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How to Finish Strong in the Race of Faith
In the Book of Hebrews, Paul compares our faith walk with a race, and our preparation to “run the race” like that of an athlete. In the series “The Pilgrim’s Progress” we similarly can see that our journey as pilgrims, like Paul says, is like race – there can be obstacles, it may have its ups and its downs. There are moments where there are mountain tops where we can find rest and there are also valleys, hard and difficult processes where our faith is tested. The pilgrim’s progress is a process! But as our main character Christian shows us, there are ways to stand in faith and in our trust in God to finish strong.
In the year of 2015, during the Peachtree race in Atlanta, the American athlete Ben Payne was just meters away from the finish line in the open men’s 10 km race, but when the overconfident American started to celebrate before crossing the finish line, his first place was lost when another runner caught up with him and beat him in the last few meters, winning the title. Ben Payne later explained “I just got comfortable, and I put my guard down, I assumed that I had the race in the bag and the other runner caught me by surprise”. The winning runner was Scott Overall, and he later said, “Always run through the line.” This has tremendous wisdom for us as believers today, to persevere to the end, even in a broken world.
It would be tragic to put in the effort, training, sacrifice and running hard only to lose in the home stretch. I don’t think any of us desires to fail in the last meters of our lives! Here we can learn a few valuable lessons to apply to our faith-race from this story, to not lose focus and to run with perseverance the race set out before us, not stopping until we’ve crossed that finish line. Our faith race is different than a 10K race, it is not against other people, but against “the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12).
The race of faith has one goal: to be with Jesus Christ in his glory. Let us not be stopped or delayed by anything that could interfere with this race: difficulties, worries, and sin.
In the book of Ephesians, (Ephesians 6:13-18) Paul writes to the Church in Ephesus, equipping them with the spiritual armour of God and telling them to stay alert and ready to fight. The armor is not only protection from the enemy, but weaponry as well. There is no armour on our backs, as we are meant to stand strong and face the enemy rather than turn and run away. Every soldier who wears armour needs to train on how to use it effectively and to be prepared to stand against attack. As believers on our own pilgrimage, we need to use this armour that protects our faith and can fight back to continue in our race and to finish strong.
But how do we actively wear God’s armour to finish strong?
Paul says to put on the full armour of God. It’s not a passive thing, it’s our daily wear, and decision to suit up.
The armour of God has many components:
Belt of truth: We need to have the truth, the Christian loses his position of authority the moment he begins to believe the lies of the enemy, but Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, (John 14:6)
the enemy will always try to deceive us to get us out of the way and not allow us to finish our race, he will make us doubt our identity of who we are in Christ. In a world full where everyone claims to have the absolute truth, as believers to win the race we must “Buy the truth and do not sell it— wisdom, instruction and insight as well.” (Provb 23:23)
Breastplate of Righteousness: This component is our new identity; we have been made righteous through Christ. Therefore, our thoughts change, and we do not allow ourselves to be distracted by those things that want to take us out of our race of faith.
Shoes of Peace: For a race we need the right shoes, our feet are important to maintain our position in the spiritual warfare, so for our race of faith it is necessary to have the shoes of Peace, to bring the good news to those who have not heard of Jesus.
Shield of faith: The purpose of the shield is to protect us from the darts of the enemy, the enemy knows what the most effective darts are to attack our hearts, that is why in the book of proverbs we are told to protect our hearts. Sometimes we can get distracted by offense, jealousy, anger, etc. Those feelings can be an obstacle to our race of faith.
“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23)
Helmet of salvation: The helmet has two purposes, it protects our mind and our ears from those thoughts and voices that don’t come from God, we think now differently, because we have a new way of thinking. (Romans 12:2)
If we want to finish the race well, we must be transformed in our thoughts, taking every one captive under the authority of Jesus Christ and His word.
Sword of the Spirit: The word of God. It is great to have a Bible in our electronic devices and our homes, but it is more effective to keep it in our hearts and minds.
It’s important to note that this is the only offensive piece of weaponry in the armour of God – His powerful word!
There will be moments where we are fighting worry, anxiety, stress, sickness or spiritual warfare, in those moments is when we use God’s word and to fight back with all the promises that God has given to us. (Matthew 16:19)
God’s desire is that we all finish the race of faith, he equips and sustains us so that we can achieve our final destination, to cross the finish line, to be forever in His presence