Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?
So run that you may obtain it. (1 Cor. 9:24)
As Christians it can be so easy to fall into the trap of believing that since salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone, then it doesn’t matter how we live or how hard we try to live out our faith. Yet, Paul writes, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” By using athletic imagery, Paul is reminding us of how athletes run a race. They put forth all their effort. They strive with every ounce of energy they can muster. They do so because they want to win the prize, reach the goal. However, this striving to win the prize does not just happen on the racetrack. For those who truly want to win the prize, all their effort and hard work begins long before the race. As Paul says, “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. Athletes who are serious about winning, exercise regularly. They watch what they eat. They watch what they drink. They “exercise self-control in all things.” Thus, Paul says, “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.” Paul may have echoing in his mind the words of Christ who said, “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matt. 7:21-23). At the Day of Judgement many will not be allowed into God’s presence having been deceived into thinking that simply saying “Lord, Lord”, professing Jesus as Lord, was enough. Jesus says it is not those who simply say, “Lord, Lord” who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of God the Father. Paul understands this and so he says, “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” To be sure, salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone. Nevertheless, at the Day of Judgement, Paul does not want to be the one who hears, ‘Depart from me you worker of lawlessness.’ Paul does not want to be “disqualified” from gaining the prize. Paul does not want to be self-deceived into thinking he is saved when he is not. Thus, he disciplines his body and keeps it under control. He works hard at his sanctification and at mortifying the sin that indwells him.
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