The Race of Your Life

by Jan 5, 2020Running to Win, Sermon

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 change to ensure a steady pace in the right direction?


I’m so glad that we can be together here.  Big Happy New Year to you! This is fantastic Not only are we beginning a brand new year, but we’re beginning a new decade.  I don’t know what that does for you, but there’s something symbolic about that.  I would invite you, if you’ve not already taken the opportunity to look back at the previous 10 years, that’s a long time, and to invite God into that process with you ’cause I’m sure all of us experience some incredible joys and some really big challenges, haven’t we ?  But none of those experiences are wasted, and so when we invite God into that experience of looking back over these last 10 years, man, I just am convinced that He’s the kind of guy that wants to take those challenges and do redemptive stuff. He loves to do that, and so I hope you’ll take advantage of going through that short exercise.  Not only though, do we, at the turn of the decade, look back but we also have the ability to look forward, and I would encourage us to do that through the eyes of faith – to imagine what is it that God has in store for us.  He’s the only one that sees around corners.  We don’t have the ability to do that.  He knows the future before it happens, and so you and I, through the eyes of faith and say, “God would you just prepare me?  And help me as we move into the future today?

 Today I’m beginning a brand new series, and it really is all about running into the future.  It’s about discovering how to run or how to live in such a way where we win according to God’s perspective.  What does it mean to succeed like God wants us to succeed?  Now I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that you’re here for a couple of reasons.  You may have been dragged here- some kind of New Year’s resolution by your spouse, and if that’s you, I’m so sorry but we’re glad that you’re here.  But for the most part, I think every one of us is here because there’s at least a curiosity inside of us to want to know more, to want to grow closer to God I’m going to go out on a limb and say that, in fact, I think that most of us are here because we want to grow and change.  We realize there are deficits in our lives, and we realize that as we point ourselves toward God and as we connect with him that we can really change but we all have a long way to go, myself included.  So as we run into the future together, I really do believe that God can do great things in our lives, and he has all kinds of surprises for us.  So as we think about the theme of running, you may not consider yourself a runner but you are in a race.  You really are, and it’s the race of your life.  The race of your life, and I want to invite you to ask a question that we’ll, sort of, take apart here in this series.  What would it look like for you to win this race?  If the race is your life, what would it look like for you to come out a winner?  Now scan the pages of the Bible, and you’ll soon discover that God uses athletic imagery to communicate deep spiritual truths.  It’s just one of the metaphors and illustrations that he uses.  He uses that illustration of athletics over and over again. My apologies to the non-athletes …okay, I’m just trying to be faithful to preach the word here okay?   I’m just trying to tell you where it is.  In fact, I grew up loving athletics, loving the competition of athletic events and all of that, but I realize right now, in my mind I can still do all that stuff, you know?  Leap tall buildings in a single bound, but my body is slow to catch up.  I knew I was in trouble when a guy said to me not long ago, “Hey, Joe, you look like you used to be an athlete.  That’s what we call a stompliment, right? There’s a compliment buried in there, but it’s not good.  The truth is in my mind I can still do that stuff, but it’s really tough in reality so I want to begin today with one of several biblical references to athletics.  And then we’re going to really dive into a passage a little deeper.  Turn with me if you have a Bible with you to second Timothy Chapter 2 and Verse 5 and uh maybe you got a Bible with real pages or maybe you got it on your phone there.  Whatever way- it’s going to make a lot more sense to you if we can follow along together.  If you don’t have a Bible we’d love to give you one.  You can check with the welcome desk out there, and they put one in your hands.  Second Timothy Chapter 2 and Verse five.  Apostle Paul is writing to young Timothy, a pastor, kind of new to the experience, and here’s what he says in verse 5.  “And also, if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.”  Now, this verse is filled with all kinds of ideas about athletics with all kinds of extra things thrown in.  You notice the idea some of these words, by the way, are what make many people distrusting of church and religious things.  Like we’re talking about competing, okay, well I didn’t think we’re in a competition.  Like what’s that word all about?  You see the word crown there?  Many people when they think of church they think of like people wearing crowns or at least those big, those big hats, you know? Those big church hats.  You know I think I’m gonna get one for 2020.  How’s it gonna go, right?  Then the word rules as the very thing we wanted to avoid. I don’t wanna go close to rules. We’re going to parse some of this out today and in the weeks to come to try to figure out what are we talking about here when we’re describing this athletic analogy.  So the truth is when you look at athletics in the Bible, like a verse like this, or other references, we’re going to discover that in the Bible this whole idea of spiritual athletes in the Bible are often portrayed as runners.  That tends to be the go-to illustration, so not only is it athletics but so often it tends to be running.  So for example, the writer to the Hebrews says this.  He says “Run with endurance the race marked out for you.”  So there’s a sense in which you have a race.  It’s the race of your life, and he says run that race with endurance.  Have a focused idea in life.  Run that race with endurance and he even says, looking to Jesus in that passage, run your race with endurance.  This series is really about exploring what it means for us to run the race of our lives.

