How Do We Run the Race to Win the Prize?

In my last post, we learned Christians 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). But how? How are we to run?

How Do We Run Race to Win the Prize?

(1) Winning the prize takes assurance and motivation that comes through continued self-control 

In an effort to lose some weight and fit into my clothes better, I have been working out, eating healthy, and cutting the sweets out. The first two aren’t hard for me. I like working out and we generally eat healthy at my house. I, however, have a sweet tooth.

Cutting sweets out of my diet is a battle for me. One sweet that is particularly tough for me to give up is ice cream. If there is ice cream in the freezer, every time I walk by it I want to open it up and indulge. The urge becomes especially strong at night when I am relaxing on the couch watching TV.

Lately, I have been winning the battle, but there are times I lose. There are times when I lack self-control, which is ok every now and again. But if I want to win the diet battle, I have to exercise self-control, self-discipline more often than not. As I continue to exercise self-control and self-discipline, my assurance that I will win the diet battle grows, which motivates me to keep pressing on.

Paul tells us something similar. He tells us that if we want to finish the race of the Christian life and win the prize, we have to exercise self-control and self discipline, as we do our assurance that we will finish the race grows, which provides us with motivation to keep running (1 Cor. 9:25a; 27).

One way we can exercise self-control is by having a greater desire to please God than ourselves. I don’t know about you but my desire for God grows when I remember what Jesus has done for me in the gospel.

The gospel message tells us that Jesus saves us from the wrath of God by absorbing our sins on Himself and dying the death we deserve. As well as it tells us Jesus defeated sin’s reign over our lives, allowing us to resist its temptation and exercise self-control.

As we remind ourselves of the gospel, preaching it to ourselves, a sense of gratitude towards God and a desire to please Him should grow in our hearts. Our affections should be for God and not sin. When our affections, our desires, are more for God than sin, we will exercise self-control, resisting the desires of the flesh, which should give us assurance and motivation to keep running the race.

(2) Winning the prize takes focus

Muhammed Ali was famous for his saying, “I float like a butterfly. I sting like a bee.” Those two qualities allowed him not only to make quick work of his opponents with his pounding punches, but it also allowed him to make his opponents look foolish for striking the air instead of him.

Paul tells us if we want to finish the race and win the prize, we can’t be like Muhammed Ali’s opponents. We can’t flail around the ring, “beating the air” or running aimlessly (1 Cor. 9:26). Instead we have to box as one determined to knock their opponent out, and we have to run as one determined to win the race. In order to do that, we must be focused.

What we need to be focused on is Christ and the eternal heavenly reward awaiting us, so that we will keep our eye on the prize and stay on the track.

(3) Winning the prize also takes us heeding the warning of the past

Israel had a troubled history. One littered with fall after fall. What was at the heart of Israel’s sin was their pride. They thought they didn’t need the Lord, that they knew better, that they had it all figured out. They, however, were wrong, and their many falls prove it.

In fact, all of us are wrong if we believe we have it all figured out. Proverbs 11:2 tells us that,

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” (Pr 11:2)

And Proverbs 16:18 says,

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Pr 16:18)

Those who think they know better than the Lord, that they don’t need Him, that they have it all figured out will not succeed. They will fall. You see, if we are going to finish this race, if we are going to win the prize, we can’t go at alone. We must depend on God. We must look to Him for how we are to live. We must humble ourselves before Him and allow Him to lead us.

(4) Winning the prize takes us resisting temptation

In 1 Corinthians 10:13 Paul says,

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Cor 10:13)

Paul delivers to us a wonderful promise from God. A promise that tells us we don’t have to sin; we can resist temptation.

We can resist temptation because God makes a way of escape. In other words, He doesn’t allow us to get in a situation where we are forced to sin. We always have a choice.

John Piper commenting on this verse says,

“You can endure any temptation if you are relying upon and delighting in God more than what you are being tempted towards. A sufficient reason of obedience will always be given in the time of temptation.”

Then he goes on to say,

“Some kind of evidence that God is preferable to the sin we are tempted with will be given…That evidence might be:

(1) Remembering a threat, command, or promise God has made in His Word.

(2) Recalling an experience we have had of God’s kindness.

(3) Receiving a word of encouragement about God’s glory and beauty from a friend.”[1]

God will always provide us a way of escape. If that is true, the real question is: Do we want to escape the temptation and please God, or do we want to succumb to the temptation so we can please ourselves?  That is what it comes down to — who we desire to please – God or self?

If we desire to please God, if we delight in God, then we will be able to resist temptation because God always provides a way of escape for us.

(5) Winning the prize takes us fleeing idols

We can’t be united to Christ and an idol. We can only worship one thing. If we choose an idol over God, we are in jeopardy of running of the track and not finishing the race.

What is an idol?

An idol is anything we allow to take the place of God in our lives. It’s those things we give the most weight to, or think are necessary for life and happiness. Ultimately, an idol is anything that stands between us and God, hindering our relationship with Him because we are giving it our love, affections, and worship instead of God.

How do you know what your idol is?

Think about what you give your:

  • Attention
  • Time
  • Money
  • What you sacrifice for
  • What you can’t live without

That which fits those categories could be an idol in your life. It could be the thing that is stealing your affections, love, and worship away from God.

Paul tells us if we want to finish the race, we have to flee idols. We have to run from them toward God, allowing Him alone to satisfy us (1 Cor. 10:14).

Question for Reflection

  1. What are some other ways to run the race to win the prize?

Resources

Post adapted from the sermon Run the Race to Win the Prize which you can listen to in its entirety here.

