“Therefore, 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” (Heb. 12:1).
If you’re reading that verse for the first time (or any other verse that compares the Christian life to a “race”), you might get the impression that the goal of Christianity is to rush to the finish line. After all, isn’t that the point of a race—to see who gets to the finish line first? To determine who’s the fastest runner? Why when you look at it that way, it almost sounds like the point of Christianity is to outperform everyone else, so that you can be the first one into the pearly gates.
But the truth is, this race isn’t about determining who’s the fastest, the strongest, or the most righteous. It’s about something completely different.
The ancient Greeks had several different kinds of races in the early Olympic games. They had traditional foot races, both short-distance (STADE) and long-distance (DOLICHOS). They had chariot races (SYNORIS). They even had races where the runners wore military armor (HOPLITODROMOS). But one of the most unique races was the LAMPADEDROMIA, where runners ran at night with a torch and passed it like a baton. What made this race so unique was that the winner was not the runner who finished first, but the runner who finished with his torch still lit.
And I believe that’s the point of “the race that is set before us.” Our goal is to finish life with our torches still lit for Jesus Christ. The flame of faith & hope & love for the Lord needs to be burning bright for all to see, to the very end of life’s way. It’s not enough to just have my torch burning for a few weeks, or a few months, or a few years, and then allow the flame to die out. In fact, if I leave this world with an unlit torch, I’m putting my soul’s salvation in serious jeopardy. I have to keep the torch lit for the entire race, so that I can reach the goal of heaven.
That’s exactly why this passage exhorts us to “run with endurance.” No doubt, there are going to be occasions in life where that flame starts to diminish. Maybe suffering enters our life, or maybe we get distracted by the cares of this world, or maybe we got drawn into the pleasures of sin—the devil certainly has all kinds of tricks that are designed to extinguish the flame. But we dare not give up! With God’s help, we can “lay aside” those hindrances. And with diligent study, and prayer, and the encouragement of the saints, we can keep feeding the flame, and endure to the very end.
— Josh McKibben