Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” We need to remember that. It is an obvious truth, but one often overlooked. Games can be won or lost on either side by forgetting that there is one more quarter or another inning or one more lap. The team behind can stage a comeback if it does not give up. The team ahead can become lazy with its lead and find itself behind.
The marathon runner, toward the end of the grueling race when he or she is exhausted and just does not have much strength left, might be inclined to plead, “Feet, don’t fail me now!” Not now; not after all that tortuous practice and training, not after having qualified to run; not after running almost the whole way. Don’t let the agony of the feet bring the agony of defeat.
You Were Running Well
“You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?” (Galatians 5:7). The Scriptures often use the figure of running a race to describe the life of faith. Many different applications are made from this analogy. Here, Paul refers to the spiritual regression of some of the disciples in Galatia as if they had been running well in a race but had faltered.
We know from the context of Galatians exactly what the problem was. They had come out of idolatry and the vain things of heathenism. But some were leading them to believe that they could only be justified by keeping the previous covenant that God had made with Israel at Mount Sinai. But such efforts were vain, for it had never been the purpose of the Law of Moses to save Gentiles, but rather to lead both Jew and Gentile to Christ for salvation: “But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed.
Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:23-29).
Consequently, by depending on something other than the grace of God through obedient faith in Christ, many were no longer “running well.” They had stumbled. Once they had been enslaved to idols. Now they were being enslaved to human requirements that God had never intended for them. In doing so, they were severing themselves from grace (Galatians 4:9-11; 5:4).
The Importance of Running Well
“Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14). The perfect attitude for living for Christ is given by Paul here.
In fact, he continues by saying, “Let us, therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you;” (Philippians 3:15). Get this: while we never reach perfection in this life, we can have the perfect attitude conducive for winning our eternal victory in Jesus. That attitude is summed up by Paul, and essentially states that one who has it never gives up! He keeps “pressing on” and does not regard his race as being finished before it really is. He does not allow former things, good or bad, to hinder him from “reaching forward.”
Hindrances to Running Well
“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). Paul had asked the Galatians, “You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?” Here, the Hebrew writer speaks of “encumbrances” and “the sin which so easily entangles us.” In short, our path is not always clear.
First, these hindrances are not from God (James 1:13). Obstacles are placed by Satan. He is our adversary and will block us completely if he can. But good news: he can’t! God will always ensure that there is a path to follow to victory and will help us find it and stay on it (1 Corinthians 10:13). So the answer to Paul’s question about “what hindered” is “Satan.” (Paul already knew the answer; he asked the question to get the Galatians to think about it) (Luke 8:12; 2 Timothy 2:26).
The form of these hindrances might be any carnal thing. It could be jealousy or hatred; pride or greed. It might be a desire for comfort or acceptance of others. It might be fear. Overcoming these things is both necessary and possible, with the help of God who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13).
The Meaning of Running Well
It was “the truth” that the Galatians had been “hindered” from obeying that Paul pinpointed as the reason they were no longer running well. Running well is to faithfully trust and obey God. There is no substitute for obedience, and one cannot run well apart from obedience unto Christ.
In fact, we become Christians and are freed from sin when we obey Jesus “from the heart” (Romans 6:16-18). This is how we start the race.
The race ends when we leave this world, but not before (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
In between, we are “pressing forward” and “reaching forward.” We “fix our eyes on Jesus” as we see Him by faith waiting to reward us, having gone before us. We rejoice, confident that our opponent cannot beat us as long as we follow Jesus. And we can smile at Yogi Berra’s wisdom. “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”