Crossing the Finish Line
If our life with God is described as a race, it’s natural to assume we’ll one day cross the finish line. Life begins when you believe in Jesus as your Savior. Although heaven is then guaranteed, it really does matter how you live. Living for God means you’re pleasing Him. And it means you’re likely to be rewarded at the judgment seat of Christ. Live well and you can anticipate His “well done” when you stand before Him.
Even if you don’t think of yourself as a runner, you are. You are running the race of your life. And so this is the final part in our series called Running To Win. And the truth of the matter is, when we consider life, i’s pretty sobering to think about the life that we’re living, and God often compares that to running a race. In fact, when the New Testament writers go to use that analogy or that metaphor, they mean by that ‘the life that a believer lives’. That is what is being talked about. Whenever we see ‘race’ or ‘run’ in the scriptures, it is always in the context of a believer running his or her race or life for God.
So today, I’m gonna talk to you about a lot of stuff. This is really good. So the race of your life, in fact, is your life with God. And we all know, at least around here, that heaven is guaranteed to you the moment you believe Jesus for it.
Why then should it matter how we live? Well, that matters in big ways. Because not only are we guaranteed heaven by simply believing Jesus for it, but when we live life well, we honor God. God gets glorified. And we realize that by living well, we will stand and give an account of our lives to God and hear him say, “You did it! Way to go! Well done!”
So I want to talk to you today about crossing the finish line in your race. What happens
when your race is done? So I think its part of human nature to be fascinated by what happens to us when we die. Have you ever had these thoughts, where you just kind of wonder what in the world we know? We read about it and all that. You know, in fact, in recent years we saw this fascination played out in books about near death experiences…books like 90 Minutes In Heaven and 23 Minutes in Hell. Like these books and others like them, I think field of curiosity about the afterlife. And when I saw titles like this, I think we can learn one thing from this…that if you die and you want to write about your experience, you better be wearing a watch, because all of these titles tell how long they’ve been gone. OK? (Laughter) But, it creates this idea that after
we die something happens to us, and there’s a fascination associated with that. What will it be like when we pass from this life into the next existence? And what is the relationship of how we live now to the eternity that we experience?
So, for the believer in Jesus, your eternal destiny is not determined by the way you live. I feel like I need to say that again, because there’s a lot of confusion on this. Your eternal destiny is not determined by the way you live. Your eternal destiny is fixed that moment you believe in Jesus for your Salvation. And in that instant, there is this instantaneous unconditional promise from God, an unconditional promise from God. A promise received the moment you believe Jesus for it. Jesus said it this way, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” Right now you got it. The moment you believed Jesus for it, you have present tense everlasting life.
However, is it possible to change the quality of our eternity by the way that we live now? Even though as a believer in Jesus, you are guaranteed heaven, you’re headed there, you’re assured of that, it’s a wonderful beautiful gift, is it possible to change that experience of eternity by the way that you live now? Can you affect the quality of your eternal experience? I want to unpack that for you a little bit today, as we talk about such an important subject.
Many of us I think remember the movie Gladiator? Russell Crowe played in that movie.
He played the character Maximus. And in that movie, he utters these words, “What we do in life echoes in eternity”. ‘What we do in life echoes in eternity’. Now that phrase was borrowed in part from Marcus Aurelius who was a Roman emperor and a Roman philosopher. But I want to suggest when properly understood, ‘what we do in life echoes in eternity’, that phrase is thoroughly biblical. In fact, it reminds us that the way that we live now does echo in eternity. Something is affected eternally by the way that we live now. So this idea I think is also found in what I’ve been calling our primary race running passage in the Bible in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. This is sort of been our foundational passage. I’ve unpacked all of the verses the previous two weekends, but I want to just land here and let you hear it again. OK? So I’m reading from the New King James version. Translations are very similar on this, but you follow along in the Bible
that you have there –
24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run
in such a way that you may obtain it (or win it).
25 And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate (which means self controlled)
in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an
26 Therefore I run, thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.
27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to
others, I myself should become disqualified.
