The Pursuit Of Holiness
By Sammy Tippit
The following is edited from a message given at the Heart-Cry for Revival Conference in November 2009 at The Cove, Asheville, North Carolina U.S.A.
For the past two and a half years I have been experiencing the greatest revival of my life. It began about the time I was diagnosed with cancer, and I took a look at my whole life in that context. God allows things to come into our life that cause anguish, pain and suffering. When that happens it is beneficial because then we begin to seek Him and to say, "O God, I want You. I want to know You."
Scripture Calls Us to a Race of Endurance
One day as I began to read the Scripture and go to God, I prayed, "Speak to my heart. I want to hear from You. I want to hear from heaven." God spoke to me through one verse of Scripture, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us" (Heb. 12:1).
I received from God one word: "Run." Now that seemed a strange word since I was sixty years old.
When I was a pastor in Germany, about thirty years before the diagnosis of cancer, a friend of mine and I had been training to run the original Greek Marathon. We were preparing by running trails and running on hills. Then my friend was killed in an automobile accident. When he was killed it was as though that dream died and was buried with him. My heart broke so I quit running. Occasionally off and on I would run or jog or walk, but not much. I began to put on weight. Now thirty years later the doctor had said to lose weight and build some endurance. I remembered that dream. God began to revive in my heart that dream of running the original Greek Marathon.
Of course, it looked impossible for me to do at the time. I went through the surgery. I had other problems: a foot problem, and twisted shoulder ligaments which required therapy. Yet God said, "Run." I said, "Lord, I do not understand why, but I will run." As soon as the doctor gave me freedom to start training, I started running.
God began to teach me something about revival and about the Christian life through running. I discovered that the Bible uses several comparisons of the Christian life to running. For example, Paul said, "I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (2 Tim. 4:7). And Isaiah wrote, "…they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint" (Isa. 40:31). When God talks about running, He talks about a lifelong run, about not becoming weary in the life that He has given you. As I have returned again and again to the Book of Hebrews, I have found some great truths relating to the athlete and to the race.
Jesus, the Superior One, the Holy One
Hebrews chapter one begins by saying that Christ is "the radiance of the glory of God and the express imprint of His nature…" (v. 3). The introduction to the Book of Hebrews is that Jesus is in a category all His own for He is the exact representation of God’s person. Do you want to see the beauty, and the splendor and the glory and the majesty of God? Look unto Jesus.
He is far superior to the angels. He is far superior to Moses, the great leader, the greatest prophet to arise in all of Israel. Jesus is greater than all of the prophets for He is more than a great prophet. He is God in human flesh. He is greater than Israel’s high priest for He is the ultimate High Priest, the One who would go into the Holy Place once and for all to pay the price and give the sacrifice.
His new covenant is better than the old covenant. When He shed His blood on that cross two thousand years ago, it was not something that had to be repeated over and over again like the shedding of the blood of goats and bulls and sheep or any other animal. Christ’s blood was like no other blood that flowed on the face of this planet. He made a covenant with His eternal blood so that you and I once and for all could be forgiven. By this covenant, He says in Hebrews chapter ten, "Let us draw near" into that holy place. You and I have been given access into the very holy of holies because a High Priest has gone in and offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sins. You and I can now come into the presence of a Holy God. All of this was done by Jesus.
In Hebrews 11 we read of Noah, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Moses’ parents, etc. who lived by faith and looked forward to a coming Messiah. Jesus said, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day" (John 8:56). These men and women in Hebrews chapter 11 were people like us. They had been called to run a race and they ran the race. They are witnesses as to how we are to run that race.
Purpose of the Lifelong Race
Then we come to Hebrews chapter 12: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us" (v. 1).
What is the race that God has given us to run? I suggest that the ultimate part of this race is character development. We were sinners going our own way, rebellious against God. We came to know Christ. He changed our hearts. He set us on this path where we are running a race. The Scriptures say it is an endurance race, not a sprint. I have seen a lot of people start off well, like flaming stars, then crash and burn. They start quickly and end poorly. God has called us to an endurance race in which character is developed.
One month after my surgery, I announced to family and friends that I was going to run the original Greek Marathon. "God has told me to run and I believe He wants me to run the original Greek Marathon – twenty-six miles, ten miles of it up hills and then down into Athens." One of our friends said, "Sammy, why are you going to do this?" That was a good question. If you do not understand what you are pursuing nor what it is that you want out of this race, you will never finish the race.
Last November (2008) I ran the original Greek Marathon. I came to a place in the race where I did not feel I could go any further. There was only one reason that I could finish that race. What kept me going when I had no more strength left in me? It was the dream that had been birthed in my heart thirty years earlier. The dream was there. I could not let go of it.
God has given us something to pursue, a dream to pursue. We find it in Hebrews 12:14: "Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord."
Any athlete knows he is running for a purpose. He has a pursuit, a goal. What I have discovered is that about eighty or ninety percent of Christians do not even know they are in the race. Many who do know they are in the race do not know why they are in the race. What is the purpose? What is it we are pursuing? "Peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord."
