August 16, 2017

The Race That Is Set Before Us

Greg Baker

FrontLine Jan/Feb 2016 – featured article

Perhaps you’ve experienced one of those I-don’t-recognize- Americans-anymore moments. And, perhaps, like me, you’ve resented the irrevocable loss of virtue, the utter bankruptcy of genuine wisdom, and the flouting of traditional values Americans used to hold dear. Just about the time I’m pricing flights to the nearest foreign mission field, I’m reminded of our theme passage, Hebrews 12:1–2—specifically the phrase, “the race that is set before us” with an emphasis on the word “us.”

Because God does all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11), we know with absolute certainty that God has graciously assigned to us the race that is twenty-first-century America. Tempting as it is for me to question the Potter’s wisdom (Rom. 9:21), God has definite purposes in mind when He places His servants onto courses tailored just for them. In fact, when we arrive at Hebrews 12, we’ve just marveled at heroes who worked out their faith in their particular time-bound situation. Jesus Christ Himself despised the shame of the cross and finished His utterly unique race with a ringing shout of victory (12:2).

Our countrymen badly need preachers to conquer the unique challenges of our course by confronting our culture with the glorious good news of Jesus Christ and by comforting our brethren with the promises therein. Like any distance runner preparing to attack difficult terrain, we desperately need to fuel our pursuit of God’s race with life sustaining truth. Instead of priming our bodies, we must hydrate our souls with heavenly water that will carry us across the finish line.

What are some of these sustaining truths demanding constant refreshment? (1) Rest in the providence of God; (2) rely on God’s gospel power; (3) rejoice in the victory won.

Rest in the Providence of God

In every high-level distance race, the winner is brought to a place of complete commitment: he (or she) must trust his finely tuned body to slam every last ounce of energy into a final acceleration. Believers, likewise, must implicitly trust the providence of God. Scripture is unanimous: the Lord sovereignly selects specific individuals for specific ministries. And He’s willing to shake world events high and low to get His servant into a winning position. Consider how God effortlessly manipulated the shenanigans of a silly woman, precisely maneuvered the disloyalty of an intimidated lackey, dramatically disturbed the sleep of the world’s most powerful sovereign, and miraculously altered the environmental cycles of an entire region just to bring Joseph to the decisive place of influence.

Just as Boaz happened to visit workers the very day Ruth gleaned in his field, just as Esther found herself improbably at the nexus of power and protection, and just as Philip intersected an Ethiopian who at that very moment was reading Isaiah 53, God has placed us right here, right now just for the execution of His purposes. However much I might desire another’s course, Jesus says, “What is that to thee? follow thou me” (John 21:22).

Rely on God’s Gospel Power

I’ve been running in races for over ten years now, and I’ve never crossed the finish line first. But I did finish second . . . once. With a half-mile remaining, the eventual winner pulled alongside me and offered a quick glance— he was sizing me up. Just after our eyes met, he sprang forward with a flourish of cardiovascular horsepower I could never possess. And when it comes to your Christian race, perhaps you feel as utterly powerless as I felt that day. If I’m being honest, I feel helpless quite often. LDS people—i.e., Mormons—are perfectly content to ignore my every effort . . . and they’re really good at it (much to my chagrin). How does a gospel-soldier keep running when every step seems to land in quicksand?

A few years back, I didn’t know the precise answer to that question. But by God’s grace, I just point people to the singular demonstration of God’s power that isn’t found in nature, logic, apologetics, or methods, but in the cross of Christ. The message of Christ crucified is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). And this realization has been so liberating when talking to people of vastly different worldviews.

For example, I’ve had the following conversations with different Millennials: a medical professional who began a diatribe with the phrase, “The problem with free-speech is . . . !”; a high school junior who claimed that playing the Mexican Train Game was an act of racism (that’s the actual name of the game); and a military officer who theorized that any god worth worshipping would allow people to determine their own gender. And at those particular moments, it’s sinfully easy to launch into conservative talk- radio mode and blast their conclusions, forgetting that those convictions are rooted within their own sense of morality. And I suppose there’s some spiritual power in belittling them, but Scripture suggests a different approach altogether. Listen to the heart of the Spirit through the Apostle Paul: “I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).

But that’s the rub, isn’t it? God’s transcultural, multi-epochal gospel undercuts our desire to be right politically, socially, and economically. It takes such immense preparation and wisdom to respond with gospel truth that I find myself overwhelmed with an inability to articulate gospel truth. “Yes, my dear friend, speech can be offensive. Do you know what’s been the most offensive speech of all time (1 Cor. 1:23)?” Or, “Wow, you know, racial diversity is dear to the heart of God—He sacrificed His only Son because He wants every single nationality to bow harmoniously at His feet (Ps. 67:2–3).” Or, again, “Did you know there’s a very good reason God created us male and female? Not only do both genders display different aspects of God’s image, but the committed union of those differing sexes pictures the gospel of Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:25–28).” May we cultivate gospel responses to the secular conclusions with gospel-focused intentionality.

Rejoice in the Victory Won

Sometimes people are perplexed that runners enter races that they have no chance of winning. And, yes, I’ll admit, that’s a touch crazy. But for the Christian, his race is already won by virtue of our union with Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith. Through Him we are more than conquerors (Rom. 8:37). Paul’s epitaph is quite literally translated “super victors.” And notice the present-tense reality—believers are right now, at this very moment, scoring an overwhelming victory through the triumph of our elder Brother, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, our greatest triumph for Christ stands at the exact intersection of our faith and our suffering. If our nation descends into widespread persecution, God will have permitted it. And at that moment of suffering, we will rejoice that Christ has counted us worthy (Acts 5:41) to fill up in our body His very own afflictions (Col. 1:24). Am I afraid of that type of suffering? Of course I am. But my sufficiency isn’t in me, it’s from God who makes me a competent minister of the new covenant (2 Cor. 3:5–6).

Final Thoughts

We have to ask ourselves a vital question: What is the Christian response to our generation’s demands? Talking heads, politicians, bloggers, et al., offer varying solutions, most of which have nary a shred of genuine hope. The gospel is God’s powerful answer to our culture’s woes. So please don’t waste your voice articulating something any unbeliever could trumpet—to no saving effect. God demands that we confront our nation with, of all things, His grace. We’ve been chosen for this historical moment. We possess the truest demonstration of God’s power. We own a certain victory in the performance of Jesus Christ alone. So run, my friend. Run your race.


Dr. Greg Baker pastors Fellowship Bible Church near Ogden, Utah.

(Originally published in FrontLine • Jan/Feb 2016. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)


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