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Weekly Word

Entries in Endurance (1)

Monday
Aug072017

Faith is an Endurance Race

Hebrews 12:1-2.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty on August 06, 2017.

There have been many great runners throughout the history of the world.  In fact, many great runners may never have run in sporting events, or at the Olympics.  Today, through science and technology, we are able to squeeze out ever faster times.  And, yes, sometimes even through the use of drugs.  The latest line of technology is that of gene therapies.  Instead of trying to correct DNA errors to fight disease, they seek to enhance the performance of athletes.  There is no end to what people will be willing to do in order to win a race.  However, the question should never be, “Did you win?”  Rather, it should always be, “When the truth is known will you be disqualified?”  This brings to mind the American cycling legend Lance Armstrong.  He had amassed an amazing 7 Tour de France titles.  However, claims of doping dogged him throughout his career, all of which he emphatically denied.  Eventually enough evidence came forward to have the Cycling World strip Lance of his titles.  He had been doping and even using blood transfusions of highly oxygenated blood.  To the world looking on, it seemed like Lance Armstrong had won those events fair and square, but when the truth was known he had cheated and was disqualified. 

Life is an endurance race and all of us are going to live it one way or another.  No matter how well it looks like you did to others around you, the real question will be this, “Did you live it with faith in God as your foundation?”  Will we live our lives in such a way as to have the commendation of God, who alone knows the truth?  We want to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” from Him.

I want to encourage you today that regardless of the questions and fears that you have today, you can trust God and take your place among the vast number of saints who have finished their race with commendation.  How?  By the help of God Himself, no less!

We are surrounded by witnesses

In Hebrews 12 verse 1, the writer points to a surrounding cloud of witnesses as a reason why Christians should lay aside the things that keep them from living by faith, in God and for God.  But before we break that down, let’s look at the context that has led to this statement.

Throughout the previous chapter we are reminded of the faithful saints who have gone before us and their stories of faith.  Of course this list is of the many people recorded in Scripture.  None of them were perfect and without sin.  However, they believed God in the face of trials, persecutions, personal failures, and questions.  Chapter 11 opens with the statement that each of these saints obtained a good testimony (vs. 2), and then closes the chapter by restating the same in verses 39-40.  “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.”  Now the phrase is literally, “they were witnessed.”  It begs the question, “By whom?”  We see in 11:4 that it is God Himself who testified that Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable and Cain’s was not.  The point is that each of these people were received by God as commendable because they lived by trusting God rather than themselves or the world around them.  This is in contrast to individuals like Cain, Lamech, Nimrod, Esau, Saul, etc.

So this great cloud of witnesses that we are surrounded by is now 2,000 years of saints larger.  But what exactly is the writer trying to tell us?  Some see them as witnesses of us.  The picture would be that of a stadium in which all the saints, who are no longer running, are cheering us on from the stands.  Although this would fit the analogy and it would be an encouragement to know that our loved ones are cheering us on in heaven, it has been suggested that we should not see them as witnesses of our lives, but rather as witnesses to us.  Their lives are testimonies that God has testified are holy and acceptable.  We are surrounded by the millions of past and present stories of those who have lived out faith in commendable fashion.    I am sure that the saints in heaven are rooting for us, whether they can see us or not.  However, more than this, we can read their lives and draw encouragement from what they had to endure.  In some ways our stories are no different from theirs.  No, they are not exactly the same.  But, like them we have to overcome the trials, pitfalls, temptations, and fears that they did in order to have faith in God.  We have all lived in a world that is adverse to our faith, and in the midst of a spiritual enemy that seeks to work us woe.  So take time to glean the difficulties and trials of the faithful throughout the Bible.  Take time to read the biographies of modern believers who have had to overcome great difficulties in order to trust God.  And, don’t say, “I can’t do that,” or, “But, I’m not a Moses/David/Elijah.”  You have not been called to live their lives.  You have been called to live yours, by faith in Jesus.  You can do it because the same Spirit of God that enabled them is going to help and enable you as well.  Jesus said to his disciples, “I will never leave you nor forsake you even to the end of the age.”  This is your promise too, as one of his disciples.

Lay aside the things that slow you down

Like any race, you only wear what is necessary to run.  I have seen people jogging on the side of the road and they may be carrying 5 pound barbells in their hands, and 10 to 20 pound weights on their ankles.  They do that in order to get into shape quicker.  That is fine for training, but when it comes to race day, no runner in their right mind would try to run with those things.  So Paul reminds us of all those who have gone on before us and tells us to remember them so that we will then turn and jettison anything that might slow us down in this race of faith.  Are there things that are spiritually slowing you down, tiring you out, and making you want to quit?  We have to learn to hear the Holy Spirit pointing out those things that are hurting our faith and boldly toss them aside. 

