“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1)
God sets his race course before every soul he receives and commands us to run that race with patience. This may be a new thought to some. It may seem like one of God’s non-essential commands (if there were such an entity). The doubter may ask: Why should we run a race when we already have the crown of eternal life? This concept is not biblical. The Lord says, “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” (1 Cor. 9:24-25).
These are words that will judge us on the last great day! Some simply ignore what does not sound pleasant. That is a very dangerous attitude. It would behoove us to know and to love all of God’s truth, the words that will eternally judge us.
The Corinthians Did Not Have the Crown
The Corinthians had been in the body of Christ for about ten years when this scripture was written. They did not have the crown at this point. He told the Corinthians that they were to run like there was only one runner who would win (1 Cor. 9:24). The prize is the incorruptible crown. Paul testifies that he himself did not have the crown at this time. He also was running to obtain the incorruptible crown. “…Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly…” (1 Cor. 9:25-26). The point here is that neither the Corinthians nor Paul had the crown. They were required to run swiftly so they could win the prize. Faithful New Testament Christians will listen wisely and carefully to their Lord’s direction.
Can We Earn the Crown?
Some insist that either eternal life is free or we have to earn it. Neither of these doctrines are found in the scriptures. The Lord gives us his pathway. We can not earn eternal life. We all know this truth (Rom. 4:4). Similarly, if salvation were absolutely free then everyone would have it. Who would refuse it? Ah, but we are told that: ‘Only those who are willing to receive it, will receive the free gift.’ Sadly enough, this doctrine is highly contradictory. We are told that ‘there is absolutely nothing you can do to get salvation.’ Immediately on the heels of that statement, they further clarify – there is something everyone who receives it must do! He must be willing to receive it. It may be something intellectual that he must do, but who is going to do it for him? Teaching us that there is nothing you can do to receive salvation and then tell what each one must do to receive it is blindness and folly. All of the personal illustrations about receiving a gift, etc. do not negate the fact. Each person must make his own decision. It is something that each must do. The doctrine that there is ‘nothing that we can do’ in our salvation is false. The Lord informs us of what we must do to attain the crown. “And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully” (2 Tim. 2:5). It is a fact. We would be wise to listen to all of the rules in order to be able to comply so that God will give us the crown of life.
The Lord describes his pathway as a race. We know that the crown is neither earned nor given without any effort at all. The prize must be won. The prize is not in direct proportion to the effort expended. The Lord’s scriptures teach us that we can win the crown.
The language of the Christian race is found throughout the New Testament. It is taught as a part of the first principles of the gospel. The Galatians were running that race (Gal. 5:7). The Corinthians were commanded to run as described above. Paul was running that race (Gal. 2:2), and was seeking to win the incorruptible crown (1 Cor. 9:26). He finished the race several months before he died (2 Tim. 4:7,8). Some imagine that everyone naturally finishes the race when they die. That principle or rule has not been true for any fight or race. Death does not cause anyone to win a crown. If death were the finish line Paul would not have said “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7,8) several months before he died. No, death can not be the finish line. The brethren in Smyrna were encouraged to press on until they were killed so they could win the crown (Rev. 2:10). The Philadelphians had already won the crown and were warned: “Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” (Rev. 3:11). They had not died but they, like Paul several months before he died, had finished the course. Timothy was charged to remind the faithful brethren in Ephesus that: “…if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.” (2 Tim. 2:5). The brethren scattered abroad were encouraged to remember that only those who endure to finish the trials and overcome will receive the crown (James 1:12). The early Christians thought in terms of running to win. We are commanded to “be thus minded” also (Phil. 3:14, 15). Are we obeying that command? Under what guise can faithful children of God ignore this command? We need to obey. We should faithfully seek to understand and run this race that God has set before us. We should further determine to run it with patience. The promise of the crown of life is to those who arrive at the finish line. This is not earning the crown; it is obeying the command to win it.