The Christian Pilgrimage and Race

Now let us focus our attention on the scriptural teaching regarding the Christian life. It is compared to a “pilgrimage” and also a “race.” The very fact that it is compared to a race indicates there is something trying to outrun, outdo, and overcome us! What is that?

The writer of Hebrews answers this question in Hebrews 12:1: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”

The thing that is out to beset, outrun, outdo, and overcome us is SIN. It is sin that causes Christians to lose the race. There are many who would have come out winners had they not allowed sin to overcome them and bring them again into bondage, as Peter said in 2 Pet. 2:19-20. Notice in Revelation chapters 2–3, the only promises that Christ gives are “to him that overcometh.” There are no promises of a crown of life, or any other blessings, to anyone who fails to be an overcomer. This in itself ought to stir our hearts to diligence. “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.” Prov. 4:23. “The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways.” Prov. 14:14a.

Backsliders are those who failed to keep their hearts with diligence, forsook the path of following Christ [the Word] and thus stopped walking in the light, and returned to their own ways. Peter says, “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.” 1 Pet. 2:11. If it were impossible for the soul to be overcome and moved away from the hope of the gospel, there would be no race or warfare involved with the Christian life. As many today teach, just pray that so-called “sinner’s prayer,” believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and BINGO! – You’ve won!!! No matter what transpires thereafter, you’re saved and eternally secure. But that’s not what the Bible teaches, and it’s not what the true saints of God through the ages of the gospel dispensation have believed and taught.

We would all do well to seriously consider the teachings of John Bunyan in “Pilgrim’s Progress.” He reveals very clearly the reality of the Christian RACE. The pilgrims of Jesus, who make a start for the celestial city (Heaven), have a bitter enemy who is determined to decoy them and keep them from safely reaching their destination. If it were impossible for him to accomplish his purpose, he would not be so determined! He knows very well the winners will only be those who successfully reach their final goal.

There are many by-paths along the way into which the enemy is seeking to decoy every pilgrim. The Lord Jesus Christ was so interested and concerned about His pilgrims to the celestial city successfully reaching their final goal that He inspired His faithful servant, John Bunyan, to write this wonderful, instructive allegory. Obviously, neither Jesus Christ nor John Bunyan believed it to be impossible for Christian pilgrims to lose their eternal salvation!

Neither did the Apostle Paul believe such a thing. Listen to him: “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 3:12-14.

Notice how different Paul’s tone is to that of modern day teachers who tell us that once a person has believed on Jesus and become saved by His grace they have both attained and apprehended eternal life, there being no possible way that they can ever lose it. The truth is they have attained inasmuch as they pursue the course faithfully unto the end and refuse to allow their soul’s enemy to decoy them. They must fight the good fight of faith and conquer the foe by availing themselves of the grace of God all the way to the end. As Paul exhorted Timothy, “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called” and “keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We must lay up in store for ourselves a good foundation against the time to come, that we may lay hold on eternal life. We must keep that which is committed to our trust. (See 1 Tim. 6:12-20.) We must “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” The road to heaven is a pressing way. We must press against lethargy, slothfulness, carelessness, fleshly lusts, and all those things that war against our souls. Listen again to what the Apostle Paul says about it:

“Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” 1 Cor. 9:24-27.

In the above scripture passage, the Apostle Paul makes it very clear that he believed he could lose his salvation and “be a castaway” if he failed to be temperate and properly run the Christian race and fight the good fight of faith. He realized his “body” had to be kept under subjection to the will of God in order to win the crown at the end of the race. So does yours and mine! Now listen to what he says further regarding that in the next chapter.

1 Corinthians 10:1-12: Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.

Yes, Paul clearly believed that Christians can fall, that is, backslide, and lose their salvation! He clearly taught, “If any man defile the temple of God [his body], him shall God destroy.” 1 Cor. 3:17a. Whomever God destroys is certainly not saved!