 I was thinking not long ago, about the Olympic runner years ago.  His name is Eric Little of “Chariots of Fire” fame.  Some of you have seen that movie, kind of old movie now, but he said this. He said, “I believe that God made me for a purpose,” he says.  Great admission there, and confirmation, and then he goes on to say, “But he also made me fast.  And when I run, I feel his, you know the line? Pleasure. I feel his pleasure.”  He was a Christian athletic, uh Olympian and he says, “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.”  Now I don’t have this for you, but when I run, I feel short of breath, okay?  There’s no pleasure in that for me because there are certain challenges associated with that whole thing.  In fact, when we quote, go out for a run, everything might not go as planned.  I came across the story in a newspaper, as one author knows some time ago.  A newspaper in Tacoma, WA carried the story of Tattoo, the Basset Hound.  Now that’s a challenging looking animal right there.  So Tattoo didn’t intend to go for an evening run, but when his owner shut the leash in the car door and took off for a drive, Tattoo had no choice.  A motorcycle officer named Terry Filbert noticed a passing vehicle with something appeared to be dragging behind it, and as he passed the vehicle he saw Tattoo.  Officer Filbert finally chased the car to a stop.  And Tattoo was rescued, but not before the dog had reached top speeds of about 20 to 30 miles an hour and rolled over several times.  All you saying “Aww,” he was unharmed, okay?  He was unharmed, but he’s not asked to go out for a run ever since then, okay? Obviously some of you have horror stories when you think about running because running is actually challenging.  But running the race of your life is the purpose of your life.  Running the race of life, your life, is the purpose of your life, and this is the imagery in the metaphor that God continues to show us in his word.  And so think about your race like this, and I’m going to just highlight a couple of things as we walk through this together.  But number one, first, your race begins at the starting line, your race begins at the starting line.  It goes without saying, right? But this is where your race begins. 

