Run the Race for the Reward

Posted October 16, 2017 by Amy Wang

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The hymn, "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" reminds us that we are "prone to wander," "prone to leave the God [we] love." However, our wandering nature is not to be taken lightly. Remember Lot's wife who turned back to look upon her hometown, which was being judged by God with brimstone and fire, only to be turned into a pillar of salt (Luke 17:32, Genesis 19:17-26). Remember also many of the Israelites who were saved from slavery in Egypt and drank from the "spiritual rock of Christ," only to die in the wilderness because they displeased God with their idolatry, immorality, and grumbling. These examples were recorded in the Bible to admonish us (Jude 5, 1Cor. 10:1-11). Jesus told us to count the cost, so we wouldn't make a halfway effort (Luke 14:28). Those who put their hands to the plow and look back are not fit for the kingdom of God (Luke 9:62).

Perseverance on the Racetrack

"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 on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith." -Hebrews 12:1-2a NASB

Although easily overlooked, many verses in the New Testament actually teach the importance of persevering in the faith and overcoming to obtain the promises of God (Hebrews 10:39, Hebrews 3:14, 1Corinthians 15:2, Colossians 1:21-23). Christians are called to run the race and fight the good fight of faith towards sanctification (Philippians 3:14, 1Timothy 6:12, Hebrews 12:1-2a). Likewise, many verses also warn against departing from God, departing from righteousness, and drifting away (Hebrews 2:1-3,3:12-15, 2Peter 2:20-22, James 5:19-20, Ezekiel 18:24). One Christian hymn has a refrain to remind us there is "no turning back."

Repentance and Sanctification are Not Optional

Jesus said the one who does the will of God is the one who will enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 7:21-22), and God's will includes our repentance (Matthew 21:29-32, Luke 13:3) and sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:2-3). Jesus also told Peter he had to accept God's process of cleansing to have a part with Him (John 13:8, see also Titus 3:5-8 and Ephesians 5:25-27). Our initial faith in Jesus may have cleansed us entirely of past sins (2Peter 1:9) like a full bath. However, we are still committing new sins, i.e., we still get our feet dirty walking in the dusty streets of the world. Therefore, Jesus said we still need to have our feet washed. Perhaps that is why even after we become believers in Jesus, we are still called to confess sins, repent, overcome, and seek forgiveness of debts (1John1:9, Revelation ch. 2,3, lord's prayer, Brown, The Grace Controversy, 19). If we turn back, it is like we washed our clothes only to return to the mud (2Peter 2:22).

John 3:16 and Ongoing Faith

Although not well known, some scholars think that the belief that results in eternal life in the famous verse John 3:16 uses a verb tense which implies an ongoing belief (Stanley, 163).

Although not well known, some scholars think that the belief that results in eternal life in the famous verse John 3:16 uses a verb tense which implies an ongoing belief (Stanley, 163). Thus, it seems that we need to continue in faith to be saved.

Furthermore, since demons believe Jesus is Christ, the Son of God, but are not saved, the kind of faith that saves probably goes beyond mental assent alone, and may include trust and confidence in Jesus and/or confession of Jesus as one's personal Lord (See Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone).

A Joint Effort with God in the Fight of Faith to Finish Well

Even if salvation requires perseverance, we can still have assurance of our salvation before finishing the race if the indwelling Holy Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are God's children (Romans 8:16). If God truly indwells us, then even though for a brief time we may stumble, the one in us is greater than the one in the world, and He will enable us to overcome and confess Jesus as Lord (John 16:33, 1 John 4:4,5:4-5, 1 Corinthians 12:3).

Believers will still struggle with their old sinful nature, which they are trying to put off, so they can put on their new self (Romans 7:15-25, 1John 1:8-10, Ephesians 4:22-24). However, this active fight against sin means they identify with God’s law, disagree with sin, and will continue to get up when they fall (Matthew 21:28-32, 1John 2:1, 1John 1:9-10). Fortunately, we do not struggle on our own. Our sanctification is a process in which we rely upon the Holy Spirit's work of our washing and renewal (Titus 3:5-8).

Not Yet Perfect, But Running the Race toward the Reward

We may never reach moral perfection in this life, but I believe we need to be on the racetrack toward it. Paul wrote,

Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12 NASB)

In this fight of faith, 2Peter 1:5-11 encourages us with concrete steps to grow in faithfulness so that we do not stumble and the entrance to the kingdom may be abundantly supplied to us. If you are in doubt of your salvation, just follow the steps below with diligence, and trust God to show you the way.

But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2Peter 1:5-11 NKJV)


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