Contending for the faith | Making Disciples | Equipping the Saints for Ministry

     Last month I talked about the importance of vision when it comes to running the race; therefore, this article further emphasizes this fact. It is clear that the type of focus a person maintains not only defines his or her purpose but it determines the direction in which that individual is to run. That is why a disciple of Christ strives to always be within “viewing range” of where the Master is leading, while carefully walking in line with His yoke. It is Jesus alone who is able to inspire and lead us into the glory of the next world, but we must learn to follow Him by ever focusing on Him through His examples and teachings.

      Solomon tells us in Proverbs 29:18 that people without vision will perish. The problem today with many Christians is that their vision does not extend beyond this present world. Those who are caught up with the things of this world become lukewarm towards the things of God. It takes the eyes of unfeigned faith to see beyond this present world to the next. It takes the discipline of obedience to walk in light of the next world. The more Christians focus on Jesus and adjust to His way, truth, and life, the more defined their vision becomes toward the age that is yet to come.

      For example, have you ever been around a saint who possesses a certain glow in their eyes? It appears as if that person is looking through the present reality into a whole new dimension. It is not that the saint is looking through you, but he or she is looking past that which is visible, and catching glimpses into the invisible, which causes his or her eyes to take on a heavenly glow. It is clear that the world to come is more real to them than the present world they live in. Instead of looking at the world through hues of worldly influences, they are viewing matters from an eternal perspective.

      Consider the above scenario. If believers possessed a heavenly perspective, it would clearly change what they value and change the impact they would leave on others. When I study the prophets and saints like the Apostle Paul, it is clear that their perspective did not find its origins or inspiration in the present world (Ephesians 2:6). They undoubtedly possessed a heavenly gaze that was increasingly defined as their vision was forever adjusted by the heavenly influence in their lives.

      I don’t know about you but one of my desires is to possess a heavenly perspective. I don’t want to be bound to this present world by idolatrous dependency, limited vision, and lustful attractions. I want my countenance to glow with the heavenly light when I enter heaven, revealing that like Abraham, I have seen the city of God, my home in the far distance and run towards it in great expectation (Hebrews 11:10). In the past I have seen glimpses of this city’s glorious light in each revelation of Jesus. I rejoiced in its promises as the world became more of a stranger to me, and the truths of God became more real to me than the reality of the present world.

      The question is how do we obtain such a vision? Scripture is clear that we all start out blind, groping in the darkness of sin, deception, and despair (Deuteronomy 28:28-29; Isaiah 59:10). If you consider that in many cases involving physical blindness it takes surgery or a miracle to restore sight, we must concede that the same holds true for spiritual vision. Believers have spiritual vision because of the miracle of Christ’s redemption. Due to Adam and Eve falling into spiritual darkness, the sight of faith had to be restored, and thanks to redemption the real sight to see into the unseen realm has been given to each believer.

      We must recognize the Christian life is about advancing forward. That is why we have been given the eyesight of faith to move forward even when the gray shadows give way to grave darkness and the looming dark clouds turn into raging storms. We must continue forward because our home is not behind us and our real prize is yet to be claimed.

      There is another reason we must ever continue to move forward and that is because we have been entrusted with an urgent message. We have not only been saved from a life of vanity and destruction, but we have been saved to a life that has purpose and merit. Without purpose, there is no initiative or desire to even walk out the Christian life, let alone run the race.

      The Christian race is not just any race, it is a lifetime marathon. Granted, we must learn to walk out the Christian life, but we are also called to run the race. Sadly, it seems that many American Christians have forgotten what the race is all about.

      When we think of marathons, we think of long distance runners. If you are like me, you admire and marvel at dedicated runners who prepare to run a 26-mile course. But, how many of you have heard the name Philippides? I heard about this man years ago watching the history channel. Admittedly, I did not remember his name, but I remembered his feat which inspired what is known today as the “marathon race.”

      To get my facts right, I looked up the history associated with this man and what we now know as the “marathon race” on the Internet. This incredible feat that is associated with this run did not just entail a runner running a marathon to a certain place for some type of competition or a prize; rather, it was actually associated to a life and death situation.

      Philippides (530 BC–490 BC) lived in Athens and was a professional runner. In essence, you could say he was a courier that carried vital messages to other places. Due to some of the terrain, runners, instead of horses were used to carry messages to a designated place.

      In the case of Philippides, he had to carry an urgent message. The Persian army was advancing towards Athens in their attempt to conquer the known world. The army had just landed a large force just outside of Athens and was preparing to attack the city. It was clear to those of Athens that the time was short and that they needed help. The Athenian generals sent Philippides to seek help from Sparta. This professional runner ran 140 miles over rugged mountainous terrain to Sparta in 36 hours. Sparta agreed to help but they would not begin to prepare their army until noon. This would leave the people of Athens alone to fight the battle. Philippides had to run the 140 miles back to warn the people of Athens that they would be on their own to face this army.

      Although the small Athenian army was outnumbered 4 to 1, the wise military leaders launched a surprise offensive at the plains of Marathon. Philippides was one of those who fought that day. At the end of the day 6,400 Persian bodies lay dead on the field while only 192 Athenians lost their lives. The surviving Persian soldiers fled to the sea, but decided to attack Athens again from a different direction. Philippides once again was instructed to run to Athens, 26 miles away, to carry the news of victory and the warning of another impending attack. He reached Athens in three hours to deliver the message, and then died shortly thereafter from exhaustion.

      Eventually Sparta and other Greek polies came to the aid of Athens and kept the Eastern power from conquering Greece and spreading into Europe. For this reason the battle that took place at Marathon is called the “battle that changed history.”  Imagine, at the center of it was a runner who spent out his energy and his life to save his beloved Athens.

