Monday, June 18, 2012

Run with perseverance the RACE

Preamble: This is an almost duplicate of a comment I placed on Ps Prentis' blog (Created to Give God Glory).  I have been extensively writing comments for this US pastor's blog, so much so, I have left so little time for my own blog, but all the same, such writings, are beneficial for all, and so, from time to time, I will reproduce more of my writings placed there, here.  I have followed Ps Prentis' blog for many months now, and so far, I have NOT had major core theological disagreements with his blog entries, and I am comfortable to recommend your following of his blog entries.

Picture of a RACE
Indeed the Apostle Paul was the one, in Scripture, who painted to us, our journey here, on earth, as a believer, is like that of a race. The author of the Book of Hebrews also pictured it that way to us.

Heb 12:1 - "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the RACE {capitalisation, mine} marked out for us."

Paul gave us these: Acts 20:24; 1 Cor 9:24-27; Gal 5:7; 2 Tim 4:7.

Only I may finish the RACE and complete the task
Acts 20:24 – “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the RACE and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”

The tasks are part and parcel of the race. It is simple yet, many people refuse to embrace it: you move along, you do the task before you, and you move along, and you do some more tasks, and eventually, you come to the finishing line; and so, when you complete all the tasks, you arrive at the finishing line, and you can say, “It is finished”. No, Paul did NOT paint us a race where there is nothing to do, like you just bask in the sun, and then you are being moved to the finishing line and you are moved across it!

Don't run aimlessly!
1 Cor 9:24 – 27 “24 Do you not know that in a RACE all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

How do you interpret this? Only one believer gets to Heaven? Of course, NOT; Paul was saying we have to run according to the “rules of the game” so that we don’t get disqualified, so that we can cross the finishing line and win the prize God has intended for us. If I may say so, isn’t it weird that some people can think that they are citizens of the Kingdom of God, but they do NOT need to abide by the laws of the Kingdom? It is plain naïve to think of a Kingdom without a King or a kingdom with a King but without rules. Scripture is very clear that the foundation of the God’s throne or Kingdom is His righteousness and justice (Ps 89:14 & Ps 97:2). So, please live by the ways prescribed by your King.

An illustration: Those who saw the serial movie on Camelot, on the rise of King Arthur the Great, there was a part when King Arthur stopped at a village and he intervened in a case whereby one of the ways of the village was that every woman was the first-fruit for the village-head, meaning the village head got to sleep with every woman before the woman is married to a man. One among the villagers went against that law of the village and killed the village head in a fight, and the brother of the village head had wanted to hang the murderer, but King Arthur and his men arrived at the nick of time, and King Arthur convened a proceeding and found out about the reason behind the fight and murder - the village-head was about to take (to bed) the murderer’s daughter who was fathered by the village-head in the first place, when the latter slept with the wife of the murderer just before their marriage many years back! When the brother of the deceased village-head insisted that the village had its own laws, King Arthur said, “No, as from today, that no longer apply, as your king, my laws shall apply.” Now that brother of the village-head was NOT accepting the decision of the council chaired by King Arthur; the council decided that the murderer shall NOT be put to death, and was allowed to leave with her daughter. That brother still wanted to take the laws into his hand and gathered villagers to attack the man and the daughter. Again, King Arthur and his men acted, and this time that brother of the ex-village head was threatened punishment if he adhered NOT to the laws of the king, and King Arthur stuck a flag of Camelot, and declared that village was under the covering of the King. Think about it this way: if you want NOT to follow after the ways of God, what business do you have to go and live in the Heaven where the King is dwelling?

Concerning verse 27, of course, Paul did NOT mean he would beat up his body, literally; he meant that he would NOT let the carnal desires of the flesh rule his life, for he was determined to follow after the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Be careful of the cutting in
Gal 5:7 – “You were running a good RACE. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?”

Here Paul was rebuking the Galatians who wavered, and had wanted to go back to the Old Covenant, by getting circumcised, on the instigations and teachings of some Jews. (Individual laws of God, unless done away by the works of Christ, still apply, even if they are found in the OT, but all believers subsequent to the first coming of Christ should NOT view themselves as still bound under the Old Covenant. No, as far as covenant is concerned, we are under the New Covenant).

In the last days, there would be more and more false teachings coming on, said the Word.  Be careful NOT to be "dragged off" your good race.  In my opinion, currently, the more insidious false teachings are found in those of the overly-grace believers.

What is meant by "It is finished"?
2 Tim 4:7 – “I {Paul} have fought the good fight, I have finished the RACE, I have kept the faith.