Now again, we’ve unpacked these verses in the weeks that we’ve had together in this series, but let me remind you that Paul never doubted that he was saved and that he was headed to heaven. His priority in life, however, was to stay the course, was to run his race, that race given to him by God, in a way that would honor God and bring glory and pleasure to Him. To faithfully live for God. And then and only then, could he expect to win the ‘prize’. And we defined that last week. The word means an extra award for exceptional performance for the Christ follower. So we’ve discovered and concluded that when he talks about ‘the prize’ we’re not talking about heaven. We’re talking about an extra award for exceptional performance. Now God wants us to order our
lives in such a way that when we pursue Him, we do so with disciplined effort empowered by the Holy Spirit. That’s your race as a believer. The race that we’re running is run one where we pursue Jesus with everything that we have. We are, through disciplined effort and empowered by His Holy Spirit, running our race living our lives in a way to honor God. I’ll say it this way, no one grows passively. You can’t just sit around and expect to grow. So, without a prioritized attention to God, it’s likely that the believer will stand before Jesus ashamed and not confident.
And we explored that last week. I won’t spend a lot of time on that. So, Paul now is in his season of life where he has ministered. He has laid it all on the line for Jesus. He runs his race well, and he is about to cross the finish line. And he will acknowledge to young Timothy, his son in the faith, that he’ss about to die. His end is coming
soon, and that he’s about to be executed. Here’s how he says it in 2 Timothy 6 –
6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at
‘For I am already being poured out as a dring offering’. Its a beautiful picture. My life is an offering to God. I’m about to be poured out as a drink offering. And he says ‘and my time of departure is at hand’. It doesn’t mean he’s about to catch a plane or a bus, he means he’s about to die. ‘My time of departure is at hand.’ I’m leaving this earth and I'm going to be with God. I finished, you know, what God is giving me to do. And so we find the very next verse the words are very clear, 2 Timothy 4:7-8. You can follow along, if you have a Bible –
7 I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.
8 Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the
righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only, but also to all
who have loved His appearing.
‘I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.’ Now we could land there, camp on that single verse, man, there’s a sermon right there. It's beautiful. I would suggest are there no greater words that we could say when we get toward the end of our lives of ourselves…. ‘I fought the good fight. I finished the race. I’ve kept the faith. I did it.’ Paul had this sense that he ran in a way where God was honored. He's coming to the end of his life, about to give up his life, an offering poured out, give up his life for the cause of Christ, and now he says ‘I did it’.
He says in the next verse ‘Finally there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness,
which the Lord the righteous Judge will give to me on that Day’, capital D, that day when he stands before Jesus. This is an illusion to the judgment seat of Christ. And not to me only, but to all those who have love His appearing. So, the idea of finishing a race might actually sound familiar to you…that whole idea of finishing. Jesus himself said, in his high priestly prayer, John 17, when he was talking to his father, he said ‘Father I glorified you by the way that I live and I have finished, I finished, what you’ve given me to do.’ You’ll remember later, Jesus hangs on the cross prior to his death. The last words he utters hanging from the cross, “It is finished”. I did it. I completed what you gave me to do.
I think it’s entirely possible that you have a race that you’re running if you’re a believer in Jesus, and God expects you to finish it. And I think it’s possible for each of us to have an idea sometime when we get toward the end of our lives, if God grants us old age, that we can have this idea that ‘Yep, I did it’. It’s not that elusive. We can actually live with purpose. We can run our race well. We can get to the end of our lives and go ‘I finished. I did what God wanted me to do.’ So, you’re expected to live the life God wants you to live. And you’re expected to become the person that God wants you to be. And when your race is over, you will stand and give an account of your life to Him. We talked about the judgment seat of Christ a little bit last week.
There’s another primary passage, Romans 14, a couple of verses there. Here’s what Paul writes ‘For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ’. Now he’s writing to believers, and he says believers were all going to stand before the judgment seat of Christ. How come? So that each of us shall give an account of himself to God.