So some years ago, our older son, Ben, ran the Boston Marathon, and it was just an incredible event.  So the rest of our family we all show up.  We’re all there together to cheer him on, and I have never seen so many healthy people in one place in my life, right?  No offense to you guys.  Man, there were some people in incredible shape at this event, and so you know cheering him on across the finish line and all that, and I was reminded of that event several decades earlier where a woman named Rosie Ruiz crossed the finish line in first place for the women’s division in record time.  Just an amazing thing.  In fact, she’s being interviewed, having crossed the finish line, by television reporters, and she already has the green Laurel wreath on her head.  And they’re asking her questions about her training, and she says “I’ve only run one other marathon.”  It was just this staggering, like how in the world it is possible?  So officials began to do a little research and they discover that well she didn’t really check in at this point, and we didn’t see her at this checkpoint, and we didn’t see her at this checkpoint in the race, and we didn’t see her at this checkpoint in the race.  And it turns out about a mile from the finish line Rosie jumped in the race.  She cheated.  She didn’t run according to the rules as the Timothy passage was indicating.  Now whenever a New Testament writer talks about running a race, it’s always in the context of a believer in Jesus Christ living his or her life for God.  That’s how this whole metaphor is used.  Whenever we’re talking about running a race, and that metaphor is used in the Bible, the writers are describing a believer who is living his or her life for God.  So the race of your life is your life with God. That’s the race of your life, and you can’t run your race until you find the starting line, and the starting line is Jesus.  Your race starts the moment you believe in Jesus.  Now there are people out there.  Maybe you were this person who’s searching for God and trying to figure out who God is.  Maybe you’re having conversations.  Maybe you’re reading the Bible a little bit.  Maybe you’re coming to church.  You may be that person here, you’re still trying to figure it out, but your race has not begun.  Your race begins the moment you believe in Jesus because Jesus is the starting line, and again this is how this picture of running your race is used in the New Testament.  I love the whole idea of beginning and starting.  Around here we have this thing called Starting Point, man it’s an awesome ministry, it’s an awesome ministry in our church.  It kind of operates subterranean because it’s a small group. It’s an environment where, for those who have questions, maybe they’re checking God out. They want to know, “What’s this thing about Jesus in the Bible, and all that?”  And in a relaxed environment, you can ask your questions, and you can be part of a discussion.  And so many people in there, questioning, have come to the point of finding the starting line.  They’ve placed their faith in Jesus.  They become Christians, and now their race has begun.  If that sounds like something that you’re interested in, next weekend you can go online and sign up.  We’re beginning a new session of Starting Point. Great opportunity to find out more about what it means to believe in Jesus, what it means to run your race.  It’s so important. 

