Tune My Heart

Living and speaking for Jesus

Tag: Hebrews

Keep going

Man running

Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1)

In Bristol this weekend 12,000 runners took to the streets for the annual 10K race. I live near the Bristol Downs, where every day you can see casual joggers (headphones in; gentle pacing) and more serious runners (hi-vis Lycra; determined) out for their evening’s exercise. Occasionally I’ll join them, but without anything to train for I find it easy to give up early and head home.

The Christian life is often described as a race. Christians are like athletes, in a competition with rules (2 Tim 2:5). We’re to run to obtain a prize, running with purpose and discipline (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). We’re to press on to the end, straining forward to what lies ahead (Philippians 3:13-14). We’re to persevere (Hebrews 12:1), or in the words common to many conversations I’ve had recently, we’re to keep going.

“Keep going.” A simple phrase, easy to say, but it often feels so difficult to do. For the Christian facing a difficult time—whether the stress of exams, overwhelming temptation or the black dog of depression—it can seem next to impossible. “Keep going? Exactly how do you expect me to do that?” We’re all too aware of our weakness and inability, and yet other Christians—the Bible even—seem to expect something that feels beyond us.

Often it can feel like no-one really understands how difficult things are. So we end up hiding away our feelings, saying “no one seems to believe me anyway”. At the other extreme we feel the need to prove that we’re struggling by self-destructing—turning to sin, self-harm, even suicide attempts to get people to “take this seriously”.

To the suffering, struggling Christian, the gentle encouragement to keep going can seem like the straw that breaks the camel’s back. We read verses like the one from Hebrews above, and angrily respond: “I can’t! Can’t you see I’m drowning here?”

When it feels like it’s impossible to keep going, what do we need to hear? Is God being unrealistic and pastorally insensitive when he calls us to “run with perseverance”?

The book of Hebrews actually gives us a perfect model of how to encourage the struggling. More than any other New Testament book, it calls Christians to keep going, to keep running the race, to keep fighting sin, to persevere to the end. But it does so by pointing them away from their own resources, and shows them the one who persevered through ultimate suffering, even to the point of death, and still kept going—the Lord Jesus Christ. The verse above finishes like this:

Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

I can’t keep going. It’s beyond me. I’ll never make it. What can I do? Do I give up?

By no means. We’re to “fix our eyes on Jesus”; to “consider him”, the one who kept going to the bitter end—and pushed through to resurrection life. He has gone through suffering and death to the joy of heaven, and he does so as our pioneer, our forerunner. We look to him—and as we do, we find that, miraculously, he keeps us going. He’s run the race already, and ensures we’ll make it too.

Struggling, weary, doubting Christian: keep going! Not because you’re strong, but because his hold on you is sure. Not because you are worthy, but because he has promised.

Keep going. Not because you are able—but because he is.

To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. (Jude 23-24)

Have I repented enough?

Do you ever feel like you’ve failed so badly that you can’t relate to God?

You feel filthy. Pathetic. You’ve let him down – again.

Saying sorry doesn’t seem to cut it. It doesn’t seem enough. Your sin is too big for a mere apology. It requires something more.

So you try to deal with the guilt yourself. You beat yourself up. You tell yourself you’re a failure. You wallow in the guilt, because after all, it’s what you deserve. You repent of the same sins over and over, hoping that this time, deep down, you really mean it and God will forgive you.

We try to atone for our failures, resolve to try harder next time, and maybe then we’ll feel like we’re forgiven.

In all of this, what never occurs to us is that in trying to atone for our perceived offences, we commit a greater one – we doubt that Jesus’ blood can in fact atone for our sins in full. We forget the free and full forgiveness offered to us in Jesus and insist on adding our own acts of penance.

Saying sorry doesn’t cut it. Your sin is too big for a mere apology. It does require something more. It deserves death, judgment and hell. It’s that serious. Too serious to be dealt with by a week of wallowing in guilt. Too big for a few good deeds to make up for it.

Sin deserves death. Yet for the Christian, that death has already taken place. The cost of our rebellion has already been paid by another. Jesus’ death has done everything necessary. We simply look to him, and receive forgiveness as a gift.

Have you repented enough? Almost certainly not. There are sinful depths to our hearts that will take a lifetime to uncover. We will always need to repent.

Does that mean we can never approach God? Not at all. Jesus has done everything necessary for us to draw near. Beating ourselves up, punishing ourselves – it would never be enough. Wonderfully, for the Christian it is never necessary.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:19-23)

Fooling around with our forgiveness

Loving this from Nim Clemo:

Maybe I’ve accepted God’s forgiveness, but I feel so guilty for Jesus’ sacrifice on my behalf that I go into overdrive, trying to make it up to God by working really hard at serving him. Again, pride and self sufficiency appear, as I convince myself that my good works are enough. I’ve forgotten God’s overwhelming love and willingness to save me – he doesn’t want me to try to make it up to him. It’s as ridiculous as a man buying flowers for the wife he loves, and her fishing around in her handbag and saying “OK, how much do I owe you for these?”

Great stuff – click the title to see more at her blog.

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