We distinguished last week that there is a difference between the great white throne
judgement and the judgment seat of Christ. The great white throne judgement, still spoken about in Revelation, is where unbelievers appear before God to have their lives evaluated. Judgment seat of Christ is where believers appear to have their lives evaluated. Neither one of those judgments is to determine whether or not you go to heaven or hell. That is determined the moment you believe in Jesus. Or that is determined for the unbeliever the moment you have rejected Christ all your life and you die apart from Jesus Christ. So, there is a difference we’re talking here, when we’re describing this race that we’re running about a believer standing before Jesus to have his or her life evaluated. So John records the words of Jesus in the last chapter of
the Bible, Revelation chapter 22. And he says, Jesus speaking, “And behold I am coming
quickly and my reward is with Me to give to everyone according to his work.” Did you realize that whether or not youf’re an unbeliever standing before the judgment seat of Christ or whether you’re a, I’m sorry, an unbeliever standing before the great white throne judgment or a believer
standing before the judgment seat of Christ, no matter who you are, where you are, what judgment you’re standing in front of, you will be judged according to your works. Not to determine where you end up in your eternal destiny, but you have your lives your life evaluated.
Now when we think about this gift of Salvation it is indeed a gift, but unlike a gift, a
reward is earned. A gift is free. A reward is earned. So Paul uses a building metaphor to inform us about the judgment seat of Christ. And the passage is long, so I want to invited to turn there in your Bible as I walked through it. This is 1 Corinthians, Chapter 3 and we have this sort of sneak peek into what it must be like to stand before Jesus and have our lives evaluated. Again, the picture or the metaphor that he’s using is a construction metaphor. He’s talking about building.
And here’s what he says, I want to go through it with you, 1 Corinthians 3:10-11:
10 According to the grace of God, which was given to me as a wise master builder, I have
laid the foundation and another builds on it. But let each one take heed or be
careful how he builds on it.
11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid which is Jesus Christ.”
So we start with the reality he’s writing to believers that the foundation on which you build your life is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the foundation in this building metaphor. He goes on to say:
12 Now if anyone bills on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay,
Now if this is beginning to sound a little bit like the kids story The 3 Little Pigs, the similarities
are not lost. Because both that account and this account are about the structural integrity of building materials. And so he gives us a list of potential building materials on which we construct on the foundation of Jesus our lives. Here’s what he says, he says, hey you can build like you want to. You choose your building materials. You can build with gold, silver, precious stones, those things that are worth something, meaning the valuable life you invest. Or you can waste your life and build with wood, hay, and straw. But, very next verse –
13 Each one’s work will become clear; the day (capital D, there it is again that moment of appearing before Jesus) will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and fire
will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.
Now this is interesting. I find we are so conditioned, religiously, that when we see fire in a Bible verse we immediately think Hell. This has nothing to do with Hell. The fire being discussed in this passage is all about testing. It’s a fire of revealing what has been built. And so he says OK, you’ve got a choice. Here’s the foundation. You can choose to build on it, you know, with gold, silver, precious stones. Or you can choose to not build on it with adequate materials and use wood, hay, or straw. And he says, there’s a day coming when we stand before God to give an account of our lives, that our building will be evaluated. And it will be tested by fire. This is the picture here.
14 If anyone's work, which is built on it, endures, he will receive a reward.
Again, we're talking about believers. We’re talking about believers who’ve built on the
foundation. So if, to borrow the other metaphor, if we’ve run our race well, if we've built well, if
that endures, it that stands the accounting when we stand before Jesus, what does it say? We will
But what if the believer uses shabby building materials? What if the believer doesn't run
his or her race well? What if a believer wastes his or her life and builds in an inadequate way on
the foundation of Jesus, in this case, wood hay and straw? If anyone's work is burned up, those
things won't stand. They won't stand the evaluation, because they were inadequate building
materials. And if anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss. What kind of loss? Well, in this
context, loss of reward. There's nothing in this verse that says ‘believer you don't have to worry.’
