Not just anyone can run the Boston Marathon. You have to qualify by running a good time in some other marathon. You have to run a time fast enough, for your age and sex, to earn a place in the Boston Marathon. The standards are reasonable, but challenging for the ordinary person. It is an accomplishment just to be able to qualify and to earn your place in the race.
But the object of qualifying for the Boston Marathon is not just to qualify. The object is actually to run the race as fast as you can, and place as highly as possible. It is wonderful to qualify, but qualifying is just a prelude to actually lining up and racing. I have never qualified for the Boston Marathon, but my talented and diligently trained friend Terry Marcott not only qualified for the Boston Marathon, he raced it well several times. Once he was 143rd overall, men and women combined. This, in a field of many thousands, including national and world class runners, was remarkable. (I used to train with Terry often. We ran together. Well, I had better clarify. We ran together–for five feet–then he was gone. But we started out together. He would always run six miles more quickly than I could run five, and do it easily. Always. Durn it.)
Terry understood that he was at the Boston Marathon in order to race well. He was not just there to show that he had qualified.
I don’t think Christians understand the difference between qualifying and racing. To qualify to become a Christian we have to receive the grace of God through Jesus Christ. We won’t quarrel here over how that happens. Some of us believe it happens solely by the grace of God, others believe that we are able to choose to join God’s people. Fine. Whatever. It’s an important issue, but I want to avoid that issue completely right now. My main point here is that one actually can qualify to become a Christian–if the Bible is true, of course.
My theory is that we Christians, taken as a whole, have confused what qualifying is about. We think because we have qualified to become Christians, our job is basically done. We will go to heaven eventually. All is well. But I think that is to miss the point greatly. God permitted us to qualify, but the main object is not to qualify (as crucial as that is, of course!). The main object is really to live out our lives in a way that pleases God.
We have been handed an official entry to the Boston Marathon of life. We line up with the teeming millions, the gun goes off, and we jog a few feet forward, then we mill around. Or we run pretty well for a couple of miles, then slow and stop. But the race is 26.2 miles, not a couple miles. We qualified, but we did not compete.
The book of Hebrews tells us that we are to “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” (Hebrews 12:1).
The race that is set before us is to apply a biblical ethic in every moment of our lives. A biblical ethic is the only thing which will permit us to run the race with endurance. If we don’t use a biblical ethic, we are not likely to make much more progress than those who don’t even have a qualified entry ticket. In fact some people who make no claim to have an entry ticket seem to be making better progress in the race than many of us with our official entry form stamped and approved.
The absence of a biblical ethic is why we have transgendered bathrooms and the homosexual agenda and rampant illegitimacy. That is why we have preemptive wars destroying hundreds of thousands of lives. That is why the nation is financially bankrupt.
I may be told, “Carl, it is those nasty religious and political liberals who are pulling us down. Honest to goodness Christian believers are doing much better.” No, that is not true. Half the nation self-identifies as Christian. If even 30% of those people really are Christians, and that 30% thinks and acts in tune with a biblical ethic, Christian ideas would shape the thinking of the entire country. Or, if the non-Christians want to get away from the rest of us, that would work too. We can split up and let all of us go our own way, without force or violence.
We don’t use the biblical ethic which the Bible provides. Apparently we think that it is too hard. How many sermons have you heard telling you that it is the responsibility of Christians to educate their own children at their own expense, and to stop teaching and administering in any branch of public education? Seventeen? Six? Let me make a guess. I’ll say you’ve heard zero. And you will go the rest of your life, even if you live to a ripe old age, and the total at the end will still be zero.
How many sermons have you heard telling you that no nation has a right preemptively to attack another nation, and that many or most Christians need to repent of the murders and cripplings to which we have acquiesced? How many sermons have you heard suggesting that torture is unbiblical and that Christians need to oppose torture with all their hearts? How many sermons have you heard telling you that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme instituted by force and something which is unworthy of a free and honorable Christian people? Shall I guess again? Are you “shocked–shocked” to hear that my guess is once again zero?
You get the point. It’s us. It is not the nasty liberals, religious or political. Liberalism in both cases is horrendously evil. But liberals are incapable of understanding and applying a biblical ethic. They don’t want a biblical ethic–they want to do what they want to do. Fair enough. That is mankind, throughout world history.
But Bible-believing Christians are supposed to be different. We have, through no merit of our own, been handed a qualifying entry to run the race set before us. We were not handed the entry just in order to say that we qualified. We were handed the qualification form with all the lines filled out perfectly, so that we could race. When the gun goes off, we are not to walk a few feet, then turn aside for a seven year rest. We should be heading for the finish line, with as intelligent and as fast a pace as we can manage. We can only race well if we are absolutely determined to apply a truly biblical ethic as we run. Absent that, we aren’t going to get very far.
We are not getting very far. There is a reason. My theory is that we have misunderstood what our qualifying ticket is for. It is not there so we can say we qualified. It is not there so that we can go to heaven one day, although it will certainly be a blessing to go to heaven. It is there so that we can run the race with endurance. We are Christians in order to live more and more as Christians, to think more and more as Christians. We can only do that if we search for and apply a truly biblical ethic.
This is not esoteric stuff. It is not rocket science to understand that Christians need to educate their own at their own expense. It is not rocket science to understand that you shouldn’t attack or torture other people. But instead of understanding these obvious things, we are still drifting around barely beyond the starting line, congratulating ourselves that we received a qualifying ticket, and complaining about those wretched liberals.
‘”And from everyone who has been given much shall much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.”‘ (Luke 12:48) We Christians have been handed our qualifying ticket. That is much. Much is required of us. The race is not necessarily to the swift, but it is certainly to those who are determined to compete and to persevere.