Staying on Course

by Jan 12, 2020Running to Win, Sermon

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 God.



Good morning gang, how are we doing? It’s really good to see you. I’m glad we could all be together. Sorry about the Ravens… That was tough. I went to bed a little after half-time, so it didn’t feel good to me.

We are at the mid-way point in a series called, “Running to Win.” We’re talking about how challenging it is to run the race of faith. I love this. You need to know- in case you don’t already- that no matter where you are on your spiritual spectrum, I am so honored to be able, week after week, to open God’s word, to first study it and internalize it myself- I take that very seriously- and then communicate things from God’s word. I just am so privileged to be able to do that, this is a dream job -at least this portion of my job- to be able to communicate just how great God is, so thanks!

Today, there’s a chance that some of you will hear things you’ve never heard before. The novelty of that is not what we’re shooting for. We’re not just shooting for, “Oh, that was a great sermon because I heard stuff I’ve never heard before.” That’s not the goal. The goal is to practice what we hear and to put into practice those things that come from God’s word. But we’re talking about something so essentially important that is often neglected. Hopefully we all have ears to hear. That’s the way Jesus put it and I hope that we can do that together.

We’re talking about a race. We’re talking about running that race, winning that race. Whenever the New Testament writers talk about running a race, it’s always in the context of a believer living his or her life for God. It’s always about the Christian life. Running the race is another way to talk about living for God once you have found Jesus as your savior. The race of your life is your life with God and this race starts the moment you believe Jesus for eternal life. That’s when your race begins- out of the blocks at the starting line. Life with God is not just about going to heaven. Sometimes we church people get accused of thinking that’s all this is about. Now, heaven is very important, don’t misunderstand me whatsoever. But it’s way bigger than just getting out of hell and into heaven. The moment we believe in Jesus, not only are we assured of heaven, but our race begins and it’s very important how we live. Because we can honor God by the way that we live. It’s not just fire insurance. It’s not just waiting for that day when we can go to heaven and be with him. Your race is about honoring God by the way that you live and it’s about anticipating that day when you will give an account of your life to God.

Today, I want to talk to you about staying on course. What does it mean having found the finish line and to now run the race and stay on course as you live your life for God? Every week in this series, we’re going to take a look at and deep dive into various passages of Scripture, but as I said last week, the primary race-running passage in the Bible, I believe, is found in 1st Corinthians 9 and so that forms the basis for this entire series. I want to return to that and refresh your memory on that. We’re going to work through some of that passage here today.

Open your Bible, whether it’s an electronic Bible, or a Bible with pages, and follow along. If you need a Bible, we’re happy to give you one. Just stop by the Welcome Desk.

1st Corinthians 9:24 begins like this… but first the context: we’re told that Paul is writing with the idea of the Isthmian Games, which would have been held just outside the city of Corinth. Think like Ancient Olympics. People would have been familiar with the verbiage he’s about to use in these few verses. Here how he writes:
“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. Run to win, he’s saying.] 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 imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” 1st Corinthians 9:24-27 NKJV

Now, an amazing set of just four verses in this passage, again the race-running passage in the Bible. There’s so much here. This is why this is the foundational passage for this series. These verses are filled with vivid reminders about the race of your life, aren’t they? Words like run, race, prize, win, compete, perishable crown, imperishable crown. The word discipline, and finally, the word disqualified. As we look through these verses, we discover some amazing things about the race of our lives. Let’s turn to the very first verse in this section. Verse 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.” 1st Corinthians 9:24 NKJV

There are a couple words in this verse that I want to call to your attention to. The word “prize” and the word “win.” These are significant words in this passage and notice how as you’re hanging on to those words, prize and win, the similarities that Paul uses when he writes to the Philippians. You can look at Philippians 3. This is an amazing parallel passage. Very similar in content to our major passage in this series. Philippians 3:13:

“Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14 NKJV

Sounds pretty similar, doesn’t it? There’s a reason for that. It’s because it is. It’s very similar to what Paul is communicating in the passage we’ve looked at in 1st Corinthians 9.

