In the spring of 1958 I was 7 years old and the fastest
runner in my first-grade class. I did have a problem, however. I tended
to veer off course when I ran.
My father worked with me every day. Speed wasn’t the
problem. Direction was.
On the day before a big race, my dad asked the officials
to let him stand in my lane just beyond the finish line. He was
convinced that if only I kept my eyes on him, my tendency to veer off
course would be remedied.
It’s been more than 40 years since that day, but I can
still remember everything that happened. When the gun sounded, I burst
out of the starting blocks. There was Dad shouting, clapping his hands
and no doubt praying that I would not take my eyes off him as I ran.
As he later told the story, I supposedly took my eyes off
him and began to veer into the lane next to me. Hearing his voice, I
fixed my gaze back on him just in time, regained my sense of direction
and raced toward the finish line. Thanks to Dad, I have a first-place
ribbon in my scrapbook.
The point is simply this: Holiness, like winning the race,
will come only to the degree that we keep our eyes fixed on the Son of
To our left and to our right the world clamors for our
attention. It shouts at us with lavish claims of something better,
hoping to distract us from our focus and lead us into another lane. In
the world of track, that’s grounds for immediate disqualification.
But warnings about disqualification are soon forgotten
once the gun sounds. The only thing that will keep us running in the
right direction is having our hearts fixed on Jesus.
Fixed on Him
Christians everywhere, if they complain, complain of two
things: their inability to break free of the entangling web of sin and
their strong desire to give up. Here are four things Hebrews 12:1-3 has
to say about running the Christian race that might be helpful:
• Victory over sin is achieved by having our souls
captivated by the Son of God. Sin turns ugly and is subject to defeat
only when seen in the light of Christ’s beauty.
The author of Hebrews is not opposed to mentioning the
inevitable consequences of sin. There are severe warnings in this book
that are designed to deter disobedience.
But the author is no less pointed about how one should
exercise restraint and abstinence. Looking unto Jesus and pursuing His
blessings are portrayed throughout this epistle as “better” than any
• Encouragement to persevere and strength to endure also
come from having our souls entranced by the Son of God. Look to Jesus.
Drink from the One who gives water that truly quenches spiritual thirst.
• But what in particular about Jesus are we to look at
that is supposed to help us in the fight against sin and despondency? It
isn’t Jesus on His throne or performing miracles. It is His willingness
to embrace suffering and shame heaped on Him by sinners (see vv. 2-3).
There is something powerfully transforming to the spirit
that comes from meditating on the sufferings of Jesus. We find strength
and encouragement in His sufferings because they are precisely what
secured for us the “fullness of joy” and “pleasures forevermore” that
keep our hearts from wandering from His presence (Ps. 16:11, NKJV).
Knowing that Jesus suffered as we do, yet without sin, is a
constant reminder that there is not struggle or pain in our lives with
which He can’t identify (see Heb. 2:16-18). In His sufferings we see and
feel the depths of His affection for us.
• Lastly, what motivated Jesus to willingly endure
suffering and shame? Joy!
What energized His soul not to give up was the prospect of
the joy that awaited Him on the other side of Calvary. When Jesus
thought about spending eternity with you, He said: “Yes! I can and will
embrace shame and suffering because it means I will receive a bride with
whom I can spend an eternity in glad fellowship and indescribable
intimacy, all to the glory of My Father.”
Here, then, is how we can run to win: Look unto Jesus.
Seeking Things Above
There are two enemies that stand staunchly opposed to what
I’ve been saying: legalism and asceticism. Like a life-threatening
virus, they repeatedly infect the body of Christ and drain it of
Legalism comes in two forms. On the one hand are
those legalists who insist on obedience to the law, especially their
law, as a condition for acceptance with God. At the heart of this
variety of legalism is the idea that works are a condition for
The other kind of legalist may affirm salvation by grace
through faith, but demands that others submit to his image of what
constitutes true spirituality. Invariably he or she sets extra-biblical
guidelines, identifies morally proscribed activities and then severely
judges those who fail to measure up.
Asceticism is the twin brother to legalism. Not all
asceticism is bad. Paul referred to godly asceticism when he spoke of
buffeting his body and making it his slave, preparatory to running a
race so that he might win (see 1 Cor. 9:24-27).