Anything bulky that might slow him down would be dispensed with, including body fat and hair. A serious competitor will do almost anything and get rid of almost anything in order to gain the advantage.

So it must be for us as we Christians run our race. Jesus said,

Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. (Luke 21:34 NIV)

Anything, even seemingly good things, can slow you down if you aren’t careful. Sin, especially. Sin will distract you and trip you up.

The Christian life is a hopeful life.

For the joy set before him

The NIV looks like this:

For the joy set before him he endured the cross

The actual Greek may mean something else: “Instead of the joy set before him he endured the cross…” What was the author to the Hebrews trying to convey to his readers? That there was joy in the Cross? Or that the Cross itself wasn’t joyful, Jesus simply endured it. The joy for Christ in that case was His pre-incarnate state in Heaven. Instead of holding onto that joy, He gave it up for the Cross. He replaced joy with the Cross. But maybe the author meant something else: Jesus endured the suffering and the shame of the Cross because of the joy that it would eventually bring. He looked past the Cross to the coming joy – the joy He would bring to the lost soul in the form of salvation. For this – for our joy – He gave His all.

We may never know the exact meaning the Hebrews letter-writer wished impart to his readers. Greek is such a nuanced language. But we may be sure of this: Jesus wasn’t afraid to run His race – a race that took Him to the Cross and beyond. Jesus did what He had to do to be completely obedient to His Father.

The Christian life is a life of hope. It has to be! We live in a hopeful expectation of blessings to come. Salvation is a complete work of grace. But our works will be rewarded. That’s a very real promise we cling to.

The Christian life is a public life.

We are living in weird times when the secularists around us are trying to force us to keep our faith out of view – out of the public square. They seek to keep Jesus and our beliefs a Sunday-only proposition. Faith, they say, is a private thing. Except that it isn’t. Jesus commands us to make our faith a very public thing.

...we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses

Those “witnesses” may have a reference back to the saints mentioned in chapter 11, but Christians are also surrounded by a great cloud of witness: Eye witnesses! Every individual believer has got his spectators; people watching how he runs his race. Sometimes these spectators are just interested in seeing how we act, react, and interact with the world around us. Our faith is examined by people like that. They want to know what a “Christian” looks like. Other spectators just want to mock us or cause us trouble as we run our race. For whatever reason, we are surrounded by people watching us. Are you running to win? Are you glorifying the Lord in your speech, your deeds, and your actions?

The Christian life is a full life and an empowered life. There is no doubt you are able to run the race to win. But it’s not a certainty. It’s up to you how you run your race. We’ll help you all we can and give you all the encouragement we can muster. But in the end, every runner is responsible for his own race. Run to win!

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