Eric Liddell had just taken his position in the outside lane of the 1924 Olympics’ 400-meter race. With most of his previous competitions at the shorter distances of 100 and 200 meters, he was at a disadvantage. But Liddell decided to run the 400-meter instead of the 100-meter race scheduled on Sunday. As he saw it, to race or work on the Lord’s Day would dishonor God. 47.6 seconds later, Liddell was first to cross the finish line, beating his previous best time by two seconds and setting a world record for the 400-meter.
A Different Kind of Race
In Philippians 3:12-15, the Apostle Paul speaks of a different kind of race, but one that shares every bit of the intensity and effort. The goal? Spiritual perfection.
It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ. Brothers, I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession. Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind, but straining forward to what lies ahead. I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus. Let us, then, who are “perfectly mature” adopt this attitude.” (Phil. 3:12-15 NABRE)
Some Christians consider their “decision for Christ” as the endpoint of salvation. But Jesus tells us to “be perfect, just as [our] heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48), and the Father desires that we “be conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29). Christians are not inherently any better or holier than non-believers. But God slowly perfects us through grace and the work of the Holy Spirit. This takes our cooperation and effort. Not to do so would be just as senseless as if Eric Liddell had sat down at the start line, satisfied that making it to the Olympics was enough.
Just as we cannot expect to achieve spiritual perfection in this world, so we can’t expect to have perfect peace here, either. But we can grow into it, taste it, and have occasions of this peace here on earth. It’s duration and perfection will increase as we grow in holiness.
Keep Looking Ahead
Placed in the outside lane of the track, Eric Liddell would not have seen the position of his competitors until the final leg of the race. Looking backward would have altered his stride and momentum, with devastating results. Yet, don’t we do this all the time? We obsess over past mistakes or injuries. We look back wistfully to former days as “better.” Agonizing over the past is not only wasted time and energy but also one way the devil can incapacitate us. Take Paul’s advice: “Forget what lies behind.” Let it go.
Resting or Striving?
But, can you have peace if you’re always straining toward something else? Isn’t peace achieved only when we’re at perfect rest?
No! We can’t remain the same in the spiritual life. The Holy Spirit spurs us to move onward, and we would need to resist Him to stay the same. Peace is not just the absence of conflict — it is a positive state that comes with doing God’s will. God does give us rest, but it’s rest from those things that cannot satisfy and from the turmoil in our hearts. Instead of escaping life, we live it to the full.
No matter how hard we try, there will always be difficult days, temptations, conflicts, and emotional struggles. At times we will need to seek reconciliation, overcome obstacles and change our course of action. Peace takes work, but instead of drudgery or toil, this effort is wholesome and sweet.