So for this entire series which is going to be three weeks, and I’m going be bringing all three messages.  Super stoked about it. We’ll look at various passages of scripture, but every week we’re going to land on what I call the primary race running passage in the entire Bible. So we’re going to spend some time in this every week, with additional scripture that we’re going to talk about.  But this is the primary race running passage in the Bible, and it’s found in First Corinthians, Chapter 9 and verses 24 through 27.  You see the reference there. First Corinthian, 9:24 through 27.  I want to just read this passage. I want to urge you to follow along in your Bible. I’m going to be reading from the New King James Version, and I’ll make a few edits as we walk through it.  But most translations are pretty close, uh on this passage, so you can flip through your Bible with pages.  Or if you have a Bible on your Phone, you can do that as well.  If you don’t, uh, since the verses aren’t projected here, just listen very carefully.  There’s a lot here, okay?   Paul writes to the church at Corinth, these words.  He says, “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 and everyone who competes for the prize is temperate (which means self control) 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.” Shadowboxing is kind of what he’s talking about here.  “…but I discipline my body and bring it into subjection lest when I have preached to others I myself should become disqualified.”  Now did you take it all in there?  There are a lot of words in these; just these four verses that I think are dramatic.  And they are exciting.  Here are some examples:  words like run or race, prize, win, compete, perishable crown, imperishable crown, discipline and the word disqualified.   So what is he talking about in these verses?  So let’s pretend for a moment that we’ve invited, I don’t know five or six Christians into a home setting to discuss this passage, okay?  So we’re all sitting around in somebody’s living room, and we’re saying, “Okay, we want you to listen up.  We’re going to read this passage.”  Just like I read it to you, and we want you to provide commentary on it.  We want you to comment on it, okay?  And so we read these four verses in these groups. Small group of Christians are going to provide what they believe is going on here and so after reading these verses we asked this group of Christians a very simple question.  What does it mean?  What does it mean?  We just read these verses.  There’s a lot here.  We highlight all those words that I’ve just highlighted from you, or for you.  What does it mean?  So first person raised their hand, says “Okay.  I know. I think it means this.  You have to run as hard and as fast as you can to please God.” Another one says, “You know, here’s what it means.  To win the prize means to make it to heaven,” and another one says similarly “Yeah yeah yeah, to earn a crown means to get eternal life,” and still another says, “Your discipline proves that you are worthy to enter heaven,” and still another says, “If you fail to run your race well, you will be disqualified from entering heaven.”  And so in our little make-believe gathering here, we’ve heard lots of different ideas based on the words that are in these four verses.  But I would suggest to you that every one of those suggestions that we just heard from our imaginary group is not at all what this text is teaching.  In fact, all of those suggestions fall short of the meaning of this passage.  So what does it mean?  As we look at it.  Consistently, you see, we find people suggesting that human effort is required to win the prize of heaven.  This is so blatantly prevalent in our culture.  Even in some church cultures, right? I had lunch with a friend not long ago who lives in a different city, he and his wife are in the process of going through a membership class in a new church, and he said that during one of these class sessions, the pastor who was teaching the class wrote on a white board, and he drew a mountain.  Okay, here’s a mountain, and he said to the people in that membership class, the Christian life is like this.  You become a Christian down here and then you start your journey up the mountain, and if at any time in your growth path you begin to slip back and you end up, through sin, or through disobedience, or whatever it might be, going back down the mountain, then he said you lose your Salvation, or you were never Christian in the first place.  Now this kind of thinking is everywhere, and it’s easy to read the passage that we just read and conclude okay, man, there are words like discipline.  There was like okay, I’m going to do this athletic stuff, and so I better go up the mountain.  I guess if I fall back down the mountain then I’m in deep trouble.  Well I would suggest that’s not at all what this passage is teaching nor is what the New Testament is saying.  I would go so far as to suggest that it is a violation of grace to say that we are running the race to win Salvation.  That’s a violation of grace.  You see the message of the Bible is not that we strain and toil and work so hard in hopes of winning our race and entering heaven.  The gates open, the Angels sing, and we get a Crown and prize and all that, right?  That, that’s not what’s being discussed here.  Let me go out on a limb and suggest this, any passage, I believe in the Bible, that talks about expending effort is not a Salvation passage but a discipleship passage.  Any passage in the Bible that talks about expending human effort, energy, discipline is not a Salvation passage.  It is a discipleship passage.  It’s what a Christian does to follow Jesus.  Why is this true?  Because you don’t get Salvation through human effort.  Plain and simple, okay?  There’s so many verses in the Bible, but let me highlight one for you in Romans Chapter 4 and Verse 5.  This first ought to be on the tip of your tongue.  It ought to be one that informs your whole idea of how you get saved and the role of works and some of the things we’re talking about.  Very clearly, Apostle Paul says in Romans 4:5, “But to him who does not work but believes on him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” You can’t get any more clear than that “To him who does not work but instead believes”  “faith synonym, “believes in the one who justifies the ungodly his faith his belief is counted” (or credited) “him as righteousness.”  