Running the Race of Faith

Seth Brickley

In my earliest years, I discovered that the Lord had blessed me with the gift of putting one foot in front of the other at a fast pace over long distances. At that point, running was not my favorite sport. I much preferred playing baseball, basketball, and football, but it just so happened that arguably the most painful sport there is, distance running, was my best sport.

Because it was my best sport that’s where I focused my energy in high school, college, and post-college when I ran competitively. As a Christian runner, I began to understand why Scripture often used the analogy of running to describe the life of faith.

Distance running is difficult.

Training for Distance

Every avid distance runner knows the plight of the sport. To be an excellent runner you have to be dedicated to the incredibly arduous training. The best distance runners run anywhere from 70-100 miles a week (and sometimes more!). Included in this regiment is speed training. When I was at my peak as a runner I would run two hard miles, walk a lap, and then run two hard miles again. In my shorter speed training, I would run repeat 600s on the track at a mile pace. During workouts there was ample temptation to quit, but I had built the tolerance to keep going. When it was over I was physically exhausted and relieved to be done.

Strength training, which was also required, included a regular regiment of push-ups and abdomen workouts. Famous 1970s distance runner Steve Prefontaine once said (and I’m paraphrasing), “While distance runners may look funny doing a football workout, they can do it, while most football players would be unable to do the workouts that distance runners do every day.” All of this hard work is needed to compete at a high level as a distance runner.

A Sport as Old as Time

About two thousand years ago, when the New Testament was written, there was no football, basketball, baseball, hockey, or many other modern sports, but the sport of distance running was very much around, as it is humanity’s oldest sport. This should be no surprise when you consider its simplicity. There’s no ball. No complex rules. The objective of the sport is to simply use your God-given legs to get from point A to point B faster.

Though the current iteration of the Olympic Games began in 1896 (and will occur again this summer), the Games were occurring at the time the Bible was written. The first Olympics were held in Olympia, Greece in 776 BC and continued until about 393 AD. Just like in the modern Olympics, the sport of running was front and center. Paul lived in the region where the Olympics took place and would have been well acquainted with the Olympic games. He explains that Christians are to run the difficult journey of faith in a way that brings glory to God:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).

Believers are to run for the glory of God to receive a reward that will never perish.

Paul’s Calling

It is the duty of every Christian to walk in the ways of the Lord (1 John 5:3), but each person is different and every calling is unique. Every Christian’s life is a book (Psalm 139:16), one meant to tell a story about a triumphant life lived to the glory of God. Paul was given a clear call by God to reach the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; Galatians 1:16), and when he went to Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1-10) he was encouraged that his efforts to reach them were not contradicted by the leaders there, namely Peter, James, and John. Their approval meant that his efforts had not been wasted nor would they be going forward. Both Paul and the apostles in Jerusalem understood the race that Paul was called to run, and his race was not in vain. He wrote,

I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. (Galatians 2:2).

Running in Vain

It’s immensely important to make sure that each of us is fulfilling the ministry call that the Lord has given us (2 Timothy 4:5) and to have the support of other faithful Christians who help prosper the Lord’s labor through us. Sometimes Christians can run in vain because they have deviated from what the Lord wants for their life – sometimes this drift comes in the form of doctrinal compromise. Paul was grieved over some Christians in the region of Galatia who had succumbed to the Judaizer heresy. There he wrote,

You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? (Galatians 5:7).

How relevant this is to our day as we think about those Christians who have adopted the world’s thinking on issues like social justice/Critical Race Theory and softened on the sin of homosexuality, things the world celebrates. To those Christians, we say, “You were running the race well. What happened?” I can think of Christians I once respected who are no longer running triumphantly for the Lord.

Running Without Regret

Paul’s call to Christians is to be those, “Holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain” (Philippians 2:16). Paul urges Christians to run without regrets. I remember in college our team shirts said, “Reaching high, Running strong, No regrets.” My coach Rick Peterson came into the season telling each of us that our commitment as runners was to give it everything we had, so that when the season was over, we had no regrets, knowing that we gave it our all. This should be the same aim for Christians. It is the Lord’s call on our life to stand strong on the word of God and to be dedicated to pleasing the Lord with our lives through his power (1 Peter 4:11). As Paul wrote,

I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10).

Reaching the Finish Line

This race that the Lord has called us to is one that many before us have run. As Paul explains,

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 (Hebrews 12:1).

Many before us ran faithfully to the finish line – this is the call on each of our lives. This may sound daunting but every believer should take great comfort in knowing that we don’t run alone. The Holy Spirit has been given to run alongside us (Colossians 1:29; 1 Peter 1:5). Paul reminds us that,

He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it (1 Thessalonians 5:24).

The Lord is faithful to bring us to the finish line where we will not be ashamed of how we ran as he worked triumphantly in us.

The goal of every runner, no matter how long the distance, is to run strong to the finish line, through the tape. One of the most memorable races I ever ran was a road race mile in Duluth, MN known as “The Minnesota Mile.” What is unique about a road race mile from one on the track is that you can see the finish line from a half mile away. Being able to see the 800 meters to the end caused me to fix my eyes, speed up, and give everything I had. My fastest quarter mile of that race was the last one as my focus was on crossing the tape. It ended up being the fastest mile I had ever run.

This must be the goal of every Christian – to fix their eyes on the finish line where glory awaits. As Paul described,

The time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day. (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

Paul understood our purpose on earth. We’re not here to run our own race. We’re not here to chart our own path. We’re here to run God’s race for God’s glory and our joy as we, press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:13). We are here to run the race that the Lord in his wisdom has given each of us.

As Paul explains,

I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

If you belong to Christ, you have a race to run. How well are you running it?

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