The Start: Knowing Jesus, the Founder, Marathoner, and Perfecter of Our Faith!
“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, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV).
Qualified to Enter the Race—by Grit
Like some of you, I had the great fun, pleasure, and pain to participate in numerous marathons—running, mountain and road cycling, snow shoe running, speed skating, cross-country skiing. The qualifications required entering each sort of event varied, but the most basic requirements they all had in common were a sport-specific competency, and mental and physical fitness:
These are requirements based upon MY SELF. And when anyone invests the sort of time, talent, and treasure it requires to train and compete purely based on one’s SELF, ID, EGO, LIBIDO, et al… it takes a hell (carefully chosen…) of a long time to rely first… on OTHER.
Qualified to Enter the Race—by Grace
Anyone seeking to run “the good spiritual race” (Hebrews 12:1-2)—the ultra-marathon long, hard, messy, knee-scraping, sweat-streaming, stinky, often unseemly… and yet so heartening, hopeful, and supremely fulfilling—race… Must first and foremost be thoroughly equipped at a most basic level where, as an example, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the Welsh Protestant minister, was accustomed to asking many people he came into contact with the simple yet (potentially) loaded question, “Are you a Christian?” How would you answer this fundamental question?
We live in a time when the accumulated effects of secularization requires of the church to ask this most basic of questions—or it is not lovingly meting out truth, or truthfully extending love. Why? Because when the secular and sacred get stirred in the same pot for long enough—the greatest “stirring” being the advent of the ‘60’s “freedom movement” (RE: a bondage of various kinds), which redefined the culture—the worldliness of the church and the culture results in the stew we’re in!
And, here’s one you can always rely on: Whenever any sort of free fall in life occurs, it’s time to go back to the foundations to closely, honestly, and in a community… inspect what exactly they are made-up of. Between the world’s, the flesh’s, and the devil’s complex influences, there are parts of ourselves we don’t want to know… But must in order to live a truly joyous life!
Are We in the Race by Grit or Grace? “The Rat Race or The Redeemed Race?” There are only these two options.
Even though each option below describing some vitally important distinctions between “Grit or Grace” deserves some unpacking between faithful and deep friendships, they are not unlimited in their array—only three—and they go something like this: Grit is running the race on our own merit; Grace is running the race on the merits of what Jesus Christ has accomplished for us (Hebrews 12:1-2): The difference is galaxy-sized… and “all packed into our tiny little heart” (Aladdin)
A) “People who are not Christians and know it but who think that the “fruit of Christianity” (anything good, true, right, helpful) can be grown without re-birth, repentance, and the life of Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit within;
B) People who are not Christians but think they are because they have been raised in a religious home or because they attend church—they think they’re Christians but do not understand what the heart of the gospel is and have not actually repented and committed their lives to Jesus Christ as first their Savior (from the epidemic of Sin and habits of sin) and then their Lord (as “saved to serve” in joyful obedience) of their life;
C) People who understand in the abstract and at the level of personal, heartbroken self- and God-awareness: ‘Before I became a Christian I stood before God as one who has fallen way (way) short of His standards. I came to Him with my good works, fine resolutions, and unvarnished self-serving sin. But as I stood before God I realized that even the best of these things and the worst of these things was not only imperfect but much worse: as filthy menstrual rags (Isaiah 64:6), and an abject failure to a holy and undefiled God. And I heard God say, ‘You come to me with all that is human; but what is human is tainted through and through by sin. And that is a foundation upon which I cannot build. You must turn from it, repent of it, and cry out to Me. In Christ, by grace, I will give you rest.’” (James Montgomery Boice)
Which of these three options resonates with the truest true form of your core beliefs, your life story thus far, your religious or non-religious affections, or even in ways you may feel potentially offended by such an explanation?
“Are you a Born-Again Christian?” Remember, being a “born-again Christian” is not some fringe Christian group who are particularly needy or overly zealous, pietistic, in-your-face: It is the basic START… “the entry into running the good race”! And the ticket to dropping out of running the rat race… How did the Christian’s namesake, Jesus, put it? “You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again'” (John 3:7).
It’s worth some serious and deep consideration—not simply for some sort of threat of hell (which is real but a non-starter), but for a life of total acceptance, no shame, a new family, deepest joy, friendships that transcend color and race, Shalom peace within in the midst of warring world, and a life purpose and “Kingdom service” (practically helping others in Jesus name) that will extend into eternity!
If there is any doubt, please consider the sort of prayer outlined by James Boice below, as well as speaking to someone else about your decision ASAP—taking up the journey of one no longer ashamed and welcomed into a brand new family requires the new freedom of “no condemnation discipleship”!
Like any biological newborn, as a spiritual newborn, we need to grow up spiritually: “To be saved by the Spirit’s converting grace, sealed by the Spirit’s absolute guarantee, and sanctified by the Spirit’s indwelling power—that’s what it means to be spiritual!” (“The Hole in Our Holiness”, Kevin DeYoung)
“I admit that everything I do falls short of Your standard, oh God, and I recognize Your verdict on it. By the power of the Holy Spirit that first inclined my heart, I repent. I am heart-fully sorry. And now I lay it aside. I do not deserve anything from You, but I come empty-handed to receive what You have promised to give by grace, and through faith, in Jesus Christ. I come to receive Your righteousness by which I am accounted righteous. I come to receive the Holy Spirit by whom I have power to live the Christian life. I ask You to forgive me, and to help me to live it for Jesus’ sake, and in His service. Amen.” (James Montgomery Boice, paraphrase)
I praise God for the grace to run the good race; for the freedom to drop out of the rat race; and for the unspeakably enlivening calling and urgency to be like Jesus—the Founder, Marathoner, and Perfecter of Our Faith—to the human race!