“Brothers, I do not count myself to have apprehended.” I’ve highlight two words in here in particular. Any idea what the word “apprehended” means? It’s fantastic in fact because if we were to combine these two passages, the parallel passage 1st Corthinthians 9 and this verse in Philippians 3, we would discover that the word “apprehend” is the exact same Greek word used for “win” or “to obtain it.” Paul is saying, “I do not count myself to have won it yet, to have apprehended it yet. I haven’t obtained it yet.” “But one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind…” Some of us would love to do that, and we can. We can push aside those things that are behind and we can reach forward to those things that are ahead. Paul says, “I press towards the goal for the prize…”

That word prize is used right here and of course used in our major passage for this series in 1st Corinthians 9. It’s the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Now don’t miss this as you look at these verses. Notice the intention in Paul’s words. He’s deliberate. He’s focused. He’s intent. “But one thing I do,” he says. “forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead.” And he’s pressing toward a prize. Let’s talk about that for a minute. We covered it briefly last week. What is this prize? The Greek word is brabeion, and according to Greek lexicons, it simply means an award for exceptional performance. An award of victory. A reward for endurance. That’s what the word means. Think about this. It’s something that you get for doing well. It’s something that you get for, as this passage says, exceptional performance. So we know then, that the prize that Paul is describing here is not heaven.

Why? Because you don’t get to heaven because of exceptional performance. You get to heaven by believing Jesus, by receiving a free gift offered to you. Not by human behavior. Not by cleaning up your life or promising to do anything. Yet this prize being described here is for exceptional performance. It’s given to the victorious. So the prize is an extra award for exceptional performance as a Christ-follower. It’s a reward for faithfully enduring, no matter how difficult the circumstances. It is an eternal prize for winning.

I realize as well that an eternal prize distinct from heaven may be the most important Biblical truth you’ve never heard of. I mean that kind of tongue-in-cheek, but some of the things that we experience here today by way of opening God’s word may be new to some of us. For others of us, we’ve heard about it but it’s still a little fuzzy and I hope to bring all of that into crystal clear focus for us today. But this idea of an eternal prize that’s not heaven-not the same thing-but it’s an eternal prize, it’s distinct from heaven, and it might be something that you’re not familiar with. We’re not talking here about heaven and hell. That’s not the context of this discussion.

We’re talking about the Christian who arrives in heaven and is required by God to give an account of the life that he or she lived and who will be rewarded accordingly. I think one of the best words to describe the Christian life, or we might say it for the purposes of our series, to describe the race that we’re running- one of the best words to describe that race is the word investment. Once you start off the finish line and you begin to run your race or live the Christian life, it really is all about how you’re doing with investing your life. Everything that God has given you- your gifts, your talents, your resources, all of that. Your purpose, your direction, why are you alive? Why are you on this planet? All of that goes into this whole idea of investment. And there are lots of passages in the Bible that allude to this whole idea, like the parable of the talents. You’re given something, expected to invest that and yield a profit or return on that.

It’s a beautiful picture. Let’s entertain a couple of questions related to that, okay? How are you investing your life for God? What are you doing with what God has given to you? Let’s press it further. How do you prioritize Jesus in your life? What’s that look like? How are you loving people? How do you make decisions and how do these decisions reflect your love reflect your love for God? And finally, how are you planning for your face-to-face encounter with Jesus? What are you doing now to plan for that?

Paul’s plan was simple and straightforward. He made Jesus his single priority. His top goal was to live for God. This is how he said it in his second letter to the church at Corinth, chapter 5. He summarized it like this, and it’s great encouragement for you and me: “We make it our goal to please God.” That’s it! We make it our goal to please God. He’s writing to believers, so I’m speaking to those of you that are Christians here. We make it our goal to please God.

So when you wake up every day, you start that day by saying, “God today how can I please you? How can I please you by the things that I do, the things that I say, the things that I think, the attitudes that are inside of me. How can I please you God?” This is not the same as getting God to love you. You know why? You don’t have to get God to love you. He loves you! Too bad! He loves you. You don’t have to do anything to get God to love you.

This is a different discussion. We’re talking now about running the race. Having become a Christian, running this race and running in such a way that you are pleasing God. And then he tells us why this is important. He says, so we make it our aim, or our goal our priority, to please God. How come? Look at the very next verse-

“For” [which can also be translated “because”] “we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 5:10

Believer, you are running well because your goal is to please God because one day you will stand and give an account of your life. You will appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to the things he has done whether good or bad. Now again back to our original context for the writing of 1st Corinthians. In the athletic games of Paul’s day, the winner of the race would ascend a platform known as the bema. Greek word, bema. B-E-M-A. The bema. And this winner of the race would ascend this platform and there, by the judge of the race, be awarded a laurel wreath. Just, you know, a bunch of leaves. Stuck on his head. It was a symbol of victory. It’s a beautiful thing. Again, we’re working off a literal running metaphor that God is using supernaturally in the inspiration of his Holy Spirit to show us this is like the Christian life. Here’s running over here – this is like the Christian life. And in the same sense that a winner of a race ascends a platform, receives a wreath for winning, so too, we will ascend the platform, we will stand before the judge Jesus, I’m talking about Christians now, and we will have our lives evaluated. How did we run? What kind of race did we run? And if we ran well, we will be awarded. If we didn’t, we will not be rewarded.