You will notice that though the writer mentions sin next, this first phrase is not necessarily about sinful things.  Can things that are not sinful be detrimental to our faith?  There may not be anything inherently wrong about it, but it gets in the way between Jesus and me.  It side tracks me away from Christ and stirs up my flesh towards selfishness.  Just like there is nothing illegal about running with weights, so there is nothing sinful about these things.  However, they slow us down and lead us away from faith in God.  Too many Christians are concerned about what they are permitted to do.  They state phrases like, “The Bible doesn’t say I can’t do such and such.”  The problem with this mentality is that we are always trying to justify ourselves instead of trying to win the race of faith.  The rules don’t say you can’t run with a 50 pound backpack on.  But, you would be stupid to try and run a long distance race wearing it.  Thus wisdom is more important than permission.  In fact if we honestly and openly prayed about some of these things, we might hear the Holy Spirit say, “It isn’t sinful, but it is holding you back.  Let it go.”  Paul dealt with this in 1 Corinthians 10:23.  Some of the Corinthians kept stating the mantra, “All things are lawful for me.”  They took the grace of God and their release from the Law of Moses to mean that nothing was unlawful for them anymore.  Paul retorts, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.  Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.”  When we live this life trying to maximize our own pleasure, we quit running the race of faith. We quit being helpful and edifying to ourselves and to those around us. But when we watch out for one another and live to please God, then we are running the race that God has for us.

However, the writer does mention that we need to also jettison the sin that so easily entangles us.  Now, there are many things listed in the Bible that we are told are wrong.  To do them would be sin.  Sin is not an act of faith but of rebellion against God’s judgment.  Every runner has an inner dialogue from their body that is constantly badgering them.  “O, not this race again.  I hope I finish and don’t die.  This is too hard.  Slow down.  You’ll never make it.  You better just drop out or at least walk.  If you quit now you can go get a Krispy Kreme donut.  Running is for losers!”  Okay, so maybe not everyone has the exact same dialogue, but you catch my drift.  Our flesh constantly fights us in the natural against goals that our minds and hearts have set.  So it is in the spiritual.  Our flesh doesn’t want to trust God, it wants to please itself.  We all have our own personal panoply of sins that we are drawn towards and must resist in order to follow Christ.  In Christ, we do not lose our salvation every time we sin.  But, we can be slowed down, and we can be tripped up.  In fact, we can even have our faith “ensnared,” as verse 1 states.  Don’t get stuck on the course like some large mouse trap.  Though sin can ensnare us, we can also be set free from it through repentance and faith.  If you know someone who has had their faith ensnared by sin, then pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit to help set them free from the sin and get them back on the path of faith in Jesus.

Whenever we talk about laying aside those things that side track us, sinful or not, we have to ask ourselves, “What am I pursuing and for what prize am I running?  If I am all about pursuing the pleasures of this life rather than pursuing God and His promises then I am not running the race of faith.  I have been trapped in sin.  If I am all about an inheritance in this life rather than the inheritance that God has reserved for me in Heaven, then I am not running the race of faith.  This is what we should get rid of, so that we can obtain the prize that God has for us.  Next the writer speaks of the positive thing that we should focus on.

Keep your eyes on Jesus

Of course we want to run the race of faith, but we successfully do so by keeping our eyes on Jesus.  In this sense He is our goal.  He is the one that the Spirit is working in our life to make us like.  Also, he is waiting in heaven and when we finish this life, we will go to Him.  He is the one we want to see.  Imagine stepping to the other side and being greeted by Jesus and the cloud of witnesses who have gone on before us.  Keeping your eye on the goal is the only way to avoid the temptations of this life to give up our faith in Him.  We want to be like Him and also be with Him.

Verse 2 says that Jesus is the author and the finisher of our faith.  The word “author” has the sense of a chief or leader.  He is the one who has blazed the trail ahead of us and made it possible for us to follow.  His work makes it possible for us to have faith and live by faith.  Without Him our faith, if we had any, would fail.  The word “finisher” is the sense of completing it.  When a house is being framed you don’t worry about how pretty the boards are.  But when you finish out the house, you are making sure the trim boards and everything are just as you want them.  Here we see that God is helping us all along the way.  When you feel like you are losing your faith, and you wonder where God is?  Remember that He is all around you.  He is in the person who led you to Christ in the first place.  He is in the Bible that you can pick up and read at any moment.  He is in the silence as you pray and aren’t sure what to do.  He is in the brothers and sisters at Church who have as much trouble as you.  Don’t let the enemy rob you of your prize.  Keep your eyes on Jesus and He will bring you through.  Have faith!  He will never leave you nor forsake you.

Next we are told that Jesus endured the shame of the cross for the joy that was on the other side.  Jesus also had trials, persecutions, and temptations that he had to face in order to live out His faith in the Father.  He didn’t love the cross.  Rather he despised its shame, and yet saw something good on the other side- like a runner who doesn’t like side aches and lack of oxygen, but they want the joy on the other side of the race.  Thus this example that Jesus sets for us is to be our torch in the dark times.  It reminds us that there is a day of joy ahead.  God gives us times of joy in this life, but our ultimate joy is the day of the Restoration of All things.  Then we will stand with Jesus and all the saints upon a new heaven and a new earth and there will be no more evil.  What a day that will be!  So keep the faith, brother, and don’t give up, sister.  God is on your side and no one can stand against Him!

Lastly it says that he has received a place at the Father's right hand.  Our place is secure because Jesus is holdin our place in reserve for us.  We belong to Him and He is already seated in the highest place in the universe.  My, how our faith should soar at the thought of such a thing.  All who belong to Jesus will be accepted by the Father.  Don't listen to the world as it tries to discourage your faith.  They will be found out in the end.  The truth will set you free, but it will disqualify them.  So don't let the enemy plunder you of all that God has for you in this life and especially the next.

Faith is an endurance race audio