RUNNING THE CHRISTIAN RACE
The Christian life has been likened to a race. It is however not like a short sprint that requires a sudden burst of energy and then it is all over. It is in fact more like a marathon which is a long, at times painful, energy-sapping, enduring race. The author to the book of Hebrews reminds us that in this race, we need to throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles (Hebrews 12: 1). We cannot run a marathon with heavy loads on our back and our feet shackled and entangled with weights, wires and the like. Unfortunately, there are many believers who seek to run the Christian race in this manner. They refuse to let go of the things that hinder and the things that entangle in their lives.
In a race, we have to begin well. We have seen that we begin by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul, in comparing the Christian life to a building, wrote: “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3: 11). We must be clear how we begin and what the foundation of our faith is. It is none other than Jesus Christ our Lord.
NEED TO CONTINUE WELL
Beginning well alone does not guarantee that we would complete the race. We must continue well. How we live today matters if we desire to see the finishing line tomorrow. We cannot run a marathon by constantly stopping and looking back, refusing to go on. There are some believers who refuse to let go of things, people and positions in their lives and to move on. Holding on to them prevents us from pressing forward and finishing well. Every time we let go of what is not meaningful and helpful, we are in a position to move forward. Some believers find it difficult to give up the past. Their hearts are in the past and they will run, looking backwards and thinking of the good old days. Such believers must learn not to turn aside or linger over the lesser things while the greater things call them to march forward.
Paul reminds us, in comparing the Christian life to farming, that we can plant and we can water but it is the Lord God who causes the growth (1 Corinthians 3: 7). We are all merely God’s fellow workers and the growth and glory belong to God. Hence, to continue well, we must fix our eyes on Jesus; we must focus on Him, for He is the author and perfecter of our faith. Whether we will continue well and finish well depends on Him. If we lose our focus on Him, we might get sidetracked in the race and go on to a wrong and different path that leads to death instead of life. Similarly, we are God’s field; we are God’s building – we are not the ones who make things grow; we are not the foundation of the building and the master builder. We are just God’s workers, building under God’s instructions and direction.
It is always helpful to remember that the work and glory belong to God. It is never ‘my church’, ‘my disciple’ or ‘my ministry’. It is always God’s and we must know our proper place before Him. Indeed, a man’s greatest glory is not what he has done but what God has done for him and in him. Knowing this would help us not to cling on when we need to move on. It also helps us to pass on the work to others when the time is right and to allow God to multiply and continue His work and ministry.
But the race is not over until we finish well. The fire will test the quality of each man’s work on God’s building, whether it will be burned up, for the day will bring it to light and show the work for what it is (1 Corinthians 3: 13). The fruit of the tree would be known on that day whether it is a good fruit or a bad fruit. Finishing well would mean presenting to God a good fruit and a building which will last. However, finishing well is finally evaluated by the lives we have touched for God rather than just the tasks we have finished.
The prophet Jeremiah finished well even though he preached against all odds and his task appeared not to be completed and well-received by those he ministered to, Stephen was stoned to death at the prime of his life and ministry. Nevertheless, he finished well for his God. Both Jeremiah and Stephen still touch the lives of many today.
BEWARE OF DISQUALIFICATION
Even the great Apostle Paul knew that if he himself was not careful, he could be disqualified in this race and not receive the prize (1 Corinthians 9: 26-27). Paul wrote to Timothy the following: “Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops” (2 Timothy 2: 5-6).
The Apostle Paul exercised much spiritual discipline in his life and ministry; he did it in dependence on God and His grace. He preached the whole counsel of God and he was not afraid to suffer for the sake of the gospel even though it was unpleasant, painful and dangerous. He did not cling to his own life but endeavoured to finish the work God had entrusted to him.
Paul did finish the race well.
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.
He kept the faith and our faith is centred on Jesus Christ. He is the foundation of the building; He is the author and perfecter of our faith; He is the one who gives growth to the plant and He is the one who ensures that the building is completed. Indeed, unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain (Psalm 127: 1).
FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT
In 2 Timothy 4, Paul introduced another analogy for the Christian life – that of warfare. Paul wrote that he had fought a good fight. We need to realise that spiritual warfare is real in Christian ministry; we have a strong and formidable foe in the evil one. However, we must also realise that the war has been won by the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary. The battles, however, remain although the war has been won. We need to fight a good fight as soldiers of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote to Timothy to endure hardship like a good soldier of Jesus Christ and every good soldier seeks to please his commanding officer (2 Timothy 2: 3-4). Our commanding officer and captain is none other than the Lord Jesus. We must fight under His commands and instructions and in that light, we must keep our eyes focused on Him. A good soldier must be prepared to endure hardship and not be involved in civilian affairs. Similarly, a good soldier of the Lord does not draw back from suffering and he knows how to focus on the battle and his captain, in obedience to Him. He does not get sidetracked by unimportant mundane issues; he does not allow other secondary matters to cause him to lose his focus.
It is paramount therefore if we want to continue well and to finish well the Christian race that we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ and this focus must be maintained throughout the race. As God incarnate, Jesus reveals God to us and in Him, we see who God is. As the Son of man, He shows us how we ought to live our lives here on earth. In Him, God becomes man so that man can become like God, transformed into His likeness.
This is our high calling; this is what we fight for; this is what we are called to build. Let us do it well, by God’s grace, and let us finish well this race marked out for us. At the end of the day, finishing well is what truly matters.
If we died with him, we will also live with him. If we endure, we will also reign with him.