Now this is a very important distinction that we need to make related to this whole idea of judgement, because there are lots of different judgements talked about. Most of us have this idea, we were raised with kind of this idea that there’s all of humanity and one day all of humanity will appear before God and will be judged and God will look at us and he will go “okay, you’re in because you did a lot of good things, and you’re out because you didn’t do enough good things, and you’re in and you’re out.” That kind of thing. You know that’s not found in the Bible anywhere. But it’s a common human idea of how the whole thing works.

The Bible distinguishes between the great white throne of judgement and the judgement seat of Christ. The great white throne of judgement is that place where unbelievers appear. By the way, your decision to embrace or reject Christ is what points you to your eternal destiny. Not an evaluation of your life to see if you’re good enough to go to heaven. That’s not found anywhere in the Bible. So the judgement seat of Christ is not to determine whether you get into heaven or not. The judgment seat of Christ is for believers who stand before Jesus to have our lives evaluated. How did we run? How did we do? That’s what Paul is describing in these verses.

As a young adult, I was probably 18, 19 years old. I’d been a Christian for about five years. And I went to a Bible conference and for the very first time, heard about the judgement seat of Christ. I had never heard about it. Maybe I read something, but never heard much about it. I had several Christian friends who didn’t attend that conference, but when I got back home I said to my friends, “I never heard this before. Do you know about this? This is about the Christian standing before Jesus and having our lives evaluated. Not to see whether or not we go to heaven. We’re going to heaven.” And I remember my best friend at the time, he was a believer said, “I just don’t think that’s right. I don’t know about that.” And it started in me this lifelong quest to figure out why is that so fuzzy for so many people. Because it is right. It’s right here. God communicates this over and over again and yet I find that in so many churches across the world, the subject of the judgement seat of Christ is remarkably absent in preaching. Because there’s generally a collapsing of the great white throne of judgement and the judgement seat of Christ and they get all gnarled into one judgment when they’re not. They are distinct judgements. We have different audiences at each of these judgements.

So, anticipating this imperishable crown or reward, Paul told us about his focus. Let’s go back to our primary large section of scripture and pick up where we left off last week. 1st Corinthians 9:26:

“Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.” 1 Corinthians 9:26 NKJV

Now this is the first time, when he’s talking about fighting and beating the air, that he inserts the analogy of boxing, which would have been one of the games outside of Corinth there. Basically, he’s saying, you’re not going to win a fight shadow-boxing. Those punches have to land, that’s what he’s saying. But the primary context here is all about running. That’s why he says, “therefore I run thus:” This is how I’m running. Not with uncertainty. In other words, “I’m not running aimlessly,” he says. “I am purposed, I am deliberate. I know the course that I’m on and that’s the course that I’m running. Everything within me is running in that direction.” Paul stays on course, not running aimlessly.

There’s a list of priorities of what it might mean to stay on course. It could actually be long, but I want to offer by way of suggestion, just by way of practical application, what some of these things might be. What does it mean for you as a believer in Jesus, to stay on course?

It certainly means that we have the incredible resource of God’s word. God’s word is living and active and powerful and it transforms us. We have the ability to pray, to talk to God, and it’s not just bringing a grocery list to God, it is communion and communication with God. We have the ability to spend time with God, to just be quiet and spend time with God. We can embrace disciplines like solitude and silence, and secret acts of selflessness and generosity. These are all powerful things.

We can also stay on course by cultivating the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. And we can keep track of God’s work in our lives by writing stuff down. Listen, I don’t know what your practices are, but I would be lost if I didn’t keep track by writing down what God is teaching me or what he’s doing in my life. You know why? Because he moves in seasons, doesn’t he? I’m trying to jot stuff down and go, okay why is this happening? What is going on? What am I feeling as this is happening? I think it’s extremely important.

