IS THE CHRISTIAN RACE A MARATHON? BY PAUL ELLIS



In the Bible, Christianity is sometimes compared to a race. But what kind of race is it?
Is the Christian race like the marathon, something to be endured rather than enjoyed?

And is it true that only those who endure to the end qualify for the kingdom?
You might think so to read verses like these…

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

I have studied every scripture and read every commentary I could find on this issue of Christian endurance. I learned that there are two views:

1. Salvation is indeed 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 and God is 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 simple trust in Jesus this perspective sows uncertainty and doubt.

If the first view is true, and salvation is conditional on enduring, you will be full of fear. If the second view is true, and 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.

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. (Joh 16:33)

This is such a profound statement for 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 of us in Christ, the race begins at the finish line. How is this possible? 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. Do you see it? Look at what Jesus says: “Take heart! I have overcome the world.” Why is that good news for the one who believes it? Because in Christ, we 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.

Do you see it yet? Every spiritual blessing and everything we need comes to us through Christ. Now let’s look briefly at those four endurance verses I listed at the the top of this post:

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

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 are 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.

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

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.”

Jas 1:12 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. (NKJV)
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.

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

Again, why are there so many verses in the New Testament on endurance? They are not there to scare you or promote flesh-powered endurance. They are there to inspire you to trust in Jesus who endured all things and was tempted in every way but remained untouched by sin.


From time to time you will have a great need for endurance and patience and perserverence. Look to Christ to supply your need (Php 4:19). In Christ, we are approved. In Christ, we have endured. In Christ, we began our race at the finish line.
– Paul Ellis

You can read more from his blog. http://escapetoreality.org/2013/05/30/is-the-christian-race-a-marathon/

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