Friends, that is the path to Salvation: no effort required to get it.  So as we unpack this passage we have to ask legitimate questions, and I want to spend time today in just two verses, and again this passage that we’re talking about we’re going to hover over the entire series.  But let me talk about a couple of verses beginning at the very first verse of the passage.  I read you 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 win it.” Now Paul would have been drawing a connection between the Isthmian games think like ancient Olympics that took place outside of the city of Corinth.  Again he’s riding to the Corinthian church, and he’s using an illustration that they an athletic illustration of these games that they would have been able to identify with and so here’s how it worked.  So again think ancient Olympics.  These athletes would train for at least ten months prior to these games, and then they would participate in various events, and so in this passage what he’s saying is kind of like this, guys.  It’s kind of like, you know, these athletes, you know, that the games that are around your city.  It works kind of like this.  It’s kind of like, you know, there are lots of runners in a race.  They all run, but only one receives the prize.   There’s only one winner, right?   In other words there were no participation trophies.  What are we doing to our kids?  That’s a separate sermon, but you know kids can see through that.  What’d you get that?  For showing up, right there, just you know?  There’s times you show up in life, but I digress.  Okay, there’s one winner. Paul says. “And we are to run in such a way that you may win it,” he says.  So only the winner of of an event receives the prize.  In his commentary on First Corinthians Dwight Hunt says that Paul is not telling the unsaved that they need to run the race in order to earn eternal life rather he is addressing the believers who have been given the gift of eternal life, and he is telling them they can win a prize for the faithful discipline in their lives.  Again remember the starting point.  We’re taught starting line is we’re talking about placing our faith in Jesus.  The race that we’re running is the believer running the race of his or her life, and this prize that’s being discussed is for the faithful discipline in the life of a believer.  Let’s look at the very next verse, verse twenty five and everyone who competes for the prize is self controlled in all things.  Now they do it.  He’s talking about the athlete.  Now they do it to obtain a perishable Crown but we for an imperishable Crown, so literally these athletes would be crowned so to speak with a Laurel wreath, you know, a wreath of leaves which by the way would perish.  Doesn’t last forever.  But he says we’re running for an imperishable Crown, he says. Now in the race of our lives, notice the word competing.  We’re not competing against each other.  So we know this from other passages, you know?  Whenever you use, whenever you go to a metaphor in the scriptures, I mean it’s rare that it’s like exactly, this and exactly this, Paul is using this idea of running, and you saying there’s some things that are similar about this metaphor to the spiritual life, but we know we don’t compete against each other.  It’s not like you show up before God, and God looks at the list, and go “Oh you beat that guy, and you beat her to be here.  I guess you win.”  It’s not about beating each other.  That’s not the competition.  We aren’t competing against each other.  You are competing against yourself.  That’s the measurement.  That’s what God is looking for you to discover and to be the person that he wants you to be.  That will be how you win.  To not beat somebody else out but to be the person that God wants you to be, so Paul is describing an imperishable Crown.  Now I would suggest this can’t be heaven.  Why would we say that?  Well because he told us that you get this imperishable Crown by disciplined self control.  How do you become a Christian and go to heaven?  Believing in Jesus for it.  You don’t go to heaven fruit disciplined self control.  So we already know he’s describing something different here.  We already know that this imperishable crown cannot be equated with heaven. Paul is describing, I believe, in this passage, a reward given to the believer who has faithfully run the race.  And so for the next couple of weeks we’re going to take a closer look at the prize and the Crown and all those things, and it’s actually fascinating.  Put another way, succinctly, just whet your appetite today.  The prize of the Crown is an extra reward based on God’s approval of you as a faithful follower of Jesus.  That’s what he’s talking about here, okay?  Has nothing to do with God’s love for you because there’s nothing you could ever do, say, or think to cause God to love you more or less.  That’s settled.  Christ has died for every human being and communicated, demonstrated that love.  Now while we were still sinners Christ died for us, but we can run a race, live lives that God finds approval for or disapproves of.  If you’re a parent this is plain common sense it’s not a complicated theological idea, but we’re going to dig into it in the weeks to come.  Maybe I could summarize it like this; your race requires discipline, effort, to win the prize.  Again, I’m talking about the life lived of the believer in Jesus Christ who has at the starting line, left the starting line, running the race, and your race believer requires discipline/effort to win the prize.  The race of your life is a marathon, not a Sprint.  It’s over the long course and so you pace yourself.  You train.  It’s not like, “Hey good, I’m 50 yard dash and boom!”, and we’re out of the blocks and is done.  It’s not like that, and around Lifepoint, we refer to the race of your life as following Jesus, same thing, following Jesus.  Our desire here’s the influence people to find starting line and follow.  Run the race Jesus. So when you hear us talk about following Jesus think, this is the race.  This is my single, you know, race that I’m running, and we know that this disciplined effort is multiplied by the power of God’s spirit living inside of every believer.  