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Opinion | Jan 2, 2019

Running The Race To Win

Running The Race To Win

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet, but one thing I do forgetting what lies behind and reaching toward what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal for the prize, the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippian 3:12-14, NASB).

At 7 p.m. on October 20, 1968, a few thousand spectators remained in the Mexico City Stadium. It was cool and dark. The last of the marathon runners, each exhausted, were carried off to first-aid sections. More than an hour earlier, Mamo Wolde of Ethiopia—looking as fresh as when he started the race—crossed the finish line, the winner of the 26-mile, 385-yard event.

As the remaining spectators prepared to leave, those sitting near the marathon gates suddenly heard the sound of sirens and police whistles. All eyes turned to the gates. A lone figure wearing number 36 and the colors of Tanzania entered the stadium. His name was John Stephen Akhwari. He was the last to finish the marathon. He had fallen during the race and injured his knee and ankle. Now, with his leg bloodied and bandaged, he grimaced with each hobbling step around the 400-meter track.

The spectators rose and applauded him. After crossing the finish line, Akhwari slowly walked off the field. Later, a reporter asked Akhwari the question on everybody’s mind: “Why did you continue the race after you were badly injured?

He replied, “My country did not send me 7000 miles to start the race. They sent me,7000 miles to finish it.”

God through His Son, Jesus Christ saves you not just to begin the Christian life; He saves and prepares you to finish the Christian life. As we say goodbye to 2018 and welcome 2019, I would like to share with you on the theme: “Running the Race to Win.”

In Philippians 3:1-6, the apostle Paul records his life before he had a saving encounter with Jesus Christ. In this brief encounter, he shares his resume as a Pharisee of the Pharisees. Then in 3:7-11, he recounts the transformation and a new sense of direction his life takes when Jesus Christ becomes his single focus and passion. In verses 7-11, he considers his past achievements as rubbish in comparison to what he has gained in Christ. Paul does this in response to some false teachers who are trying to sway the Philippians from following the true teachings of Christ.

Many people make their resolutions for the New Year on December 31 and make all kinds of promises and pledges to do better in the coming year. You can call verse12 of this passage as stock taking verse. “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect.” This is the statement of a great Christian who never allowed himself to be satisfied with his spiritual attainments. Obviously, Paul was satisfied with Jesus Christ (3:10), but he was not satisfied with his Christian life. Today, some people put other Christians and ministers on a pedestal that they begin to worship them, instead of Christ, the King. Yes, Paul was satisfied with Christ but he was not satisfied with his life. A sanctified dissatisfaction is the first essential progress in the Christian race. Some Christians relax after a few moral and spiritual victories, but one thing they do not realize is that the Christian race is a Marathon, not a hundred-meter relay.

Perhaps some of you are self-satisfied because you compare

your running with other Christians, usually with those who are not making much progress. Had Paul compared himself with others, including those who had wanted to undermine his ministry to the Philippians, he would have been tempted to be proud and show an air of superiority. After all, there were not many believers in Paul’s day who had experienced all that he had. However, Paul did not compare himself with others. Rather, he compared himself with himself and with Jesus Christ. The twice use of the word perfect in verses 12 and 15 explains his thinking. Paul had not yet arrived at perfection (v. 12), but he is perfect [ mature] (v. 15), and one mark of this maturity is the knowledge that he is not perfect. The mature Christian is the one who evaluates himself and strives to do better. The mature Christian is the one who does not compare himself with others in order to feel better.

The Bible often warns us against a false estimate of our spiritual condition. The. The church at Sardis had “a name that they are alive, but they are dead” (Rev. 3:1). They had a reputation without reality. The church at Laodicea boasted that it was rich; when in God’s sight it was “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17). In contrast to the Laodicean church, the believers at Smyrna thought they were poor when they were really rich (Rev. 2:9). Samson thought he still had his old power, but it had departed from him (Judges 16:20). Self-evaluation can be a dangerous thing because you can err (be mistaken) in two directions: (1) making yourself better than you are, or (2) making yourself worse than you really are. Paul had no illusion about himself; he still had to keep “pressing forward” in order to “lay hold of that for which Christ laid” hold of him. A divine dissatisfaction is essential for spiritual progress. That is why King David wrote, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants after You, o God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God”(Psalm 42:1-2).

There are three truths you need to grasp; first, the new perceptions which salvation brings. If you presume to be both defendant and judge in your own trial, you may not arrive at a correct estimate of yourself. Sinless perfection is not the experience even of the Apostle Paul at this side of glory. Paul sees himself with new eyes; he has received a spiritual understanding. Second, is the inner story of conversion: Christ Jesus has made me His own. Did Paul choose Christ? Indeed, he did, but only because Christ first chose Paul. Christ’s was the real choice; anything you and I did was derived from what God in Christ had already decided. Jesus said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). Third, the sole objective of those who are truly saved: “to make it my own.” God’s purpose in choosing you is to be satisfied with Christ and to grow into His likeness (ROM. 8:29).

