Picture a man who wants to run 50 miles without stopping. That’s ambition, you think, so you go to watch. The man starts his run and you watch the whole thing. He’s very fit, his legs are toned beyond belief. He’s pacing himself, his mental energy is off the charts, his eyes are dead set on that fifty-mile finish line. The longer he runs, the wearier he gets. You and the rest of the crowd he’s gathered cheer him on. 30 miles…35…40, he’s run farther than you drive on a good day! But suddenly, at the 45-mile mark, the poor fellow’s legs finally abandon their mental master and he collapses. He can run no longer.
There are two points a Christian MUST learn from this illustration. One: he did not reach the goal. Two: he ran an amazing 45 miles.
Such is the life of a Christian.
The Bible teaches that we are not perfect, nor will we ever be. And yet, it tells us to keep trying. Why did God give commandments to the Israelites if he knew they would break them? Because this was the order He wanted to enact–a nation that did not tolerate murder, theft, lying, etc. He knew they’d never get there, but he still set a goal to be reached.
One of the inherent dangers of Christianity is to take in only one of those two principles I mentioned earlier.
One side would slap the exhausted man with a ruler because he only made 45 of his 50 miles. They discount the incredible effort that is a 45-mile run and only focus on the fact that he didn’t reach the goal. In other words, he fell short of perfection, and that is inexcusable. These people are hypocrites, because they, themselves, could probably only run 2 miles, and only if it was downhill. This is religion.
But the other side feels so sorry for the poor runner that they pick up the finish line and move it back five miles, break the tape over the man’s chest and say, “Yay! You did it! You reached your goal!” This class of person compromises true greatness for whatever feels good. They run the race, but they mark a chalk finish line wherever they get tired, then they parade around and demand a gold medal for their “achievement.” This is morality.
To hold only one of those principles creates back-breaking strictness or unsupportable flexibility. Neither is the message of God. Or, to be perfectly accurate, both are, but only together.
If God was only holy, he would fiercely demand perfection. He would never have sent Jesus because he would hold everyone accountable for their own salvation. If this was the case, Heaven would be a very empty place.
But on the other hand, if God was only love, Jesus wouldn’t have been necessary because God would be letting everybody into heaven no matter what they did. There would be no need to be good and holy because evil gets in, too.
Why would ANYBODY serve such a God as these? I certainly wouldn’t, and I don’t. I serve a God who doesn’t compromise for my sake, but one who does celebrate my progress.
When I was recovering from pornography, God didn’t set the finish line at “one day” or “one week.” He kept it at “never.” But when I relapsed after six months, God picked me up and said, “Wow, that’s a new record. Now let’s keep trying.” And when I relapsed again after eight months, God said, “Even better. Let’s keep trying.”
God doesn’t give up on us; he’s too gracious. But neither does he yield, for he is holy. God will never say, “it is finished” until it’s finished, (which, by the by, makes me very happy that Jesus said it), but instead of giving up, he walks alongside us and helps us reach our marks.
Let’s return to the man who only ran 45 out of 50 miles. The only healthy response for him is to get up (or perhaps get carried off), shake his head, and say, “Well, bummer. But you know what? 45 miles is pretty amazing.” Then go home, ice his legs, and try again next time. Will he ever make it? Probably not. But this is where the metaphor breaks down.
The point of Christianity and life is not to cross the finish line; it is simply to run. Once you get this in your head, that you don’t have to break some yellow tape somewhere in the distance, you stop sprinting and learn to enjoy the steady jog.