Contending for the faith | Making Disciples | Equipping the Saints for Ministry

by Jeannette Haley

As with any sporting event, every athlete knows that there are certain basic elements that must be present if he or she is to achieve the ultimate goal—being a winner! The World Olympics definitely brings this fact out. No person ever succeeds by merely “wishing,” “hoping,” or “dreaming” about bringing home the gold, any more than a hungry person with an empty dinner plate can produce a juicy T-bone steak by “wishing,” “hoping,” or “dreaming” about it.

As far as sports go, long distance runners are obviously in it for the long haul. First, they must focus on their goal. There are no shortcuts to the finish line. It must be established right up front that it will take incredible endurance, training and preparation to reach the goal. This involves a plan of how to obtain that goal, and a disciplined schedule. A winner possesses perseverance, discipline, focus, determination, training, commitment, and a deep desire that refuses to be sidetracked or hindered in any way. Any compromises, however slight, through this long process can spell disaster and defeat. It goes without saying that being a winner involves incredible sacrifice, self-denial, and total dedication. Anything less is simply not acceptable.

The Apostle Paul was very familiar with the competitions of the Olympic Games since they were established around 776 B.C. In his letter to the church at Corinth, he wrote: “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain” 1 Corinthians 9:24. In this verse Paul is comparing the Christian life with running a race. While not everyone is cut out for physical sports such as running, every born-again Christian is required to be a “spiritual athlete” and understand that Christians must live daily as though they were running a race. This race is not to put the Christian into competition with other believers, but rather it is a necessary daily discipline if one is to obtain the prize, an incorruptible crown.

The true Christian life, and the race we are to run, involves spiritual warfare, self-control, restraint of appetites, self-denial, and mortification of the flesh. In other words, if you are a Christian, you cannot afford to be a mere spectator on the side line of life and expect to receive the prize.

Any athletic endeavor involves much preparation. The same is true for the Christian. Both athletes and Christians must be outfitted in the proper attire in order to be winners. Ephesians 6:10-18 outlines the special clothing and equipment the overcoming Christian must possess. Concerning exercise, Hebrews 6:14 tells us that“strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”  God expects us to live out (exercise) what we learn.

A proper diet is indispensable to any athlete if they are to maintain the ability to function at peak performance. So, too, believers must have the proper spiritual diet. You might say that the Christian’s spiritual diet consists of bread, water and meat. It may begin with “milk” but growth into perfection (maturity) cannot take place if the Christian never advances past the baby stage. The Apostle Peter wrote, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” 1 Peter 2:2. The tragedy is, most newborn babes in Christ are content to settle for being bottle-fed “milk” for the rest of their lives as they settle into some comfortable church routine, expecting the pastor, or others, to coddle them and somehow carry them on blankets of ease right up to the pearly gates. Or, they tune in to “Christian” TV and “eat” whatever is dished out, thus deluding themselves into thinking that they are now “educated” in the faith. Others find their faith defined by popular writers who neither fear God nor know Him. The end result of all this is not mature or fully developed believers, but rather a company of spiritually immature, retarded misfits who are not only unfit and incompetent to run the race that Christians are called to run, but are equally unfit for the kingdom of God.

Jesus, whose words in these last days are largely ignored, twisted, taken out of context or redefined and watered down, meant it when He said: “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” Matthew 4:4b. Are you living by every word that has proceeded out of the mouth of God as recorded in the Bible?

Job knew the preciousness, power, purpose, and preserving supremacy of God’s Word. He declared:“Neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips; I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food” Job 23:12. Can you declare with Job that God’s Word is more highly revered by you than the food you need daily?

Look at Jeremiah 15:16: “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O Lord God of hosts.” Can you honestly say that the Word of God is the “joy and rejoicing” of your heart?

Consider Psalm 119:103 which states: “How sweet are thy words unto my taste! Yea sweeter than honey to my mouth.” Have you found the Words of God to be “sweet” to your “mouth” compared to the distastefulness and bitterness that is the result of involvement with sin and the world?

Therefore, Christians must get past the milk stage and grow up by partaking of the Bread of life (Jesus), the Giver of Living Water (Jesus), and the meat of the Living Word (Jesus, the Word become flesh, John 1:1.) We cannot run the race, and finish the course if we are self-centered rather than Christ-centered.

