Run the Race of the Christian Life to Win the Prize

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

  1. Are you running 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.

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If Paul has not arrived…

If Paul has not arrived, then neither have we. The apostle Paul, arguable the greatest Christian to walk on the face of this earth, tells us in Philippians 3:11-16 that he has not arrived. He has not attained the prize. He is still running the race and pressing forward. He says,

that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.”

Why does Paul not believe he has attained the prize?

Paul has not attained the prize because he is not yet in heaven with his Savior. Nor has he received his glorified body at the second resurrection. Since he is neither in heaven, nor clothed in his resurrected body, he has not yet finished the race.

Paul believes only those who persevere in the Christian life will be raised to be with Christ for all eternity.

A one time confession of faith is not enough for Paul. Yes, he believes the phrase “once saved always saved.” But there is more to that phrase than most people want to include. Along with a confession of faith, there must be growth in Christlikeness and endurance until the end. A one time confession of faith. A trip down the aisle. A faith that has no growth will not do.

That is not to say we muster up Christlike character and endurance on our own. No, it is God who empowers us to live the Christian life and endure to the end (Phil. 2:13; 3:3). He is the One who predestines, saves, sanctifies, and glorifies (Rom. 8:29-30).

We still must endure

Even though God has promised that those who are His will be glorified, we still must endure. We cannot become complacent, prideful, and apathetic, thinking we have attained the prize, when we have not. This thought is what leads Paul to say,

that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil. 3:11)

An objection

Some of you may be thinking:

“Hold on a minute. Are you telling me that Paul, the greatest Christian to ever live, is not sure if he will be with Christ in heaven?”

Yes, in one sense I am saying that, because Paul is saying that. Paul believes he is saved and as one who is saved he believes he will endure to the end. However, since the end has not yet come, he holds this assurance in tension with what he knows of his own sinful heart and what he doesn’t know about the future. He will only know that he has “arrived” when he crosses the finish line at the end of his life.

You see, Paul knows those who have professed faith in Christ and lived like Christians, only to have walked off the track never to return and cross the finish line. You all know people like that as well. People you thought were solid Christians, who denounced their faith, lived the rest of their lives like atheists, and died, having never returned to the race. At one time, you may have thought they were a shoe in for the finish line, but it turns out they were not. Since they did not finish the race, they will not attain to the resurrection from the dead to eternal life when Christ returns.

Hope and a Challenge

For good measure, may I also add that those who never finish the race prove they were never in the race to begin with, even though they thought they were, because those who are in the race will finish the race.

While we know that those who are in the race will finish, we cannot become complacent, we cannot stop running, we cannot take our eye off the prize. If we lose focus, if we are attracted by the lures of the world, we may run off the track and never finish. We must keep pressing on, using every means possible to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

No matter if you have been a Christian for 1 day, 1 month, 1 year, 10 years, or 50 years, you have to keep pressing on. You have to keep running the race, using any means possible to attain to your prize, Jesus Christ.

Again, this does not mean we run in our own power. God is the One who is ultimately working in us to cause us to endure, changing our desires and empowering us through the Holy Spirit. Even so, we must still run.

So then, Christian, hope in Christ. Trust God will glorify those whom He has saved, but don’t become complacent and apathetic. Use any means necessarily by the power of God to attain to your prize. Keep running! Keep pushing! The finish line is in sight!

Questions

  1. How does Paul’s view of finishing the race change your view of salvation?
  2. Have you ever thought of the Christian life as a race that must be finished in order to attain Christ?
  3. Do you know that God is the one empowering you and causing you to endure in the race? How does knowing that change the way you run the race?

Resources

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How the Gospel Deals with Conflict | Part 4

This last week, I have been discussing conflict. I have dealt with where conflict occurs (Part 1), why we need to get rid of conflict (Part 2), and I gave 8 ways to get rid of conflict (Part 3). In this last post, I want to provide you with encouragement.

Conflict Doesn’t Mean We Will Lose Our Salvation

We know that conflict is going to happen. We are sinners, who will disagree and argue with each other. Just because conflict is going to happen doesn’t mean that we should not deal with it. We have already seen that we should. Even though conflict is going to occur, it’s occurrence doesn’t mean we will lose our salvation.

In other words, we don’t have to be perfect. Notice at the end of in verse 3 Paul tells us that these two women’s names are in the book of life.

Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

What is the book of life, how do we get our names in it, and what does the existence of the book tell us?

First, what is the book of life?

You all have seen the cartoons where Peter is standing at the Pearly Gates as people come to enter heaven. What is normally before him is a book. In the cartoon, the book acts like a guest list to a party. If your name is on the list, then you are in. If it is not, well, you are excluded. While the cartoon’s depiction of Peter standing at the Pearly Gates checking to see if your name is in the book of life is probably not how it happens, the book of life is a reality.

Revelation 20:11-15 says,

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

From this text we learn that the book of life is a list of all those who will experience eternal life. If your name is in it, you will experience eternal life. If it is not, you will experience eternal damnation.

Second, how do we get our names in the book?

There are criteria that need to be met. We must believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

We must understand why Jesus came to die.

The reason He had to die is because we are all sinners. We all have rebelled against God. We have all turned our back on Him. None of us are righteous, not one of us. We can’t earn that righteousness. There are no amount of works that we can do to make ourselves righteous. The only way that we can be made righteous is through our belief in Jesus Christ.

We have to admit we are sinners, repent of our sins, and trust in Jesus Christ.

All those who believe that they are sinners and repent of that sin. All those who believe that Jesus by His sacrifice on the cross paid the price for our sins, and all those who confess that Jesus is their Savior, trusting that His sacrifice on the cross was sufficient to pay the price for their sins will be saved, their relationship with God will be restored, and they will experience eternal life.

All those who understand why Jesus came to die, admit they are sinners, repenting of that sin, and trust in Jesus Christ will have their names written in the book of life.

Third, what does the existence of the book tell us?

It tells us that once our name are written in the book of life, they are not removed. They are just as permanent as the words on the page in the Bible sitting on your shelf at home.

The permanence of our names is important to remember as we experience conflict with others, because conflict, or any other sin that we may commit as Christians, doesn’t remove our names from the Book of Life. God doesn’t have a cosmic eraser He takes to the page every time we mess up. In Christ our relationship is secure.

There are several reasons it is important for us to remember our names are permanently written in the book of life:

  1. It is important to remember so we don’t fall into a works based righteousness, thinking we have to do something to keep our names in the book.
  2. It is also important to remember so that we will not try to hide our conflict with others.
  3. Lastly, it is important to remember because this knowledge should free us up to admit our sin because we know that Christ has paid the price for our sins, and we know that our sins will not remove our names from the Book of Life.

So then the existence of the book creates a sense of permanence, which should keep us from acting self-righteously, and it should free us up to deal with our conflict head on.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Do you believe your name is written in ink in the Book of Life and cannot be removed?
  2. Have you ever thought conflict or other sins would remove your name from the book of life?
  3. Have you trusted in Jesus Christ as your Savior?
  4. Do you understand why He had to die in your place?

Resources

A helpful resource to consult would be: Pursuing Peace: A Christian Guide to Handling Conflicts by Robert Jones

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