I enjoy running. Well actually, I prefer shuffling. Of course the type of running I do as this stage of life is much shorter and slower than when I was younger. If fact I vividly remember how often I would use running as a metaphor for succeeding in life. I even had a Successories poster in my office with the word “strive” or something else ridiculous.
On one occasion I was on a run with a good friend and we talked about “hitting the wall” and I used the moment to prove to him that in life we would face many “walls” and it was how hard we ran through them that would prove our worth. I have since learned a better message but still think we have to push through physical walls when pursuing fitness.
In the church we too often merge theology with areas of life that end up ruining our faith. Faith and fitness is one such area.
Recently, as a family we ran a church sponsored 5k. It was a great race that raised a ton of money to combat sex trafficking in Asia. But when the church sponsors a run, the motivational statements along the path can be weird. Of course there was “you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you” and another that said something along the lines of “just believe you can finish and you will.” As we were jogging along my loving and brilliant wife looked at me and said “that is horrible theology.”
She is right. It all was misused Scripture and slogans that recited in the realm of faith would leave the believer lost. But the words were perfectly appropriate for fitness just not faith. The problem is, in the modern church we don’t make the distinction when we need to.
In fitness you do need to strive and believe yourself through a race. I encourage it in fact. Work hard, make significant effort. You can just show up and expect to win a race if there has been no training and sacrifice and pain to gain.
In faith, Christian faith, this mentality is hogwash. In fact, in Christ your most vigorous work is to cling to what Jesus has accomplished for you. You seek and savor the One that has finished the race for you. The belief that matters is not a mental wrestling with my own abilities but instead a belief that Jesus was who he said he was and did what the Bible declares he did. Living in grace is not training for a 5k or a marathon. It is being given the medal on the other side of the finish line because Christ crushed the world record.
Faith and fitness are different things. Let’s make sure we don’t confuse them.