To the church at Philippi, concerning this incredible spiritual race, Paul wrote: “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” Philippians 3:13, 14. Thus we see Paul comparing the Christian life to a race in which, in order to win, one must let go of the past, and focus on the goal. No race was ever won, and no mountain ever scaled by any athlete who insisted on continually looking back and worrying about their past. In order to “press toward the mark,” there must be single focus and concentration on the goal. Remember, Jesus said that His yoke was easy, and His burden light. We cannot walk with Him under His yoke, on the straight and narrow road, if we insist on hauling along all our old baggage. But, it doesn’t just end with us grabbing on to Jesus’ promise of a light burden and easy yoke, but if we read the entire passage, in context, we see that the key to having this promise fulfilled in our lives is “learning of Him.” (See Matthew 11:28-30.)

The problem is most Christians feed on spiritual “fast food.” Listening to a sermon once or twice a week isn’t going to feed your spirit any more than eating one or two meals a week is going to nourish your body. Grabbing a Scripture here and there as you dash out the door isn’t going to help you “pass the test.” Paul admonished:“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” 2 Timothy 2:15. Therefore, how can you be a confident Christian worker that God approves of if you never study the Word of God, are unable to understand and discern it, much less live it and be skillful in teaching it?  In the world of sports, any runner who was ignorant of the rules and regulations, as well as a thorough understanding of the course he or she was running would miserably fail. As already emphasized, it takes hard work, practice, patience, perseverance, determination, focus, and commitment to be a skillful athlete and the same is true for the Christian runner.

Writing to the Galatians, Paul said, “Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? Galatians 5:7. Again, Paul is emphasizing that we are in a race and that it is maintained through obedience to the truth. The Christian life can be hindered in many ways. People may oppose us, even members of our own family, but we are not here to please people, but God. False teachers (and they abound) can trip us up and cause great spiritual damage and confusion. A little leaven, or sin, can not only take us on major detours, but destroy our testimony, ruin our credibility, separate us from God, and bring us to destruction. False doctrine can be as dangerous, or fatal, to our spiritual lives as a misplaced detour sign on a race track would be to us physically. Evil influences can also wreck havoc with us as we struggle to focus on the goal.

The key is to know, believe and obey the truth. The problem is today we are being deliberately and systematically brainwashed by the god of this world (the devil) into believing that there is no such thing as absolute truth. Satan and his workers would have us believe that there are many ways to heaven; that the Guidebook (the Word of God) is outdated or worse yet, in error and unreliable; that right and wrong are outdated modes of thinking; that there are no moral absolutes; that being politically correct is right, and standing for righteousness is wrong.

Satan doesn’t care if we run “a” race, just so long as we don’t run “the” race that God has called us to run. He will lead us to believe that we can pick and choose which race we want to run. He doesn’t care if we decide to settle on our laurels in some dead church that only teaches church doctrine, or perhaps doesn’t teach at all, but just goes through the same old church formula week after week. In fact, Satan loves to deceive Christians into thinking that their outward religious life adds up to the same thing as running the race that Paul wrote about, but according to God’s Word, there is only one acceptable race, and the qualifying rules have never changed.

Hebrews 12:1 admonishes us: “Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”  Who are these witnesses? They are none other than all those who have gone on before us in faith. (Hebrews 11) All of the faithful who have ever lived, and all who have died as martyrs, down through the centuries, have left us with a powerful witness of the Christian life, God’s faithfulness and power, and how we are to run the race, or live as believers. These men and women of God have shown us the way, demonstrating by their life and death how to run the race. Again, they were victorious in life and more than conquerors in death because they laid aside “every weight,” and the “sin” which would disqualify them. They exemplified the patience, faith and commitment that it takes to be a winner.

As Paul was heading down the home stretch, he penned these succinct and powerful words to Timothy: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” 2 Timothy 4:7. What incredible satisfaction Paul must have felt in his heart at the completion of his race, knowing that in all three areas he had overcome every obstacle, overcome every temptation to stop short of the goal, and overcome every attack on his faith.

Finally, Paul wrote, “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” 2 Timothy 4:8. The question is, can you, can I, proclaim with confidence that we have indeed fought a good fight, finished our course, and kept the faith? Can we, with Paul, be confident that there is a crown of righteousness laid up for us that the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give us if we love His appearing?

Maybe as you read this, you realize that you are not even in the race at all. Perhaps you have been taught that all you had to do to get to heaven was to “accept Jesus,” and go to church every Sunday. Maybe you’ve been taught that once you are “saved,” there is nothing more required of you, and that you can go on living your life as you always have lived it in the past. The harsh reality of such a philosophy is far from the truth

If you can honestly say that you have merely been bumping along through life, day after day, rather than running the race set before you, don’t you think it’s time to find out what God requires of you, and to repent before it’s too late, and to begin running the race that God has set before you? May it be so!