      Centuries later the modern Olympic Games introduced a “marathon race” of 24.85 miles. The first winner was a man named Spiridor Louise, a Greek postal worker who was a veteran of several long military marches. He ran the course in 2 hours, 58 minutes and 50 seconds. His average pace was 7:11 miles per hour. In the 1908 Olympic Games in London, the marathon distance was changed to 26 miles.

      Most likely the Apostle Paul knew the history of Philippides. When we think of the Christian being a runner, we think in terms of running the race in light of our Christian walk. To some extent this is true. We are running a type of race towards heaven, but for the Christian, the real purpose for running the race is because we are carrying a most urgent message. Carrying this message is our commission.

      As believers we have been given the vital message of the Gospel to carry throughout the various mission fields of the world. It is a life and death message for those who have never heard the warning or who have failed to believe they are in danger of being destroyed by the enemy of sin, which will cause them to be consumed by the lusts of the flesh and entrapped in the snares of the fowler, and ultimately cast into hell (Mark 16:15; Psalm 91:3; 1 John 2:15-17; Matthew 25:29-30).

      We must ask ourselves if we are running this race, holding high the passion and flame of the Holy Spirit as we carry the life-and-death message of the Gospel. Romans 10:14-17 tells us, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” The only reason we are carrying this message is because we love our beloved Lord and Savior and are committed to carry out our commission, showing forth our loyalty to the spiritual kingdom He is establishing. It does not matter if we are spent out, for it is a worthy and honorable cause. It does not matter if we lose all for the sake of spreading the message, for in the end we will gain the greatest prize of all.

      Like every runner, Christians must go through much preparation before they can take on the terrain of this world, but how many Christians are prepared to run this incredible marathon to the finish line? Before one is prepared, there must be a desire to even run the race. What most Christians do not realize is that upon salvation, this marathon race begins. Granted, most of us start out crawling or barely walking, and if a new Christian takes off running it is out of zeal that lacks knowledge of true righteousness (Romans 10:2-3). Such a person will eventually burn out and abort the race because he or she is not prepared to endure the hardships of such a course.

      The Apostle Paul compared the hardships of the course to that of being a soldier in 2 Timothy 2:2-4, “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. Thou therefore endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.” Endurance is not only a product of faith in action but it is often the main tool that forges character in a person.

      Remember, this long distance race is named after a major battle that changed history. As Christian runners we have a worthy foe, and it is not each other, but Satan. We also need to remember that when Jesus Christ stepped into history in human form, it was to win the war over Satan and spiritual death, but it was also to entrust us with the torch of the Holy Spirit and the very important message of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 2:4; 9:16; Hebrews 2:14-18). However, the enemy has for centuries tried to wipe out the light of the Gospel and silence the messenger. This world is his world and he knows how to tempt some to abort their mission, ensnare others into traps of weariness, complacency, and indifference rendering them inept, and entice others to take detours from the course to ensure that they never victoriously finish the race (2 Corinthians 4:2-7). It is for this reason that we are to put on the whole armor of God which includes our feet being shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace, knowing that there are battles ahead of us that must be fought and endured (Ephesians 6:15).

      Before running any race, Christians need to first learn the course. Psalm 119:105 tells us this about the course, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” The Word will outline the course we are to run. As we initially begin walking in obedience to it, we will learn to stay in our specific lane in preparation to run. Most racers start out in a particular lane but if a person steps outside of his or her lane before the proper time, he or she will be disqualified. No one can run another person’s race. Each person must stay within the narrow confines of the path that God has ordained for him or her in order to stay the course.

      The lines for our course have been clearly drawn in the Bible, but the problem is the lines have been “fudged” by enemies of the cross and truth. The seriousness of sin has been watered down by political correctness, the Holy Spirit has been replaced with organizations and methods, the Word has been dulled-down by various corrupt versions to suffice the world, and the many saints have lost their discerning edge because of being bombarded by worldly demands.

      Marvin Rosenthal gave this perspective about the Word of God, “Today, there is not so much a need to defend God’s Word as there is a need to proclaim it. Perhaps Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, said it best. When asked if he defended the Word of God, Spurgeon responded, ‘Yes, the way I would defend a lion. I just open the cage and let it out.’”

      The next preparation in running the marathon race entails disciplining our bodies. The Apostle Paul put this discipline in these terms of preaching the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, and not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection; lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.

      To discipline our bodies means to keep our appetites, lusts, and desires under control. If we can’t discipline ourselves in these areas we will never be prepared to endure the race, nor will we have any credibility when it comes to those we come in contact with. In any serious competition, winners learn self-denial of those things that would not enhance their ability to win and sacrifice much in order to fine tune their abilities to win.

      Clearly, there is much preparation in running the race. In order to develop strength to endure a marathon, a person must start out running a reasonable distance with the intent of challenging the body to run further each time. For the Christian this means we must find our niche as to the type of evangelistic approach we adopt when it comes to carrying out our commission. Once we find that approach, we must enlarge and fine-tune it by gaining experience in doing it.

      People who share the Gospel have various ways in which they do it. Some pass out tracts and others look for opportunities to plant a seed, while others become missionaries. There are those who ask questions, seeking some common ground or an open door. We have those who are street preachers, while some use events to bring people into earshot of the Gospel. Whatever our niche may be, we must find it and avail ourselves to be used by God to declare the urgent message of the Gospel to a world of people who are about to go down in a sinking ship.

      Next month I will deal more with the subject of personal discipline. The main thing we must consider is, are we even attempting to run this most important race? Perhaps we are struggling with the idea of running it, and if so, we must remember that we can’t finish the race unless we start in the first place, and we can’t get very far without personal preparation and discipline.