In addition to that, we stay on course by finding the redemptive story in the hardships of our lives. If I could go off on this one, I would, because this is so vital, and so neglected. Christians are taken by surprise that life would be hard. Even a Christian life. But I’ve come to embrace the reality that I believe is true – it’s impossible to grow spiritually apart from pain and hardship. Just write it in the job description. As I look back over my last five or six years, this has been the overwhelming banner in my life, the challenges, the difficulty, that I’ve been able with God’s help to find the redemptive story.

You know how when those bad things happen, when you’re in the middle of them and you’re like, “Oh I wish this had never happened, I wish I could do away with this, I wish I didn’t…” And then when you get on the other side of it, with God’s perspective you look back and go “I wouldn’t trade that for anything.” We rarely say it when we’re in the middle of it, but with the redemptive perspective, we’re able to look back and go, “God, you really were with me and you really are able to use that stuff I wish I wasn’t going through and never happened to me, I wish that.”

In addition, we stay on the course by discovering our purpose in life. And finally, by anticipating our face-to-face encounter with Jesus Christ.

Paul’s priority of faithfulness is seen in the very last verse of our race-running passage here. Notice what he says. Verse 27”

“But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” 1 Corinthians 9:27 NKJV

I like to describe it like this: God wants us to order our lives in such a way that we pursue him with disciplined effort and at the same time being empowered by his Holy Spirit. That’s the Christian life. That we order our lives in such a way that we pursue God with disciplined effort at the same time being empowered by his Holy Spirit. That’s the race and that’s how we run the race. That’s what he’s talking about, disciplining his body and bringing it into subjection. He’s doing his part as God, through his Holy Spirit, infuses the power for him to do that.

But notice the whole idea, especially as we think about this, it’s so important that we prioritize that, because without prioritized attention to God, it’s likely that we’ll stand before him empty-handed. Think about it this way: no one ever grows passively. We have to engage with God. If we’re not engaging with God, if we’re not through that disciplined effort in the power of his Holy Spirit, moving toward God, there’s a good chance that when we cross the finish line and stand before God, we’ll be ashamed and not confident.

We’re starting to creep into some content that some of you are going, “whoa, wait a minute.” Because we think of heaven as bliss, we think of heaven as everything falls away, we think we’re all the same, those kinds of things. Where do we get all this stuff from? The Bible teaches us that we can actually, if we have not run a race well, we can actually, as a Christian, stand before Jesus, you’re going to heaven, all that, and we can have a sense of shame. The Bible says he’ll wipe away every tear. Are there tears in heaven? And the Bible says in 1st John 2:28, let’s abide in him, Christian, so that when he appears and we stand face-to-face with Jesus we’ll have confidence and not be ashamed.

It’s entirely possible if we waste our lives, and we do not stay on course, that we’ll stand before Jesus completely loved by him, in heaven forever, but in that initial encounter, we will have a sense of shame. It might go something like this: “I am so sorry, Lord Jesus. I am so sorry for the life that I lived.” Paul is recognizing in himself that there is this possibility of him being disqualified. What does that even mean? Paul never doubted that he was saved and that he was headed to heaven, did he? This is the guy that under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote books like Romans. We have peace with God by believing in Jesus. That was never his concern. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. But he did acknowledge that he might not win the prize. He could be disqualified from receiving the prize if he didn’t diligently live for God. If he didn’t, as a Christian, headed to heaven, now invest his life, live for God in such a way that he would win the prize. One translation renders verse 27 like this:

“Instead I subdue my body and make it my slave, so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified.” 1 Corinthians 9:27 NET

Some look at this verse and go, “See there it is. Paul was afraid he was going to lose his salvation.” That could not be farther from the truth! Here’s the man who understood that salvation is secure the moment you get it from Jesus. So what is he describing there? The word disqualified literally means, “disapproved.” It’s the Greek word “adokimos”. Disapproved. So it shouldn’t surprise us at what that is talking about is not losing your salvation, not ceasing to be a Christian, not getting kicked out of heaven. It just means that you ran your race in such a way where you didn’t do a good job. Now you stand disapproved before Jesus at the judgement seat of Christ.