That OK you've laid a foundation here. Let's say you've wasted your life and you appear before
God. All that's consumed you wasted on the foundation of Jesus. It's not like God says ‘Get out’,
because notice the last part of this passage in verse 15. Let's say, let's say your life is wasted.
Let's say you've built inadequately on the foundation of Jesus.
15 …..he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.’
This is an amazing promise of the eternal security of the believer, but unfortunately, a wasted
life. Let me summarize this passage with a simple sentence: As a believer you will be rewarded
or lose reward based on how you lived. That's the simple truth, a simple message, and the idea
behind the judgment seat of Christ. Your Salvation is never in jeopardy, once you believe in
Jesus, but your reward is in jeopardy. You may or may not be rewarded when you stand before
Jesus. This is why John in his 2nd epistle says ‘look to yourselves that you do not lose the things
we work for, but that you may receive a full reward.’ Pay attention to yourself he's saying. Or
Jesus, to the church in Philadelphia in the list of 7 churches, says “Hold fast what you have, that
no one may take your crown”. Or Colossians 2:18:
18 Let no one defraud you of your reward.
Back to our building analogy, don't build with shabby materials. Back to our race analogy, run
your race well. Run your race faithfully as a believer in Jesus.
So, God tells us about some very specific rewards. There are 4 crowns that are mentioned
in the New Testament. Now we've seen that word ‘crown’ surface over and over again in this
series. And will talk to you just very briefly again. This is a sermon in itself about the rewards of
the four crowns. OK? So here they are. And I'm counting on you to go back and to study this in
James 1:12 says that the crown of life will be given to believers who through their love
for the Lord withstand trials and temptations. (That’s a reward. There’s a crown
given for that)
1 Thessalonians 2:19 tells us that the crown of rejoicing will be given to believers who
helped lead other people to Jesus Christ.
I Peter 5:4 reminds us that the crown of glory will be given to believers who shepherd or
disciple other believers well.
2 Timonthy 4:7-8 tells that the crown of righteousness will be given to believers who
seek to live pure lives as they eagerly anticipate the appearing of Jesus Christ.
Now what's so cool about this is, if God is going to give us a reward, isn't it helpful to know how
you get the reward? Of course he tells us why these crowns are given. He tells us why we will be
rewarded for doing certain things and with what crown we will be rewarded. So it's very specific.
It's a beautiful picture. Now, without at the risk of getting too technical, but I feel like I need to
do this. What does that even mean ‘The crown of Life’? OK? And grammatically again, let me
suggest that the language is structured in the original I think on each of these, where it's
plausible, and I think the correct interpretation, to translate these this way: The crown, which is
life, the crown which is rejoicing, the crown which is glory, the crown which is righteousness, in
other words, a higher capacity to experience life, rejoicing, glory, righteousness for all eternity.
That's the reward. To experience something in eternity that you may not have had the
opportunity to experience had you not received these rewards. But, in addition to these 4 crowns
and it's pretty exciting to think about and even go ‘OK, well how am I doing’? Am I doing these
things that would position me to at least be considered to receive a crown for doing these certain
things? In addition to these 4 crowns, there's another reward, and it's incredible. It is the reward
of reigning with Christ. Now this is the part in the sermon where some of your scratching your
head and going ‘Never heard this before. OK, what are you talking about?’ A believer who lives
faithfully for Jesus, not only stands a chance to receive one or all of the four crowns mentioned
in the scriptures, but receives the reward of reigning with Jesus Christ. Here’s how Paul says in
