The Race: On Your Mark

The scene I’d like you to keep in mind this morning is that of a race.  Specifically, that moment when the starter calls out “On Your Mark.”  Unlike “Get Set”, which coils the spring, or “Go” which releases the energy, “On Your Mark” is a moment of focused calm. When the starter calls “on your mark” the runners place their feet in the blocks as tightly as possible. They also place their hands inside the lines of their lane.  Both are done so that no adjustments are needed when “get set” is called. It is a moment of calm before the storm, a final moment of peace before all their energy is released down the track. Looking at the runners their stance is almost prayer-like resting on their knees with heads bowed. All other distractions are pushed aside. They have practiced for this moment. Not only conditioning their bodies for the run but also building habits for each call of the starter in order to run well.  

Our text for this morning is found in 1 Peter 1:13-16.  This sermon is part of a three-part series which places 1 Peter 1:13-25 in the context of “On Your Mark”, “Get Set”, and “Go”.  The last two parts will be released on lambchow in the near future.  Let’s read from the text.  “Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”” (1 Peter 1:13–16, NASB95) In these verses Peter presents four commands, four things we are to do as we place our feet in the blocks and ready ourselves for the command to “Get Set.”  Those four things are to prepare your minds, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope, and be holy.

Prepare Your Minds for Action

The Boy Scout motto is “Be Prepared.”  It’s a simple reminder to prepare in advance for what unknown events may happen in the future. Doing something today which may not be needed until a week, a month, or a year from now. Like learning to tie a bowline before you need to pull someone out of the ditch.  Peter uses an idiom, a poetic saying, which says to “Gird your minds for action.”   Today’s runners wear clothes appropriate for the task. But imagine if you will trying to run a race in a robe, the bottom flopping all over the place and tangling up your legs.  Instead, you would need to gird or secure the robe under a belt so that it effectively formed pants, allowing you to run without hindrance.  Peter is commanding us to do the same thing with our mind. To focus our mind, to prepare our thoughts, on the things that matter and to put away those things which will trip us up. Paul writes to the Corinthians,  “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,” (2 Corinthians 10:5, NASB95)  The writer of Hebrews presents a similar instruction,  “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith….” (Hebrews 12:1–2, NASB95) If we truly want to run well in this race of following Christ we need to do some things to prepare. This is not a spectator sport, we are participating, we are on the track.  

This time of year I recall football practice.  In those days they still had hell week, day-long triple practices in the week leading up to the first days of school.  Football was all there was to think about.  If we weren’t out on the field, we were being instructed on plays, or memorizing the playbook.  We literally ate, thought, and dreamt nothing but football that week even though the first game was a few weeks away. The coaches were “preparing our minds (and our bodies) for action.”  

So how do we do this? What kinds of things do we need to lay aside, to take captive, in order to gird and prepare our minds for tomorrow?  What kinds of things can trip us up?  Here are just a couple of ideas that came to my mind.  Like second-guessing in the form of “coulda, shoulda, woulda”; always looking backward at what was instead of looking at where we are going.  Or forms of speculation where, not having any facts, we try to fill in the blanks based on our own imagination. Judging someone often works that way, we take a little bit of information, add a whole lot of imagination, and create a picture that bears little or no relationship with reality.  But, since we spent all of that energy creating the picture we dare not give it up. Think about the time Jesus was the dinner guest of a Pharisee.  Simon, the Pharisee, pre-judged Jesus and the woman who washed Jesus’ feet. He considered them unworthy, suspect, and only useful towards his own ends.  You see, the “go” part of the race in 1st Peter is to “fervently love one another from the heart.” Yet, in our prejudice, we have determined, either based on type or on past experience, that some individuals or groups are unlovable. That kind of thinking is like trying to run in a robe.

But it is not just what thoughts we lay aside but also what thoughts we pick up.  Things like planting seeds of scripture in our heart, practicing prayer as we walk through our day, and loving truth as we wade through all of the information being thrown at us. In these ways we prepare, focus, and gird our minds for action.   

Keep Sober in Spirit

While Peter’s command to keep sober in spirit includes the folly of drunkenness it also includes things that we may not have considered.  One Lexicon defines the Greek word Peter used as to “be free from every form of mental and spiritual ‘drunkenness’, from excess, passion, rashness, confusion, etc. be well-balanced, self-controlled.”  

