The Long Run

marathon agony

Therefore strengthen your tired hands and weakened knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed instead. (Hebrews 12:12-13 HCSB)


One thing I learned from John Piper is to trace the arc of thought throughout a passage.  When I was in college studying music we called this phrasing.  Dr. Uphaus used to say to me that every musical phrase is coming from somewhere and going somewhere. It was our duty to figure out the phrasing and then make it audible.

The arc of thought is similar in the writings of Paul and the author of Hebrews (we do not know who wrote it) is similar. The phrase moves from facts to conclusions, from perspective to actions, from knowing to doing. You can tell when the transition happens because of one tiny word; dio. This word is typically translated as “Therefore” meaning, “based on what I just said”.

What is it there for?

Hebrews 12 began with Therefore (this time the Greek word toigaroun – consequently). It represents a conclusion to an arc that includes chapter 11 and the heroes of faith.

A new arc begins in verse 5 and continues through verse 13.  It begins with a quotation of Proverbs 3:11-12 as the basis.  The pattern of the arc is “Think, know, do”

  • God disciplines
    • Fathers discipline their children
    • Discipline means that God is treating you like a son
    • Endure hardship as discipline
    • Learn from the discipline, be trained by it
  • Strengthen yourself

The fact is that living life as a Christian is hard.  You are making a choice to swim upstream, to run a long a difficult race, to struggle – antagōnizomai – from which we get the English word “Agony”.  The natural choice would be to give up when the race becomes difficult. Look at the shape the runner is in. Hands hanging down, feeble knees. To continue running when you are in this shape is nothing less than the sheer force of will.

He is saying to us. “Think of that pain, that hardship as evidence that you are doing the right thing! It shows that you are a child of God. The pain you feel is the training that God is putting you through for a very good reason so that you can share in His holiness. Don’t give up now. Pick up those feet! One foot in front of the other! Get those hands moving!”

Nobody starts a marathon thinking it’s going to be easy. Tragically many people are led to believe that life as a Christian will be easy. Then when life becomes difficult they think “It’s not working – I must be doing this wrong.” No… it is hard. It will be hard every step of the way.

For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want. (Galatians 5:17 HCSB)

The Sanctified Life

I grew up in the Church of the Nazarene. They taught a doctrine known as sanctification.

From How entire is Entire Sanctification?

Question: What is Entire Sanctification?
Answer: Wesleyans believe that, after conversion, but before death, a believer’s heart may be cleansed from all sin.
…Entire sanctification means that a person’s tendency — some call it “bent” — is toward righteousness rather than toward sinning.

I heard people stand and testify that they had been sanctified and now no longer wanted to sin. Some people actually claimed to have not sinned for years.

We were taught to come to the altar and seek this cleansing work. I did and often but no matter how many times I did I found that in my heart my tendency was still “bent” towards sin. Of course to admit this was to admit that I was not a member of the club of people called “Sanctified” so I did what most people did… I lied. I lied to others and said that I was sanctified. I lied to myself and said that I must be sanctified because I had “faith” in the experience.

For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate.(Romans 7:15 HCSB)

As holiness oriented Wesleyans we had trouble with Romans 7.  We couldn’t believe that Paul (who was obviously sanctified) would struggle with sin like that.  To get around this we said that Romans 7 was Paul’s description of a poor believer who was not yet sanctified. Unfortunately, that interpretation ignores the plain fact that Paul was using verb tenses that describe his present condition.

The truth is that no matter how many times I sought this “gift” of second-blessing holiness I remained mired in the struggle and I became very discouraged.

Imagine a group of runners standing around talking about how they ran the marathon.  Imagine that someone said that they had a pill that if you can take it that you would be able to run the marathon without pain. Without struggle. In fact, you would enjoy the run so much that it would be easy. This person might even say that they have run many marathons without so much as a blister or pain.

Then, you go from store to store looking for this pill.  But no matter how many pills you take you never experience what this runner described.  For you, the race is always difficult and painful. Finally you conclude that this person was wrong. Whatever their experience might have been it is not what you experience.

There is no pill.

There is no spiritual cleansing that will remove your bent towards sin. This race is going to be hard. You will want to stop, to quit, to give in to your sinful desires.  There will be days when you will question the sanity of struggling and you may even conclude that you must be crazy for running. The writer of Hebrews is telling you how to think about those days.

One day, God will complete the work of the Spirit by transforming me when I see Jesus face to face. Until then, I have a race to run.

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