Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
This is a fine piece of encouragement to believers. I wonder, though, how many of us secretly resent the idea of a course that is already “marked out for us.” We seem to have our own ideas about discipleship and the path of growth. Specifically, we want to mark off certain parts of the course where we simply refuse to go — places that we have declared “off-limits.” These may be habits that we love, or positions of doctrine, or ways in which we self-identify. No matter what this Christian journey may entail, we say, it must not involve disrupting those cherished places.
I call this “setting up pylons.” We’re trying to lay out our own course, rather than allowing the whole course to be open, free of pylons, and openly declaring that everything in our own life is fair game for God’s work in us.
Think about it: Maybe you have known people who say things like “You can teach that stuff all you want, but to me it sounds like _____ism, and I will never be a _____ist” or “Sure, I’m willing to accept God’s work in my life, but my fundamental identity is ______, and I will never change that.” Maybe you yourself have said them, or maybe it’s a sort of unspoken “don’t-go-there” attitude, one that never rises to the level of verbalization.
In my own life I have recognized these, grudgingly. For instance, as a young Christian, reading lots of C.S. Lewis and similar highbrow writers, I fancied myself an intellectual. I wanted to live a Christian “life of the mind,” and positioned my thinking so that the space marked “Christian intellectual” was properly cordoned off. I assumed that God’s Spirit would never want to touch that area, since he allowed others (like Lewis) to thrive in that space. But, like Jacob, permanently wounded at the hip from his wrestling match with God (he lost), I was setting myself up for a painful touch from the Master’s strong hand. Today I gladly relinquish my former self-identification as “intellectual” because I would rather be a disciple. That’s not to disparage others who may have a different calling. But for me, those pylons are gone, thanks to God’s work in me. He’s free to bring in his vehicles – his dump trucks, earth-movers and excavators – into that area.
Jesus said “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23). To deny oneself means to abandon all other identities and simply yield oneself, as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1) to Christ. We cling to our identities and labels, like the Corinthians who claimed “I follow Paul!” “I follow Cephas!” One gets the sense that they had custom T-shirts.
The pylons we set up in our lives are our foolish conceit that we could forbid God’s Spirit from traveling on those lanes, as though they were “our space” and not His by right – as though we could forbid Him from anything.
Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eys of Hum to whom we must give account.
It’s fleshly pride. Don’t set up pylons. They will become a hindrance – either by obstructing the work of God in us (yes, our will plays an active role in sanctification; see Romans 6:11-14, Colossians 3:5-8, Philippians 2:12-13), or by bringing us to a painful “Zipporah Moment” (see previous post on this subject), or – most likely – both.
Why do that? Keep your life free of pylons.