How do you live a successful Christian life? What does that even mean? One of the most common metaphors for the Christian life is running a race. This metaphor is an important reminder that true Christianity is not an easy stroll free of any difficulties; it’s a hard race filled with many obstacles. This metaphor is also a useful tool in identifying what success looks like by asking two simple questions: What hinders you in the race? And what helps you in the race?
What hinders you in the race?
Isolation — One of the things that can hinder Christians in their race of faith is to isolate themselves from the community of faith. That’s why when the writer of Hebrews seeks to encourage persecuted Christians to keep the faith, he begins with, “Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud (or multitude) of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). He reminds them that they are not alone in their struggle. But have you ever felt that way? It can be easy to think that no one understands what you’re going through, or that no one has ever been tempted like you have in this area. That’s why being disconnected from the community of faith from the past or the community of faith in the present will hinder your race. The Christian life is meant to be a race that Christians run together.
Burdens — Another thing that hinders you is unnecessary burdens. The writer goes on to say, “Let us lay aside every weight and sin that clings so closely.” If you’re running a race, you don’t suit up; you strip down. If you want to run well, you’ve got to run light. There are two types of burdens that Christians are told to lay aside: every weight and every sin. A weight is something that is not sinful in and of itself, but it’s still a hindrance. A weight can be a good thing that’s just not a helpful thing. It’s impeding your progress. A sin, either in the past or in the present, is something that’s displeasing to God and now is discouraging to you.
Comparison — Lastly, a common hindrance is constantly comparing yourself to those around you. Notice, the writer says, “Let us run the race that is set before us.” You’re not called to run anyone else’s race but your own. Abraham had a different race to run than Moses, and Enoch had a different race to run than David, but they were all called to run the race the same way — by faith. This means that the successful Christian life isn’t about being better than the next guy; it’s about daily faithfulness to God in the race that’s been marked out for you. Now, let’s turn to the positive. What are the things that are going to help you run?
What helps you in the race?
Looking away to Jesus — You may have heard that expression before, but what does that actually mean? It begins by looking to Jesus as “the author (or champion) of your faith” (Hebrews 12:2). In this race of faith, Christians must continually be looking to Jesus as their substitute and therefore the ground of their acceptance before God. As the old hymn goes, “When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within, upward I look and see him there who made an end of all my sin.” When you fall, you must look to Jesus as the one who never fell and as the one who has already run the perfect race in your place. Then you look to Jesus as “the finisher of your faith.” Jesus can help you in your race. One of the great examples of this is Peter walking on the water. How did he do it? Not by looking at himself. He kept his eyes fixed firmly on Jesus, but as soon as he looked away, he began to sink. As soon as you stop looking to Jesus for help, you start to sink emotionally and spiritually; you start to become spiritually exhausted in the race. Successful running isn’t about keeping your eyes fixed on the finish line (because you’ll never know when that will be) but fixing your eyes on “the finisher.”
Looking forward to joy — Finally, Jesus is the supreme example of faith, and how did he finish his race? “For the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross.” Future joy is a powerful motivator. For example, when people start some rigorous fitness program, whether they’ll admit or not, they’ll often put a picture up on their wall of someone they want to look like. They think, “As long as I can look like that then all the pain will be worth it.” It’s the joy set before them. Now, what was the joy set before Jesus? What didn’t he have that he needed to leave heaven and experience the pain of the cross to get? What was the picture on Jesus’ wall? It was you! It was all the people who believe in him. The same principle applies. The future joy of being like Jesus and being with Jesus must propel Christians to run the race that is set before them. The Christian life is like running a race and success is faithfulness to God by keeping the faith.
Jeremy McKeen is the lead pastor of Truth Point Church. Jeremy received his B.A. in communications and philosophy from Florida Southern College and his MDiv from Knox Theological Seminary.