The Race: Get Set!

Once again the runners are at the line. At the call of “on your marks,” they have set their feet, placed their hands, and taken a moment of calm before the call to “get set”.  In the race of following Christ, we equated this moment to 1 Peter 1:13-16 where Peter instructs his readers to “prepare their minds for action”, “keep a sober spirit”, “fix their hope on grace through the revelation of Christ”, and “be holy”.  Now comes the call to “get set!”  The runners snap to their launch position. They raise from their almost prayer-like stance to one of readiness. Every part of their being prepares for the next call, the one that will launch them down the track.  At this moment, all the practice, all the coaching, all of their desire is focused on the task, to run well. Taking 1 Peter 17-21 as our “get set” moment Peter wrote, “If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” (1 Peter 1:17–21, NASB95)  In the race of following Christ our “get set” launch position can be outlined as our coach, our Redeemer, our faith and hope, and our conduct.  

Our Coach

It may seem strange to equate the role of an athletic coach with God’s impartial judgment. Think about it for a moment.  A coach not only encourages but also corrects based on performance. Good coaches ignore their personal likes and dislikes of the players and focus on the minutia of skill, conditioning, and form. Is their stance right? Where are their elbows, their head, their feet?  Should their stride be shorter or longer?  What bad habits do they need to correct? All of these things require criticalness and judgment.  A coach also pushes an athlete to go beyond what they think they can do. He or she requires their athletes to practice the basics over and over again until it becomes natural and a part of their “muscle memory”.  In the end, athletes both love and fear their coaches.

Over and over again in scripture, we are told to “fear the Lord.”  Peter says, “If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth.” Of course, we struggle with that because love and fear seem opposite of one another.  Yet, when it comes to following Jesus both are true and necessary. In many ways, our relationship with God is like that of father and son or coach and athlete. Both of the relationship types include love, guidance, encouragement, discipline, and correction. Hebrews 12:1-11 has a lengthy discourse that compares God’s discipline with that of human fathers.  Near the end, it says,  “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.” (Hebrews 12:11–13, NASB95) I don’t know what your relationship with your father was like, or even that of coaches that you may have submitted too, however, there is a difference between a healthy fear and that which is generated by abuse. Healthy fear has a quality of love in it.  We fear God because we love Him because we want to please Him. We may fear God’s discipline, but we bear it because we know that it is not offered out of anger or injustice but out of love and is just. Like it says in Proverbs, “My son, do not reject the discipline of the Lord Or loathe His reproof, For whom the Lord loves He reproves, Even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.” (Proverbs 3:11–12, NASB95)

There is a word which summarizes the relationship I’m trying to describe. That word is honor.  It is a concept and character attribute that is becoming rusty in this day and age.  Now, I’m not talking about the kind of honor that men used to have duels over, that was more about pride than anything else.  Instead, I’m talking about the honor due to our parents, honor due our employers, honor due to the government (whether we disagree or agree with their decisions and direction), honor due to our spouses, honor due to our church leadership and to each other, and, most importantly, honor due to our Lord and savior. We are instructed in scripture to honor all of these during our sojourn. (Exodus 20:12, 1 Timothy 6:1, 1 Peter 2:17, 1 Timothy 5:17, Romans 12:10, 1 Timothy 1:17) Jesus commented on those that honored in words but not in deeds, “And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. ‘But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” (Mark 7:6–8, NASB95)  This would be like asking someone to coach you in baseball and then ignoring everything they were trying to teach you.  We honor God by our obedience to His commands. Many think that God’s commands are arbitrary and optional, but they are given for our benefit, for our well-being, for our healing, and for our growth.

Our Redeemer

Have you ever looked closely at one of those newspaper coupons? You know, those slips of paper that come in the Sunday paper that folks invest their time to clip, manage, and use. While the coupon may be for 50 cents off of bologna, or diapers, or mouthwash there is also another value printed on it.  Somewhere, often in very small print, it says something like – cash value 1/20th of 1 cent.  So the real value of the coupon is tiny unless it is redeemed against the purchase of the right product within the right time.  However, our view of redemption is a little backward when compared with the Biblical theme of redemption.

