Jack Graham - Finish the Race
We're in a series in the book of Hebrews, the letter to the Hebrews, we're calling it GOING THE DISTANCE: Developing a Muscular Faith. So I want to fast-forward a little bit in our text in Hebrews to the twelfth chapter in Hebrews. It's describing here in Hebrews, the twelfth chapter, a great race. Now remember, the Hebrew believers, the Christians were discouraged. And some may have been slowing down. Some were even considering getting out of the race. Some were thinking about going back to their old way of life. And yet we're told in Hebrews, chapter 6, that we are to go on to maturity, and thus our theme GOING THE DISTANCE. It's about always moving forward, onward and upward. Let us go on to perfection, that is, maturity. Keep going! And never quit.
Now the Christian life is much like a race. Some of you have run marathons and that's a long distance race, of course. But the Christian life is not a sprint; it is a marathon, but more than a marathon, it is like cross-country. It's a marathon with obstacles along the way, and challenges along the way. And we are called as Christians not just to start the race, not just to get in. Now, you must get in, and the way you get in the race is by responding to the Gospel: receiving Christ as your Savior- who died for you and rose again. And when you trust in Christ, repenting of your sin and receiving Him as your Lord and Savior, that puts you in the race. Now that you're in the race, we are to run that race all the way to the finish.
And in today's message from Hebrews 12:1 and 2, I want to give you some strategies. I want to coach you up, I guess, is one way of putting it from God's Word as to how we may finish. Look at chapter 12:1-2, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God". So there you have it. How to move forward in your faith! Not just to start, but to finish and to finish well. To finish with your hands held high in a sprint to the finish line, bursting into the streets of Glory! God made you, as a believer, to win. And that's not a cliché. Truly we are called to live in spiritual victory. And spiritual victory is to live with hope! It is to live with peace and joy and strength and, yes, love, which is stronger than all. Because we have the presence of God's Spirit living in us. The victor lives in us.
Now life is so hard for so many people. We know that. Some of you who are listening to me, watching today, your life is filled with a lot of chaos and confusion. There is so much heartache and heart break in peoples' lives today. And you can do one of two things: In the midst of all the obstacles and challenges that you're facing in your life. You can concede defeat and give up, or you can declare your victory in the Lord Jesus Christ, and keep going! It's your choice: to give up or to go on, to live a defeated life which is a miserable life, no way to live. Or as the Apostle Paul says in Romans 8:37, to live as a conqueror. "We are more than conquerors through our Lord Jesus Christ".
More than conquerors! Not just conquerors, but super conquerors! That means we don't just barely get by, we don't squeak by, we win big time! More than conquerors! And you can choose, hear me, you can choose victory! But that means you must be in the race every day, all the way. Many believers are not finishing. Well, at least they're not finishing well. They're failing, not finishing. Many Christians are weakened, not winning; crashing and burning and not finishing well. Why? Too much weight, too much weight! That's why the Scripture says here get rid of the excessive weight. "Laying aside every weight and the sin which holds us back". Too much weight! We're carrying too much baggage from our past. Now one of the problems I've had in traveling over the years is packing too much stuff.
You know, I'm a packer, far more than Deb. I mean I would think about some of these Israel trips that we've taken in the past and I would pour books in there. Those are like bricks in a suitcase; and carry a bag, and all these clothes and extra things that I put in the bag. And, you know, I'm carrying something over my shoulder and rolling a bag, checking a bag, and I get over there. I don't even use half the stuff that I take. But this year was different. I toned it down and we packed one bag each, and I actually carried a European male carryon, a man-bag, a "murse". I mean, I'm down to this. Don't judge me, because actually you ladies have had it right all along! I mean, you could carry all kinds of stuff in your "murse"! I mean there's you know, my nose inhaler, there's pens, there's medicine, there's chapstick; you could put a book in there, you could put an iPad in there, you could put your keys in there, your Altoids.
You can throw a lot of stuff in a man bag! Then all you do, you know, over your shoulder. It goes well with my outfit, don't you think? Yeah! I got rid of the weight! And you can't believe how exciting it was just coming through the airport, just swagging with my bag! I wasn't rolling anything. I wasn't carrying anything. I was just man-bagging it and it was very good. So, that's trending right now on twitter, by the way. Well, in life you need to trim down the stuff in your life that may be slowing you down, the excess baggage in your life that's keeping you as you run the race around this planet, keeping you from achieving God's best for your life. If you're carrying baggage, and many people are, baggage from their past, whether it is bitterness or anger or unforgiveness or shame or fears, anxiety.