I do not believe that you should separate peace with all men and holiness, but so many times that is what happens. We define holiness as something just for us, but you study the history of great revivals when men see God come, what happens is that peace is made between brothers and sisters in Christ. All the barriers that have been erected by man and by Satan and by the flesh come tumbling down. Racial barriers, denominational barriers, barriers of broken fellowship, hurt and pain come tumbling down because we get in the pursuit of peace with all men and the pursuit of holiness.
A problem that we have is we do not preach holiness any more, holiness without which no man shall see the Lord. Today, when holiness is talked about, many times it is defined in the wrong way as a system of do’s and don’ts. The ones who are holy are the ones who do these things and don’t do those things. Most of us think holiness is a level of maturity that we have achieved. I want to tell you that is not holiness.
Holiness Is Jesus; Pursue Him!
First of all, there is only One who is holy. His name is Jesus. That is what the whole first ten chapters of Hebrews is about. Jesus is in a category set apart. He is the Holy One. Only Jesus is holy. When you understand that, you understand holiness takes place and begins to work in us when the Holy One comes to dwell on the inside of us. Holiness is the presence of Christ in the human heart. It is this One who is the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of God’s nature. Holiness is the image of Christ within us.
When you came to know Christ, did you become the exact representation of God’s nature and character? No. His nature, His character came to dwell within you. Did you become the radiance of His glory? No. It came to dwell within you. He is in you. Now the author of Hebrews is saying, "Pursue this." That is what you are running for. The goal of life’s race is the image of Christ inside you.
The purpose of this race is to become more and more like Jesus. If you become some great man of God, even to the stature of Moses or Noah or Abraham, you have still not arrived. It is much greater, much bigger than that. It is more beautiful, much deeper than that. It is Jesus! It is His image. As long as you live that is to be your pursuit.
Let me tell you what revival does. Often what happens is we drop the pursuit of holiness or we get off the road, off the highway of holiness. Revival puts us back on that pursuit of peace with all men and holiness, being conformed unto the image of Christ. It puts us back into that passionate pursuit, where the pursuit of our lives is to become like Jesus.
How Do We Become like Christ?
There is a big gap between verse one and verse fourteen of Hebrews chapter twelve. If you are going to pursue holiness, there are some things you must know. As you read verses five to eleven there is one word that is used over and over – discipline. Somewhere between understanding that we are in a race for all the days of our lives and that the pursuit of this race is holiness, conforming to the image of Christ – somewhere in between pursuing and possessing – there must be discipline.
Why is revival so critically important to us? In Hebrews 12:1 we read: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance...." I have discovered that there are two kinds of people in the race. There are people who get sidetracked and find themselves shipwrecked or injured in the race and unable to complete the race that God has called them to run. The second kind of person finishes the race, but he does not finish to his full potential.
I finished the Greek Marathon, but I did not finish to my full potential. I ran that race like many of you are running the race of the Christian life. Scripture says, "…let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely" or "so easily besets us." There are two things that are mentioned here. First of all, there is sin. There is no way you can hold on to sin and become like Jesus. If your pursuit is to be like Jesus, you will not rationalize away anything that violates the Word of God. You will say, "God have mercy on me. Forgive me, I have sinned."
That is why revival and this pursuit of holiness go hand in hand. When you study revival in the Bible and throughout history, you will discover that God always deals with sin in the life of the believer. God must bring His people to the place of brokenness over their sin. There will be no revival until we see our goal as the pursuit of Jesus, and we see ourselves in the light of the image of Christ. When we do, we will fall on our faces and say, "O God, I cannot go this way anymore. I cannot think these thoughts. I cannot feel these feelings. I cannot flirt around with this sin," and we repent. If you hold on to sin, there is absolutely no way you can finish the race that God has called you to run. You have to let go! You have to admit that you are wrong and repent.
But there is a second thing. We must lay aside "every weight" – the weight that so easily clings to us. What is this weight? Any long-distance runner knows weight is an issue.
There are a lot of people reading this who are healthy Christians. Your marriage is healthy, your ministry is healthy, you are living for the Lord, and you are serving the Lord. The problem is not that you have violated God’s Word and that you have walked away. The problem is that for an athlete, others may do some things that the athlete cannot do. The athlete is in training. The athlete has a goal. He has a pursuit and everything that keeps him from that pursuit has to go. It is not that some things in your life are sin. Others may do it and it may be no problem, but if your pursuit is the image of Jesus, it has to go.
Do you know what keeps us more than anything else from running the race and fulfilling what God has called us to do? It is contentment with where we are. What God wants from us is the image of the glory, and the radiance, and the beauty of His Son Jesus. That is why the next verse about this race is, "…looking to Jesus, the founder [author] and perfecter of our faith" (v. 2). We are to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.
Consider Jesus Who Suffered
The writer of Hebrews goes on to say, "Consider Him" (12:3). What does it talk about when it says to "consider Him"? Consider Him, "who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame…" (v. 2). Consider Him: the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of God’s nature. In the first ten chapters of Hebrews we see Jesus greater than the angels, greater than Moses, greater than the prophets, a better covenant, the great High Priest. Consider Him.
