Running the Race: A Parable on Infusion and Imputation
Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the God of heaven and earth were a fan of long distance running. Suppose that the only way into His blessed presence, the only way to enjoy those pleasures forevermore that are at His right hand, is if you run a marathon. Not just any marathon, but the world’s most grueling marathon, the kind of marathon where, like the original, the runner collapses dead when it is over.
Now suppose that we, that is, human beings, are a pile of dead people. According to Rome and other semi-Pelagian notions, God, in His grace, makes us all alive. This work is necessary, unrequested, gracious and powerful. But it doesn’t get us into heaven. Indeed we may be alive, but we are paralyzed. Jesus, according to Rome, happily comes to our rescue. He sends His goodness, His power, His grace through the team working for the Vatican Regional Medical Center. An army of physical therapists and trainers is commissioned and sent out to train the paralyzed. Exercises are done, stretching happens, all by the goodness of the therapists, all of whom are given the grace of God to impart. The paralyzed, of course, must cooperate. If they are stubborn, recalcitrant, all the work won’t help. But those who do cooperate find themselves first able to take a few fitful steps, then a regular but unsteady gate. Eventually, if they work with their trainers hard enough, they receive enough of Jesus’ goodness, power and grace that they are able to run the race. Of course most of them will have to finish the race after thousands of years in the desert. But the race can be finished. They become genuine marathon finishers, arms lifted high as they cross the finish line at the gates of pearl.
According to the Reformation, we are likewise all dead. Because we are dead we are not able to run a marathon. God, however, sent His Son to us. He, and He alone, not dead in the least, ran the marathon. And then He died. Three days later, however, He was raised again, and we who are His, we were raised with Him. To each of us He gave not just His certificate of completion of the marathon, but His gold medal. We did not, just like with Rome, make ourselves alive. But we, contra Rome, did not cooperate with the grace of God. We were not determined worthy to enter into heaven because we, with God’s help and training, ran a marathon. Having been given the certificate, and the trophy, having been brought to life, we do then enter into training. We do seek out the grace of God. We are already, however, citizens of heaven. We are strengthened and encouraged by His church. But we already have won the gold medal.
Now all analogies break down. I’m not arguing the above is a perfect picture of two competing gospel messages. I am, however, arguing that a “gospel” that affirms the necessity of God’s grace, the necessity of faith, the necessity of the work of Christ, can still end up with the “victor” standing before the throne of God declaring, “In cooperating with Your grace, I have run Your race.” The true gospel, on the other hand stands before the throne of God declaring, “Jesus did it all.” Lord be merciful to us, sinners.