Run as to Win the Prize
Our spiritual journey is often compared to running a race, specifically in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 and Hebrews 12:1-2, because of the similarities for what is required for us to maintain a righteous walk. When the Apostle Paul makes the parallel of running a race to our spiritual efforts in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, he says to “run” as to win the prize. Paul says to consider those who compete and what they do in order to win the prize, applying those concepts to our own spiritual efforts.
There are a number of factors that are generally involved with an athlete’s ability to win the race. As Paul has recommended, we will explore some of these factors and consider spiritual parallels. Due to article space limitations this will be done in brevity, but you are encouraged to take these concepts and explore them more deeply on how they can be applied to our own spiritual efforts.
An athlete must have love for what they do and a desire to win.
We must love God with all of our being (heart, soul, and mind). This will translate into a love for what He has called us to do. We must also truly desire the prize, to be with Him in heaven. The desire we have will push us to achieve while the love for God and what He has called us to do provides us a greater willingness to continue doing what is needed to achieve, even when it becomes difficult. Those who don’t carry a love for what they do and a desire for the prize are prone to fail.
An athlete must believe they can win. They must have confidence.
If you don’t have confidence and believe you can win, you probably won’t. In our case it would be a confidence held in humility, recognizing that we can be successful but only with God. The Apostle Paul recognized that our ability to finish the race and to have victory is provided through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:13; 1 Cor. 15:57). Because he understood this was a guarantee for those who remained clothed in Christ, he confidently made the following statement near the end of his life: 2 Timothy 4:7-8, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness…”
An athlete trains, using self-control, doing what is beneficial and abstains from that which is not.
Like an athlete we must train ourselves and apply self-control, doing only what is beneficial. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians (Gal. 5:16) he instructs them that if we train ourselves to walk in the Spirit then we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh. God provides us instruction on how to do this through His inspired word. For instance, consider what Peter laid out through the inspiration of God in 2 Peter 1:5-7. List these, study what’s involved with each, work on building yourself up in each of these and Peter states when you have done this you will neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of Jesus Christ (vs. 8), nor will you stumble (vs. 10).
An athlete subjects themselves to the rules or they will be disqualified.
There are certain rules that must be observed to win and not be disqualified. Paul brings to Timothy’s attention in 2 Timothy 2:5 that an athlete is not crowned unless they compete according to the rules. Unfortunately some ignore the parameters God has set for us. Even if we believe in God, if we aren’t obeying God it does us no good, as James alludes to in James 2 stating that even the demons believe and tremble. Paul disciplined himself and brought himself into subjection to ensure he would not be disqualified by ignoring the very things he preached to others in regards to salvation (1 Cor. 9:27).
An athlete must maintain focus and have determination.
No one running a race, with the intention of winning, looks back at where they came from. Instead they push forward with determination, maintaining their focus on the goal. Paul states in Philippians 3:12-14 that he forgets what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, he presses on toward the goal to win the prize. We cannot win the prize if we are looking back at what God has called us away from. Christ states in Luke 9:61-62 that such a person who attempts to commit to Him but looks back is not worthy of, or fit for, the kingdom of God. So we need to have focus and determination, as Paul had, to press toward the goal. Hebrews 12:1-2 advises we should run with perseverance and fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher (perfecter) of our faith.
If we want to win the “crown” then, similar to athletes who run for a prize, we ought to have love for what God has called us to do, desire the prize (heaven), be confident that through Christ we will reach our goal, exercise and grow spiritually using self-control, subject ourselves to the will of God (His rules) so we will not be disqualified, and focus on Christ (the author and perfecter of our faith) with determination and perseverance to finish.