“For the writer of Hebrews, the definition of a true Christian is one who manifests ‘a life-long allegiance to Christ,’” (from the Zondervan Bible Commentary note on Hebrews 10:32-36 in Bible Gateway Plus). The implication is that it is possible to fall away from Christ and his covenant with his believers (see Hebrews 10:26, Romans 11:22, John 15:5).
Not a comforting idea, but one that the author of Hebrews hopes will strengthen the recipients of his letter. The remedy to the reproaches and persecutions that assail the Christian is endurance. “Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will” (10:36).
Endurance is often associated with feats of athleticism. When I was in school, my gym teachers and coaches usually had posters of someone sweaty doing something strenuous on a mountaintop at sunset below the word ENDURANCE in block letters. If you search the word ‘endurance’ in your web browser, most of what you’ll see are images of runners or cyclists in arid terrain (also generally at sunset for some reason).
Perhaps the author of Hebrews has a similar image in mind, considering that he writes two chapters later about “the race marked out for us” (12:1). The Greeks and the Romans were both, after all, known for their love of athletic contests. Runners would often train with added weight to condition themselves for a coming race, and Greek thinkers were known to use athletic training as a metaphor for moral discipline (see note from the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible in Bible Gateway Plus), which image hasn’t really lost any of its relevance in today’s cultures. Apart from the spandex and Nike footwear, a person from the earliest Christian movement might even see these stock photos as something familiar to them.
What does this tell us about the Christian life? First and foremost: that it is not easy. Nor is it to be taken lightly. Just as running a marathon requires a combination of mental and physical fitness, so too should the Christian’s treatment toward his or her daily life “through the valley of the shadow of death” be met with focus. The runner has her eyes set on the finish line, whether at that moment it’s in her sights or not. The Christian has her eyes fixed on Jesus (12:2), who has gone ahead of us and is coming again. “This hope for the future can sustain our fidelity to God” (see NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible note. Emphasis mine).
But this idea I keep returning to, in Hebrews 10:36, of “patient endurance” (or “perseverance” in the NIV) also conjures an idea of resolute immobility that running doesn’t symbolically acknowledge. Our immobility or immovability is to be our response to the attempts of the world to undermine our faith. And this opposition need not manifest itself in direct persecution. “The normal routine of life, uninterrupted by persecution, is often the real test of genuineness of one’s Christian experience, for the very absence of trials and difficulties tends to promote spiritual drifting (2:1, moral sluggishness and lethargy (5:11), the slow imperceptible hardening of attitude (3:13)” (from the Zondervan Bible Commentary).
It is this imperceptible hardening that can cause a believer to fall away. Our reference point and home base (to stick with sporty things) is Christ and his Word, given to us in the form of Scripture. We can tell how well we have endured by subjecting ourselves to the discipline of reading Scripture and comparing its commands with our daily conduct. That’s the best way I know of to run the race well.
Consistently reading the Bible and taking his Word at its word, if you will—allowing it to change us, center us on Christ, from whom we so easily drift—that’s one of the most essential training routines for those who would live ‘a life-long allegiance to Christ.’
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