God cannot love me unconditionally without prerequisites, especially after all I’ve done, can He? I’m afraid it’s too good to be true. I have to do something. I have to at least prove I’m grateful. I have to show Him it was all worth it. I have to prove that I’m better now. I have changed. I have grown stronger. And then my fear is heightened when I read the words of Paul, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)
This verse makes me uncomfortable. When I read these words, I hear an accusation. I do not throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. Sometimes I cling to it. I came into this world completely tangled up in sin. I am tangled up in myself. I fail to run because sin has curved me in on myself. I look inward to myself for strength where it cannot be found. I wander far more than I run. I am quick to give up and fail to persevere. This verse makes me uncomfortable because I am not what I should be. I am not strong.
"This is real strength, to trust God when to all our senses and reason He appears to be angry; and to have greater confidence in Him than we feel." —Martin Luther
The apostle Paul encourages us to run with perseverance, but he does not stop there. Paul tells us to run, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” We are to run with perseverance, not looking inward at ourselves, but outward to Christ. Sin curved us in on ourselves. The Gospel comes and curves us away from ourselves. The Gospel positions us to gaze at the cross. It frees us from being absorbed with our own works to merit salvation and positions us to love and meet the needs of our neighbor.
The Law convicts me of my sin and shows me that I’m a sinner deserving of God’s anger and wrath. The Law is naturally written on our hearts and our conscience convicts us of this. Real strength is trusting God’s promises. It is trusting God when He says that I’m forgiven. Real strength is confidence in Jesus’ sufficient work for me. It is confidence in grace that I did nothing to deserve and will never deserve. This real strength is God given, gifted faith.
In the storms of life, this faith looks to the cross as its anchor and strength. Faith clings to the cross and the promise that God is not angry. In the cross we see both the anger of God poured out for sin, and yet His undying love for sinners. Perseverance is throwing off everything that hinders me from fixing my eyes on the cross. It is daily drowning the Old Adam and looking to Christ the Second Adam. Over and over, day after day. Perseverance is returning back time and time again to utter the same words, “God have mercy on me a sinner” and believing that He will and has already had mercy on me in Christ.
The Gospel is what propels us to run, going to great lengths to share this good news. The apostle we often refer to as “doubting Thomas” travelled all the way to India before being martyred for his faith. We refer to him and remember him for his greatest weakness, but it was in that weakness that Jesus went to great lengths to share the good news with Him. Jesus never came to Thomas demanding that he muster up faith that was stronger.
It was Thomas’ faithlessness and doubt that drove Jesus to the cross. It was grace that drove Jesus to the cross. He took all of Thomas’ sin, all of my sin and your sin and destroyed it with Himself on the cross. Our sin died with Jesus. It was grace that stretched out His nail scarred hands to greet Thomas with a blessing of peace as he hid behind locked doors. It is grace that calls us who are dead in our sins back to life. Jesus went to great lengths to redeem us, to find us, and to speak peace to us. The gospel propelled doubting Thomas to go to great lengths to share the good news of His Savior who went the greatest length to bring him back to the Father.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “It is not your hold of Christ that saves you, it is Christ’s hold of you.” It is not my perseverance or strength that carries me to the end, but Christ for me and in me. It is Jesus’ strength, His perseverance that sought me. I was a lost and wandering sheep that the Good Shepherd ran after and scooped up into His loving arms. I belong in His arms. I belong because of the work of the Son on my behalf.
We continue on despite difficulty, and despite our sense or reason because we have the promise of success. The promise stands apart from ourselves, our works, and our efforts. The promise rests solely on Christ. We have the works and words of Jesus guaranteeing our salvation. My faithfulness, my strength, my righteousness is located and secured in Christ. We continue to live as saints and sinners but in the end the sinner will die once and for all and the saint will live forever. We are free to run the race and persevere with joy because the race has already been won. We know the outcome. It’s a promise. It is finished.