Not many of us are athletic these days, though some of us keep in shape by running, biking, swimming, exercising on the floor or doing a few minutes on the treadmill. Staying physically fit seems to be more and more
important for health sake and certainly after such a long cold winter, most of our waistlines will benefit from getting out there and doing at least a brisk walk once per day. Let’s face it, physical exercise of whatever sort
is good for us.
As we consider our Christian faith, we can be challenged and directed by various analogies in the scriptures such as when the Apostle Paul uses imagery of an athlete who must train and discipline his or her body to perform at the
highest level. Similarly, the Christian is exhorted to exercise his or her faith, by evangelizing and putting into practice the teachings of Jesus.
Listen to Paul as he explains his own approach by which he means to encourage and instruct the Christian church at Philippi: "Athletes exercise self control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we, [as
Christians,] an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming [the Good News about Jesus] to others I myself should not be
disqualified" (1 Cor. 9:25-27).
What Paul is saying here is that the Christian life should have a definitive character about it. A Christian’s life should reflect the life and teaching of Jesus and ought to present a credible witness to the living Word’s presence
at work in the life of the believer. All of our efforts ought to be dedicated to pleasing the one who has called us to enter into the Great Race, which is our life–walking in the Way of Jesus. Come on, let’s go!
Devoted followers of Jesus must strive to attain a standard for living that improves upon the way they were living before understanding the higher ways of God. Just as Jesus sought to teach his disciples new ways of thinking and
interacting with other people, so also, our life in Christ should be as a work always in progress. Paul regularly suggested to his audiences, especially the gentile churches, that they should be exhibing behavior that demonstrated lives
transformed by the influence of Christ and the Holy Spirit’s leading.
Martin Luther might add here that all actions undertaken by the Christian must be guided by God’s Word, lest a false spirit mislead God’s people with deception and corrupt behaviors unbefitting of a Christian life. Paul wrote to
Titus: "For the grace of God has appeared, [that is Christ], bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we
wait for the blessed hope . . . of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:11-13).
The believer’s approach to contentious issues and personal conduct should be markedly different from our former ways (and means) of acting or reacting to the stresses and strains of life in family, business and society. From the
letter to the Hebrews we gain additional insight about following in the way of Christ as we "look to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its
shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb12:2). Here is one of those images that the athlete does well to fix their mind upon, while allowing the body to excel in the effort to complete the race.
For the Christian, a life of self control need not feel like a lead weight, but instead, we want to carry out this effort with lightness and joy for there is that prize of Christ being pleased with us. Can you imagine the
satisfaction of Jesus smiling and being pleased with you? Just remember that he is! This is demonstrated for us as we learn that our works of charity and mercy done unto others are as service unto Christ. "The king will say to those at
his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger
and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me'" (Matt. 25:34-36).
Note the emphasis at the beginning of this passage, "You that are blessed by my Father." This is the reward for running the race of life by the Way of living for Christ in all matters through to a successful ending.
However, in spite of our best intentions, faithful devotion and practice–we will have moral failures, for we are yet flesh. I would venture to say that very few of us will attain to the high standard that Jesus sets, and if you think
that you can, I challenge you to perfectly meet all of Jesus’ demands in the fifth chapter of St Matthew’s gospel. Perhaps none of us will attain Christ’s teachings with perfection and we will feel like it is futile to keep the faith,
but in a Christ-centered reality, as I believe Paul is emphasizing, it is in the struggle itself that we are obtaining our salvation. This is, once again, like the discipline of being an athlete. In any competition, one does not always
win. Whether competing as part of a team or in individual competition such as tennis, wrestling or running, we should do our best, but sometimes we stumble or we have a weakness that causes us to lose. Here also is where we must yet
We cannot completely rely on our own goodness nor strength to win the race..., but we must surely and completely rely on Christ who lives in us and for us. The defeated Christian must remember those words of our Lord who ". . .going
a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want’" (Matt 26:39). We cannot earn God’s favor nor please him with our own
self-initiated efforts at goodness, but, as we struggle with God, we find ourselves engaging in the relationship more deeply and we will find ourselves leaning more fully upon God’s grace alone.
Wouldn’t you agree that it is more rewarding and admirable to see a runner who has fallen, get up and complete his or her race–bruised and battered, than to see one wander off the field with anger, denial or despair? Allow the hand
of God to pick you up and will yourself to crawl if you must. Jesus will be there beside you in this marathon of life and faith.
Paul writes to young Pastor Timothy, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me
on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing" (2 Tim 4:7-8). As the living followers of Jesus in these present days–we long to hear those most precious words from our Lord: "Well done good and
faithful servant." But how can we finish well?
First of all get in the race and stay in the race! Be present at church with your brothers and sisters who are also in the event! Even if you think you have quit, does your retreat discount what Christ has already accomplished for
you upon the cross? Remember Jesus’ words from the cross, "It is finished."
Christ completed the whole race, he fought the good fight and died, not for himself, and not for earthly fame but for your salvation and that of all people for all time! Believe me, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit
will be completely cheering you on and lifting you up as you take your stance, look straight ahead and get on with running your life in Christ. What a blessing to be together in this Living Hope, let us push on toward the high calling
in Christ Jesus to whom be the praise, the glory and the honor–now and forever.
Read more writings of Pastor Jon