In Your Religious Exercises, Don’t Take Your Eyes Off Jesus

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Do you remember in Matthew 14:22-33 when Jesus came walking on the waves to his friends in the boat? The disciples were terrified at first, until he identified himself. Peter, always impetuous, asks for permission to join his Master on the waves. It is given, and so he does the good work of clambering over the side. Lo and behold, next to Jesus, he can walk on water too!

But it doesn’t last long, does it? Eventually he begins to sink beneath the waves and cries out for help. Why? Matthew 14:30 says it’s because he saw the strength of the wind. Peter had taken his eyes off Jesus.

And yet, Jesus still held on to Peter.

Just as it is grace top to bottom that saves us, it is faith beginning to end that sustains us. We do not start over by faith and then embark on a great “good works” self-improvement project. No, we “walk by faith” (2 Cor. 5:7). The author of Hebrews says, in fact, that we run by it:

Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, 2 keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne. (Heb. 12:1-2)

What is the weight—other than sin—that can easily ensnare us? Is it not our own sense of self-righteousness? Isn’t it anything, even good things, that can distract us from focus on Jesus? The author of Hebrews says to “keep our eyes” on him (v.2). Why? I think it’s because he knows that even in our spiritual disciplines, religious efforts, and theological studies, it is so easy to pursue these means as if they are ends to themselves. We want to look more holy, more knowledgeable, more “put together.” This is not walking or running by faith at all.

No, we must keep our eyes on Jesus. Every good work must be submitted to the glory of Jesus. Every spiritual discipline must be conducted as a means of deepening our friendship with Jesus. Every religious book read, every theological idea explored, every biblical doctrine studied must have as its aim a stirring of our affections for Jesus. Only by focusing on Jesus will we be able to endure in the Christian life and have a faith that lasts to the finish line.

It will not be easy. The life of faith is difficult. But there is a joy waiting for us beyond all comparison. It is the great, eternal joy of being reunited to the one in whom we have believed, having become convinced that he is able to guard what we’ve committed to him. Jesus is able to present us blameless before God’s glory without stumbling. Let us fix our eyes on him to the end.

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