Is the Christian Race a Marathon?

Some believe that Christianity is a race. But what kind of race is it? Is it like a marathon, something to be endured rather than enjoyed?

And do only those who endure to the end qualify for the kingdom?

You might think so to read verses like these…

  • We are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast. (Heb 3:6)
  • We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. (Heb 3:14)
  • Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life… (Jas 1:12)
  • Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Rev 2:10)

I have read every commentary I could find and I learned have there are two views:

  1. Salvation is conditional on enduring; if you don’t endure to the end you’re lost forever
  2. Enduring to the end proves you are saved – if you didn’t endure, you weren’t saved to begin with

I have problems with both views.

My problem with the first view is that it contradicts the many promises of God regarding our eternal salvation. If it is true that salvation hinges on us, then we’re not saved by his grace but our endurance.

Which makes God a liar.

My problem with the second view is that it’s useless. Since you won’t know until the end whether you have endured or not, how can you have any assurance that you are saved now? Rather than promoting trust in Jesus, this perspective sows uncertainty and doubt.

Neither is good news.

If salvation is conditional on enduring, you will be full of fear. If enduring to the end merely proves you were saved all along, you will be full of uncertainty. Since God is neither the author of fear or uncertainty, you can safely dismiss both interpretations as manmade and unbiblical.

Christ has endured

Why are there so many verses in the Bible on endurance? They are not there to instill fear and uncertainty in the hearts of the saints, but to inspire us to trust in the One who keeps us strong to the end (1 Cor 1:8).

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

This is such a profound statement. Jesus is offering us a choice between two realities:

  1. Worldly reality: “you will have trouble” – this is bad news
  2. Heavenly reality: “in me you can have peace” – this is good news

The Christian race is indeed a marathon but for those in Christ the race begins at the finish line. When you were placed into Christ, you were placed into the race winner.

Consider the endurance of Jesus:

  • Jesus endured the cross (Heb 12:2)
  • Jesus endured bitter opposition from men (Heb 12:3)
  • The love of God, which is found in Christ, endures all things (1 Cor 13:7)

Since Christ has already endured so have we.

Selah. Amen. Thank you, Jesus!

Look at what Jesus says: “Take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Do you see what this means? In Christ, you too have overcome the world. The crown of life is the believer’s crown. It is given to those in Christ as the just reward for what Christ has done.

Every spiritual blessing and everything we need comes to us through Christ.

Now return to those four endurance verses I listed above:

We are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast. (Heb 3:6)

Insecure view: If you don’t hold fast, you will no longer be a member of his house.
Secure view: We are his house if we come to Jesus and are saved (see 1 Pet 2:5). A sign that we really understand this is – that Jesus has done it all – is that we hold fast, with rejoicing and undoubting boldness, to the hope (i.e., Jesus) of which we boast.

We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. (Heb 3:14)

Insecure view: Hold firmly to the end or you’ll have no share in Christ.
Secure view: One way to recognize someone who is resting in Christ is they have peace in a world of trouble. They even persevere and endure beyond all natural limits because they are being kept by Jesus (Jude 1:24), the author and perfecter of their faith (Heb 12:2).

Hebrews 3:14 is not preaching salvation conditional on our perseverance. It’s saying, “We have been made partakers of Christ – it’s done – but we won’t experience the benefits of our union unless we hold firmly to the confidence we had when we started out.”

Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love him. (Jas 1:12)

Insecure view: If you succumb to temptation and sin, you’ll be rejected and won’t receive a crown of life.
Secure view: Who is the man that endured and has been approved? It is Jesus (Php 2:9)! There is no divine approval outside of Christ but the good news declares we are “tested and approved in Christ” (Rom 16:10; see also 2 Cor 10:18).

The trials of life are not to test us and trip us but to reveal the genuineness of the gift God has given us. This is why we’re blessed and approved and crown-worthy – not because we are resilient but because God is gracious and his gifts are good and durable.

Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Rev 2:10)

Insecure view: Getting into heaven’s tougher than SAS selection and only the strongest make it.
Secure view: Jesus is speaking to the saints in Smyrna. He is saying: “Some of you are going to be persecuted  and some of you will even die. Don’t be afraid but fix your eyes on me. I’ve been through it all and I have overcome the world. We’re going to go through this trial together and you’re going to be amazed at how well your God-given faith bears up under pressure. This test will only be for a short time and then we will meet face to face. I can’t wait to see you and hug you and give you your crown.” More here.

Why are there so many verses in the New Testament on endurance?

They are not there to scare you or promote fleshly effort. They are there to inspire you to trust Jesus who endured all things for your sake.

From time to time you will have a great need for endurance and patience and perserverance. Look to Christ to supply your need.

In Christ, you are approved.

In Christ, you have endured.

In Christ, you began your race at the finish line.


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26 Comments on Is the Christian Race a Marathon?

  1. Kathy Hillacre // May 30, 2013 at 11:32 am // Reply

    I love it – “in Christ, we began our race at the finish line” – when He said “it is finished” He meant it! Thanks for the clear teaching 🙂

  2. I wish I could believe what you say, but your explanation of these endurance scriptures makes no sense whatsoever — none!

  3. Great post! I love the way you take a fresh look at what the Bible is actually saying. We can be so prone to just going along with traditional teachings and not allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us into life. Thank you for always delivering Jesus centered teaching.

  4. Joe A.Serge // May 30, 2013 at 1:51 pm // Reply

    Great stuff. It’s Christ’s saving work from first to last..

  5. The thinking Christian’s writer. What a treat!

  6. Chris Tseu // May 30, 2013 at 3:59 pm // Reply

    A reasonable and sound exposition on the salvation message. Generally, this understanding is hardly explained / taught to congregation….. many are following the wide (“easy”) road, and unknowingly have not taken up the responsibilities of a believer of Jesus Christ pertaining gospel.

  7. Could it also be possible that the two Hebrew verses are referring to Unbelievers? I always thought Hebrews was written to both Jewish believers and Jewish non-believers (those who maybe had the intellectual knowledge of the Messiah but who never made Jesus their own Savior, thus they wavered between the new and old). Chapter three of Hebrews talks about the sin of unbelief – thus, it makes me think the author at this point in the epistle is addressing the unbelievers. These ‘if’ statements challenge them to make a choice, to choose Jesus.

  8. I once heard some teaching about the little word if. It goes like this, if has three meanings, if and it isn’t, if and it might be, and if and it is. The little word if gives us a lot of trouble. I always think of it from my childhood when my parents used to say it meaning if I did something superhuman like be good at something or behave particularly well to impress someone at a family gathering I’d get a reward but if not there’d be punishment! But I know that Jesus never promises us punishment and I much prefer God’s positive encouragement which works a lot better than human threats. Part of understanding these verses is in the renewing of the mind by the Spirit. God isn’t into what we’ve been used to. He’s something totally else. Once your spirit grasp the goodness of God and your mind accepts that the awesome and majestic work of Christ set you free from negative ifs, His peace floods your whole being and you never doubt his goodness again.

  9. Love this teaching. You have an amazing gift from God of promoting these difficult texts of scripture. Millions around the world have been struggling with these parts of the Bible for decades without ending up with nothing but a bad conscience. And as a result of a bad conscience, we have made “new commitments” to God, over and over again. If I had a dollar for every new commitment I’ve made to The Lord during the last 40 years, I would be a rich man by now.
    Then you write a few lines, and suddenly everything fall into place. Keep up the good work!

  10. Yeah! Taste and see that the Lord is GOOOOOD! Jesus – the author an the finisher of our faith. HalleluYAH!!

  11. I had to read it a couple of times but it just clicked. I would get so mad about finding these verses in scripture. It would lead me back down the path of law and condemnation and death until eventually I would say no that’s not the gospel and my heart would be strengthened by grace (Hebrews 13:9). I would literally have to retell myself the gospel over and over again until grace strengthened me. I kind of think this is the intention – although skip the condemnation/law/death part. From now on, every time I come across a verse like these, I will stop, remember that I am in Christ, let grace do its work, and praise Jesus.

