God has called each of his people to run a race, a race that for the great majority of us will be a marathon more than a sprint. This is no small calling, no brief task, no little labor. We run best when we run light, free from the burdens of sin, free from the distractions of the past, free from the dangers of solitude, free from the weight of discouragement. We must run though enemies surround us and threaten us. We must run though bombarded by sorrows, losses, discouragements. We must run though others give up, drop out, and fall away. We must run though many will attempt to persuade us to try a smoother, wider, easier way. We must run with endurance, run to win the prize, run until we have finished the race, run until we have received the victor’s crown.
The road is narrow. The path is long. The way is rough. Yet God has called each one of us to run the race of the Christian life. Our every step in this great race is taken in the presence of deadly enemies, our every stride opposed by the world, the flesh, and the devil. The devil’s fiery darts always threaten to harm us, the heart’s evil longings to distract us, the world’s glittering enticements to persuade us to drop out. Even while we keep our eyes fixed on the prize, we grow weary with the running, we groan through the plodding.
If life is already so difficult, the path already so rough, why do we so often add to our trouble? Why, instead of laying aside every weight, do we gather more weights to ourselves? Why, instead of making every step as light as possible, do we make our steps heavier? Why do we throw fresh burdens upon our backs?
We make our way more difficult when we give ourselves over to sin. Every sin is a weight, every vice a heavy load to our souls. Sin burdens the mind, clouds the judgment, afflicts the conscience. Our calling is to put off the old and put on the new, to reject all that belongs to the former self and to embrace all that belongs to the self that is being remade in the image of Jesus Christ. Our calling is to lay aside every sin that otherwise clings so closely and otherwise hinders our pace. Only then can we run with endurance the race that is set before us, only then can we keep pace. Our steps grow lighter when we repent of every sin, when we cast off every transgression, when we remove every hindrance. Holiness in our lives brings lightness to our steps.
The prize lies not behind and not beside, but only ever ahead.
We also make our way more difficult when we look back instead of forward. Behind us is our former selves and ahead of us our renewed selves. Behind us is depravity and ahead of us is holiness. Behind us is our prior evil master and ahead of us our new loving Father. Lot’s wife looked back to her former life and became a pillar of salt; Orpah looked back to her former people and walked away from the people of God; Demas looked back to the world’s enticements and abandoned Paul. “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God,” warned the Lord. The gospel always directs our gaze forward.