We’ve all been there, our minds and hearts have become consumed with an idea, a desire, a need so strong that we can’t see or consider reality.  How many times have you wanted something so badly that you overlooked or were even blind to the dings and flaws of that thing?  It often happens to guys and cars.  We want that car so much that we don’t see or consider it’s a true condition. In our mind’s eye, we see perfection, we imagine being behind the wheel, we picture the heads turning as we cruise the street.  So what if it has 253,000 miles, the doors are about to fall off, and the rear quarter panel has more Bondo than steel, it’s a 1969 Firebird and I want it. Like a drunken man, our perspective on reality is skewed.

 Consider Paul’s directive to the Ephesians,  “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit,” (Ephesians 5:18, NASB95)  Dissipation is not a word which is often used in today’s English.  Perhaps wasteful would be an apt substitution. After all, isn’t “wasted” the word often used to describe someone who is drunk? For alcohol and drug-induced drunkenness is wasteful, wasteful of time, wasteful of resources, and wasteful of character. Instead of “wasting” our lives we are to be filled with the Holy Spirit, producing the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”. (Galatians 5:22–23, NASB95)   

Let’s talk about passion for a moment since it was one of the negative definitions for sober. It is from the romantics that we get this notion that passion is good and that it is the highest form of motivation. How often do we hear someone describing themselves with cooking, farming, hiking, camping, etc. is my passion.  Yet, in my searches of literal English translations or through the underlying greek nearly all of the time passion is portrayed as being negative. The only exception is the KJV use of passion in connection with the sufferings of Christ. In all other instances, Scripture connects passion to negative sources such as sexual lust, anger, and jealousy. For instance, “A tranquil heart is life to the body, But passion is rottenness to the bones.” (Proverbs 14:30, NASB95) However, we live in a day and age when truth in the public forum is often judged on the loudness and passion of the voices involved rather than on its merits. Love in a relationship is measured by the heat of passion rather than by self-sacrificing commitment. Maybe this one observation will drive home the point – While passion may be a fruit (I’m sure that you’ve heard of passion fruit), it is not a fruit of the Spirit which includes many traits which seem to be opposite of passion like “peace, patience, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23, NASB95)  

Peter’s command to keep sober in spirit encourages us to be filled and led by the Holy Spirit instead of our desires, our likes or dislikes, our wounds, our pains, our pet doctrines, our will, our noses, our heart, our appetites, our politics, our traditions, our view of self, our history, our passion, or our sin.  All of those things can blind us from the way of Christ and pull us out of our lane. They can and will distract us so that we either jump the gun or don’t hear the command to “go”.    

Be Fixed in Hope by Grace Through Christ

The third of Peter’s commands is a bit longer – fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. What is it that truly anchor’s our soul?  Prosperous times? Peace in the home? A good reputation? The writer of Hebrews identifies something else,  “so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil,” (Hebrews 6:18–19, NASB95) We often anchor our hope in the mire of “if onlys”. If only I had a better job. If only my kids would behave. If only my co-worker liked me.  If only the car would start. If only….fill in the blank for yourself.  Often there is a “then” that goes with our “if” such as – If only….then I would know that God cares. Remember the runners, one of their major tasks during “on your marks” is to plant their feet firmly against the blocks.

Our hope is not found in anything other than Jesus.  When Jesus is revealed to us we receive grace and hope that we can hold on to.  This is not a one-time thing.  Every day Christ should be revealed to us just a bit more resulting in just a bit more grace being added to our hope.  But the important part is not how much of Christ has been revealed to us but how completely we have anchored ourselves to that which we have already received. Knowledge alone can indeed “puff us up”. Paul wrote, “Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.” (1 Corinthians 8:1–3, NASB95) It’s not how much we know but the degree to which we apply what we know to our lives. I may know that I need to firmly plant my feet against the block, but if I don’t do it then I will surely stumble at the start.

It is hope and grace that saves us from pride and keeps us in the race. Consider Paul’s statement,  “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Corinthians 12:7–9, NASB95)  Often we see Christ’s statement to Paul as meaning that God’s grace will see him through the thorn.  But lately, I’ve been wondering if the thorn itself was not a grace given by God so that Paul would not exalt himself because of the revelation of Christ he had received.

