In 2016, my devotional titled “Running the Race,” published in The Upper Room, prompted an interesting discussion. I am reprinting it here.
A reader asked many questions to clarify what I believed. I answered:
Thank you, Elias, for commenting on my devotional and sharing your perspective. I’ll try to reply as thoroughly as I can.
You asked: “What race are you running?”
1. That’s a good question, Elias. In fact, you have enough good questions here for an entire book! I’ll try to answer each before I read your answers and then comment again afterward.
In Heb.12:1-2, I see a race of the Christian life. The apostle Paul’s words about running a race (in 2 Tim.4:7) are also, I believe, referring to the work God had called him to do (Preach the Gospel to the Gentiles.) I believe my calling is to write in such a way that people are drawn to desire a closer relationship with Jesus Christ and God the Father through the Holy Spirit.
Through the years when I couldn’t find much time to write, I’ve accumulated so many ideas and partly finished stories and such that I once jokingly said I’d have to live to the age of 92 to finish it all. So yes, it seems like a race against time. (Now I’m thinking I’d have to be 104 to finish it all, or actually never.)
So the race I’m running is a life of obedience in doing what God has called me to do—write, compose, sing, be a good wife, etc. My prize is that Jesus will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
2. Elias also asked, “Can you really ‘lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely?'”
Yes and No. I can’t do this on my own power. I pray daily that the Holy Spirit will bring me into complete harmony with the Triune God and give me strength and wisdom to be obedient. Then, with his power, I am able to do all things the Holy Spirit guides me to do “through Christ who strengthens me.”
3. What does it really mean to “fix” your eyes on Jesus?
I think “fix your eyes on Jesus” means to look at him—concentrate on who Jesus is as the Bible reveals him to be, the Son of God and the Son of Man, and on the things he taught and did. Among other things, Jesus taught us what the Father is like—loving, merciful, holy, just. Fixing our eyes on him would also mean following him, acting in love as he did.
4. Why did you NOT mention the Holy Spirit that is present within each of us who BELIEVE, Who GUIDES us into all truth?
Yes, the Holy Spirit of Jesus is present within each of us who believes in Jesus and who trusts in Jesus’ atonement for salvation. He certainly does guide us into all truth. The Holy Spirit is the one who draws us to Jesus and who reminds us of what Jesus taught. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are Trinity, so when we mention one, all three are assumed.
5. You also made the following comments: ” we all need to be cleansed by Jesus,” we have to “fit” into God’s plans, and does God’s JUDGMENT for each of us depend on what or how we perform? What happens if we stop Believing in Jesus?
Yes, “We all need to be cleansed by Jesus who died for us before we can fit into God’s plans for our lives. By cleansing, I mean we need to accept his forgiveness and believe he washed away our sins by his blood.
God’s judgment is like the discipline of parents toward children. Sometimes all a child needs is to be told that something he/she is doing is wrong and the child will stop doing it. Sometimes the child is rebellious and won’t listen, and so the parent needs to use other means than simply talking. Perhaps the child needs time out, or privileges withheld or to be left to the consequences. If the child is defiantly disobedient, perhaps spanking is in order.
When God disciplines (judges) us, he wants us to recognize our wrong actions or attitudes, repent (confess and turn away from them), and look to Jesus who took the punishment in our place so we can be cleansed of those wrong actions and attitudes. We can’t fit into God’s plans while we are defiantly disobedient to him. But neither can we cleanse ourselves. We cannot change on our own power. But if we accept Jesus and what he has done for us, he gives us the power (through his Holy Spirit) to live obedient lives and follow our callings.
6. Does God’s JUDGMENT for each of us depend on what or how we perform?
Here again, I repeat, God’s judgment is like a loving parent’s discipline. I suppose the type of discipline the child needs does depend on performance, as I said above.
The key is, God wants our hearts to be in tune with His. He wants us to love him. The methods he uses do depend a lot on our attitudes. If we are rebellious toward God, it is like we are following the devil rather than God. If we refuse to repent, God may have to let us go our own way for a time until we learn that following the devil is a way to mess up our lives.
If a person continually rejects God, God may give up on him. A lot of what the world calls judgment is simply the consequences of refusing to go God’s way. The opposite of obedience is disobedience. If a child is told not to go play on the freeway but refuses to listen and wrenches himself out of his father’s hand and runs onto the freeway, he may get killed. That isn’t the father’s will or doing. Many people blame God for terrible things that happen in this world, but God doesn’t do evil. He is holy and righteous. There’s got to be some other explanation.
So, Elias, these are my answers to the questions you asked. Now I will comment briefly on your answers. I don’t think we are in much disagreement if we understand each other correctly. We may have a slightly different definition of race. Jesus has won the victory over sin, death, and the devil, but each of us has a journey to travel until we die. This can be a futile journey or a ‘race’ of obediently following Christ.
We are not running this race in order to earn salvation, but it is because of gratitude that we want to “run worthy of the calling to which we’ve been called” because we love the one we follow.
Yes, the grace of God is available for everyone. But not everyone will accept it. God won’t force anyone to come into a relationship with himself. If he did that, we would be robots. Love isn’t love unless it is given freely. John 1:12 says “to all who received him (Jesus), who believed in his name, he gave the power to become children of God.”
Jesus provided the cleansing for everyone when he went to the cross. Yes, that is the good news everyone needs to hear. A person needs to realize he/she needs salvation before he/she can receive a Savior. We need to admit we are sinners before we can be saved.
Fitting into God’s will is not automatic. A person must first realize and confess he/she is a sinner and needs forgiveness, must believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died to pay the penalty of our sins, and must commit his or her life to him in prayer, asking forgiveness. This is what it means to be born again. Then the Holy Spirit helps the person grow in obedience (or fit into his will). God nurtures and teaches this person as his adopted child, who grows and learns the rest of his/her life.
Yes, God’s judgment is grace. (Rom. 3:24) If we are in Christ, we are new creations. (2 Cor. 5:17). The grace is offered to all, but the everlasting life is for “whoever believes in him,” (John 3:16) We who believe in Jesus stand before him as Righteous for all eternity. (Phil. 3:9).
Thank you, Elias, for initiating the discussion. I enjoyed it and it also helped me to think through and clarify all these questions. You must be a deep thinker and greatly beloved child of God. God bless you on your journey.