Running the Race
In Romans 3:21 to Romans 5:21, Paul describes what has occurred at Calvary. There the Lord Jesus Christ, God in Flesh, died for me; died for my sins; paid sins penalty. Again it is Paul writing in Colossians 2: He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; He took it away, nailing it to the cross. He was my substitute. Paul describes justification as the process that occurred when we believed and because we believed we were credited righteousness. Thus we are saved by the death of the Lord Jesus.
Now as we enter the teaching of this next portion of Pauls letter to the Romans, chapters 6- 8, we are discovering the principle of identification. You and I identified with Christ in His death as Scripture tells us we died with Him. The Lord Jesus died unto sin, thereby breaking sins power, having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.(Colossians 2:15) This action led to the sanctification process where the righteousness of Christ is made a part of the lives of those who believe.We are partakers of His divine nature. So in this fashion we are saved by His life.
For this reason and because of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord, we are told as an accomplished fact we are dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. ( Romans 6:11) Paul tells us to reckon this fact, which means to count it as true. I do not find in these verses anywhere that God commands me to dead to sin and alive unto God. I must admit, as Paul does in Romans 7 and Galatians 2:20, that although I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live. I do not feel dead to sin. I do not understand fully what this means. What I do know is God tells me and you, we are in fact dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Paul is not describing an experience; he was stating a fact.
So we are as believers to know this is a fact. It is already done. What did Peter say in 2 Peter 1? Peter said : His divine power has given us EVERYTHING WE NEED FOR LIFE AND GODLINESS THROUGH OUR KNOWLEDGE OF HIM.. Knowledge, knowing this fact and believing it to be true, is focused on our mind.
Reckoning these facts to be true,the next instructions we will study focus on our will and the act of yielding. The word yield ( KJV) is used five times in the next section of verses beginning with verse 13 through 19. Let me refresh your mind as to what the word yield means:
Yield means to place at ones disposal, to present, to offer as a sacrifice. In Romans 12, Paul beseeches the believers to offer their bodies as living sacrifices for Gods glory. In the Old Testament sacrifices were dead sacrifices. Sometimes the Lord may ask some of us to die for Him, but WE ARE ALL ASKED TO LIVE FOR HIM.
THE QUESTION IS HOW DO I DO THIS?
If you make New Years Resolutions, you have probably also broken New Years Resolutions. If you set goals and take actions to achieve those goals, you have probably had some success and some failures.
As we read these verses, it is obvious that God has done His part and now we are to do ours. It starts with knowledge of what God has done, what He has given us, what He has done and is doing- but it also involves our actions. We are told what NOT to do, not yield our bodies to sin. We were told what God has already done- crucified our old nature so that we should no longer are slaves to sin. We are told we are to reckon this to be true- and based upon that to yield to God. In the terms of slavery- we have been bought and paid for and have a new master.
In doing this- we begin the life long process of sanctification, which is the pursuit of holiness, godliness. And remember Peter told us God has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him.
You may not like what I am about to tell you- but the Christian life, the walk, the pursuit requires personal discipline. And guess what- it does not come easily and it does not come quickly. We like easy and quick, dont we? We want instant success, but holiness does not come that way, we formed a pattern of sin over years and years of habit that will not be broken overnight.
Paul tells us: Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives tales, rather, train yourself to be godly. ( 1 Timothy 4:7) And Paul says just as physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.(vs. 8)
And the Paul writes again to Timothy and us in 2 Timothy 3:16- All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and TRAINING IN RIGHTEOUSNESS, that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Paul seems to have had an interest in athletics and illustrates this concept of discipline and training to athletes preparing for a race. Everyone who competes in the games(races) goes into strict training. (ICor.9:25)
Discipline is structured training. Websters New Collegiate Dictionary defines disciplines as training that corrects, molds or perfects the mental faculties or moral character. Discipline is good, but it has become to be associated more with punishment than training that prepares us.
