Dan Jansen was always close with his sister – in fact it was she who suggested he become a speed skater. In 1988 his dream came true when he made it to the Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada. With just hours to go to his first race he informed his sister had died.
Of course, the news of his sister’s death stunned and devastated Jansen, but he decided to compete anyways. His sister had encouraged him to be a speed skater and supported him along the way to his Olympic dreams. It is what she would have wanted.
As he raced across the ice that day, grief proved to be too much. He feel in both races, dashing his hopes of winning the gold.
Although he was grieved and defeated, Jansen decided he couldn’t quit. He continued to chase the gold. In 1992, he came back to the Winter Olympics hoping to win, but the gold eluded him once again. Still undeterred he set to train for the next Olympic games. Finally, in 1994, all his effort paid off. He not only won the gold in the 1,000 meter but he also set a new world record.
Jansen succeeded because he didn’t give up. Despite all the set backs he kept pressing forward toward the prize.
Likewise, as Christians we must not give up. We must keep pressing forward. Despite set backs, road blocks, and distractions, we must, as Paul tells us, run the race of the Christian life to win the prize (1 Cor 9:24).
Run the Race of the Christian Life to Win the Prize
Paul, using an image from the Isthmian Games held in Corinth, says in 1 Corinthians 9:24
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one received the prize? So run that you may obtain it.”(1 Cor. 9:24)
Now when Paul says this, he doesn’t mean to imply only one of us will win the prize, that is pressing Paul’s image too far. Instead what Paul wants us to do is run the race of the Christian life in such a way that we will win the prize.
When I was in elementary school, I was one of the fastest kids in the school — it was a small school. I remember one year I was cocky. I knew I was faster than everyone else, so on the first race of the heat I held back; I didn’t give it my all. I still came in first, but when I went to brag to my teacher about how I had just won he said, “You didn’t win by much. You better step it up, or you won’t make it to the finals.”
My teacher taught me something in that moment. He taught me that I didn’t have it in the bag and that I had to give it my all, I had to run so as to obtain the prize.
Christians must do the same. We have to run so as to win the prize. We can’t give a half effort. We can’t be lackadaisical about our Christian walk. If we are, we may not cross the finish line and win the prize.
Not Works Based
In saying we have to run in such a way so as to obtain the prize, Paul is not advocating a works based salvation. Paul is holding a tension between Christ’s work and our work. Yes, those who are Christ’s will finish the race, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to work to finish it.
The encouraging part of running the Christian race is that we don’t have to run it in our own power. At salvation, not only is our heart created anew, which causes us to desire to run for Christ, but we are also empowered by God to run. In Philippians 2:12b-13, Paul tells us to:
“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:12b-13)
Do you see what Paul is saying? We are to work out our own salvation – run with all our might, striving for the finish line – but we don’t run in our own power or alone. God runs with us, empowering us by changing our will, causing us to want to work to please Him, and giving us the strength to press on. What a glorious truth!
What is the Prize?
“Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” (1 Cor 9:25)
Once again using an image from the Isthmian Games, Paul tells us our prize is greater than any earthly prize because: It is not perishable, but imperishable. It’s not temporary, but eternal. It’s not a laurel wreath, but a crown. Our prize, the prize we run the race to receive, is eternal life.
Since our prize is so great, we should give it our all. We shouldn’t run the race at half-speed, but full steam ahead until we cross the finish line.
Question for Reflection
- Are you running the race to win the prize?