What did Paul mean when he said “run the race to win”?
He meant we’re to give it everything we’ve got, even if we know we’re competing against faster runners. Because the winner in the race Paul’s talking about isn’t the one who comes first (or second or third), but all those who make it to the end. Making it all the way to the end is what will make us winners. Stopping short of the end won’t.
Jesus already ran the race, and won. In fact, he was first over the finish line. No matter how hard or how fast we run, we’re never going to beat that. Jesus had to run the race first or we wouldn’t have been able to. He set the course for us. We run the course that Jesus set.
I saw a sign outside a church a couple of days ago that read “CONGRATULATIONS, BLUENOSE MARATHON PARTICIPANTS!” The Bluenose Marathon is an annual race that (usually) takes place in Halifax on the May long weekend. Like with other marathons held in other cities, the Bluenose Marathon clogs up the main arteries of Halifax and causes chaos with local traffic, particularly with transit. But that doesn’t matter, because people need to run. And amidst the thousands of runners, someone’s gotta win. But according to that church with the sign out front, even just participating in the race already is worthy of congratulations.
God disagrees. Being a participant in the race Paul talks about and Jesus ran is all well and good, and God will give you every advantage if you indicate that you want to run it, but you have it run it to win. You have to give your best shot not just at the starting line or towards the middle of the race, but all the way to the end. Which means you’ve got to make it to the finish line, or you ain’t gonna win.
There are no congratulations forthcoming for those who don’t make it to the finish line.
You don’t get congratulated just for participating. You get encouraged. You get assisted. You get guided and encouraged some more. But you don’t get congratulated unless you make it all the way to the end.
Jesus said those who endure to the end will be saved, not those who say they intend to endure or those who put in a few spiritual miles and then quit. Those who endure to the end will be saved, those who run the race to win.
Shame on that church for lauding people just for participating. Shame on it! That is not a message that makes people want to endure to the end. That’s a message that makes people lazy and slack and proud of accomplishing nothing but showing up. Why are we congratulating people just for showing up? Is the bar really that low now?
You don’t have to answer that. We know what the answer is. Yes, the bar really is that low now, and I see it in every mainstream church that tells people all they have to do is “believe” and they’ll make it to Heaven. I guess that’s an improvement over telling people all they have to do is pay indulgences and they’ll make it to Heaven. That’s what the Catholic church used to promise people – pay a certain amount of money and you’ll get to Heaven. I don’t know what’s sadder about that – people demanding the money in the form of indulgences, or people believing you can buy your way into Heaven. But believing that you can simply “believe” your way in isn’t much better.
We born-again believers can be better than that. We need to be better than that. We need to set our sights on the finish line and not stop until God sends his congratulations in the form of a one-way, first-class, all-expenses paid ticket to Heaven. We cannot stop halfway and consider the job done. We cannot let ourselves fall for the lies of those who tell us either it’s not necessary to run or that we’ve won already just by participating in the race.
We have not won until we endure to the end.
We run the race to win, even if it means we have to drag ourselves over the finish line by dint of sheer will.
Only those who endure the race to the end – to the very, very end – will be saved.