When I was younger, I raced bicycles. I was as committed as a ninth grader could be to the sport of cycling. I looked the part, complete with my helmet, full racing kit, the tiny pedals that you need special shoes to wear. Wearing all of the right things did not make me the second coming of Lance Armstrong, but at least I looked like I knew what I was doing.
In cycling there is a term called, “Peloton.” This word has been made famous in recent years by the stationary bicycle company that goes by the same name. The word peloton refers to the large group of riders that you probably picture in your head when you think of a bicycle race. The peloton exists to break wind for the people not in the front. In cycling, you exert less energy when you have people to draft behind.
The Super Bowl of Cycling is called, “The Tour de France.” The Tour has been taking place for more than 100 years and all of the best cyclists from around the world come to compete in this race. In my parent’s household, the Tour de France is a sacred festival, blocking out summer evenings for more than three weeks straight in July. I learned more about the sport of cycling by watching the Tour than I did by competing in races.
In the Tour de France, when the peloton arrives at the finish line, everyone who crosses from the first rider to the last receives the same time. Once there is a break in wheels overlapping one another at the finish line, a new time is given. This means that on days when the race is on flat terrain, most riders are okay with finishing at the same time as everyone else. Most cyclists racing in the Tour de France understand that they are not going to win the event. They are there to be good teammates to the person on their team who may win the event. You can imagine that these cyclists who are really competing for first place, the crème de la crème of the Tour de France, want to do everything possible to win. In cycling, this means finishing with the peloton on most days.
When you watch the Tour you can observe one thing that is almost always true. The top cyclists, while never in the wind themselves, are always near the front. They never sit in the back of the peloton when coming towards a finish. This is because the peloton is prone to crashes and the rule we mentioned earlier comes into affect when there is a crash. If the first place rider is in the back of the peloton and the second place rider is towards the front, and a crash happens in the center of the peloton, you can understand the predicament that the first place rider finds themself in. If they do not manage to catch back up to the first peloton after a crash, they will lose time on second place. They may even find that they lose first place all together. In cycling, the best riders always want to be as close to the front as they can be.
The same should be true in our walk with Christ. We should not be worried about what sin is and what sin is not. Our focus should just be on following Christ as closely as we possibly can be. The best cyclists are not thinking about not getting in crashes, they are thinking about staying as close to the front of the peloton as they can be. When our focus is on rules and not on our relationship with Jesus, we are robbed of the joys of living in fellowship with God and become bogged down in legalism.
I am reminded of these couple of verses in John 15.
4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself,
unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him,
he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
I like to think of the word abiding like the word soaking. To just take in what Jesus has for us like a sponge absorbing liquid. Like a towel that is accidentally dropped in a pool on a hot summer day, as it sinks deeper into the water it becomes so soaked that it almost becomes one with the water. When it is removed from the deep end, it cannot help but to leak everything it just soaked in.
When our focus is on bearing fruit instead of abiding in Jesus, we can miss out on so many of the pleasures of Christ. When our focus is on the rules instead of on love, we can lose sight of the amazing wonders of God. When our focus is getting as close as we can to the boundary of sin instead of just trying to abide in Christ, we stop having a relationship and start practicing religion. Abide in Christ.