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.
Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)
Hebrews 12:1 reveals so much about the character of God. This short, pivotal verse tells us about the heavenly realm; the ability of those in that realm to ‘see’ what we are doing; that God has a plan for our lives; that he knows it is not easy; and that he values our striving. The race we are directed to run gives us a purpose and a mission. In context it’s about keeping the faith. Hebrews Chapter 11, often called the Great Faith Chapter, precedes the ‘therefore’. If you pay attention to the ending of Hebrews Chapter 11, you’ll notice that all the saints mentioned “were commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”
God works by processes. He wants us to run a race that he knows will be difficult. Some believe this to be unfair—why doesn’t God just poof everything to be easy for everybody? But God plays by his own rules. That’s what the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is all about. And we have a role in that sacrifice—we’re supposed to keep the faith.
Have you ever thought about the process of keeping the faith? What does that look like? According to the author of Hebrews and the apostle Paul it looks like a race that requires perseverance. Paul used a lot of athletic metaphors in his writing, but this is the one he came back to at the end of his life. And this is where it gets interesting—there’s a strong theological thread that runs through Hebrews and 1 Corinthians, ending with a strong knot in 2 Timothy.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.
1 Corinthians 9:24-25 (NIV)
Striving is very important to God. “Run in such a way as to get the prize.” Paul’s instruction is not to give false hope—as he clearly states, only one will get the prize. So the winning is not what’s important, it’s the striving. We are to run for a different reason than those who run for the victor’s crown—focusing on the worthy goal and going through the worthy process of running (striving). In the end it’s about crossing the finish line and keeping the faith.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
2 Timothy 4:7 (NIV)
And so it is with personal discipleship.
Personal Discipleship: Bill Brendley
I just returned from a memorial service for my Sunday school teacher, Bill Brendley, who died unexpectedly on February 20th. At the service friends and family honored Bill’s race by telling many stories about what a passionate man he was, and how hard he worked at discipleship. Bill had a strong love of our Lord, and it showed in his teaching. I always came away from his class with several light-bulb realizations. Those are the teaching chops of someone who values his studies and runs hard. As his long-time pastor and friend Kerry R. Ritts said, “Bill couldn’t get enough when it came to Bible study—he worked so hard at it.” I only knew Bill for a short time, but connected on so many levels with his teaching.
During our last conversation—after class three weeks ago, about Calvinism then wandering into creationsism—Bill asked me if I had ever heard of Hugh Ross. I started grinning and we had a great discussion. Bill told me he used to be in the young-earth camp until he studied the material at Reasons To Believe, then started teaching old-earth creationism. He said he had to go with the truth, because that’s where his studies led him. He said it upset some people that he changed his position. That’s about as good an example as I can give of someone who really got personal discipleship. With perseverance. Man, I’m gonna miss him.