Sadly, I have known many in my short lifetime who have exemplified the very truths expounded in the foregoing scriptures. I have known many who heard the Word, felt the wooing of the Holy Spirit drawing them, responded and came to Christ in repentance, followed Him in the ordinance of baptism, and for a while were filled with the grace and glory and joy of salvation, witnessing to others of their newfound faith and hope in the gospel. Some of them took off like “jackrabbits,” so to speak, in the Christian race – it looked like they were going to outrun everybody around them! Some even became preachers and ministers of the gospel and even led others to Christ – for a while. But somewhere along the journey, they neglected to keep “self” and “the flesh” mortified [controlled], as Rom. 8:13 and Col. 3:5 admonishes the Christian to do. Failing to keep in the strait and narrow way of humility and the cross, they allowed “pride,” the root of most, if not all, sin (see Psalm 36;11; Prov. 16:18-19; Obadiah 3; James 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5, etc.) to outrun them. Becoming disobedient to the Word, they stumbled and fell, lost their first love, their first estate and, of course, the favor of God. Now they are living in open sin and walking in darkness.

Are such backsliders still saved in their present condition? Of course not!!! The Word makes it very clear that those who transgress and abide not [continue not] in the doctrine of Christ have not God, which clearly means have NO SALVATION. Why is this truth so hard for some to believe? Why do some say that those who got saved but erred somewhere along the way will merely receive chastisement at the door of Heaven, but will still be able to enter? Where does such doctrine come from? Not only does it make room for carelessness and lack of vigilance in the Christian life: there is no such thing taught anywhere in the New Testament! It has no more foundation there than does the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory. Not one proof text can be found. On the contrary, the Bible clearly teaches that if we do err after we are initially saved, our error MUST be repented of and corrected HERE AND NOW; otherwise our hope of a crown of life dies! When we stand before the judgment seat of Christ we will either hear Him say “Well done, thou good and FAITHFUL servant,” or “depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” No worker of iniquity is going to enter Heaven’s gate, nor any unfaithful servant of the Lord. This is a scriptural fact we all will do well to take heed to!

Now consider 2 Tim. 2:3-5: “Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.

Take special notice of those last nine words! This scripture definitely does NOT teach that making a start in the Christian race, or enlisting in the Lord’s army, is a guarantee of a crown of life. Obviously, it teaches quite the opposite! As the old saying goes, “All is well that ends well.” In order to run a successful Christian race and fight a successful Christian warfare, one must “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might” and “put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” (Carefully read Paul’s instructions in Eph. 6:10-18.) We must take the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, etc., and thereby engage in a valiant warfare if we want to gain that crown at the end of our way. Is this not exactly what John Bunyan portrays in “Pilgrim’s Progress?” Is this not exactly what the New Testament teaches from Matthew through Revelation? Every honest Bible reader knows this is true.

Yes, each “pilgrim” is granted the “earnest of the Spirit” as a “seal” (2 Cor. 1:21-22) of his/her eternal inheritance. But always remember: the seal IS the Holy Spirit. If we get out of sync and out of harmony with the Spirit, we’re in trouble! The Holy Spirit will not abide in any defiled temple. No defiled temple, or the soul that inhabits it, is sealed. This is a Bible fact. Therefore, “grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption,” “neither give place to the devil.” (Eph. 4:30, 27.) The songwriter, George Heath, had the same scriptural perspective as John Bunyan when he penned the words of the following song, “My Soul, Be on Thy Guard”:

“My soul, be on thy guard, Ten thousand foes arise,

And hosts of sin are pressing hard To draw thee from the skies.

“Oh, watch, and fight and pray, The battle ne’er give o’er, Renew it boldly every day, And help divine implore.

“Ne’er think the victory won, Nor once at ease sit down; Thine arduous work will not be done Till thou hast got the crown.”

But some modern teachers sing to a different tune! “Be at ease,” they say. “You’re eternally secure. You can never lose. You are sealed and guaranteed eternal life because you believed on Jesus Christ and received His eternal salvation. He will uphold you and never let you fall. No man can ever pluck you out of God’s hand. John 10:28-29 tells us so!”