Think of the song Amazing Grace for a moment.  John Newton begins by describing the grace he received because of the revelation of Christ in his life – “I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.”  In a later verse, he describes his hope for today and for tomorrow – “Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, And grace will lead me home.”  Often we equate hope with wishes as in “I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow.”  But hope is stronger than wishes. Hope stands on faith, operates in love, and is born through God’s grace. Hope anchors our today’s and our tomorrows so that we can stand in the grace of Jesus Christ even when it seems that all is failing or falling apart.

I’m reminded of another runner.  One who was knocked to the ground at the beginning of a 440-yard dash by another runner. Instead of giving up he pursued the pack who now had a 20-yard head start. Head back, arms flailing in his unorthodox running style he caught and surpassed the pack to win the race. His hope was not dashed because he was tripped up if anything, his hope burned all the brighter.  

Be Holy

Lastly, Peter writes, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”” Now, holy has two overlapping meanings.  In one sense it means purity and integrity. It echoes the single-mindedness we have been considering.  We know that God is pure, without a shadow of turning, unchangeable, perfect, and without contradiction – in other words, holy. Yet, holy also means set-apartness.  Like in marriage the husband and wife set apart themselves solely and completely for the other person. God is also holy in the sense of set-apartness.  Not only is He completely other than the character of creation He has been set apart in our hearts like a wife to a husband. Therefore, to be holy also means to have no higher loves, no greater joy, no other Lord other than Jesus Christ.  

Peter does not leave holiness in the realm of the spirit but expects it to impact everything including our behavior and our actions, “be holy yourselves also in all your behavior.” Paul wrote to Corinth, “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1, NASB95)  Both Peter and Paul have in view an ongoing work of perfecting holiness. Peter’s “be” could easily be translated as “becoming” which stands in agreement with Paul’s “perfecting.”  

One thing to note is that Peter is writing to a persecuted people. They were slandered, oppressed, lied about, bullied, and murdered.  Later in his letter, Peter writes,  “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct (your behavior) among the Gentiles (the unbelievers) honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (1 Peter 2:11–12, ESV)  Our lives, our behavior, should have the reflective quality of holiness. While the world does good deeds out of a sense of guilt, or power, or self-righteousness our motive and purpose as Christ followers is to bring glory to God. In other words, our behavior is to reflect Christ to the world around us. This is always true, but even more so when faith is marginalized, lied about, and bullied.  

But how do we become holy or perfect holiness? One year I got a rock tumbler for Christmas.  That was one present that grew patience.  It took a long time for those small rough stones to be polished into something pretty. We’re talking weeks of hearing that small drum tumble and grind. We’d load up the barrel with agates, water, and coarse grit and let it tumble for a week. Then the stones were removed, washed, and tumbled again with a finer grit for a week.  The stones were again removed, washed and tumbled again for a week with a pre-polishing compound. Lastly, there was one more week with a polishing compound. Finally, after four to five long weeks of hearing that drum grind away, we held a handful of polished and gleaming stones. Becoming holy is kind of like that for us. In Christ we have been set apart for His kingdom, we have been bought with a price and we are no longer our own.  Over time Christ patiently cleans and smoothes and polishes our rough edges until His reflection is clearly visible in our thoughts, our motivations and emotions, our hopes and dreams, and our behavior.

On Your Mark

So, we have girded our minds for action, we have kept sober in spirit, we have anchored ourselves to the hope of grace, we have become and are becoming holy.  We are resting in the peace of God ready for the next command.  Well, we’ve talked about these things but have we done them? Are we really ready for the next command and the one that follows it?  Maybe we need to step back and really find our marks.  Have we prepared my mind for action and shut down those things that draw our attention away from Jesus?  Have we removed the blinders of false desires and misguided passion?  Does our hope reside in wishes, dreams, and circumstances instead of in Christ?  Do we welcome the rough and tumble experience of becoming holy or do we seek to escape from it?

Like I noted in the beginning, the runner’s stance when “on the mark” reminds me of prayer. So I invite you to anchor your feet to the hope of grace at the revelation of Christ, to focus your desires on Jesus Christ, and to simply ask God what sins, thoughts, desires, and wastefulness He desires to remove so that you can better reflect Christ in all of your thoughts, words, and deeds.

Dale Heinold
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