Scripture often uses an illustration of an athlete or a person competing in a sport to speak of our Christian walk in this world.
In 1 Corinthians 9:25-27, Paul writes, “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified”.
The author of Hebrews also writes, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” Hebrews 12:1-2.
In these two passages, self-control and discipline are key qualities a believer must have in running the race of life. Every top athlete exercises self-control and discipline to ensure they maintain their fitness and ability to compete. Self-control is therefore not legalism or the absence of liberty, it is rather the wisdom to submit to the leading of the Spirit that ensures we live a fruitful Christian life in godliness and righteousness.
This means that, while we live under grace and not the law, our identity as children of God (or athletes in this case) demands that we forgo certain lifestyles and sinful practices ([laying] aside every weight, and sin…) and embrace the newness of life we now live in Christ Jesus. Paul makes this clear by writing to Timothy and saying, “An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” 2 Timothy 2:5. This is in no way belittling the importance of our relationship with God and the significance of grace; however, it reminds (or cautions) us of the dangers of laxity in living a godly life as led by the Spirit of God.
We are encouraged to run this race with focus, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith”. This is a reminder of the many distractions in the world. Many have started the race, but sadly, they got distracted by the lies of the enemy, and the pleasures and cares of this world. Stay focused friends!
Lastly, we are reminded of the reward and price that awaits us. No athlete competes for just the fun of it. There is a reward for their hard work, and it is often this reward that motivates them to persevere. In encouraging the church, Paul writes, “…no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” 1 Corinthians 2:9.
He again writes, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” Romans 8:18.
Heaven and the reward of our inheritance should be our motivation in enduring this race.
At the end of our pilgrim, may our words be similar to that of Apostle Paul who said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness…”
Run the race of life with self-control and discipline, focused on Jesus, and urged on by the hope of our inheritance in Christ.