Summary: Keeping the faith can sometimes be very much like jogging: its a battle against yourself.
You’ve see them along side the road. They often wear ragged and loose fitting clothes. Their expression is usually a mixture of pain and determination. You’ve seen them in the rain, you’ve seen them in the snow, you’ve seen them when the sun is blistering hot and the humidity is nearly 100 percent. You’ve seen their suffering, and yet you drive right past them without offering any help. But that’s the way they want it. For they are joggers. A unique class of people who are driven to punish their bodies in this way.
I actually was one of them for a time. It was a long time ago and the doctor told me to stop for the sake of my back. I was up to about 4 miles a day at the time that I quit, and I still remember what it feels like to be one of them.
For me, it was never really a race against anything but myself. That’s what jogging is usually about. It’s about overcoming yourself. Should you ever endeavor to take up jogging, you will notice that different parts of your body will begin to whimper and complain, the further you go. A shoulder on the first mile, your lungs on the next, and perhaps your thighs on the one after that.
Soon all the parts of your body will try to convince you that its time to stop. And you begin to have the most interesting arguments with yourself: "Wouldn’t it be nice if I could stop this nonsense?" "Why I am doing this again? Is it because I like pain?" "Do I really need to go farther then I went yesterday!" "Look how far I’ve gone already, I’ve already exceeded my own expectations. I’m already a hero! Few people in the world can run as far as I have run today!" And on it goes step after arduous step. That might be why you often see joggers with Walkman and Ipods, their drowning out a cacophony of complaints within their own minds.
The best joggers have learned how to distinguish between real and false complaints in their bodies. While they pay attention to the real complaints that could mean damage to bone or ligaments, they disregard the complaints of muscles that simply are not used to working that hard. They do this because they know they’ll be the better for it. They see the payoff of better fitness and and better overall health. As is often the case, the very parts of the body that complain the most will usually reap the most benefit. Jogging: Its a battle against yourself.
Oddly enough, that’s what faith turns out to be like: Keeping the faith is a battle against yourself. In Today’s epistle lesson, Paul writes "....I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. .....Forgetting what is behind, straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." That sounds like Jogging doesn’t it!
But it’s not completely like Jogging. Faith is not you all by yourself, struggling to make it down the road into eternity. Listen to what Paul says again: "I press on to take hold of that for which CHRIST JESUS TOOK HOLD OF ME" and then "I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which GOD HAS CALLED ME HEAVENWARD." Christ took hold! God called! This is not merely one of those things where God says " on your mark, get set, go, if you’ll run hard enough you’ll make it to heaven." Eternity in Christ is already ours. It has been given to us by God’s Son. He broke the tape for us when he said "it is finished" from the cross. Christ then took hold of us. He reached down into our lives with his Holy Spirit and called us by his gospel and made us into the heaven bound believers that we are today.
So the apostle is not here talking about you earning your salvation, that has already been done by Jesus. What he is talking about is you REMAINING in salvation, and STAYING in the Faith to which you have been called. God’s Goal for you is to see you in eternity; He wants you to make that your goal too.
And that’s the challenge. That’s the race. That’s the battle against yourself. For just as the muscles in your body complain whenever you force it to do some jogging, Your old sinful nature, that part of you that you inherited from Adam complains whenever you take strides to live in accordance with the will of God. "What are you doing?" It will ask you? "This is not fun?" "Nobody else is doing what you are doing" "What’s it going to hurt if you watch a little filth on your TV" . "And why do you care about foul language, everybody uses it." "And church? Why do you need church? Wouldn’t you rather just sleep in?" "You’ve worked so hard all week, you need your rest!" "Look, here’s the big plush comfortable chair of the status quo, quit your running and slouch for awhile. Do what everybody else does, relax, go with the flow. Don’t be so uptight?"