All that stuff is toxic and it's just extra weight in your life that you don't need. You can't go forward the way God has made you to win if you're always dragging excess luggage and baggage in your life. So what you need to do is stop and get rid of it, get a new plan, give it to God, because it's keeping you from running well and finishing well. Now what slows you down, and it may be neutral in terms of sin or not sin, but what slows you down can also lead us to sin. If what you're doing is taking you nowhere, if it's taking you out of obedience to God in some way, if it is dulling your life of prayer and your hunger for God's Word. The desires to be spiritually healthy, then it can become sin; a weight.
Listen to me. You want to know what a weight is? A weight is anything that would distract you, divert you or dull your spiritual senses, or ultimately defeat you as you're running the race of Christ. Anything that keeps you from becoming the man, the woman that God has called you to be! Now, how do you determine that? What's good, what's bad, how you're in and how you're out on some of these things? Well, over the years I've developed a check list that I want to give you today that helps me decide on some of the things I do or don't do in my life, so that I can make right choices, especially in some of those so-called gray areas. It's not black; it's not white; it's not verse and number in our Bibles, but it's a choice that we must make. These are principles. Someone called them principles for proper practice. That's a tongue-twister But principles for making good decisions in your life.
So I ask these questions and I give them to you today: Number one, is it constructive? Look in your Bibles at 1 Corinthians 6, and verse 12. The apostle says, "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful". That is, constructive; expedient is given is some translations. Not everything is expeditious; it doesn't move us forward in the expedition of life, in the race of life. "All things are lawful for me, but I will not be dominated by anything". So ask yourself when it comes to activities, entertainment, decisions, choices in your life, is this helpful? Is it constructive? Is it getting me down the road, forward in the race of life? For example: What do you do with your free time? What's your go-to when you have some down time?
Now, we don't have control of all our time. We have responsibilities and duties and work, and all the rest, but we do have the choice concerning how we spend our time away from the office or from the responsibility, and you have a choice. You can do things that will build you up and strengthen you in the race, and prepare you for the future, or you can waste your time. And can I tell you, life is too short to waste it on things that do not matter. So we're always asking is this constructive? You do have control on how you spend your away time. Are you feeding your soul? Are you nourishing your spirit?
Number two, is it controlling? Again, 1 Corinthians 6:12, at the end of that verse, we read it: "I will not be dominated or controlled by anything"! I don't want to be controlled or addicted to anything in my life. No habit is worth that. I don't want food or drink or entertainment or certain activities, I don't want to be under the power of anything! That's what Paul is saying, and that's what I'm saying! I don't want to be under the power of greed, and therefore, I gamble. I don't want to be under the power of alcohol so I don't drink! I don't need these things in my life to make me happy, to be fulfilled or satisfied. I hear Christians today defending alcohol, and my answer to that is alcohol has many defenders but no defense. I can tell you as a pastor I've really never seen one good thing come from alcohol. So I've chosen to abstain from alcohol. I always have. And I believe I'm better for it. I just don't need it. And especially, you know, I don't want to be under the control.
How do I know that I wouldn't be under the control of something? In other words, I need it. First the man takes the drink; then the drink takes the man. Ephesians 5:18 says "Don't be drunk with wine". We know drunkenness is a sin. How much alcohol do you have to drink to get a buzz, to be drunk, to be under the influence? I don't know. But don't be drunk with alcohol, "but be filled with the Holy Spirit"! Years ago I took a drink that satisfies, the Spirit of God filled me! And I don't need artificial substances or beverages to make me happy. I actually have a good time without it! But that's just one thing. But I'm saying anything in your life that causes you to be self indulgent and can control you. You know, if you never take a drink, you'll never be controlled by alcohol. And I would advise your children and mine and my grandchildren, I would advise them all don't ever touch it. Don't touch it. It's a viper.
And then thirdly, is it conscionable? In other words is my conscience good on this? Now this is a tricky one. Turn to Romans chapter 14 verses 22 and 23. Is it conscionable? "The faith that you have keep between yourself and God". That is your inner person. "Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for one he approves". It's talking about your character, your conscience, and what you say yes to, what you say no to, what you approve. "But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats", he's talking about certain religious rituals and rites. He says "because the eating is not from faith". And then he adds, "for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin". If I cannot do something and have my whole heart in it, my conscience.
Now again this is a tricky one because our conscience should always be guided, not by our feelings or emotions but by the Scripture as we fill our minds and hearts with the Word of God. But in another sense the Spirit of God works in us and there should be a clear cut sense of right and wrong when you come to a decision. And whatever is not of faith is sin, according to God's Word. In other words, it's a simple maxim: When in doubt, don't! If the warning light comes on your dashboard of your car, you could say, well, that's nothing, and you find out it's something when the car breaks down. The warning light, if the warning light goes off in your life when you're about to say something, do something, be something, then that is a cause to pause and say, "Lord, what do You want me to do"? And if you have an uneasy spirit, if you have an unsure conscience towards something in your life, that's a clue. Ding, ding, ding.
