How To Reach the Winner's Circle
They use to advertise Wheaties as the breakfast of champions. Well, maybe it is for some champions. I wonder how many kids started having Wheaties every morning thinking it some sort of magical athletic potion almost guaranteed to assure them their favorite position on the team.
The Bible often employs figures and symbols from athletics to describe the life of faith, and with good reason. There are many parallels to be found between the two. A foot race is probably the most often used figure from the not-so-wide world of sports in the first century, but boxing and wrestling are also used.
The most important race of all is the race of life. All the ingredients to a race are there; there is the starting line, practice, rules, obstacles, competition, drop-outs, winners, losers, finish line, victory celebrations and the agony of defeat.
I want you to think about something here. Who are the real winners in life? What constitutes a victory? Some people go to the Olympics knowing they will not win. They rightly consider it an honor just to compete there. They do not feel too bad when they do not win a medal because they never really expected to. That may be fine for the Olympics, but not for life! It is not enough just to compete! If we lower the standards of what we consider a victory (say, I'll be satisfied if I make a million dollars or get all my kids through school or retire at 55) and achieve that goal we still have not won. We have lost everything if we fall short of heaven. "For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" (MATTHEW 16:26).
LOOK AT THE WINNERS
"Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (HEBREWS 12:1,2). This passage tells us several important things about the race of life (by the way, you have already entered this race; no backing out now; it's either win or lose).
First, it tells us that there are already a lot of winners. You can win this race! This great cloud of witnesses all affirm that the race is winnable and the victory is worth it.
Second, it tells us that to win, we must follow certain basic procedures. We need to put off encumbrances which would weigh us down (this is why you do not see marathon runners wearing combat boots) and the sin which entangles us (tie your shoelaces tight so you do not trip) and look toward the joy of victory at the end of the race.
Third, it tells us that our best example to follow is Jesus as He lived His life, overcoming obstacles such as the shame of the cross, and reached the throne of God.
A GREAT CLOUD OF WITNESSES
"All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own." (HEBREWS 11:13,14). The great cloud of witnesses refers to those who had lived faithful lives in the past. Hebrews chapter eleven lists quite a few who made it into God's "Hall
Notice what it takes to win the everlasting prize. It takes faith. We must have faith to please God. Without faith, it is impossible to please Him (HEBREWS 11:6). Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not
seen." (HEBREWS 11:1). This assurance and conviction is active confidence placed in the promises of God.
It should be unnecessary to have to say active confidence in the promises of God. What other kind of confidence is there? If I am afraid to act upon what I claim to be confident of, then I am not really confident, am I? If I am hanging out the window of a burning building, and the firefighters are urging me to jump into the net, I might loudly insist that I am confident that they will catch me. But if I cannot bring myself to follow through and jump, then I really lack confidence.
Likewise, if my faith in God is limited by the same kind of doubts which cause me to disobey His word, then I really do not have saving faith at all, despite my claims to the contrary. Saving faith runs life's race in obedience of God's will because it firmly believes in the victory which God promises to the winners. Speaking of winners, consider some of the witnesses who have already run their race with endurance.
"By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks." (HEBREWS 11:4). God had revealed to Adam and his descendants the way of true worship of the true and living God. Abel obeyed God's instructions offering acceptable sacrifices. Saving faith worships God according to His word. Though Cain was religious and worshiped God as well, his worship was rejected because it was not of faith. True faith obeys God.
ENOCH PLEASED GOD
"By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death...he obtained the witness before his being taken up he was pleasing to God." (HEBREWS 11:5). Another necessary part of running life's race successfully is seeking to please God. This is why humility is necessary; a willingness to say, not my will, but Thy will be done. Until the desire to please God becomes stronger than the desire to please self, we shall be running our race taking one step forward and two steps back. It doesn't count if you cross the finish line going the wrong way!
By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household..." (HEBREWS 11:7). The Old Testament (GENESIS 6-9) records how Noah carefully obeyed every direction God gave him. This verse says he reverently prepared an ark. Future events proved Noah had been right, despite what probably involved facing years of scorn and ridicule by thoughtless and faithless neighbors. When Jesus comes again, will the events of that day also prove you right? Obey God reverently, and you know the answer!
"By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance, and he went out, not knowing where he was going." (HEBREWS 11:8). Abraham obeyed God even when his immediate future was unsure, as far as he was concerned. God had promised good to Abraham, and Abraham believed God. He certainly did not know where all God would lead him, but he trusted God and so obeyed Him. Abraham is most certainly not an example of faith alone! He is an example of obedient faith.
WRAP-UP OF THE GAME
"But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for he has prepared a city for them." (HEBREWS 11:16). There are many other witnesses who have run the race who are referred to in Hebrews chapter eleven by name. We've only noticed four of them. We are now engaged in the race they have already finished. We are in their shoes. We have yet to cross the finish line. Our victor's crown (the first century equivalent to our gold medal) has not yet been awarded. But remember this: the end of your race, win or lose, is closer today than it was yesterday. Angels are cheering. Eternity draws ever nearer.
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 5.7; July 1998