To anchor our discussion to the text let’s recall Peter’s observation, “knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.”  The Biblical theme of redemption is closer to that of a pawn shop than it is to a grocery store coupon.  You could say that we were in hock because of our sin. And like a gold watch on a pawn shop’s shelf, we can’t leave unless someone pays our debt.  As Paul observes in Romans, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6, NASB95)  We were not redeemed with gold, silver, or coin but by the precious blood of Christ.

The story of redemption is woven into the entire Biblical text. From the animal, probably a lamb, which provided Adam and Eve’s covering in Genesis 3:21. To the near-sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham and God’s provision of a ram in Genesis 22. And the sacrifice of the Passover lamb to protect those inside the house from the final and most terrifying of the plagues against Egypt in Exodus 12. And also the implementation of temple worship and its sacrificial forgiveness through the blood of bulls and goats which are recounted several places in Leviticus and Deuteronomy.  Redemption is also seen in stories such as Ruth with Boaz’s role as a kinsman-redeemer. The scarlet rope lowered by Rahab to mark her home and to redeem the promise of protection at the fall of Jericho. Over and over again the theme of sacrifice for the sake of another is played out. Some biblical scholars call this the meta-narrative, the big picture overarching story found in God’s revelation to humankind.  

 The point, however, is not the academic exercise of identifying an author’s theme like you did in high school. The point is to grasp that Christ has redeemed you. He has paid your debt with His own blood. A price more precious than silver. The difference in value between silver and Christ’s blood far exceeds even the absurd difference between the 1/20th of a cent cash value and the redeemable value of a coupon. Peter proclaims that we have been redeemed from our futile, fruitless, vain, wheel-spinning stuck in the mud former way of life by the blood of Jesus into a life of love, faith, hope, fruitfulness, and purpose.

Unlike that gold watch sitting on the pawn store shelf, we have a choice to accept and walk in Christ’s redemption or to stay stuck on the shelf, telling the time to no one but ourselves. And unlike the gold watch, redemption is not only about that moment when the cash is exchanged. Instead, redemption is to affect our entire life.  Peter says that it is to affect our conduct, our faith, and our hope, in other words, redemption should change everything, our words, our thoughts, our deeds, our desires, our goals, and our loves.   

 Our Faith and Hope

The writer of Hebrews describes faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”. (Hebrews 11:1).  Our text in 1 Peter proclaims that our faith and hope is anchored in the resurrection of Christ.  Faith and hope not only applies to the things that are past, those events in Biblical history that secure our faith and hope.  But faith and hope also look to the future.  Both the far future of eternity with God and the near future of our tomorrows.  

There is a restaurant chain that advertises “Free Crabs Tomorrow!”  It’s a kind of humorous marketing ploy since tomorrow is never today so the free crabs never really arrive.  Our faith and hope in Christ, while anchored in yesterday and looking forward to all of our tomorrows, is active today. Let’s consider an example from the Old Testament.

There are many pillars of faith that we can draw from like Abraham, Moses, or Daniel.  But let’s peek at someone a little more like ourselves, Gideon.  Gideon’s story is found in Judges 6-8. Gideon lived in a time of fear. Raiders would come and steal their harvest. Families moved to caves out of fear. All this was not without reason. The Israelites had again turned to idol worship. Our first glimpse of Gideon is as he stealthily threshed wheat in a wine press. Now, wine presses make terrible threshing floors, but decent hiding places. While Gideon was busy threshing an angel shows up and says, “The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior.”  (Judges 6:12) On the surface, the angel’s proclamation seems like a stretch. To which Gideon replies, “if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us?” The story goes on and tells us about Gideon’s doubt, his obedience, and God’s faithfulness. But aren’t our today’s often like when Gideon was in the wine press?

We’ve all had moments like Gideon.  We have read some fantastic promise of God, looked at the circumstances and fears of life, and wondered what in the world went wrong. We often ask with Gideon, “if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us?” Surely, some days are more challenging than others. It is interesting that the angel did not immediately answer Gideon’s question. Instead of dwelling on “why,” the angel directed Gideon’s attention as to what God was going to do. And that didn’t mean that Gideon had to immediately run out and singlehandedly challenge the enemy.  Instead, God led Gideon on a series of steps that built his faith and tested his obedience.