“One thing I do.” “One thing” is a phrase that is important to the Christian life. “One thing you lack,” said Jesus to the self-righteous young ruler (Mark 10:21). “One thing is needful,” Jesus explained to busy Martha when she criticized her sister Mary (Luke10:42). “One thing I know!” Exclaimed the man who had received his sight by the power of Christ (John 9:25). “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that I will seek after!” testified the Psalmist (Psalm 27:4).

The truth is that many Christians are involved in many things, but I am afraid that some of these things do not contribute to the kingdom of God. What you contribute to the kingdom of God is the one thing that will last. The secret of progress is to concentrate on “one thing.” My timely advice to my wife (Christina) is to do one thing at a time. Some of you have your hands in so many things as such you cannot get anything of eternal value accomplished in life.

Before the tragedy of the Chicago fire in 1871, D. L. Moody was involved in Sunday school promotion, Y.M.C.A. work, evangelistic meetings and many other activities, but after the fire, he determined to devote himself exclusively to evangelism. That was the turning point in his life and ministry. “This one thing I do” became a reality to him. Consequently, millions of people heard the Gospel and were saved. When the Hellenistic Jews were trying to distract the apostles because their widows were neglected in the daily serving of food, the apostles summoned the church to choose seven people to oversee the distribution of food so that they could concentrate on the preaching of the Word of God and prayer (Acts 6).

You must devote yourself as a believer to “running the Christian race” in order to win. No athlete succeeds by doing everything; he/she succeeds by specializing. There are a few athletes who seem proficient in many sports, but they are the exception (Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson, and LeBron James). The winners are those who concentrate, who keep their eyes on the goals and let nothing distract them. They are devoted entirely to their calling. Like Nehemiah the wall-building governor, they reply to the distracting invitations, “I am doing a great work so that I cannot come down” (Nehemiah 6:3). “A double- minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8). Concentration is the secret of power. If a river overflows its banks, the area around it becomes a swamp. However, if you build a dam and control the flow of the river, it becomes a source of power. The Christian life is a matter of values and priorities, living for that which matters most.

The past controls the unsaved person, but the Christian running the race looks toward the future. Imagine what would happen on the race course if the runners started looking back (Luke 9:62), but for a charioteer to do so means a possible collision and serious injury.

Every believer should be future-oriented. In the Bible, “to forget” does not mean “to fail to remember.” Besides senility, hypnosis, or brain malfunction, no mature person can forget what has happened in the past. You may wish that you could erase bad memories, but you cannot. “To forget” in the Bible means, “no longer to be influenced or affected by.” When God promises, “And their sins and iniquities I will remember no more” (Heb. 10:17), He is not suggesting that He will have a bad memory. What God is saying is, “I will no longer hold their sins against them. Their sins will no longer affect their standing with Me or influence My attitude towards them.” Therefore, “forgetting those things which are behind” simply means that you break the power of the past by living for the future. You cannot change the past, but you can change the meaning of the past. There were things in Paul’s past that could have weighed him down (1 Timothy 1:12-17). The events did not change but his understanding of them changed. A good example of this principle is Joseph (Gen. 45:1-5). When Joseph met his brothers for the second time and revealed himself to them, he held no grudge against them. Yes, they had mistreated him, but he saw the past from God’s point of view. Therefore, he held nothing against his brothers. Joseph knew that God had a plan for his life, a race for him to run, and in fulfilling that plan and looking ahead, he broke the power of the past. The regrets of the past have shackled too many Christians as such they have developed a victim mentality.

“I press on” or “follow after,” carries the idea of intense endeavor. The Greeks used it to describe a hunter eagerly pursuing his prey. You do not become a winning athlete just by listening to lectures, watching movies, reading books, or cheering at the games. You become a winning athlete by getting into the game and determined to win. Paul displayed the same zeal he used to persecute the church in serving Christ when the Lord saved him. Will it not be great if you use the same zeal which you employ in organizing parties and other social events in serving Christ?

There are two extremes to avoid here: (1) “I must do it all” and (2) “God must do it all.” The first describes an activist; the second portrays the quietist, and both are heading for failure.

If you are going to run the race as a Christian runner, God must work in you (Philippians 2:12-13). Jesus said, “Without Me you can do nothing (John 15:5). God works in us that He might work through us. Some Christians are so busy “dying to self that they never come back to life again to run the race. Others also are confident they can make it on their own that they never stop to read the Bible, pray, or ask for the power of the Lord.

Toward what goal are you going to press on with such spiritual determination in the year 2019? Verse 14 is not teaching that you attain heaven by your own efforts. The word of God is simply stating that just as an athlete is rewarded for his/her performance, so the faithful believer will be crowned when Jesus Christ returns (1 Cor. 9:24-27). The crown (wreath) of the Olympic Games will fade away, but the crown Christ gives will never fade. The significant thing is that you reach the goal that Christ has set for you. This should be your pursuit in the New Year, which is just around the corner. This should be your pursuit in the Christian life.

Kennedy Adarkwa
Kennedy Adarkwa, © 2019

This author has authored 258 publications on Modern Ghana.
Author column: KennedyAdarkwa

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