Running the Race for Jesus
Rev. Lawrence Matthews, Indianpolis IN
“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” – Acts 2:38
“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; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Heb. 12:-12
As Apostolics, we are encouraged by these verses because we understand that everything we do on this side of heaven is not in vain. For those of us who are faithful to God, there is a reward to be had in the future
Keep Going Forward
In this passage, the author of Hebrews is communicating to us what life is really like; that is, life is like a race. I remember back to my years in high school when I would run track. I used to love long-distance running. I loved the challenge and watching everything that happened around me as I ran. I would go up and down hills, which were not easy. But the challenge was to push myself and keep going.
I remember some of these evenings, when everyone else had gone home, and it was only me running at the track. During these alone times, I would ponder life. I was a freshman in high school and had only recently been filled with the Holy Ghost. I was doing my best to live for God, but the natural discouragements of youth and life, in general, would sometimes make me weary. I will never forget the soft voice from the Lord that I heard in those times: “Lawrence, it’s all right. You’re going to make it through. Keep pushing. Keep going forward.”
The Scripture is clear: while people sometimes forsake us, the Lord knows how to wrap us in His arms and tell us that we are not alone. We are not running this race all by ourselves. He will never leave us nor forsake us. He will always be there
Three Components of a Race
There are three aspects of a race that we must consider when applying this illustration to our lives: the beginning, the length of the race, and the finish line.
The beginning of running the race for Jesus does not take place when we are born; rather, it takes place when we are born again. When we make that initial first step of repentance, we are crossing the starting line. We are entering into the race. This is more than simply asking God to forgive us; this is making a conscious decision to turn from sin and turn our eyes toward Jesus, to follow after Him.
When we complete that first step and are then baptized in Jesus’ name and filled with the Holy Ghost, we are born again. We are then compelled to walk with Christ, to follow after Him, and to live in His Word. This comprises our lifespan, the length of the race itself, where we continually grow and develop in our spiritual walk with Jesus.
After a lifetime of commitment, faithfulness, and obedience to God and His Word, when we draw our last breath, we cross the finish line. If this does not happen, then we will cross the finish line at the rapture of the church. This is where everything we go through in life will be worth it all. When that day happens, we will step on streets of gold. All the pain, heartache, and tears that we have experienced in this life will be no more. But one thing will be the centerpiece of heaven, and that will be seeing Jesus Christ Himself.
We can simply look at the news and understand that we do not have much time left before we are all called to cross the finish line in this race for Christ. We must not quit. We must keep moving forward in our race. Everything will be worth it all because of the finish line
The Media That So Easily Besets Us
In this race of born-again living, many things can easily beset us. The writer of Hebrews describes these as sin and weights. Apostolics are wise to consider the types of things that have the potential to weigh us down in running the race for Jesus.
The first weight is the sin of media. If we are not careful, media can weigh any Christian down. We can become so focused on what is on our screens that we forget about our families. Our devices have the potential to rob us of time with our children, time in prayer, and time spent in the Word of God.
Many people today are addicted to social media. They cannot seem to put the phone down while on the job, when they get home, and anywhere they might be. People in our culture are constantly and obsessively looking at their devices.
This kind of addiction to social media has the power to cause depression. When we get on Facebook or TikTok, we often compare ourselves with everyone else’s social media image. We compare looks, careers, and lifestyles. But the truth of the matter is, we can never be like the people we see on the screen. The social media world is a pseudo-world. That is, it is contradictory to real life. In reality, people on social media only post a fraction of their real lives. The people who seem like they have it all together on social media are, in fact, hurting and facing challenges like every other person
Friendships That Do Not Edify
If we are not careful, we can team up in this race with people who will not lead us to God, but will cause us to slip and fall. How can we identify this type of person? It’s easy. If you find yourself in a conversation with an individual, and every time they open their mouth, they only talk negatively, this is an indicator that they are a potential weight in the race.
The right type of friend will encourage us to keep running. The right type of friend will get up in the middle of the night and pray for us. I am reminded of a young person from our church who was recently dealing with medical issues. This young person sent a group text that included me and our pastor. Before I could even respond, our pastor had already texted and said that he would pray. This is an example of a good friend to have in the race. If we get the wrong one, however, they can become a weight in our lives.
The Fear Factor
Some people try to run the race while living in a constant state of fear. There is the fear of being alone; the fear of being a failure; or the fear of just not being “good enough.”
But as Apostolics, we do not have to live our lives in fear. Jesus’ death gives us an answer for all of these fears. His blood that was shed on Calvary was something that nobody could ever pay for. He was the only one who could offer it with His life. His blood—the blood of a sinless man—was that valuable, and yet He chose to give it for you and me. If that is true, then it means in the sight of God, we have value.
We don’t ever have to be afraid. We are never alone. He told us, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” (Heb. 13:5) He also promised, “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matt. 28:20)
There are other weights that we can acknowledge: issues of life, hurts, and bitterness which causes us not to forgive others. If we bear these weights without ever giving them to God, we are carrying a heavy load.
But the heaviest thing a person could ever carry is secret sin. These are the things that we don’t tell anybody about. If the pastor found out, we’d be humiliated. If our husband or wife found out, they might leave us. If our children found out, it would crush their spirit.
This weight alone can be so heavy, we can find ourselves not walking into the house of God. Even if we do make it to church, we are so weighed down with sin that it can be difficult just to lift our hands in praise and worship. We are weighed down because we know that deep down inside, we are hiding something.
On the other hand, we might think, “I’m all good. No one can see what I’m doing. Nobody knows about my sin but me.” But there is Someone that does see. God has an all-seeing eye and is omnipresent. David exclaimed, “If I ascend up into heaven, thou [art] there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou [art there].” (Psa. 139:8)
The Answer is The Gift
These weights and sins are simply too much for us to carry. In running the race for Jesus, they cause us to become overloaded and weighed down. However, there is a solution that we can opt to carry instead. We do not have to carry these weights and burdens. Instead, we can choose to carry the gift offered to us by Jesus Christ, described in Acts 2:38 as the gift of the Holy Ghost.
When we pray and ask God for help to lay down the weights and sins that beset us, we free ourselves to carry the gift of His Spirit. It must be a decision of commitment. We do not want to weigh ourselves down by picking up the same weights over and over. The race is too important. The finish line is too near.
Paul got it right in Romans 14:17 when he wrote, “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” In carrying the gift of His Spirit, there is peace and joy that comes with being right with God. I am thankful that God is always reaching for each of us, when we are weighed down, with a gift in hand – the gift of His presence, His active operation in our lives.
The choice is ours. Which will we choose? Will we hold on to the weights that hold us down? Or in running the race for Jesus, will we hold on to the gift of the Holy Ghost
Rev. Lawrence Matthews serves with his wife, Stephanie, as the youth pastor of Calvary Tabernacle in Indianapolis, IN.