  12. 🙂

  13. I couldn’t have said it better,SECURE,INSECURE, good choice of words,use them more often,makes it clearer ……….

  14. Heb4v12: The Word of God is sharper than a 2 edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow exposing your innermost thoughts and believes. These verses are part of the ‘sifting’ process exposing those who are secure and those who are not there yet – iow those always searching on the the negative / condemning side of the ‘if’.

  15. You may not agree with me and I know this is a controversial subject, but I’ve come to see a lot of these passages which speak about “the end” as referring to the end of the old way which was passing away: the end of the “law” for righteousness. I think they were looking to an event which was shortly coming to pass in their generation (Mt. 23:36, 24:34; Rom. 10:4; 2 Cor. 3:11, 5:17; Rv. 1:1,19, 3:11, 22:7,10,12,20) when the destruction of the temple in 70 AD ended that form of worship (old or first covenant)…and the New came into its fullness in Christ (no more animal sacrifices and rituals for the atonement of sin). Hebrews and James were written to the Jews, who were being tempted to fall back to works-righteousness. And some of the Jews who infiltrated the early church were trying to tempt the Gentiles to observe their customs and rituals. So the writers were encouraging the people to remain faithful and endure to the end….i.e. to not fall away from faith-righteousness. Paul and others were very concerned about the gospel becoming a mixture of law and Grace, which was already causing disputes and would eventually divide the church. And so those messages definitely could apply to many of the churches of today, which are struggling to recover from the fall from the gospel of Grace (or the mixture) that happened early on.

    • Well said, Gail. As Paul Ellis knows only too well, the need to endure with the message of the gospel of Grace is very real. Whether his (and our) marathon of being faithful to the message of grace is something to be endured rather than enjoyed is up to him (and us) to decide, but either way we must endure!

  16. WONDERFUL! The last line is now my facebook status. 🙂

  17. Lynette Ellorin // June 5, 2013 at 4:29 am // Reply

    Thankyou! God bless you!

  18. Apolos HW // June 9, 2013 at 1:38 pm // Reply

    thats exactly how i read all commands in new testament…they are signs..
    but in some things i was unclear this article has enlighted me
    thanks Paul 4 becoming grace instrument to bless finished work believers…

  19. I love how you are a man that has studied and shown himself approved. You are a light shining the truth on these sacred cows. 🙂

  20. I love, how the grace of God teaching through Paul. I love you mentioned that-Since you won’t know until the end whether you have saved or not, how can you have any assurance that you are saved now?
    Some people saying like this, I have saved by Grace, until commit a sin! They are rejecting Jesus and saying Christ died in Vain. Thank you, Paul, keep doing….

  21. Lidia Cedeno // December 4, 2016 at 2:13 am // Reply

    Thank youuu, I love this rest that we have in Christ. I would have wished that all the New Testament epistles would have been more explicit. I wish those writers would have said things the way you explain them. They knew that we were not able to do anything outside Christ. Those verses in the NT have brought confusion and a fertile ground to keep teaching the law and Human effort as the way of salvation.

  22. Ministering a series on Eternal Security at church along with the senior Pastor and this helped as a refresher course on these obscure passages. I admit these passages here in Hebrews 3 at first, many years ago, stumped me. I knew though the many clear passages affirming and confirming eternal security weren’t contradicted by this passage, so I knew I wasn’t yet seeing fully what God was saying. This served as a reminder of what the Lord used other ministers to enlighten my eyes as to what Paul was saying here, yes I believe Paul wrote Hebrews. Make the committed choice to receive Christ and embrace Grace and relinquish Old Covenant Law as a means of justification, acceptance, and peace with God. Stay with that choice to embrace Grace. Good stuff here.

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