This is the second blog in a 3–part series on the subject of perseverance.
So how do we move forward? What do we need to be doing to make sure we are progressing in our run? The answer is right there in Hebrews 12:1, “Lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely.” The key to continued forward progression is the casting off of everything that trips us up, entangles us, and gets in the way. This command doesn’t come out of the blue. As I said earlier, this is the point of the whole book of Hebrews. Run, fight, be alert, be strengthened, don’t drift, don’t neglect, don’t mess about, don’t take your eternal security for granted.
A few months back I began the process of losing weight, and one of the things I’ve done to accomplish this is go running. It’s a really funny fact: the smaller I’ve got, the easier it is to run. At the Olympics, you can bet that none of the runners will be chunky—this is part of the reason they run so well.
Run, Fight, Be Alert
As Christians, sin makes us spiritually heavy, so we have to be on guard against it, quick to identify it and quick to repent of it. Sin weighs us down, ties us up and stops us from running. It causes us to get caught in the flow of the world and to drift backwards away from Jesus.
But it’s not just the obvious sins like getting smashed or getting high that we have to be wary of. Many of the things that get in our way, slow us down, and trip us up aren’t actually sinful in and of themselves. Quite often they are good things, even gifts from God, that we make into an issue. It can be food and drink; our friends; we can make our kids the most important thing in the world; relationships with the opposite sex. Any time we take a good thing and put it before God, we make an idol that then weighs us down, slows us down, and stops us running.
Another smart dead guy said this, “Man’s heart is a perpetual factory of idols.” We make idols naturally, because we find it easy to put things before Jesus. So if we are going to cast off sin we have to be wise and careful in our race. We can’t just approach things asking, Is this sinful or not? Instead we have to ask a bigger question: Is this helpful? Will it cause me to run better? Am I mature enough and wise enough not to make an idol out of this gift?
There is a reason that Mez lays out the rules every induction week, starting with a plea for singles to keep their hands and other bits to themselves.
Here’s a scenario for you. I’m going to pick on the guys, but it applies to the ladies too. Let’s say you’re a new Christian, and you’ve just become a 20schemes intern. You are all fired up for Jesus and excited for the future—then boom, in she walks, and she is a hottie. Even better than that, she knows you exist; in fact, her mate told your mate that she doesn’t think you are a total idiot. Result! Best of all, she loves Jesus and she goes to church, which means it’s not sinful for you to pursue this girl. Happy days are here to stay.
Two points here, guys: there is a long way between ‘doesn’t think you are a total idiot’ and a wedding ceremony. Work hard to disguise your stupidity during this period. Once you’re married, there is nothing you can do to disguise it; she is doing to find out. More importantly, before you make the decision, ask the right question. Ask the real question—not, is this thing sinful? But, is it helpful? Will this thing help me to run the race better? Will this thing make me better at chasing after Jesus?’
John Piper says this: “The race of the Christian life is not run well by asking, ‘what’s wrong with this or that?’ but by asking, ‘is it in the way of greater faith and greater love and greater purity and greater courage and greater humility and greater patience and greater self-control?’ Not: ‘Is it a sin?’ But: ‘Does it help me run?’ If the answer to that question is ‘no, it doesn’t help me run,’ then it’s a distraction, it draws my eyes and my heart away from Jesus” – then lay it aside, cast it off, don’t let it get in the way. Head up, eyes ahead, run the race.
Don’t Give Up
So don’t let anything get in the way, and the final point of this first section, don’t give up. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Run the race with endurance.
That word, endurance, is absolutely essential to the task of running the race. Because only those who endure to the end and finish the race will receive the prize. Endurance or perseverance is the true test of authenticity in the Christian life. I’m going to repeat the Edwards quote I began with: “Perseverance is a necessary consequence of salvation.” Remember what this means: when someone is truly saved, when someone really becomes a Christian, they will continue on through the whole of their life loving Jesus and obeying his Word.
I said earlier that the book of Hebrews is packed full of warnings to persevere because the author of this letter desperately wants us to see the danger of drifting away from Jesus and turning our back on him. He wants us to get that we have to run, and not just start running, but keep running all the way to the end. Now I know that it isn’t easy to run the Christian race; in fact, sometimes it’s going to suck. Living life as broken people in a fallen, broken world can be brutal and painful. Sometimes it takes everything we have to put one foot in front of the other and keep going. God doesn’t expect you to run like Usain Bolt. I love these words from Charles Spurgeon: “By perseverance the snail reached the ark.” Inch by inch it dragged itself forward, and we must too.