Consequently, there’s another word that means “approved” and it’s “dokimos.” You see the little letter “a” there, a lot like in English, negates. For example, the word “atheist.” A-thiest, a non-theist. Same thing here. A-dokimos – non-approved, versus approved. Paul said it this way with the idea of approval, in 2nd Timothy 2:15. He says to the believer,

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed.” There it is again. “Rightly handling the word of truth.” In other words: Run. Your. Race. Well. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God. One who correctly handles God’s truth. So a believer who doesn’t diligently live for God will stand disapproved before him. This is not super sophisticated and complicated. Those of us that are parents know the reality of this. You know how you can love your child, like die for this child. You can love your child but you can be disapproving of or approving of your child. Right? Because one is a relational component of being connected and love is fierce and all that. The other is a behavioral component, right? We know this.

I remember years ago our oldest son was probably five or six years old and we were in a painting project. I bought several gallons of paint. We were painting our living room and he wanted to help. So, a brand new can of paint, he picks it up by those little wiry handles and he’s doing this kind of thing trying to carry it and the paint slipped out of his hand and it just hit perfectly, or imperfectly, right on the corner of that paint bucket. That top blew off of that thing like a cannon and it was like blah! We’re looking at our living room floor. All over the carpet. It’s like, “did that just happen?” We had to call the emergency carpet cleaning guy and all that stuff. Now at that point, I loved my son, what I was not approving of him. Of course we understand the difference. The same is true as children of God. It’s never about God’s love for us, it’s about whether or not he is approving or disapproving of us.

This is such a powerful topic, often neglected. When I speak on this topic, I have for years, obviously here at our church, and I’ve spoken at other venues in the United States and overseas, to groups of pastors. Typically, when I talk about the fact that a Christian could stand before Jesus and experience his disapproval, there’s like this cloud of condemnation that begins to descend over the crowd. Some of you are feeling this right now. You’re just thinking, “whoa, why even try, you know?” And I just want to encourage you in a couple things. Number one, I want to encourage you, not discourage you. That’s my goal. I want to encourage you so that you will want to run this race faithfully. And at the same time, I don’t apologize for what’s here in God’s word, I can’t do that. My job is to communicate as faithfully as possible what’s in the scriptures. This is in the scriptures. One of the ways we have to approach this is, I would rather you to feel conviction now than standing before Jesus. You can course-correct now. So I would rather for us- and I get it, I have the same feelings when I think “Oh, Lord, I am going to stand before you and give an account of my life,”- because not only is it things we have done and haven’t done, it’s why we’ve done those things. Our motives will be brought into play. But the last things I want to do is bring some sort of discouragement. I want to encourage us and if you’re going, “oh no, I’m sunk,” course-correct now! Run in such a way that you will receive the approval from Jesus.
Paul realized that what happened to the Galatian believers and to so many other believers, could also happen to him. And it can happen to us. Our race can be hindered. As a believer, your race can be hindered. He said it this way in Galatians 5:7: “You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?” In other words, these Galatian believers had embraced the truth of the Gospel, by faith alone in Christ alone, but now these Judaizers, people were coming in among them and saying, “No, no,no you can’t be saved that way, you have to add this, you have to add this work you have to add this work.” They were adding all these things, and Paul says to them, “Guys you started so well. You were running well and then somebody hindered you.”

Literally, in classical Greek the word meant, cut in on you. Is that true of you, maybe? Like you started well? Are the glory days for you back when you “became a Christian”? Like you started well, there was excitement, you were telling everybody about it, you were reading your Bible and praying and now it’s like, eh… you ran well, but who hindered you? Who cut in on you? What happened? Because the same can be true for all of us. What hinders you in your race? What hinders me in my race?

James says, we all stumble in many ways. Can we just get that one out of the way? I know, because so many of you come to a place like this and look around and go, that family is perfect. That guy’s got it all together. She seems really great. Can I just tell you: nobody’s got it all together. John tells us in his first epistle that we all sinned and anyone who says he hasn’t sinned is deceiving himself. We all stumble in many ways. Let’s just get that out of the way.

There are ways you and I can be hindered in our run as Christians. Let me offer a few, quickly. Here’s the first one: deception. We can be deceived and therefore we can run off course. Paul said it this way to the Galatian Christians, the same people he said “you were running so well, what happened?” He said to them, “who has bewitched you?” Which literally means in Galatians 3, “who has cast a spell on you?” We can be deceived, and here’s the tricky thing about deception: you don’t know when you’re deceived. You need other people and God’s word to speak into it.