Thank God! It’s not like God says okay get out there.  Run that race.  Suck it up. God resources us to run the race. God empowers us to run the race in a cooperative effort with him through the power of his indwelling Holy Spirit. That is incredible, so we submit to God.  You know our lives are ordered around Him, and He gives us the power to do that, so I want to offer just a couple of suggestions in in bringing this to a close here today.  A couple of ideas for us; again we’re gonna; we’re gonna delve into this in the weeks to come.  Two more weeks, and I’m just really excited about it.  My goal would be that we would come out of this with a desire to really run that God has sat  before us. So what will help you run a winning race?  Just want to offer two suggestions.  Okay, here’s the first one.  Look at the starting line and imagine the finish line.  So keep the two ends of the race course in mind.  All right so by starting line I mean go back and discover, where did my race begin?  Do you know that?  When did you place your faith in Jesus Christ?  When did you step up to the starting line?  When did your race start? And some of us have a date. A guy came up after last service and said when you said that I knew the date.  He rattled off the date.  Some of us know that date.  We know what happened.  We know the event.  Others of us, and we’re a little confused about it, but the question is, do you believe that Jesus has died for your sins?  Now and then, you know.  You know you’re at the starting line if you’ve placed your faith in Christ.  That’s so important, and how do we get to the starting line.  We get to the starting line by believing that Jesus offers us a gift.  A free gift.  Received by believing Him for it, but then don’t stop there.  Imagine the finish line.  Like I just want to break it to you, we know how this thing is ends.  You’re gonna stand before God one day.  I’m gonna stand before God one day.  We know the end of the story, so we can imagine what we would want that to be like.  Well what would I like that event to be like?  We can imagine what it will be like to stand before Jesus.  What do you want that moment to be like when you stand before God?  And then let me offer a second idea related to it.  Pay attention to your intentions.  Pay attention to your intentions.  I, here’s another way… just ask it, okay?  What do you want?  What do you want? What are your intentions?  Like, what are your intentions about the race of your life?  Here’s why this is an important question.  Some of you, like you’re hearing this and maybe you’re even a Christian and you just go “Eh, I don’t know.  I don’t know man. I know I’m going to heaven… just going to try to do good things and all that kind of stuff, but mmm I don’t know if I really want to be serious about the race you’re talking about, okay?  What are your intentions?  Are we to the point in our lives where we can say God, “I want to I want to run this race for you.  Like I want my life to be ordered in such a way where I am running because I can anticipate the finish line.  I know I’m going to stand before.”  You we can change the outcome of the finish line based on how we’re running the race. Now again I’m talking to believers.   I’m talking to people that have been at the starting line.  They’re now running their race.  We can change all of that by the way that we live.  We’re gonna explore more of that in this series.  If you want to finish your race and win, what practices and habits are keeping you in great spiritual shape right now in the middle of the race?  What are those things, because you do not run the race passively?  So you are running the race of your life.  What would it look like for you to win?  Remember Paul said it this way “Do you not know that those who run in a race all but one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may win it.”  Find the starting line and run well.  One day you’ll cross the finish line, and your race will be done.  You’ll be done.  My hope is that with an eye toward the reality of this, our lives would be different because we know, we know the outcome.  We know this is coming, and we would be motivated.  Whether we need the motivation of a new decade or whether we just derive motivation from hearing God’s word, this is the truth, friends, and I hope you receive it in the power of the Holy Spirit.  “Our Father, we are so grateful for the fact that you have resourced us with your indwelling spirit.  The moment we place our faith in Jesus, and we thank you that you have beckoned us to run, that you say run your race, one single race. Run your race!  And our prayer would be that we would be faithful men and women and boys and girls, that we would understand the starting line and that we would run with an eye toward the finish line.  And we’re so grateful that you have given us meaning and purpose in life.  Thank you for the ability to run through the power of your spirit, in the name of Jesus. Amen

Discussion Questions

If life is a race, how would you describe your current pace and direction? In what sense is your walk with God a race worth winning? What about your life and routine is hindering you from running well?

The Bible is filled with athletic metaphors describing our life with God. Read and describe some of these analogies in the following passages: 2 Timothy 2:5, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Philippians 3:13-14.

When we think of our lives as a race, it’s easy to become competitive with others. In life with God, how are we not competing with others but with ourselves? What does this mean to you?

Take a closer look at 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. What is the prize you’re running to win? Why was Paul not talking about having his salvation disqualified? Why is it a violation of grace to say that we’re running to win our salvation?

Read Hebrews 12:1-2. What encouragement do you find in these verses that help you run your race well?

We’re to pay attention to our intention. What are your habits or practices that help you run your race well? How does “beginning with the end in mind” help you live?

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...

Staying on Course

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...