Run with Confidence
In the middle of a long race, doubt can be a killer. Realizing how far you have to go, the present ache in your body can make finishing seem unlikely. Doubt then quickly transforms itself into certainty and you give up. Likewise, it is with the Christian life. If we doubt our ability to trust and obey the Lord until the end, then we will make it even harder to persevere and we might be tempted to quit. Therefore, when we find the race that God has set before us difficult, we need to run with confidence. How might we do that? Three things to consider.
First, we need to believe in Christ for our sanctification. We have noted that Christians live by faith and that faith directs itself to what Christ has done for us, is doing in us, and will give to us on that great day. Confidence to run our present race is fueled in part by what Christ is doing in us by his Spirit. Paul teaches us that the immeasurable greatness of God’s power that raised Jesus from the dead to eternal glory is at work in us who believe (Eph. 1:19-20); that the Spirit is conforming us to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29); and that God is working in us, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). We, therefore, like Paul, can do all things—not some, but all things—through Christ who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13).
In the movie, Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddell’s sister Jenny tries to get him to quit running so that he can devote himself to missionary work in China. Eric tells her that he will one day be a missionary, but for now he must dedicate himself to running because, as he says to her, “God has made me fast, and when I run, I feel his pleasure.” God may not have made us physically fast, but he has made us or rather re-made us to be spiritually fast. He has made us alive in Christ so that we might run the race he sets before us. God, as Richard Sibbes pointed out, is not like Pharaoh who issued the command to build bricks without providing straw. Rather, God “bids us do, and quickens us by his Spirit, and enables us to do. He fits us for us such actions; he gives us power to do them.” Trust, therefore, in Christ for your sanctification, and you will run with confidence.
Second, we may be inspired to run with confidence by the saints who have gone before us. Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…let us run…” The imagery is that of a stadium packed with the saints of Hebrews 11 and others like them who have finished their race triumphantly, while we are down on the track following in their footsteps. The idea, however, is not that they are in heaven looking down and cheering us on, but that their lives testify to the fact that by faith we can finish the race and obtain the prize. In other words, we are to be inspired and filled with courage, hope and strength by their completed, victorious races.
During half-time, a coach whose team is losing by a large margin, will remind his players that another team was behind by a greater margin last year, yet they came back to win. The point, of course, is that a comeback is possible. It can be done! When your race is hard, remember and reflect upon what the saints of the past were able to overcome and endure by faith. Read, and re-read Hebrews 11. Read church history and Christian biographies. Let their journeys, endurance, and faithfulness motivate you to press forward. Take note that not just a few made it, but “a great cloud” of them made it. They didn’t make it because of their stronger will power or inner strength; they made it because the same God who works in you, worked in them. That is why, if they made it, then you can too. Therefore, when doubts about your ability to follow Christ begin to seep into your mind and heart, look up into the stands, and you will renew your confidence to run well to the end.
Third, we may be inspired to run with confidence by our own past. The Hebrew Christians were to recall their former Christian service in order to stir them up to run again with confidence and the full assurance of hope (Heb. 10:32-39; 6:9-12). Since they ran well before, they can do so again. After all, God who has begun a good work in us will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6).
When a future hall of fame baseball player falls into a prolonged slump, he can lose his confidence to hit the ball well. How can he get it back? One way is to let his past record remind him that he is a great hitter, and therefore, he can get out of his current slump. This is how, in the book Pilgrim’s Progress, Hopeful sought to encourage Christian when Christian began to contemplate taking Giant Despair’s advice to commit suicide. Hopeful said: “My brother, don’t you remember how valiant you have been in the past? Apollyon could not crush you, nor were you defeated by all the things you heard, saw, or felt in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Consider all the hardship, terror, and bewilderment you have already gone through! And now you are full of fear! Don’t you see that though I am a far weaker man than you by nature, I inhabit this dungeon with you? The giant has wounded me as well as you and has cut off my bread and water as well as yours. I also mourn without the light. But let us exercise a little more patience. Remember how you conducted yourself in front of the men in Vanity Fair and were afraid neither of the chain, nor the cage, nor even of a bloody death. So let us (at least to avoid this shame that is unbecoming of a Christian) bear this with patience as well as we can.” Likewise, when we are down and out, we need to remember our own personal history, which proves to us that we belong to Christ and that the Spirit abides in us. We should use it to renew our confidence by reasoning thus: even as we overcame obstacles in the past by God’s grace, so we can overcome whatever is now in our way by God’s grace.
Doubt is a spiritual killer. It will hamper our run to eternal glory. We, therefore, need to counteract it when it overtakes us by believing in Christ for our sanctification; by looking to the saints of old; and by remembering our own past.
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
 Sibbes, Works, 5:200.
 Bunyan, John; Lovik, C. J.. The Pilgrim's Progress: From This World to That Which Is to Come (Kindle Locations 1930-1936). GoodNewsPublishers - A. Kindle Edition.
Cover art courtesty of Vecteezy.