Scotland’s Eric Liddell is best-known these days, where he is known at all, as one of the heroes of the 1981 classic movie, “Chariots of Fire,” thanks to his winning gold medals at the 1924 Paris Olympics.
What is less well-known is that Liddell was a deeply committed, born-again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ as his savior. He came from a missionary family and died of a brain tumor while in Japanese internment in China a few months before the end of World War II.
“Chariots” remains to this day my favorite movie of all time for one scene in particular in which Liddell explains to his critical sister that he will return to the mission work in China, but first he must honor God by competing in the Olympics. Thus his wonderful declaration that “God made me for a purpose. God made me fast and when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
He ran and won, then returned to China, and in the years following wrote a wonderful book, “The Disciplines of the Christian Life.” The title is a bit misleading because it hints at some sort of stereotypical drudgery. The life Liddell describes as a believer is anything but.
Here, for example, is Liddell’s explanation of the “New Birth” that Jesus speaks of when He tells Nicodemus in the book of John that he/we must be born-again:
“Christianity is not discipline, though discipline enters into it. Christianity is not morality, but the moral laws will be followed. Christianity is not following a great example, but this will be done. Christianity is not living by laws or rules; it is living by grace.
“True Christianity starts with the new birth. ‘You must be born again.’ (John 3:7). The new birth is God coming into your life and giving you a new nature, a nature of love to God and man. Nothing in life can make up for the lack of this; nothing can take its place.”
Liddell then quotes key passages of New Testament scripture:
“Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and I have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor and though I give my body to be burned and have not love, it profits me nothing. (I Corinthians 13:2-3).
“Without love (God), I am nothing. Marvel not that I said unto you that you must be born again.”(John 3:7).
“Christianity is not living by laws or rules; it is living by grace.”
Finally, Liddell quotes a passage from a sermon by John Wesley, the great Methodist preacher:
“If any doctrines within the whole compass of Christianity may be termed fundamental, they are doubtless these two: … justification … relating to that great work which God does in us, in renewing our fallen nature …
“[The new birth] is that great change which God works in the soul when He brings it into life; when He raises it from the death of sin to the life of righteousness.
“It is the change wrought in the soul by the almighty Spirit of God when it is created anew in Christ Jesus; when it is renewed after the image of God in righteousness and true holiness; when the love of the world is changed into the love of God; pride into humility, passion into meekness, hatred, envy, malice into sincere, tender, disinterested love for all mankind.”
Liddell concludes with his summary of what it means to be a born-again Christian:
“Christian living is made possible by the new birth. You never can understand the meaning of Christian living until God comes into your life. Christian living is bound up with Christian faith; personal faith in God, which brings His power into your life. It is not by mere commandments that a Christian lives, but by a new spirit in his heart.”
Liddell was a remarkable man and this scene near the end of “Chariots” brings it all together. Pay close attention to his words near the end about how God made him fast:
And what does all of this have to do with you as you work on Capitol Hill (or wherever you make your living)? Simply this: God made you a certain way and put you here for a reason (Psalm 139:15-16). Are you feeling His pleasure yet?
Want to talk about it? Check out my “office hours” in the sidebar to the right. Coffee is on me. It’s all totally off the record (I’m a journalist, remember?), and, as it says above, I’ve been there, done that, too.