This one was written by Ryan Stevenson-Cosgrove.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

I’ve always been a sucker for a good sports movie. The only trouble is that most of them subscribe to some latent Pelagianism (the ancient heresy that we can contribute something to our salvation).

Sports movies are great for their predictable shape: Hero encounters obstacle. Hero goes on journey to acquire key to overcoming obstacle. After trials and failures, the hero digs deep, earns key, and returns to obstacle armed with whatever it is they will need to succeed.

The tension in most sports movies isn’t whether the hero will succeed, but how they will.

As entertaining as this can be, it can also leave you feeling the way you do after a sermon with all the bells and whistles but no Gospel; worse than before you started.

Given all this, I’d like to offer another movie: Brittany Runs a Marathon.

Generally speaking, Brittany Runs a Marathon follows the general arc of the hero’s journey—making this film a perfect contender for a classic sports film. What makes this movie especially interesting, though, is the way it subtly diverts from, and subverts, the general tropes of sports movies.

The subjects of this movie are in its name: Brittany and a marathon. Very quickly we are introduced to Brittany’s problems. Following an introduction to Brittany’s lovable personality but poor decision-making, we find her at a doctor’s office trying to score some medication for recreational use. The doctor sees through the ploy, and suggests she begin exercising instead.

After some trials and failures, Brittany decides to take up her doctor’s advice and begin exercising.  Because she can’t afford a gym membership, she chooses running.

Through various other trials and failures, Brittany surrounds herself with a sort of cloud of witnesses to support her. Surrounded by them, Brittany literally and figuratively “lays aside every weight and sin that clings so closely.”

Viewers will be unable to keep from rooting for Brittany as she overcomes obstacle after obstacle through charm and grit. At a certain point, though, sophisticated viewers will be able to predict that a major setback must be coming. And it does. Although it’s probably not the one you’d expect.

I don’t want to give anything away, so suffice it to say that all along there was one sin clinging too closely to Brittany, even as she improved her lot. And sin, thy name is Brittany!

When the Law fails to effect what it demands, it fails completely. And seeing as God has subjected creation to futility, there will come a point in every hero’s journey when the means whereby the hero overcame their obstacles, fails. And fails completely.

At this point, usually grace breaks in.

The problem with most sport movies is that they leave little room for grace. And in so doing, they prove themselves not just poor students of theology, but poor students of life. And Brittany Runs a Marathon is based on a true story. And true to life, the power of the Law proves unable to accomplish the salvation Brittany so desperately has set her heart upon.

Most sports movies never get far enough to address the futility of the Law. Usually the movie ends before that. And if a sequel is made, it’s never revealed that the arc was never an arc but a circle. Instead, a whole new arc is introduced! Another external obstacle to be overcome. And on and on this goes, until the whole enterprise becomes too rote to continue.

I am happy to tell you, though, that in a tidy hour and 44 minutes, Brittany Runs a Marathon does tackle the futility of the Law!

As Brittany progresses further and further toward her goal, she subscribes more and more strictly to the Law. And in the process the Law does what it does best: It kills, kills Brittany’s circle of support, kills Brittany’s social life, until, eventually, even the object of Brittany’s ambitions is killed.

I’d like to avoid any spoilers, so let’s just say Brittany finds her prospect of running the marathon in serious jeopardy. And the thing that puts her prospects in jeopardy isn’t any of that sins and weight that Brittany has cast aside. It’s her own efforts!

We watch as Brittany is unable to cast aside the one thing that’s really holding her back, her own efforts. She can’t see that the thing that has undone all her goals is the very thing she used to pursue them.

Until Brittany hits rock bottom.

If you would have asked Brittany earlier in the film if she was at rock bottom, she could have said yes at any point. But, as it turns out, what made her bonk (runner speak for hitting a wall) wasn’t the weight of her sin, but the weight of her righteousness.

Eventually even that must go. And blessedly it does! Which is the point where the movie gets so good you almost can’t believe it.

I can’t recommend Brittany Runs a Marathon enough. It understands the Law’s futility like few movies do, and certainly most sports movies. In investigating what the Law cannot do, the film depicts where to turn when the Law turns out to be no more than one more thing to wear us down.

Which brings us back to our passage from Hebrews.

I’ve heard these words read in many places, including athletic events. And I must confess, I always thought the weight of sin that needed to be laid aside was the usual suspects. But, as it turns out, the real sin that holds us back is the sin of clinging to our own righteousness. Our own desire to contribute something to our salvation.

What really slows us down is ourselves. Because Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, already finished that race when he declared it finished from the cross.

In the end, the fastest way to run the race is to take our eyes off ourselves and our righteousness, and instead set them on another, Jesus.