Consider also His cry, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matt. 27:46). There is not one of us who has endured what He endured. We have gone through hardship and difficulty, but none of us has suffered to the point of shedding our blood because of our rejection of sin.
It talks about discipline as a father disciplines his son. We must be disciplined, and the purpose of this discipline is for training in righteousness. Look at verse 10: "For they [fathers] disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but He [God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness." The discipline that God places on us is for this purpose, that we might share in His holiness, that we might obtain the prize of His holiness, which is Christlikeness.
There is a particular kind of discipline we do not hear about in America, and I am convinced it is why we do not have revival. The message we miss in America is suffering. In Romania there was a greater move of God when they were being persecuted than in the days of freedom. God allows suffering to touch our lives and the message of suffering is a message that we do not hear today. The reason God allows suffering is to discipline us, not because He hates us, but as a father disciplines his son, because he loves him. He wants him to go down the right path. And the Father in heaven disciplines us so that we can share in His holiness.
After I finished the Greek Marathon, I met with a trainer in San Antonio. We went to a park and we walked. Then we ran a mile and I was winded. Then he said, "All right, now the workout begins. We are going to run up this hill. We are going to go at a pace that I think you can do to make it all the way to the top." I made it, quite winded but okay. We walked back down to the bottom and he said, "Are you ready?" "Ready for what?" "We are going back up the hill." This time when we got to the top I was breathing much harder. Five times we went up that hill! On the last time he looked at me and said, "I love hills. Hills make you strong."
Consider Him who climbed a hill called Mount Calvary. He was nailed to a cross, despising its shame. He endured it for the joy set before Him. He loves you. The next time you hurt, the next time someone wounds you, the next time you feel pain, the next time you have a diagnosis of cancer, the next time your life is threatened, the next time you are climbing that hill and you do not think you can make it – consider Him! The Apostle Paul said, "That I might know Him in the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His suffering being conformed to His death" (Phil. 3:10).
Holiness and Suffering
Here in America we do not hear the message of suffering, the fellowship of His suffering, being made conformable unto His death, and it is that which disciplines us that we might partake in His holiness.
Hebrews 12:12 says, "Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees...." Any marathon runner knows what that is all about. About mile 20 you come to a place which runners call "hitting the wall." Everything in your body begins to fall apart. You lose your form; your arms, legs, knees and whole body hurt. Hebrews 12:12 says, "Strengthen them!" How do you strengthen them?
Let me tell you one way. When I ran the Greek Marathon, I reached mile 22 which was inside the city of Athens and all of a sudden I began to fall apart. I could not hold up my arms. It started with my hips. My joints began to cry out in pain. It slowly moved into my legs and my knees, my calves and my feet. When I put my foot on the ground, it felt like my foot was on fire. I could hardly go. I prayed God would let me make it to the last corner so I could see the final stretch. I started picking my legs up, and when I turned the final corner, something happened. Lined up on both sides of the street were Greeks waving flowers and wreaths and shouting, "Bravo! Bravo!" I do not understand it physiologically, but something happened in my legs. All of a sudden I began to pick up my feet and I began to go. I looked up and could see the finish line. When I saw the finish line, nothing could keep me from it. Even if I fell on my face and had to crawl across I was going to make it to the finish line!
I learned the power of encouragement. You are going to face some discouraging times and you need God. You must fix your eyes on Jesus and consider Him. You need some men and women around you who, when you get weary and you think you cannot go any farther, will come alongside you and say, "You can do it! We are with you. You can do it." They lift your hands up and they strengthen your body and they cheer you on. You go for it and you will finish the race! That is why we are not only to pursue holiness but peace with all men. We need a group of people around us who will hold us accountable. I have put a group of men around me who hold me accountable, who love me, who pray for me, and when I get tired and weary, they lift me up and say, "You can do it."
The question that every person needs to be asking in the pursuit of holiness is, "What will keep me from finishing the race to my full potential – which is conformity to the image of Jesus. What will it be?"
I learned from an ultra marathoner that my failure to finish the marathon at my potential was because I did not take enough nutrition offered at stands along the route, although I drank the drinks offered. The muscles need what the nutrition provides.
Friends, you need to be in the Word of God to meet Jesus. You need to go to the refreshment table. You need to drink from the rivers that flow from the throne of God and drink from the presence of the Holy Spirit.
We need to spend time in God’s presence, kneeling before Him and meeting with Him. He wants to refresh and renew us. If we do not make that a regular part of our race, we will not finish to our full potential.
So, look to Him, the Holy One. Fix your eyes upon Him; stop at the refreshment table to worship Him. You think you do not have time to stop at the refreshment table. You think you can finish faster and better if you just keep going. But it is only when you stop and you drink and you taste of Him that strength, supernatural strength begins to flow in you. It does not matter what comes your way, you are able to run with your eyes fixed on Jesus. One day you will cross that line and you will say with the Apostle Paul, "I have finished the race; I have run the course." And you will hear these words, "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matt. 25:21).
– Used by permission.