Towards, the end of Paul’s life, in the 2nd epistle to his protégé, Timothy, Paul expressed the above. He was echoing after Jesus, who said, “It is finished”. Read it with Acts 20:24 (also of Paul, given above), when it was said, “It is finished”, by Jesus /Paul, it was referring to Jesus/Paul saying that the tasks assigned to him were completed; NOT anything about we have no nothing left to do, as Christians!

We have all, each to run with perseverance the race marked out for each of us, NOT somebody else’s race, but the race marked out for you; NOT we have no part to play (purportedly implying that Jesus said that, with His exclamation that “It is finished”), but that we are all having our part to play in the race marked out for each of us (Eph 2:10).

You and I are to run the RACE, NOT God!
It is so funny how some people pervert common sense – who is to run the race? You, and I; NOT the organizer or the persons who founded the race or sport. If there is NOT, a part for us to play, why should be author of Hebrews, in the verse above (Heb 12:1) told us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles”? A race is NOT a race, if you are only required to sit there and do nothing, and it is left for God to bring you to the end of finishing line. A race is NOT a race if you do NOT need to work on anything, and there is NOT, anything to overcome or nothing hinders! If you can eat all you like, no need to care about what you take in, without affecting your run, it is NOT a race. If sins would NOT entangle you in your race, it is NOT a race; or why would the author said that we need to throw off sins? Overly grace believers who abusively used the name of the Apostle Paul and said he preached a version of the gospel called the Final Gospel which spelt as “In your Christian life, you don’t have to do anything, it is all God’s part”, they are WRONG; Paul did NOT preach any of such thing. Paul said YOU have to run a race, not God run the race for you. Paul said you have to run in such a MANNER as to win the race, not you anyhow run.

Perseverance means it is NOT easy
The author of Hebrew said in the above verse (Heb 12:1) that we have to PERSEVERE. What does that mean to you? The race must be very easy? No, it means it is NOT easy; it means there are obstacles to overcome. Paul’s own race showed that; for example, Paul was warned twice, through prophecies of others, NOT to go to Jerusalem, but he had to persevere by still going, and he did face being beaten up, and bounded, and put into jail.

Trials expected, said Apostle Peter
Now, even the Apostle Peter did say, trials could be expected; 1 Pet 1:6-7 - "6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire —may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed."

In fact, Peter said it would be strange if you don’t encounter them at all! 1 Pet 4:12 reads as follows:

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.”

Perseverance was written all over the place
Perseverance is the major aspect of a believer’s life. Don’t go after easy-believism; it runs contrary to the main-stream teachings of Scripture.

Peter added in his 2nd epistle, this (2 Pet 1:5-7): “5 ...., make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, PERSEVERANCE; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.

The Apostle James also exhorted we develop perseverance - James 1:2-4 – “2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops PERSEVERANCE. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

We are to note that verse 4 said that perseverance must finish its work, and when it has finished its work the end product is that we become mature and complete, lacking nothing. In the Book of Romans, by the Apostle Paul, Paul, in Romans 5:4, put the product of perseverance as (tried) character with hope; we will look at this in a little more depth in a while.

It should also be noted that James also said to us, in James 5, that to persevere we need to be patient. A character with hope is a patient character. In other words, in perseverance, we develop patience. If you have no patience, you will be restless in hoping. In James 5:10-11, James gave us the example of Job who persevered, and was patient in the face of suffering; in the end, the Lord doubled all (except children) he lost.

We have to learn patience; the parable of Prodigal Son, is NOT commonly expounded with this lesson to be learnt, but indeed this parable also showed up the impatience of the younger son, he wanted his portion of his inheritance which obviously he was NOT ready to handle. It also showed that it is possible that, at times, that you pester God so much about wanting things your way, including how you cannot wait anymore, God may let you have what you want, and in the process, use that scenario of life to mold you – you asked for it, and God relented but He is still of good intention - to mold you. So, it is NOT simply, you go pester God; yes, there is a parable that talked about “pestering God”, but you need know whether the subject of your “pestering” is in line with God’s righteousness and justice, or His ways. Of course, there are no short-cuts to this (to be in line), you have to know His written Word, and you have to learn to hark to the voice of the Holy Spirit. It is NOT the norm that God would give you the food, and eat it for you! Please you have to put the food (Word) into mouth, and chew it and swallow it, and digest it, and make it a part of you. Forget about those teachings that portray such (you eating, doing your part) as works that is opposed to the grace of God. 

