Nothing more effectively protects us from sin or compels us to greater service than remembering the sufferings our Savior endured because He loves us.
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 God.
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 alternative options.
**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 vitality.
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 justification.
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).
Sinful asceticism is described in Colossians 2:20-23. Here Paul has in mind those who impose man-made rules concerning the body and one’s behavior as a means for enhancing one’s relationship with God.
Paul finds fault with this approach to the Christian life on several grounds, including the fact that such rules are man-made, not divinely given. These rules, prohibitions and self-denial that spring from man’s own religious creativity are utterly ineffective in curbing the desires of the flesh (see v. 23).
But Paul does have a remarkably simple remedy for fleshly indulgence. It is found in Colossians 3:1-2: “If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (NASB, emphasis added).
Holiness, in this case the ability to say no to the flesh, comes from a mind captivated and controlled by the beauty and majesty of the risen Christ and all that we are in Him in the heavenlies!