Running Our Christian Race in the New Year
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.”
“For we are strangers before Thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers; our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding” (I Chronicles 29:15). Thus spoke David shortly before his death. And the writer to the Hebrews declares: “For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come” (Hebrews 13:14). Paul Gerhardt, the songbird of the Reformation, describes the experiences of us Christians so aptly:
A pilgrim and a stranger,
I journey here below;
Far distant is my country,
the home to which I go.
Here I must toil and travail,
oft weary and opprest;
But there my God shall lead me
to everlasting rest.
(TLH 586, 1)
Once again, we have arrived at another year of grace – 2010. As we look back over the past year which we have traveled, we are constrained to lift up our voices in hymns of praise and thanksgiving for the countless and undeserved blessings God has so richly bestowed upon us. But we have not reached the final goal. The path still lies before us with the enemies of our soul “all eager to devour us” (TLH 262, 3). Although beset by so many foes, we ought not yield to despair because that precious Word of our dear Lord tells us that His Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path (Psalm 119:105). So we Christians endeavor to continue throughout another year of grace to run the race that is set before us.
Note that the writer of these God-given words in our title-text connects his admonition with the glorious examples of faith which have just been enumerated and pictured in the preceding chapter. There the writer mentions Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses (Hebrews 11:4-29). And then, referring to the time of Joshua and later, he writes, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days. By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace. And what shall I more say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets, who through faith subdued kingdoms…. Women received their dead raised to life again; and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment; they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented, (of whom the world was not worthy); they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:30-38). Carefully considering the examples of such faithful witnesses should certainly encourage and incite us to run the race and not to grow weary.
Obviously an athlete cannot win a race if he is burdened with cumbersome clothing which keeps getting in his way. The greatest hindrance in the race for the crown of life is sin. It seeks to distract our attention from the goal; it loads us down with a heavy weight which becomes heavier and will finally crush us unless we are enabled to lay it aside. Just think of the example of David, who exclaimed: “For mine iniquities are gone over mine head; as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me” (Psalm 38:4). But how can we lay it aside? We cannot do it by ourselves. When we examine ourselves, we must exclaim with the Apostle Paul: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing…” (Romans 7:18). While in the New Man of faith the intention is always there to do good, nevertheless Paul says: “The good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Romans 7:19). The accusing finger of the Law points at us and declares: “You are a sinner!” “For by the Law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). Ah, but are we not Christians? Indeed! But because of our sinful flesh, the temptations of the devil, and the allurements of the sinful world, we, too, are tempted to live in denial. And so the Apostle John earnestly warns us: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us… “if we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us” (1 John 1:8, 10). We are aware of the fact that people tend to belittle the nature of sin and to regard it as something which must not be taken too seriously. But God says: “He that committeth sin is of the devil” (1 John 3:8); “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). If God were to judge us according to His Law, every single one of us would be cast into everlasting destruction!
There is only one solution! “Looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith.” Remember, when the children of Israel murmured against God in the wilderness, God sent fiery serpents into their midst to punish them for their wickedness. And when they cried unto God in repentance, Moses was directed to erect a brass serpent. All who looked up to this brass serpent believing God’s gracious promise were healed and lived (Numbers 21). Now so also with all those who repent of their sins and believingly look to the Lord Jesus, “that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:15). “For He [God] hath made Him who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (II Corinthians 5:21). Only if we cling to Jesus and His merit in true faith unto the end will we then receive the crown of everlasting life. We dare not trust in ourselves, as though by our own powers and strength we should obtain eternal life, but we look to Jesus, “the Author and Finisher of our faith,” who will preserve us from every evil and finally receive us into glory (II Timothy 4:18). The reward of grace which awaits us believers in the joys of heaven should certainly encourage us and keep us from bitter discouragement. The more that we meditate upon our final goal, the more we will declare with the apostle: “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). As we bring the old year to a close and begin this new year of grace, we can then confidently declare: “We are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul” (Hebrews 10:39).
— M. L. N.