That's a clue from God by His Spirit that you ought to hold off from doing that thing. Is it conscionable? Can I do this thing with a good, healthy conscience? One of our problems is rationalizing sin. We say things like, "Well, I know Christians who do it. I know Christians who do this or that, and they even appear to be really, really, really good Christians! So I guess if it's okay for them, it's okay for me". And that's confusing to a lot of people. I've always had in my head this little thought when it comes to doing something wrong that maybe what I perceive to be, what violates my conscience or convictions. Seeing someone do that as a Christian. Maybe I admire them as a Christian but I see them doing it, something goes off in my head that says others may, but you may not. I don't know, that's just me. Because I just know me. I know certain things in my life would set me off in a direction I don't want to go. So run your own race!
And then there's a final thing and that's: Is it charitable? Is it charitable? Romans 14: 15 and 16 and then verse 21. Look at them: "For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love". In other words, if you do something that grieves a brother in Christ, a sister, whether it's what you eat, or otherwise, "do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good to be spoken about as evil". Verse 21, look at it. Very important. "It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble". Now that's the Christian principle and perspective on life. It's love. Love covers everything.
You say, "Well I have a liberty. I'm living in liberty. I'm not under the law". No, you're not under the law. You are under grace. And there is a liberty in Christ for sure! But let me tell you something, love trumps liberty in what I do every time. Love always wins, and love wins, love is the winning formula for life. In the Christian faith we want to take others to heaven with us. Our testimony is at stake, our witness is at risk when we do those things which are compromised at some level, when we do certain things in the name of liberty but not love. Don't do anything that could keep people from Christ, that would cause them to reject Christ or for a Christian brother or sister to stumble and fall and fail! Don't damage your testimony! Don't be a stumbling block! Be a stepping stone for people to come to Christ. Ask the Holy Spirit to prompt you, to prove you, to purify you as you go forward.
We all have weaknesses. We all have vulnerability in our lives, and so we know what can trip us up. Don't. Get rid of the weights! Get rid of the sluggishness, and then the sins that may stop you. Don't play around with sin because the sin that so easily entangles us, that will get you out of the race and on the sidelines. You can't sin and win! And by that I just simply want to say in closing, don't put yourself in harms way. Don't give the devil a stick to hit you with! God will always make a way of escape in your temptation. Always! The other day my lifelong friend O.S. Hawkins and I were in Fort Worth, our hometown. We were driving around, doing a little walk down Memory Lane. Where Leonard's Department store used to be in Fort Worth. How many of you remember Leonard's department store? Yeah, a full city block. It was awesome. My family couldn't afford to shop at Leonard's; we went to Everybody's which was their discount store. But it was all good.
But we walked and we went by a place that O.S. mentioned. He was known as Butch Hawkins in those days. He came to Christ when he was seventeen. He'd had a Bible, never been to church hardly. And he said, "You know, when I came to Christ, I went in that store". There was a Baptist bookstore in downtown Fort Worth. And he said, "I went in and bought a Bible". Would be a good plan for some of you, to go buy a Bible and start reading it. And Hawkins said he got in his car after he bought that Bible and opened it up. And someone had told him to start memorizing verses, and so he memorized, he sat there in his car, he said, and he memorized 1 Corinthians 10:13 which says, "When we enter into temptation that God will make a way of escape". And he said, "I memorized that verse and I've believed it all my life".
And it just occurred to me as were talking that day, how important, number one, it is for young Christians, and all Christians to memorize and meditate on Scripture. But to realize that in temptation, God always makes a way of escape. There's an exit strategy that God gives you, there's a way out. There's a way through. It's not a sin to be tempted; it's a sin to sin. Not a sin to be tempted to sin. And when you're tempted to sin, and we all have, again, certain vulnerabilities and personalities and things in our lives that can overwhelm us. And Satan uses those vulnerabilities to attack us. But with the temptation, the Scripture says, God will make a way out, a way though because God wants you to win, not to stumble and fall and go back and get out of the race, but to finish with a flourish; to go and to go all the way!
And the way we do that is by verse 2, Hebrews 12: "looking unto Jesus, the author and the finisher of our faith". If you look at people, if you look at your circumstances, your feelings, look within, look without, you will fail. So it says stay focused. Keep your heart, your mind, your eyes fixed on Jesus. "Turn your eyes upon Jesus; look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will go strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace". Get your eyes on Jesus. Get it off people who will disappoint you and discourage you and all the rest, and get your eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ and keep running. Finish the race!