Oooohhh… he said strip! Scandalous! Well not really. The more accurate title for this entry is probably “Strip for Jesus…and Then Run Naked.” Now maybe that would be a more scandalous title. In any case, the inspiration for this post is Hebrews 12:1. (Ok, yes, please pause at this point and look up this verse. Actually, I will hyperlink a footnote to save you the effort).
In this verse, Paul is speaking to the Hebrews about running a race with endurance/perseverance and stripping off anything that might slow us down…hence the nice little catchy title.
But what race are we running and why do we have to strip? (Yeah, I know, it may not be the best mental image). And what is Paul talking about when he says endurance? And, for that matter, just what does it mean to win this race?
Well, lets talk about the race itself first.
As you probably know, this race is not a race to see who can get the best time or who is the fastest runner. This race is run towards the finish line of eternal life, and most importantly, towards Jesus. It seems simple enough, but I guess it had to be said…just so we are all on the same page.
So now you may be thinking, if I am in this race, just whom am I running against? Mother Teresa looks like she’d probably be pretty slow…or what about the really old priest (everybody seems to know one)…or that little old lady that is always at daily mass and walks really slow down the aisle??? I bet they are turtle slow! Hah…wrong!!! Actually, these people are the Olympic athletes. But thank goodness we aren’t competing against them! I think I would have been lapped by Mother Teresa years ago! It’d be like me riding a Big-Wheel on a NASCAR track…yeah it’d be ugly. But I digress.
Anyways, the competitors in this race are not other Christians…thank goodness. Even the fallen away Christians aren’t the competitors…but they might be hurdles in the middle of the track. No, the race is being run against Satan, the world, the flesh, fear…you name it. To put it more Biblically, the competitors are principalities, powers, rulers of this present darkness, and evil spirits in the heavens. To say it still another way, the only competitors are the things that slow us down or keep us from running altogether. In fact, Satan and his minions aren’t even competitors, because they aren’t running anywhere, and certainly not towards Jesus. They are simply hecklers lobbing fireballs at the runners! Sometimes I think of them like the two old critics on the Muppets…sigh…if they weren’t so nasty, that might be funny. But anyways, even though Satan is powerful, I’d rather play “Frogger” against his fireballs with Jesus on my side than try to outrun a saint. One race I can win, the other I’m getting lapped.
But no matter what (notice I didn’t say “who”) we are running against or around, or jumping over, we have to remember that the goal is not the race itself, to finish ahead of your neighbor, or to finish with the fastest time. The goal is the prize at the end of the race…and that prize isn’t a thing or a trophy. That prize is a somebody…and his name is Jesus Christ.
Remember when He said I am the way, the truth, and the life? Maybe if He was speaking about this verse he could have also added…”and the goal.” We must always look towards our Blessed Lord at the finish line. If we focus on those in front of us (cough… cough…like the Pope) we are going to get discouraged for sure. If we look back, we risk becoming prideful and, in so doing, getting passed up or even going backwards. The Pharisee that looks back is going to get run over for sure.
But anyways, getting back to that one word in the title that made you want to read this post…Stripping!
Before we get to Paul’s specific words, let’s make a quick comparison to what Peter said in 1 Peter 2:1 when he talked about a similar idea. In this verse, Peter uses the Greek word “apastaysti” which means stripping off old clothes and basically throwing them in all directions. Now, in Hebrews, Paul uses a similar concept and uses the work “orakon” which, more accurately, refers to stripping off of weight or bulk. But what does this all mean?
Well, as everybody knows, you cannot run a race with a ball and chain wrapped around your ankle. Try playing Frogger tied to a post. What happens? You get run over by a truck. In this case, a dude with horns would be driving the truck.
For that matter, how many times have you seen an Olympic athlete run a race in a parka, or with a weight belt, or even in boots or a sweatshirt? Never…why…because it doesn’t happen. All elite runners try to shed every piece of clothing and hindrance they can to make themselves lighter and less bogged down.
In this verse, Paul is telling us to do that same thing! Shed all of the bulk that you can. Loosen up and get rid of anything that is slowing you down – get rid of the junk! Don’t be a hoarder of things of this world! To be specific, Paul is telling us to strip off everything (such as sin) that cling to us.
Maybe think of it this way – Sin and worldly desires cling to us like tar clings to a smokers lungs. You cannot run a human race very well if you have tar in your lungs. Just the same, you cannot run a spiritual race very well if the world is clinging to your legs, to your mind, or to your heart. The less sin we have attached to us, the smoother our strides will be!
So lets be really simple and clear. Just like elite athletes, we must be willing to sacrifice what we want to do in life, be willing to train hard, be willing to practice, and be willing to expend every last ounce of our energy to cross the finish line.
Ok, Ok – are we really naked in this race? Well…no! Whew! As Paul also says in Ephesians 6:13-17, you must put on the armor of God…stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate…your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace…hold[ing] faith as a shield, and take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. So I guess we are clothed after all. But we are clothed in light and Truth, and not in some make believe fashion of the world. Sorry for the false advertising in the title….but I got you to read this…and I’m almost done!
So even though we run in light and Truth, that doesn’t excuse us from running with endurance. For that reason, we cannot spiritually sprint out of the blocks, only to fall like a heap in the middle of the track. That would not do anyone any good. Instead, we have to run at a pace that allows us to finish. Sometimes, runners run too fast and get burned out. Others run so fast that they miss a turn and end up going in the wrong direction…even while they think they are still running towards Jesus. But don’t get confused. The instruction is still to run!
So, last but not least, what does it really mean to win the race?
Wow…that was easy. But yet, it is also so difficult. To win the race means to inherit eternal life and to reach eternal truth itself (or more accurately, Himself). But some people give up the race because they don’t see a logical finish line. But who ever said the truth had to be logical? The truth is love…and love isn’t logical.
Soooo…now that you have read all of this… what type of scene are you imagining in your mind when you think of this race…especially in view of the title??? Well, I hope that you can see that Jesus is running with you. He is also the one standing at the finish line with open arms waiting to hug anyone that makes it across the line. You should picture yourself running with the lightest and yet the strongest armor that you can imagine…and crossing that finish line to eternal joy!
So, enough of my rambling on…here is one moral of this story…At the end of every day, if I examine my conscience and notice that the results of my daily race don’t bring me closer to Jesus, then I missed my turn and veered off in the wrong direction, no matter how fast I thought I was running. Maybe I went too fast and accidently followed the wrong path…thinking that I was doing the right thing but instead going off course. Maybe I went too slow and didn’t make any progress at all. Maybe I actually went in reverse.
Nevertheless, and, God willing, when we do cross that finish line, we will hear those wonderful words – Well done, good and faithful servant. Now enter into your Master’s joy!
 Attachment to sin and original sin will be the focus of a future post
 Alas, yet another topic for its own future post