The Legendary Runner of the Battle of Marathon
To persevere is defined as, “to continue doing something in spite of difficulty, opposition, etc.” In the christian faith some have distorted this term to stand for the man-made doctrine of “once saved, always saved”. John Calvin, the father of this idea, called this the perseverance of the saints. The scriptures neither teach nor imply such an idea, but rather warn that a Christian may sin in such a way as to forfeit eternal life (Heb. 10:26-31; Gal. 5:4).
In its correct meaning, however, perseverance is an essential part of our faith. In Heb. 12:1 the writer said, “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.” The image of the Christian life as a race coveys the idea of perseverance, especially since the inspired writer said we must run “with endurance”. This term suggests to us that our race is a marathon, not a sprint, and the difference is significant.
In a sprint, the runner sees the goal from the starting blocks. He knows that he need only exert himself for a short time to finish his race. He works very hard over that distance, of course, and he uses a tremendous amount of energy as he does so, but he only needs to work over the short term to achieve his goal. On the other hand, in a marathon the runner cannot see the finish line from the starting point. In fact, he cannot even see the entire course he will run. He will not run as fast as the sprinter, but he will expend more energy over the long haul. This imagery best fits the Christian life. Our race lasts a lifetime. There are no rewards for a quick start followed by a rapid burnout.
Paul spoke of this principle in his own life. In 2 Tim. 4:7-8 he said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” Paul’s confidence about his eternal reward was because he knew he had persevered to the goal. He had indeed “finished the course”.
It is the same for each of us. Paul promised that we can receive the same reward he expected to receive. To receive it we each must fight the good fight, finish the course, and keep the faith, just as Paul did. This means that we must not give up the struggle to live for the Lord until our life ends. Each day we will face challenges to our faith. Some will involve temptation to sin. Some will involve facing ridicule or persecution from unbelievers. Some will involve conflict with brothers or sisters in Christ. Whatever the challenges, however, we must persevere in our faith and obedience until we reach the goal. There is no other way to receive our eternal reward.
In Rev. 2:10 the Lord told the church in Smyrna, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” We will not be tested as sorely as the Christians in Smyrna were, but if we persevere in our faith we will receive the same reward that was promised to them. Nothing in life can compare to this reward. Therefore, let us persevere to the goal.