For those who are not familiar with the Texas Motorplex, it’s an NHRA sanctioned 1/4 mile race track in Ennis, Texas, which is a few miles south of Dallas. In the world of professional drag racing, there are two classes of dragsters that can reach speeds close to 300 miles per hour, the Top Fuel dragsters and the Funny Cars, and another, the Pro Stockers, that consistently hit speeds well over 200 miles per hour. You have to be able to bring these cars to a stop in hurry so they don’t run off the end of the track and to do that, they deploy parachutes that are attached to the rear of the cars.
So I was at the Motorplex a few years ago watching the races when during one particular race, one of the cars in the Funny Car class suffered a parachute malfunction right off the starting line. He was probably no more than ten feet off the starting line when before his parachute accidentally dropped out and deployed. Needless to say, he lost the race. It’s kind of hard to win a drag race with your parachute holding you back.
Of course in the Apostle Paul’s day, there were no top fuel dragsters or race cars but Paul often compared our Christian walk to running a foot race. He used that analogy in several of his letters as a way to illustrate his own personal growth as a Christian. In 1 Corinthians chapter 9 for instance, Paul wrote: Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.
Paul used that same analogy again his when Judaizers tried to convince the Christians at the Galatian church that they were required to keep the Old Covenant Law in addition to their faith in Christ. He asked in his letter to that church, “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?” They were being hindered in their growth – held back if you will – by false teaching.
It happens to us as well in our own time. There are things we do and things we fail to do that hinder our growth as Christians. There are things that hold us back from being the kind of Christians that God has called us to be. This has been true in my own walk and I know I’m not alone. No one is immune to it.
So just what are some of things that hold us back? The first and most obvious answer is sin. The Bible makes it very clear that sin hinders our fellowship with God and this is is expressed very clearly in the first Epistle of John:
1 John 1
If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.
Regardless of whether it’s an unconfessed sin, something that we’d prefer not to think of as sin, or something that we’re trying to keep concealed, sin hinders our growth as Christians by breaking our fellowship with God. And it will hold us back until it’s been acknowledged, confessed, and dealt with in accordance with Biblical teaching.
There are some things that are not as obvious. And there’s one thing in particular. Again, we can look to the first letter of John:
1 John 4
Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.
Jesus said that we’re to “love the Lord with all our heart, all our souls, and all our minds.” And He also said “we’re to love our neighbors as ourselves.” All too often, we fail to do that. The failure to love as we’re commanded holds us back in our growth as Christians. Yet, love is at the top of the list of attributes that identify a genuine Christian in Galatians chapter 5, what Paul referred to as the “Fruit of the Spirit”. It’s quite possible that a person who professes Jesus Christ as his or her Savior but whose faith is not yielding the kind of love highlighted in scripture might not be saved UNLESS…….it’s something that God is working on in that person’s heart through the conviction of the Holy Spirit. But that’s another matter for another time.
Do we display that type of love all the time? I know I don’t. Sometimes we’re just trying grind our way through a tough day or difficult week, and we all go through seasons when it’s hard to be the loving people of God we’re called to be. We all go through dry spells. What we need to look for in ourselves is the desire to love God and love others as we’re commanded to do in scripture. The Bible says we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose (Philippians 2).
We’re also commanded to examine ourselves to see whether we’re in the faith. And Paul explained the reason for self examination with this question, “Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13) So when we examine ourselves, when we’re working out our salvation with fear and trembling, we must ask ourselves, “Is my faith yielding the love that God desires? Or is the lack of Christ-like love holding me back?” And we must ask God to reveal that to us as well.
It’s not easy. I struggle with this. We all do. After all, how can you love someone who doesn’t have any use for you? How can you love someone who despises you? How can you love someone who treats you as though you don’t exist? How can you love someone who only says they love you but only if you give something in return?
Let me ask those questions another way. How can you love someone who would take a thorny vine and wrap it around your head and grind it into your forehead? How could you love someone who spits on you and beats on you and whips you like an animal? How could you love someone who would nail your hands to a hunk of wood and then taunt you during the final moments of your life? Yet, Jesus did. He even loved those who crucified Him. “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
He could have stopped it at any time but he didn’t. He loved us too much to put a stop to it. Because we so often fail to love others as perfectly as He loves us, He had to become our sacrifice. He had to bear our sins and our failures and our flaws because they hold us back. But at the cross, nothing could hold Jesus back and in turn, He held nothing back from us. He gave His own life for our lives and by doing so, He was the model of perfect love.