The Race

A ‘race’ is one of the many Biblical symbols used to describe the Christian life and entails a start, a course and a finish. With rewards being the ultimate goal, persistence and endurance are two essential requirements for everyone involved in running a race. It is important to note that although everyone who finishes the Christian race receives their reward, the demands for dedication and commitment are in no way lessened. As a matter of fact, the level of success during this spiritual race is greatly dependent on our persistent yielding and dedication to God’s process of sanctification in our lives.

As in the natural field of athletics we should not enter our race to lose, but rather to win. Also we should bear in mind that rewards are received at the completion instead of the start. The Christian race is likened to a lengthy and hazardous cross-country marathon rather than a mere ‘short dash.’ There are hardly any smooth tracks, but mostly jagged hills to climb and desolate valleys to cross.

The main objective of this spiritual race, or to be more specific, our salvation, is to conform to the image of Christ. Scripture tells us, “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be confirmed to the image of his son…” (Rom. 8:29). After we accept the Lord as our Saviour, we are not to be passive in our sanctification, but are exhorted to “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:14). The word of God continuously exhorts us to do everything within our human capabilities to assist in our sanctification. In regards to personal involvement there are many scriptural terminologies such as, “let us cleanse ourselves” (2 Cor. 7:1), “mortify therefore your members” (Col. 3:5), “Lay aside every weight, and the sin” (Heb. 12:1), and “Put off all these; anger, wrath, malice…” (Col. 3:8).

As someone correctly stated, “We are to work as if everything depends on us and pray as if everything depends on God.” There is no negation of our responsibility in the process of sanctification but a conscious and deliberate effort on our part is required. Spiritual maturity will not be achieved by a single act, but rather by a gradual and continuous process. In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul stated, “[God] will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life…” (Rom. 2:7).

Let us not view conversion as the completion of our walk with God, but as the beginning. By faith we accept the Lord as our Saviour and a new life begins. We are then expected to grow and mature into the “fullness and stature of Christ”, as we submit to the Spirit, the Word and the Ministry. Perfection is not achieved outside the church, and there can be no advancement in holiness until the Word of God goes beyond education and effects sanctification. The believer must advance beyond a mental acceptance of truth and walk in it.

Christian conversion is a lifelong journey of mortifying the flesh. We who once walked according to the course of this world, and were formatted to its trends are now being changed into new creatures. The purpose of the church is to make us holy, sanctified and fit for the Kingdom of God. There is no magical formula or any single master key for our spiritual development. God’s Word addresses all our faculties: “set your affections on things above” (Col. 3:2); “If your right hand offends you, cut it off” (Matt. 5:30); “I keep under my body and bring it into subjection” (I Cor. 9:27); “yield …your members as instruments of righteousness” (Rom. 6:13); “Flee fornication” (1 Cor. 6:18). Personal involvement is of great importance in the Christian race.

In a clear and sober self-examination, David said, “I thought on my ways and turned my feet unto thy testimonies.” (Psalm 119:59). When we discover a pattern in our lives that is contrary to the Word of God, we must make changes to our attitudes and behaviour. Everything that constitutes the fabric of our lives must be viewed in the light of God’s Word.

In a natural race one has to be fit, disciplined and temperate. Likewise, in the Christian life, everything that will inhibit or slow us down must be removed. The Apostle Paul stated, “…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…” (Heb. 12:1). To “lay aside” means to get rid of or to put away. We have to examine our lives daily to identify the things that will hinder our progress with God and remove them. “Weights” may not necessarily be sin, but could include many legitimate needs that have become hindrances in our Christian life.

After conversion we will discover that the pollutions of this world, and a desire to return to the old lifestyle will always haunt us. Therefore, we are to resist these drives and make deliberate efforts to walk in the ways of the Lord. We are to “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh, and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Cor. 7:1). The Christian race demands a continuous advancement in godliness: “…though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” (2 Cor. 4:16).

The Cost

Discipleship should be viewed as the hallmark of the Christian life. Our Lord said, “…if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matt. 16:24). Denial of self being the first requirement in discipleship, demands extreme sacrifice. It means giving up much of our rights, desires, goals and privileges. To take up our cross is to willingly embrace the instrument of death to self. This is not forced upon us, but we are to take it up willingly, fully knowing that it will work against our instincts of self-preservation. (Lk. 9:24). Spirituality will only be achieved by yielding to God’s will. It is a painful process, yet profitable, for God will prune our lives that we may be more fruitful in Christ.

