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You vs. Jesus in a Spiritual Marathon

Here's a creative way to illustrate the biblical view of justification by faith, which includes not only receiving forgiveness, but also receiving a new status. (Thanks to Tim Keller for the basis for this illustration.)

Imagine that you are pitted in a one-on-one spiritual marathon race against Jesus—just you and Jesus at the starting line. The gun goes off and Jesus bolts out ahead of you with blazing speed. He makes Usain Bolt, the Jamaican world record-holding sprinter, look like a human tortoise. Jesus runs a perfect race. He never gets lost or loses focus. He never takes one bad stride. With much fanfare and acclaim, he finishes the entire marathon in seven seconds. (He could have finished the race in negative time, since he's outside of time, but seven seemed like a nice number.) It's a new cosmic record!

Finally, in this spiritual marathon, you straggle across the finish line … about five years later … You lost your focus and got tangled in bushes. You frequently tripped over your own shoelaces and fell in the mud, flat on your face. As you gasp and collapse at the finish line, you look up and see Jesus already standing on the winner's platform. He has a gold medal around his neck while you feel defeated and ashamed.

But as you start to slink away Jesus calls your name and motions for you to come towards him. You whisper, "Who me?" and he says, "Yes, you, come join me on the winner's platform." So you sheepishly join Jesus on the gold medal platform. He puts his arm around your shoulder and says, "Look, I know all about your race. It wasn't pretty, but you are forgiven. And just so you know, while I was racing ahead of you, I was also with you every step of your race." And then he takes his gold medal and slips it over your head while it stays on his head too. The reporters start taking your picture with Jesus. They start asking questions like, "Hey, Jesus and the other guy [woman] who looks really shocked to be up there, how do you two feel about being winners? What are you two going to do with your gold medal?"

And then it hits you: you are being treated as if you ran Jesus' race. You are receiving honor based on Jesus' world record time and performance. That is what it means to receive justification by faith.

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