One day while driving, I came upon an elderly man running. His frame was completely bent over, and each step appeared laborious. At first I thought it was his age, but as I looked closer I noticed what was keeping him hunched over—he was running with weights in both hands. Holding on to those weights kept him from running with freedom and ease.

As I watched his arduous progress, it reminded me of how often we run our spiritual race in a similar way. A variety of weights burden us in the Christian life. For many of us, we have no idea the exact cause for our ailments and struggles because we fail to recognize that we are even carrying these heavy loads. All we know is that our race seems difficult and that we yearn to run with freedom and joy.

The writer of the book of Hebrews urged his listeners: “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). While many types of burdens can weigh us down, it is helpful to consider three types of unbelief that hinder our Christian race. Unbelief regarding past sin, present temptation, and future joy can overload our hearts—encumbering, distracting, and discouraging us.

Unbelief About Our Past

Past sins cling closely, threatening to trip us as we run. Old decisions drag behind us like cans tied to a newlywed’s car. They clang and shout, falsely proclaiming, “Not good enough.” Do you feel the weight of your past? Perhaps you chose to tell that lie, engage in adultery, participate in gossip, have an abortion, or steal from someone else. These sins can plague our souls, falsely declaring us unworthy to even be in the race.

The good news is truly good: 

For such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor. 6:11)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come. (2 Cor. 5:17)  

In Christ, we are not defined by our sin, but by our sonship. We were sinners, but now we are saints. We were enemies of God, now we are his children. The weight of past sins can be thrown aside. Mourn them but don’t be defined by them. Instead, let us fix our eyes of Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

Unbelief About Present Temptation

While past sin can encumber our walk, present temptation also has the power to weigh us down in our race. Paul explained to the Romans, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Rom. 7:22-23). Sin still wages war against our souls. When we chose to live outside of God’s ways, we carry burdens that slow our race.

As Puritan author Thomas Brooks wisely warned, “He that would not get burned must dread the fire. To venture upon the occasion of sin, and then to pray, ‘Lead us not into temptation,’ is like one who thrusts his finger in the fire and then prays that it might not get burnt.” 

By the Spirit’s work in our hearts, we realize the weakness of our flesh and avoid playing sport with sin. Disobedience is the height of empty living, leaving us joyless and passionless in our race.

Unbelief About Future Joy

Phrases like “Time is short” and Carpe diem spur us on to chase after every earthly experience, relationship, and pleasure. While it is true that our lives fade as quickly as the grass, and it is important that we seize the day, often we misdirect our efforts in ways that weigh us down rather than lighten our load. When we forget that heaven is a future hope, we unduly burden ourselves by trying to create our own slice of heaven on earth. The false belief that this world is all there is encumbers us with unrealistic expectations and hopes to gain as many trinkets and treasure as possible.

In contrast, when we anticipate our heavenly home, we can live our days here in joyful abandon for the kingdom. Time is indeed short, and we should seize the day, not to build our own kingdoms, but to build Christ’s church. By setting our hopes on future pleasures, fighting present temptations, and letting go of past sins, we can run our race with freedom and purpose, giving thanks to Jesus, the forerunner of our faith.