Run Your Race

When I ran track in high school, I competed in the 800m and 1500m races.  My teammates competed in different races.  The sprinters ran the 100m and 200m, while the long-distance runners ran the 3000m and 5000m.  Although we all ran on the same track, we had our own particular races to run.  As Christians, we are all running on the same road that leads to what John Bunyan calls the Celestial City.  Nevertheless, we all have unique races to run because no two lives are exactly the same and we don’t serve Christ in the abstract.  We always trust and obey the Lord concretely in a particular context, which is why God calls us to run our race.

The author Hebrews says that we are to run the race that God sets before us (Heb. 12:1).  We aren’t to run the race set before “them” or “him” or “her” but the race set before us.  Paul says that we are to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12).  We aren’t to work out someone else’s salvation, only our own.  Commenting upon “your own” in Philippians 2:12, the Puritan Richard Sibbes wrote:

“Every one has a cup that he in particular must taste of, and every one a particular work to do.  Though all go one way that are saved… Some must live in some callings, and therein ‘work out their own salvation,’ others in others.  Eph. ii. 10, ‘Every one is created to good works which God prepares for him.’”[1]

Hebrews 11 provides a snapshot of some of the races that God’s people had to run in the Old Testament.  Noah had to build an enormous Ark over many years far from the sea, while enduring the ridicule of his neighbors and perhaps even his own doubts from time to time.  Abraham had to leave his homeland without knowing his destination, live in a tent in a foreign land, and offer up his son Isaac.  Moses was required to exchange the wealth and lifestyle of an Egyptian prince for a place among the poor and mistreated Israelite slaves.  Some of the saints experienced great victories as the fruit of their faithfulness: conquering kingdoms, obtaining promises, stopping the mouth of lions, quenching the power of fire, and escaping the edge of the sword.  Other saints, however, endured great suffering, as they were mocked, flogged, imprisoned, stoned, sawn in two and killed with the sword.

The New Testament also has its own array of varied races.  The apostles had to go and preach the gospel in the midst of opposition and rejection, but also to great success.  Paul, as the apostle to the Gentiles, had to persevere through a tremendous amount of hardship.  Many of the saints in Jerusalem were ostracized from their families and communities, and lived in poverty.  The Philippian Christians, in order to work out their own salvation, were required to deal with ecclesiastical disunity humbly, without grumbling and complaining.  Euodia and Syntyche needed to agree in the Lord with the help of Paul’s true companion. 

The Scriptural examples remind us that every race is different and that some are harder than others.  Some of us will have to run through unemployment, a broken home, chronic illness, and abuse.  Others will have a dream job their entire life, be in good health, a member of a fantastic church, and enjoy the blessings of a wonderful family.  Yet, irrespective of how great things are for us or how good we think others have it, life in this present evil age will always have its problems, not the least of which is growing old and dying.  We will all have hills to climb and obstacles to overcome.  Whatever our life situation is, we need to remain faithful in it and run the race God has set before us.  That won’t be a problem, of course, when life is pleasant and enjoyable.  The test will be when we are required to endure something we hate or find difficult, to give up something we love or to do something that we would rather not do. 

Sometimes, when life takes a wrong turn, there is no escape hatch through which we can run far away from our troubles.  If we were to sustain permanent brain damage in an accident, there is nothing that we could do to change our situation.  Nevertheless, the question of faithfulness still remains: will we continue to trust and obey the Lord or curse him for our troubles and go our own way? 

Other times, however, there is a way to leave our troubles behind.  We might, for example, be the spouse of the one who was permanently hurt in the accident.  The changes to our lifestyle and the work required in looking after a disabled spouse may be too much for us to handle, or rather, require sacrifices that we simply don’t want to make anymore.  And so, we divorce our spouse for the single life or for the opportunity to start again with someone else. Instead of sticking to our race, we pick a new one.

The temptation to pick a new race can be especially strong when we compare ourselves to others.  When we see the faithful prosper as they enjoy a happy marriage or a carefree single life, we might think to ourselves, “If only I could get rid of the unhappy marriage I am in, I could enjoy what they have and life would be great again.”  Or when we see the unfaithful prosper, we might think to ourselves, “They are professing Christians, and they divorced simply because they fell out of love and are no longer happy together.  Now they seem to be doing great.  Why can’t I do the same?” 

Although it is easy to believe that the grass is always greener on the other side, the reality is that it typically isn’t.  But even if it is better on the other side, it doesn’t belong to us, and we shouldn’t covet it.  In moments like these, we need to remind ourselves of the words our Lord Jesus spoke to Peter in John 21.  After being told that he would be killed, Peter asked Jesus if the same thing would happen to John.  Jesus replied to Peter, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?  You follow me.”  John, it seems, would have an easier race to run than Peter, at least with respect to the end.  But Peter shouldn’t be concerned about that.  He needed to focus on following Jesus, that is, running the race that Jesus set before him.  Likewise, if you are tempted to switch races because others seem to have it easier than you or simply because you want a new one, then let the words of Jesus ring in your heart and mind, “what is that to you?  You follow me.” 

More from this series:

"A Runner in a Race"

"Run to Win"

"Run to the End"

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. 

Related Links

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 at 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 

[1] Sibbes, Works, 5:9.