Do Not Look Away From Jesus
I’m reminded of a fight I was involved in with a neighborhood bully when I was a twelve-year-old boy living in North Utica, New York. It was one of several fights with neighborhood bullies that year. I wasn’t looking to fight, but the bullies came looking for me. I do not advocate fighting at all, only in self-defense. Without going into all the details, in one of those fights, I got sucker punched in the eye when I briefly looked away from the bully. It became a swollen, black eye that I will never forget.
Why did I look away? Well, it was because I didn’t want to fight. The bully had about ten of his friends with him, and I only had one. I tried to talk my way out of what seemed to be an obvious beat down, then I looked away, and boom! He hit me—hard. The bully was satisfied with his punch and the fear he saw in my friend and me, so he and his friends let us go. His seventeen-year-old brother had punched me too.
That day the bully got the victory, but in the end, I won the war.
Later on that same day, I was hitting some baseballs in an open field. An older teenager happened to walk by, saw me with my black eye and asked, “What happened to you?” (There was a group of older teenagers in my neighborhood that liked me.) I told him what happened, and the Spirit of God gave me the street smarts to tell him that the bully’s seventeen-year-old brother had punched me too. He said, “Don’t you worry about,” and he called the boy’s name. “I’ll take care of him!”
I don’t know what he did to that bully and his seventeen-year-old brother, but apparently it scared them good. The next morning, the bully’s older brother came to my house, pleading for forgiveness for him and his bully brother, which I gave. I was completely shocked. Needless to say, I saw that bully several times afterward, but never had a problem with him or his friends ever again. I had some older friends looking out for me. This was one of those childhood memories that I look back on with fondness.
There are numerous spiritual parallels in this story that could be drawn out, but I will focus on one: When I looked away, I got hit. Even though it was just for a moment, that bully knew I didn’t want to fight, so he took advantage the moment my focus was off of him.
In our lives as believers, we are called to “fight the good fight of faith” (I Tim. 6:12). The word fight—agon from which we get the words agony and agonize—literally meant “to fight, to struggle, to compete for the win.” It was mostly used in regards to athletes who competed in the Greek games. The Holy Spirit led Paul to describe faith in this way because our faith in Christ has opponents. There will always be enemies to our faith and dependence in Christ and the cross. When we encounter opposition or temptations—not if, but when—it will not always be easy to have a focused faith on Jesus and what He has accomplished for us on the cross. This “fight” to keep trusting in Christ—when we, in our weariness or apathy, want to look away to something else—is a very real fight.
The difference between our lives as believers and my fight as a twelve-year-old is that I looked away from my opponent; whereas we can look away from our Saviour, Jesus. In Hebrews 12:2 Paul wrote, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.” He used the word looking as a synonym of faith, belief, and dependence. Figuratively, our faith has “eyes.” The word looking means “to gaze upon, to stare, to keep looking at.” We are to have a focused faith in Jesus Christ and all that He has done for us and to us on the cross.
Sometimes in our weariness, apathy, or busyness of life, we can become distracted in our faith. It is in those seasons, or even in those moments, when we look away from Christ that we open ourselves to sin, pride, and overwhelming discouragement. It is not always easy to depend on who Christ is and who He has made us through His death at Calvary. The fight is not against sin. I emphasis that point: Our fight is not against sin. The fight is to keep our focus of faith on Jesus and His victory on the cross. He won the victory over sin and every enemy. He conquered our enemies and gave us His victory. Paul called it “the good fight of faith” because it is a fight in which we win over every enemy—all through our dependence in Christ’s victory at the cross.