[1] John Piper, The Sovereignty of God and the Sin of the Believer, found at: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-sovereignty-of-god-and-the-sin-of-the-believer

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Who are We in Christ? – Part 3

Jesus on the Cross

Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians while in Ephesus after he heard of some issues plaguing the church. The issues Paul deals with in 1 Corinthians are the same issues we deal with today, which is why this is such a good book for the modern day church to study.

However, before Paul dives into the issues, he reminds the Corinthians, and subsequently us, of who we are in Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 1:2 Paul writes:

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” (1 Cor. 1:2)

Based on 1 Corinthians 1:2, the second thing we learn is that:

(3) Those who are in Christ are Saints

In the middle of verse 2, Paul says that we are:

called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (1 Cor. 1:2c)

Paul doesn’t beat around the bush. He flat out says that we are all called to be Saints.

What does it mean to be saint?

The Catholic Church doesn’t have the market cornered on saints. A Saint is someone who is set apart to live for God. Since all Christians are set apart to live for God, all Christians are saints.

Saints because sin no longer holds us back

We are all saints — we all can live for God — because sin no longer holds us back.

When I was in college, I had a passion for rock climbing. We had a nice climbing wall in our Rec Center at the University of Georgia, and we lived within a few hours drive of the best climbing in the Southeast. Needless to say I climbed all the time.

I remember one day I was climbing on a route in Tennessee at Foster Falls. A route that was a too advanced for me, but one I attempted anyways. While working the route, I hurt my shoulder. Not real bad, but I hurt it. Instead of resting my shoulder for a week or so, I decided to climb the next day. When I did, the small shoulder injury I had turned into a major shoulder injury. One that kept me from climbing for a long time.

Just as my shoulder injury once held me back from climbing, our sin once held us back from living for God. No matter how hard we tried, before we turned our lives over to Jesus, we couldn’t live a life that pleased God. It was impossible because our sin held us back.

Set free to live for God

When we became Christians, however, Jesus sets us free from sin, so that now we are able to live for God. That is exactly what God expects from us. He expects us to live for Him, to desire to and strive to become more and more like Christ each and everyday. Which is possible because we are saints who have been freed from the grip of sin.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Do you think of yourself as a saint?
  2. Do you believe you can live a holy life?

Resources

Post adapted from my sermon Who Are We In Christ?

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Who are We in Christ? – Part 2

Jesus on the Cross

Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians while in Ephesus after he heard of some issues plaguing the church. The issues Paul deals with in 1 Corinthians are the same issues we deal with today, which is why this is such a good book for the modern day church to study.

However, before Paul dives into the issues, he reminds the Corinthians, and subsequently us, of who we are in Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 1:2 Paul writes:

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” (1 Cor. 1:2)

Based on 1 Corinthians 1:2, the second thing we learn is that:

(2) Those who are in Christ are free from God’s punishment.

If we are going to be God’s people, who are on His mission, something has to have happened so that we are free from God’s punishment because in our natural state we are sinners, who deserve God’s wrath, not His grace and mercy.

What is a Sinner?

I am sure you have heard that word — sinner — all your life if you have been in the church and probably if you haven’t been in the church.

What it simple means to be a sinner is that you have rebelled against God. As our Creator, God has the right to tell us how He wants us to live. We, however, don’t want God to tell us how we are to live. Instead, we want to call the shots, we want to direct our own lives. When we place ourselves in the drivers seat, we are living in rebellion to God. In other words, we are living as a sinner.

Bad News/Good News

The bad news is everyone is born and lives as a sinner, which means we all deserve God’s punishment. The good news, however, is that those who are Christians are free from God’s punishment.

How is that? How are we freed from God’s punishment?

In verse 2, Paul tells the Corinthians that they are

…sanctified in Christ Jesus.” (1 Cor. 1:2b)

And then in verse 3, we learn Christians have received God’s

Grace…and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 1:3)

Finally, in verse 8, Paul says Christians will be:

guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 1:8)

These verses come together to tell us Jesus frees us from God’s punishment.

How exactly does Jesus free us from God’s punishment? 

You can think of it like this: On March 11th 2014, Glenn Ford was released from Angola State Prison. He had spent the last 30 years on death row, awaiting his day of execution. His day, however, never came. Instead he was set free because the courts realized he was an innocent man, who hadn’t committed the crime of which he was convicted. So instead of facing the death chamber, he walked off death row a free man never having to fear being put to death by the State again.

Christians, like Mr. Ford, have also been set free from death row and no longer live under the threat and fear of God’s punishment. However, unlike Mr. Ford our freedom wasn’t gained because God received new evidence of our innocence. We are and have always been guilty of rebellion against God and deserve His punishment. So we weren’t set free because our innocence was proven. Instead we are set free because Jesus took our seat on death row and died in our place.

What a wonderful thing that is — because of Jesus’ sacrifice we now experience freedom from God’s punishment and we have peace with God.

You Can Experience Freedom and Peace 

The way you can enjoy freedom and peace with God is simply by believing you are a sinner who needs a Savior, and Jesus is your Savior. He is the One who died for you to take the punishment you deserve.

When you believe that, when you confess that, and when you repent of your sins to follow Jesus, you will experience the same freedom and peace that all other Christians experience.

So if you haven’t repented of your sins and professed Jesus as your Lord and Savior, do so today. Don’t wait any longer. Experience God’s freedom and peace today. Quit living under the fear of punishment. Quit living under the uncertainty of not knowing if you have done enough to please God. Turn to Him today and experience freedom and peace.

Question for Reflection

  1. Have you turned to Jesus?
  2. Do you long for freedom and peace?
  3. Are you uncertain about your eternal future?

Resources

Post adapted from my sermon Who Are We In Christ?

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Article: Glenn Ford’s First Days of Freedom after 30 years on Death Row