2 Timothy 2 …‘If we endure, we shall also reign with him’. The enormity of this cannot be lost.
This is incredible. Now remember, this is going to make a lot more sense. Remember, that no
one will spend eternity in heaven. This is the part where half the people storm out ‘You hear
what he’s saying?’ It’s true, right? Because the Bible says the present heaven will be done away
with. We will occupy a brand new earth. OK? Now when you think about that, that's real, that's
tangible. That's like more real than this. And that new earth we're told consists of organization,
consists of government, consists of cities, consists of all of this kind of stuff. And so when we
consider faithfully living for Jesus, it means that Jesus shares rulership with those who
overcome. So words like reigning and inheritance and airship and overcoming, they all point to
our shared relationship with Jesus. The faithful endurance of the believer who overcomes will be
rewarded by the privilege of ruling with Christ. This is a major part of Jesus’ message to the
church of Thyatira, again back to the 7 churches list in Revelation. This is Revelation 2: 25-27
25 Behold fast what you have until I come.
26 And he who overcomes and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power
over the nations.
27 He shall rule with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like potter’s vessels’ –
as I also have received from My Father.
These are people. Because the faithful believer is rewarded with co-heirship with Christ. So this
conversation is usually about now, when I'm talking about this kind of stuff, half of you guys are
glazed over and the other half are going ‘I want to know more’, because it just seems like science
fiction. It seems like, wow, what are you talking about’? And just to put you at ease, I'm not
making this up. This is all right out of the book we carry around. OK? But this is about the time
where it just offends our sensibilities and the questions flow and I love it. And I've entertained
lots of great questions through the several weeks of this series, but we begin to ask questions like
this… ‘I don't really care about rewards, I'm just glad I'll be in heaven’. OK? or ‘Rewards!
What? That seems selfish or competitive.” or “Won't rewards create jealousy and envy? A
division of the haves and the have nots?” And each of these objections just reveals a lack of
understanding. It just confirms that we really don't understand what God is saying to us. And so I
want to, I want to help you understand, that I want to point you back to God's word. Because
rewards from Jesus bring honor to Jesus. So rather than being this kind of weird competitive
thing, Jesus is glorified when you live well enough to be rewarded. If Jesus said ‘Hey, I this is
important to Me’. We realize that. Right? If God is giving rewards for certain stuff, this is very
important to God and God gets glorified. Jesus gets lifted up. When we live like this, there will
be absolutely no competition, no jealousy, no envy in the presence of Christ. We're trying to
imagine eternity in our, you know, in our sin-laden bodies and minds right now. This is a perfect
existence where these kinds of things will be celebrated among us. Furthermore, Revelation 4
suggests that the crowns that we will receive will actually be cast at the feet of Jesus. That this is
just another way to worship Him. This is just another way to give Him honor. This is not a ‘hey
look at me’. This is another way for Christ to be glorified, for Jesus to be lifted up. Of course you
want to be rewarded. Of course you do, when you understand it, because rewards from Jesus
bring honor to Jesus.
When author Steven Covey released his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective
People, it quickly climbed to the bestseller list. My favorite of the list of 7 habits was habit #2:
Begin with the end in mind. And it has direct application for the Christ follower, because we
know how it ends. You and I have the ability to begin with the end in mind. We are to run our
race with the finish line in sight. We are to run our race remembering that we will stand before
Jesus and give an account of our lives, and we can prepare for that. This is what Jesus had in
mind when he said a verse that's familiar to probably the most of us in this room Matthew 6:20-
20 …lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven (like prepay it….like go ahead
and fill up the debit card right?) where neither moth nor rust destroys and where
thieves don't break in and steal.
21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be, also.
Your heart follows your treasure. How you doing with your prepayment? He tells us ‘lay it up,
lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven’. I like to think of it rewards this kind of like a
heavenly savings account. OK? And so when thinking about it that way, your investment can
grow with dividends or you can make costly withdrawals that forfeit your investment. Again,
we're talking about believers. Were talking about the life that we're living; the race that we're
running. We pay it forward; stock it up. We lay up treasures in heaven, a kind of divine savings
account. Keeping it at the end in mind can be actually a motivation to live well.
But don't miss this final, and I think profound, idea about rewards. You can change the
quality of your eternity by the way you live now. I've chosen these words deliberately. You can
change the quality, not the destination. I’m not talking about whether or not you go to heaven.