Then there’s the whole idea of disobedience. You can be hindered through disobedience, or sin. The writer of Hebrews said it this way:

“Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Hebrews 12:1 NKJV

Sin is hurtful. Sometimes people ask me a question like this: “Can a Christian live a lifestyle of sin?” What a dumb question. Of course! Should a Christian live a lifestyle of sin? Absolutely not! But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that Christians aren’t capable of all kinds of things. So disobedience gets in the way and hinders us from running our race

Finally, as we think about things that hinder us in our race, how about discouragement? Discouragement, boy that’ll sideline you. Get this: John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, there he is the lamb that takes away the sins of the world, here’s he is- he is the Christ who’s coming – I’m the forerunner, there he is. He’s in prison later on, years later, and he sends a couple of Jesus’ disciples to ask Jesus the question, “Are you the one, or should we look for another?” He was so hindered, he was so discouraged, he was so sidetracked in his race that he was doubting who Jesus was. Wow. If he’s capable of that, aren’t you and I? Yes, we are.

Becoming a Christian doesn’t mean you’ll always live like one. You may not run well. God never promises that you will run your race faithfully to the end. God tells us to persevere in faithfulness, but he never guarantees we will. And that truth ought to motivate us out of complacency and out of passivity to run the race well. Here it goes: Stay on course, don’t run aimlessly don’t run with uncertainty.

Let me offer you just a couple of questions and then I’m going to land the plane here. Where are you on the racecourse now and how are you running? Where are you? Is it a straightaway, are you feeling like you’re running uphill, have you detoured? Are you off the track? Are you at the concession stand? Where are you? How are you running? How is your race going?

Next – fast-forward to that day of accounting before Jesus. Do you anticipate approval or disapproval? Again, we can fast forward. Some of you are going, “oh I don’t know Joe”, I get it. It’s a complicated question. But are you for the most part running your race as faithfully as you can, attentive to him? Do you anticipate he’s going to say, “way to go”? Or is he going to say, “oh oops, that one life I gave you, you kind of blew it, but welcome to heaven”? Here we are.

Around here we talk a lot about Christ-like influencer. It’s a great measuring stick. How do you know if you stand a chance of being approved by Jesus? Well, are you a Christ-like influencer? In other words, are these characteristics growing and expanding in your life? Do you surrender to God continually? A Christ-like influencer loves extravagantly, invests relationally, gives generously, engages with God daily. Does that characterize your life? If that’s characterizing your life, because I think those are Biblical to the core, you can have confidence that you’ll be approved as you stand before him.

How might you need to change your life? What do you need to tweak now, again– course-correct if you need to. There’s a lot here and my hope would be that you would return to some of these passages that we’ve talked about and I want to invite you back next week. I’m going to talk to you about what happens when you cross the finish line. What happens when you cross the finish line? And we’ll have a good time with that.

We thank you, Heavenly Father, for your invitation that’s free, freely given, based on the blood of Jesus. The gift of salvation and offered by faith alone, but having begun on the starting line, as a Christ-follower, our prayer for each of us is that you would help us to run our race well, faithfully. That we would be the kind of men and women and boys and girls who would bring you honor and glory by the way that we live, knowing that if we do that, we will be approved by you and hear you say, “well done. You did it. Well done, good and faithful servant.” As we fast-foward to the end, or the beginning of eternity with you, our prayer would be that that would be the case for us. We thank you in Jesus name, Amen.


Discussion Questions

Before we jump to the spiritual metaphor, let’s consider the running of a literal race. What’s required for a runner to run and win a race?

Take a moment to ponder the primary race-running passage in the Bible: 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. What are the keywords in this passage? What is the prize Paul talks about in these verses? For similar ideas, compare 2 Timothy 2:5 and Philippians 3:13-14.

Paul acknowledged that even he could become “disqualified.” The word means “disapproved.” Why might a Christian be disapproved by God (1 Corinthians 9:27, 2 Timothy 2:15, 1 John 2:28)?

Read Galatians 5:7. Consider the hinderances in your race with God. How can deception, disobedience, and discouragement hinder you as you run toward the prize?

Read 1 Timothy 4:8. What spiritual exercises help you experience victory in this life and the next? In what way can your temporal spiritual disciplines or habits affect your life in eternity later?

How is the believer’s concern about experiencing God’s disapproval different from a fear of hell (a fear no Christian ever has to experience)?

Further Reading

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...

The Race of Your Life

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...