We need to change our questions. When we have a bad day we often ask, “why did this happen?” Or, “what did I do wrong?” While there is some value in learning from our mistakes, God’s desire is that we ask a different question. Faith and hope require us to ask for direction, to ask, “what now God?” “What’s the next step?” “Which direction should I turn?” By changing our questions we have changed our direction and activated faith and hope in the midst of our turmoil and circumstances.

Let’s bring this back around to our runner that is poised in the blocks.  At that moment of “set”, the runner has placed their faith and hope in their preparation. But they are not looking backward but forwards. Their thoughts are focused on the sound of the starter and their first step. All their training, all of the coach’s discipline, all of the sacrifices of time, sweat, and resources are focused on their actions and how they will conduct the race.   

Our Conduct

I’m sure this has happened to you because it has happened to me. Traveling down some road could be a two-lane, and expressway, or an interstate; it doesn’t really matter.  Traffic and weather are both pleasant. Perhaps your mind wanders or really gets into the tune on the radio.  Perhaps a bit late you spot a police car shooting radar.  Your foot jerks from the gas even though you weren’t speeding.  You watch in the rear view mirror after you pass the patrol car. When the police car starts to move with its lights turned on your heart rate increases, you slow a little more.  As the Police car nears you begin to run down lists of possible offenses; did I put on the renewal sticker, are my lights ok, did I break some law that I don’t know about. About that time the police car whizzes by you. Whew.

It is that kind of reaction that Peter is envisioning when he wrote,  “If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth.”  Our relationship with God, the awesome price He paid to redeem us, and the powerful miracle of resurrection should affect our conduct. This is not the fear caused by a bully, or a robber, or anyone seeking to cause harm.  The fear which Peter speaks of is the fear of coming before a judge, who with one word can throw you in jail, or fine you, or declare you not guilty.  

Fear will always affect our conduct.  The larger question is what or whom do you fear the most?  Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28, NASB95) It may seem like the prudent thing is to fear our bosses, or a peer group, or someone else of power.  But that, in a word, is a short-term gain for a long-term loss.  

There is always this tension between fearing the Lord and loving the Lord.  Right after Jesus spoke what was quoted above he continued, “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. “So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29–31, NASB95) Does it surprise you that our relationship with God is complex and multi-faceted?  All real relationships have more than one aspect to them.  Going back to the runner, it is not unusual to have a love/fear or love/respect relationship between a runner and their coach.  Or any other sport for that matter. The relationship between player and coach affects the player’s conduct.  When they are tempted to eat a Twinkie instead of a carrot they either knowingly rebel and eat the Twinkie or choose opposite of their appetite and go for the carrot out of respect and obedience. The relationship affects conduct.  It is the same for us who are following Christ.  Our relationship with Jesus, our desire to please Him and to demonstrate our love must affect our conduct and the choices we make.  Not necessarily out of a fear of punishment, but more so out of a fear of failing to love.  

So often our relationships are marred by “the bargain”.  You do something right and I’ll do something for you.  You love me and I’ll love you. You do something that pleases me and I’ll reward you.  That is not how our relationship with God functions.  He gave, out of His own love and grace, long before we were worthy of any kind of reward.  Many try to relate to God in this manner and ultimately fail.  God wants us to freely love Him the same way which He freely loved us.  We don’t modify our conduct in order to get something from God. We reform our conduct because we desire to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, body, and strength.    

Get Set

The runners are poised, waiting for the bark of the starter’s pistol. At that moment they’ll leap forward and run the race. But for this article, this sermon, the runners will have to wait. It seems like we have covered a lot of topics and the runners have not even left the starting gate.  But all of this is necessary in order to run well the race before us. So, before the pistol fires, we need to examine ourselves. Where have we dishonored our coach?  Do we walk in faith and hope for the circumstances of today? Have we received the redemption bought by Jesus Christ? Is our relationship with God complex and deep or narrow and shallow? Perhaps the largest question to ask ourselves is this – what are the biggest influences of my life? What people or circumstances do I fear more than God? What people or circumstances do I love more than God?  How you live your life for Christ is shaped and molded by the answers to those questions.

Dale Heinold
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