One of the most anticipated races of the 1984 summer Olympics was the women’s 3000m, featuring the American Mary Decker and the South African Zola Budd. Decker—who had won a 3000m at the World Championships the preceding year—was favored to win the gold medal, and Budd knew she could not beat the champion if it came to finish line sprint. She began to pick up her pace, and by the middle of the race she was able to move ahead of Decker. Yet as Budd cut to the inside lane, the two collided. Decker fell and injured her hip. She was unable to finish the race.
In a similar fashion, sin will trip us up as we run to glory. This means we need to do our utmost to avoid it. Even more, it means that when we fall into it, we must get back up quickly and keep running.
Hebrews 12:1 says that we are to lay aside “sin which clings so closely.” The idea seems to be that sin clings so closely that it entangles you, impeding your progress, tripping you up, and perhaps even keeping you from moving forward altogether. We see this in numerous biblical examples. The love of money pushed Judas down; the love of this world threw Demas to the side; covetousness tripped up Achan; adultery and murder entangled David.
The problem with sin is manifold. Discreetly and deceptively, it will harden our hearts, weaken our faith, and damage our relationship with God. The more we sin, the more we become acclimated to it, and before long we begin to call evil good. Throughout the whole process, our relationship with God will be rattled. God will become displeased with us, and we will find it increasingly hard to walk closely with him.
A Christian is sleeping with his girlfriend, and knows that God hates this. How will this influence the way that he relates to God? Assuming that his conscience is not already seared, he will find it difficult to talk to God in prayer, and even attend church. He may pray and worship, but it will not be sincere, and it will quickly become lifeless. Religious acts of worship will become perfunctory because he knows in his heart that he is actively offending his heavenly Father. Like David when he was in the grip of his sins, the sinning Christian will lose the joy of his salvation, and his spiritual vitality will be turned into the drought of summer.
Indulging in sin has the potential to choke the spiritual life out of you. It can kill your faith, and you need faith to run. Therefore, we need to take sin seriously, doing what it takes to avoid it, and doing what it takes to get rid of it. To slightly alter the words of John Owen, if you do not get rid of sin, sin will get rid of you.
The fact of the matter is that we will not always avoid sin this side of glory. Some years back, a Miami Dolphins football player was running down the sideline when a coach from the opposing team stuck out his left knee. The player went flying and fell to the ground in a heap. After a few minutes, thankfully, he got up and walked away. From time to time, we will all end up just like that football player. Sin will stick out its knee and send us flying. When that happens, it is imperative that we get back up on our feet and keep running.
But how? How do we get rid of sin that so easily entangles us?
Perhaps it is best to answer that question by first mentioning what not to do. We must not try to get rid of our sin by bartering with God (“I promise to do better in the future so please overlook my sin”), by trying to bribe God with good works or one great good work, by punishing ourselves in some form or fashion, or by engaging in religious/liturgical acts of worship. There is nothing that we can do that will take away our sin. This is why the Psalmist says, “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand (Ps. 130:3)?”
The one way to get rid of your sin is to cry out to God from the depths of your own sin and guilt (Ps. 130:1; Luke 18:13). We come to God, as it were, with the blood still dripping from our hands. We may, however, be tempted to delay returning to God until our feelings of shame and guilt subside, as if we need some time of not doing the sin before we can present ourselves to God. But God does not accept us or forgive us because we have reformed ourselves, but on the sole basis of the atoning sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. Waiting to return to God, therefore, does not help us; it hurts us. Indeed, there is no reason to wait, because God is “good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon [him] (Ps. 86:5).” Thus, “if we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).” God is the one who takes away our sins in Christ Jesus, which is why every time we fall into sin, we need to turn to God immediately and seek his forgiveness.
We receive God’s forgiveness and cleansing the moment we cry out to him in repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus. We receive them afresh when we participate in the corporate confession of sins during the worship service; and we have them confirmed and sealed to us by means of the sacraments. The proper use, therefore, of the means of grace—prayer, worship and sacrament—is how we get rid of our sin and also how we find the strength to get back up on our feet and keep running.
Sin will entangle us as we make our way to glory. Therefore, the way to run well is to keep short accounts with God. Confess your sins regularly and walk closely with your God.
Note: Read more from the author's "Runner in a Race" series here.
Patrick Ramsey (@dprmsy) is pastor of Nashua Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Edinburg, Pennsylvania. He has written and contributed to numerous books and periodicals, including A Portrait of Christ, An Analysis of Herman Witsius's The Economy of the Covenants, and Samuel Rutherford: An Introduction to his Theology. He and his wife Rachel have five sons.
Growing in Grace, ed. by Joel Beeke
Grace Alone: Salvation as a Gift of God by Carl Trueman
"The Gospel for Bruised Reeds" by Dan Doriani
Sanctification, a series from Place for Truth:
"The Spirit's Influence" by Jeffrey Stivason
"Different From Justification" by Tim Bertolet
"The Definitive Aspect" by David Smith
"Singing Praise to God" by Stephen Unthank
"Eschatology" by Stephen Unthank
"Glorification" by Martin Blocki
"Keep Advancing!" by Joel Wood