Evaluating the cost is also an essential requirement, “For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he has sufficient to finish it?” (Lk 14:28). No one will successfully follow the Lord without paying a price. We must give up the pleasures of the ungodly lifestyle and cease from pursuing our carnal desires. We are to become less materialistic knowing that, “godliness with contentment is great gain.” (I Tim. 6:6). Developing Christ-likeness is not without cost.

No Retirement

The final depository of the cross life is the grave. In our Christian walk there is no retirement from activity and service in the work of the Lord. At the end of his ministry the Apostle Paul was still pressing forward – an intense action on his part. Sadly, the spirit of retirement that has permeated this ungodly world has also infected God’s people as it relates to His work. Quitting from church activity should be considered unacceptable conduct in the life of a child of God. Anna, the aged prophetess, was a widow for 84 years and yet she was busy in the temple serving God night and day. Starting the Christian race with great zeal is not as important as being able to reach the finish line. We must endure unto the end.

The Potter’s House

The potter’s house is probably the best description in the Bible of how God works with His elect. In the potter’s house we see the wheel, the clay and the potter. The clay represents our humanity, the wheel is symbolic to many divinely arranged circumstances of life, and the Potter is God. God has a plan for the clay, and will fashion the vessels as it pleases Him. Scripture states, “Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker!…Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, what makest thou?” (Isa. 45:9). In reality, we are to be pliable in the hands of God as He fashions us according to His will. In its raw form clay is shapeless, but God makes it into a thing of form and beauty. We are His workmanship.

As we examine the work of the Potter, we see a master craftsman at work, gently shaping the moist clay into a work of art. Notice that He does not throw away the marred clay, but refashions it. We are the clay, full of blemishes, but God is conforming us into the image of His Son. He is gradually removing the filth from our lives until we achieve the fullness of Christ.

The Course

Any sensible person who enrolls in a college expects to fully complete the prescribed courses and graduate. Attendance and punctuality are absolutely necessary. Studying involves research and homework requires discipline. It means sacrificing even our leisure time to obtain our goals, but the reward is worth it all on the day of graduation.

The Christian walk is no different. To gain involves pain. In Philippians 3, the Apostle Paul exemplified the greatest sacrifice a child of God could ever make. He gave up his position in the Pharisee organization to gain Christ. He dismissed his intellectual background as dung. The things that were gain to him in this life he counted loss for the excellency of Christ, and pressed his way “toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” He did not allow anything in this life to deter his progress in God. He said, “if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” (Phil 3:11).

As the apostle saw it, sanctification was the work of a lifetime. He said, “Not as though I have already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:12). This statement was made almost 40 years after his conversion. Paul knew that he could not have changed the past, but with certainty looked to the future and was determined to reach the finish line. Just prior to his death he said, “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith…” (2 Tim. 4:6-7).

As Christians we too must overcome the world, the flesh and the Devil. We are to recognize that “friendship with the world is enmity with God.” ( Js. 4:4). Remember that the world is transitory, not permanent; it is not for eternal investment. We must put off the carnal and sinful tendencies that retard our spiritual growth and be more aggressive in pursuing holiness. Because the Devil is eager to devour and destroy our faith, we must put on the whole armour of God in order to resist him. The children of God must be vigilant in their spiritual walk, knowing that they live in an evil and ungodly society.

As we endeavour to conclude these thoughts of self-examination, let us stop for a moment and take a panoramic view of the Christian race. The whole process involves God saving fallen and depraved man who, in himself, is helpless and hopeless. Hindsight allows us to see a very powerful enemy that capitalizes on our depraved nature. Scripture reflects on many great and noble children of God, such as Adam, David, Samson — just to name a few — who fell prey to the enemy. But there is hope. Paul said, “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.” (Rom 8:3-4). The combination of a sinful heart and a sinful world is devastating. As such we should be vigilant, always examining ourselves and continuously eliminating the “weights” and besetting sins from our lives so that we can better run this spiritual race. Sadly, most of us are more careful with our natural lives than the spiritual. Giving preference to our jobs, homes, retirement and other natural things continuously diminish our spirituality. But what will a man give in exchange for his soul? Our soul’s prosperity should be given the highest priority and temporal things should give way to eternal values.

As we endeavour to continue in our Christian race, may we remember these words, “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” (Rom. 9:16). So run, that ye may obtain!

“I therefore so run, not as uncertain; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” (1 Cor. 9:24, 26-27).