You can change the quality of your experience forever by the way that you live now. See there's
an idea that circulates among Christians. OK, when we go to heaven it will all just, you know,
kind of be the same and there will be no differences. And in some ways that's correct. In some
ways that's not correct. There will absolutely be differences. Number one, you don't cease to be
the person you are. But even in the experience of eternity there will be differences. Possessing
the reward of crowns changes the quality of your eternity: the crown which is life, the crown
which is rejoicing. Right? You get the idea. And co-reigning with Jesus absolutely changes the
quality of your eternity. These are all possibilities for those of us that are running this race. In
fact, the author to the book of Hebrews, in that great chapter Hebrews 11, the hall of faith we
might call it, says that those that identify with Christ, those that suffer for him, those that run the
race well, receive- here's a phrase, are you ready? – a better resurrection. A better resurrection,
because they have changed the quality of their eternity and affected their forever by their now.
You know, this is the part too where we all struggle and we go ‘Man, you know, are we just
gonna be looking around going, you know, feeling bad and jealous and envious?’ Again, none of
that's going to be in heaven. Are you're going to feel sad about this or that? Here's the way that I
like to say it: You will for all of eternity as a believer in Jesus, whether you have built well and
received a reward or whether you have built nothing and wasted your life, you will be with him
forever. And in that experience of forever, you will experience great fullness. Put another way,
your cup will be full, but there will be different sized cups. There will be different capacities in
eternity to change the quality of that eternity for those who have lived faithfully.
So, we've crossed the finish line in our series and we've talked about a lot. More than we
have time to digest. That's why I'm going to send you back, as diligent pursuers of Jesus, to try to
read and study and sort this out, running to win. One day you'll cross the finish line and your race
will be done. Run in such a way that you win.
(Prayer) God, I guess Lord I'm speechless, when I think about Your great gift through the
person of Jesus. It is an indescribable gift. And we thank You having started this race with Him,
You invite us to run well. You invite us to build well, knowing that one day we will stand before
You and give an account of our lives. And Father there's just really no excuse 'cause we can
begin with the end in mind. We know this day is coming. Would you help us, together with each
other, to be the kind of people, men, women, boys, and girls that love you wholeheartedly, that
live our lives in a way that reflects how great You really are, knowing that one day we will stand
before You. It's our prayer in our hearts desire that we would hear You say ‘Well done, way to
go’, and that we would receive from You rewards; rewards that indicate your favor toward us for
a job well done. Help us to be people right here in this church that are transformed by our pursuit
of the person of Jesus. And we pray all this in His name, Amen.
Your life is a race. What thoughts do you have about crossing the finish line at the end of your life?
We’ve looked at one primary passage in this series. Take a moment to ponder the primary race-running passage in the Bible: 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. How would you summarize the main points of this passage?
How do you reconcile the fact that a believer will not be judged for sins (John 5:24) but will give an account before Jesus at the judgment seat of Christ (Romans 14:10-12)? What do you anticipate this accounting before Jesus to be like for you?
Toward the end of his life, Paul anticipated crossing the finish line and being rewarded. Read 2 Timothy 4:6-8. Why was Paul being rewarded?
Is it possible for a believer to run poorly in the race of life? Notice the possibility of failure in Paul’s building analogy in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. How do these verses remind us that a believer may not persevere in good works yet still be saved?
The Bible describes four crowns given to the believer for certain kinds of faithfulness. Why is each of these crowns given? Crown of life (James 1:12), Crown of rejoicing (1 Thessalonians 2:19), Crown of glory (1 Peter 5:4), Crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
Your life with God is the race of your life. But as you run, it’s easy to get off course. Be alert to the things that hinder your running. There’s no guarantee you’ll run well. So, fix your eyes on Jesus and run for His approval. Stay on course and live to please...
You may not consider yourself a runner but you’re in a race. The race of your life. What would it look like for you to win this race? Running the race begins with finding the starting line. Life starts with Jesus. Then, life is run with Jesus. What might you need to...