“But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37, NASB).
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also 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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1–2).
Americans love sports. Baseball, basketball, football, and hockey are big businesses. Fans watch because we find a way to connect with athletes who savor the thrill of victory. We want to feel victorious with them.
Sports can point us to spiritual truths as well. For one thing, sports can introduce us to champions who “overwhelmingly conquer” (or, in the words of the King James Version, who are “more than conquerors”). When we see a champion breeze to victory, we can say he is more than a conqueror. He overwhelmingly conquered. He dominated the match. He did not merely struggle to finish—he creamed the competition!
According to Romans 8:37, we should be “overwhelming conquerors.” Yet, many Christians suffer defeat in some area of their lives. Some live in financial despair, unemployed and afraid they may soon sleep on a park bench. Others are overwhelmed by fear about their health. Others worry about the stability of their families. Still others are enchained by addictions or other sinful habits.
This is not God’s will for you. God declared that He wants you to be more than a conqueror. God did not plan for His children to wallow in defeat, looking forward to the final buzzer (so they could slip off into the locker room, relieved that the game is over). He planned for us to triumph. He equipped us to trample on the heads of our foes (Luke 10:19), not to cower in tears begging them to stop bullying us.
So, why are we in defeat? How can we escape defeat and race to victory? Again, the sports world reminds us of a lesson from Scripture.
When I was a teenager, I ran in many long-distance races. I ran expecting to bring home awards. To do so, I dressed for success. I travelled light. I would not wear blue jeans or a button-down shirt to a race. Instead, I would wear lightweight shorts and a sleeveless tee-shirt. My clothes were not designed to keep me warm. They were supposed to keep me comfortable without adding weight or hindering my range of motion. Also, I would wear racing shoes: I had a special pair of shoes set aside for races, designed to provide maximum support for my feet without adding unnecessary weight.
These are the keys to any runner’s uniform: his clothes must weigh as little as possible; they must provide protection where it is needed; and they must allow him to move freely (nothing should hinder his ability to move his limbs freely).
Some sports demand such light uniforms: Swimmers, like runners, wear very light outfits (bathing suit, goggles, and a swim cap) to compete. Other sports, like football and hockey, demand extra padding for protection, so their uniforms are heavy. Imagine an Olympic swimmer wearing a hockey uniform during a race. He would lose miserably! Hockey equipment is not designed to float: it would drop to the bottom of the pool, dragging the person wearing it along. Hockey equipment is helpful when you are being body-checked or while blocking a slap shot, but it is worthless in a pool during the 100-meter backstroke.
So, how does this relate to the Christian walk? Many Christians fail to run or swim triumphantly through life because we overburden ourselves. We carry the weight of another lifestyle and expect to live successfully as Christians. Living victoriously in Christ, while clinging to worldly values about finances, relationships, etc., is like trying to swim in a hockey uniform. You will drown!
Hebrews 12:1–2 says “[L]et us also 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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Here we see several principles for overcoming in Christ.
First, we must lay aside every encumbrance AND the sin which so easily entangles us. Some of us do well to avoid committing the big sins. We may not violate any of the Ten Commandments. We avoid smoking and drinking. However, that is where we stop. We lay aside the sin, but we hold onto the encumbrances. We watch TV when we should be praying. We surf the Internet when we should be reading our Bibles. Even harmless entertainments can become encumbrances when they take priority in our lives.
Many worldly values encumber us. We are eager for more money so that we can buy more luxuries. Instead, Scripture instructs us to learn contentment and use whatever God gives us for His glory (1 Timothy 6:6–10). We allow society to define our needs, instead of seeking that information from God’s Word. We seek Dr. Phil’s guidance about marriage and relationships, rather than following God’s guidebook. We cannot triumph in the 100-meter backstroke if we try to play by a different sport’s rules.
Second, we must run with endurance. Victory is not easy. The 1980 US Olympic hockey team—perhaps one of the most memorable gold medalist squads in Olympic history—did not cruise easily to victory. They had to grind our victory day after day and overcome fierce competition. The Soviet team was not willing to give the USA a gold medal on a silver platter. They had to earn victory.
The apostle Paul did not write Romans 8 to armchair theologians who sat around drinking Perrier and discussing abstract ideas while growing rich off the stock market. When he wrote that “we overwhelmingly conquer,” he wrote it to people who endured trials and persecution. Few were wealthy. Some would be slaughtered for their faith. They did not overwhelmingly conquer by this world’s standards. They triumphed by the Kingdom of God’s standards.
Therefore, we must focus on our goal. We need to keep our eyes on Jesus. Also, we must keep our eyes on our goal in heaven.
In a memorable scene in the film Chariots of Fire, two sprinters, Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, are racing for the first time. As they approach the finish line, Abrahams glances to see where Liddell is. At that moment, Liddell passes him and wins the race. Instead of looking to the finish line, Abrahams looked away, thereby slowing his pace, and he regretted that simple mistake.
We will not triumph spiritually if we focus on what others are doing. Neither will we triumph if we keep glancing over our shoulders at the past. We must keep our eyes on the finish line, focussing on Jesus and our reward in heaven.
Look at the battles you are losing today. You can be victorious if you play by God’s rules. Maybe you are losing because you keep fighting the wrong battles. Maybe you are losing because you keep looking back at the lifestyle God called you out of. Maybe you are losing because you carry excess emotional weight (fear, bitterness, regret). Lay down your excess weights. Tear off the heavy clothes that keep you from running as you ought. Dress for victory and claim your place on the champion’s platform.
This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.