If you just leave the Bible on the shelf, it will just gather dust, it is NOT going to crawl into you, and transform or change you.  If you ignore the prompting of the Spirit (who say you are to ignore the pricking of your conscience; kick his butt!), and tell NOT the voice of the carnal flesh to shut up (and that, needs effort!), you will just cruise according to the carnal desires of the flesh.  You need to persevere in doing the right things, including feeding on the written Word and harking to voice of Holy Spirit, and resisting the same of the carnal flesh.

Labor with perseverance
Too many people dismiss the need to labor with perseverance, to be apostles of Christ. Are you an apostle of Christ? Where are the signs? What are some of the signs? Signs and wonders and miracles are one sign; do you have them? You wonder why you do NOT have them! What is your attitude towards laboring with perseverance? You don’t believe in laboring? Or you don’t believe in laboring with perseverance? I give you the verse of Paul’s attitude in this regard. In an epistle to the Corinthians, this was what Paul wrote:

“Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.” 2 Cor 12:12 (KJV) or “The things that mark an apostle—signs, wonders and miracles —were done among you with great perseverance.” (NIV).

Signs, and wonders and miracles can be done by God for various reasons; yet one of the reasons for consistency of such, via a person, I believe, is that it can serve to authenticate that servant of God. Consistency signifies a stamp of approval. One of the qualities God looks at, I believe, in such a servant, is that he labors with perseverance. Labor with perseverance implies labor with sacrifice, against much odds, threats, and even persecutions. Some, by the grace of God, do NOT need to touch the far-end, persecutions, but minimally, sacrifice and battling against odds are NOT uncommon.

So that our hope becomes strong
I said earlier that I will talk a little more on Romans 5, on this issue. The relevant text is this, Romans 5:1-5:

1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Vv 1-2: We, who have been born again, have gained access into God’ grace. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, meaning we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God (future glory referred, glory after we passed on). It is not cliché, we rejoice in the hope of glory; the basis of rejoicing is that we know we are no longer destined for Hell. We actually have a hope to come into, and share in, the glory of God in Heaven, in the future.

Not only do we have peace with God (through justification), gained access into the grace of God (by faith), rejoice in the hope of sharing God’s glory in the future (because we are no longer destined for Hell), we also rejoice in our sufferings. This is because suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, (tried) character (G1382); and (tried) character, hope.

V5: This hope is the hope of going to Heaven. One may ask, “Is there not already a hope at born again?” Sure, but just as faith, perseverance, and character, this hope need to be strengthened.

Yes, this hope is dependent on God, and it is no longer a hope when it reaches its fullness of time, i.e. at the time of reckoning. But right now, we need this hope to press on in this life, and even accomplish any or much things for God in this life. What was it that kept Paul going, for the Lord? It was this hope.

It is said here, that this hope does not disappoint because God has poured out his love into our hearts, and this is represented by the Holy Spirit that God put into us to adopt our spirits as sons of God. Even so, we must remain steadfast in this hope because if we give up on this hope, we may be back on the Hell-bound track.

Through suffering, which produces perseverance, and through perseverance, (tried) character, and through (tried) character, a strong hope takes root in us, one that we will not easily give up or renounce, and this is the most important thing for a Christian, for if he gives up his hope or renounces it, he forfeits his place in Heaven.

This hope or expectation of going to Heaven, it does not disappoint, because we know God loves us.

God loving us is one thing, our choice to hold onto the hope, is another
There is no tension between verses 3-4 and verse 5, contrary to what some might think, for God loving us is one thing, our choice of wanting to hold on to the hope (expectation that we will go to Heaven) is entirely ours to made and hold onto.

God had already committed His part in His love for us, by His Son, Jesus dying for us, and the Holy Spirit being put into us, on us entering into salvation. Because we do not expire yet (die right-away), we must continuously by choice, hold onto the hope. Your hope grows stronger (meaning you will not give it up easily) after each negotiation of a trial or suffering, because the suffering works on your perseverance, and your character.

What is that which is important in defining one’s character? It is his belief system. A tried character is one with tried belief system. The more your character is tried, the more your belief system is tried, and the more your belief system is tried, the stronger they get, and they will not be changed. For a believer, in his belief system, is that hope, and that is made stronger with each suffering or trial when the trial or suffering is handled correctly.

Anthony Chia, high.expressions -Working through tough times, comes with the territory, so to speak. Lord, I pray more of your children will realize that, and embrace that, and NOT be misled by false preachers who teach cruising as the norm, for a believer’s life. Amen.

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