Discipline toward holiness begins with the Word of God. It is through regular daily intake of the Word of God, that we engraft the Word and meditate upon it with one purpose in mind- obedience to the Word of God. James said if you read and study the Bible without obedience, we deceive ourselves.
God has done the following:
*Crucified our old nature dead to sin. Places me in Christ at Calvary
* Made alive to God in Christ. Christ in me at resurrection. We have the Holy Spirit within us. Our bodies are now His temple. We are to reckon to these two facts as true and done. Past tense. So that what has been done in the past affects how we live our lives in the present.
*God has given us His Word, the Word of God- a lamp unto our feet, a light upon our path, to direct us. His great and precious promises so that through them we may participate in his divine nature and escape the corruptions of this world.
We believe the Bible is the Word of God. The Spirit wrote the Scripture. We learn the Scripture. The Spirit brings to our mind what we learn. WE apply what He brings to mind. Man cannot live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
The enemy, will battle us at this point. Our deceitful hearts will attempt to persuade us we do not have to take everything so literally, nor expect to live perfect lives. The devil hates and fears the Word of God and has waged an all out war against it since the Garden of Eden where he called Gods Word a lie. He continues to do everything he can to remove the Word of God from the home, the workplace, the schools, the government and in some cases, the church.
God told Joshua: Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. ( Joshua 1:8) Meditation comes as a result of the following four steps: Hearing, reading, studying, and memorizing. Meditation is then thinking on what you have stored in your mind and then applying it to lifes daily situation. This is developed by discipline.
Now perseverance is closely connected with discipline. Discipline is required to both break old habits and form new habits. It is difficult because it requires changing a pattern in our life that may have been established over years. Also any training physical, mental or spiritual is characterized at first by failure. We fail more often than we succeed in the beginning. A child learning to walk, falls down more in the beginning as they are learning. That is why we must persevere, for we will gradually see progress till we are succeeding more than we are failing. Be warned, the enemy will whisper in your ear- whats the use? You are never going to be able to overcome this. But the Holy Spirit whispers in your ear- you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. Listen to this encouraging verse: For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity. ( Proverbs 24:16)
Now Paul in I Corinthians 9 uses the runner as an illustration also tells us this truth: Do you not know that in a race all runners run, but only one gets the prize. Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man, running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it a slave (to righteousness) so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Notice in Romans 6:17 how Paul described the response to the teaching of the Word of God- But thanks be to God, that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you WHOLEHEARTEDLY obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. Whole hearted. God has plans for us plans to prosper us- and when we seek Him, we will find Him, when we seek with all our heart. Half-hearted is a divided heart which makes one double-minded and this person cannot expect to receive anything from the Lord. What is the greatest commandment? To love the Lord thy God with ALL YOUR HEART, ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH. I will guarantee you, no athlete ever competed in the Olympics that had not prepared with strict training and with all their heart, all their soul, all their mind and all their strength. For what? To receive a crown that will not last, a fleeting moment of glory and recognition. Paul contrasts that with a crown we will receive that will last forever.
What a simple glimpse this illustration affords us and allows us to see how life is lived. It is like a race in which run. What are you running for- or to or from? Do you even know why you are running? Are you running aimlessly? Are you climbing up that ladder of success only to reach the top and realize you leaned your ladder against the wrong wall? Are we missing the whole purpose of the race, the dash between that year we were born and that year we will die. If we treat this like a game- we want to win and winning seems to be measured by what we have accomplished and own. Did you notice what Paul said about his physical body- he beat it- disciplined it to make a slave to righteousness, not to sin.
Our position in Christ is perfect. Our practice is not. There is a gap between our practice and our position. If we are to pursue holiness; if we are to strive and make every effort- I believe it is to come as close as we possibly can to closing the gap between our position and our actual practice. Can you see this is what Paul is referring to in Philippians 4? Paul says I have not already been made perfect ( that is his status, his position) but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Paul says he is pressing toward the mark, the finish line, and striving to close the gap between his practice and his position. Now we know we will not be like Him, until we see Him; but in the meanwhile, we must run with perseverance.
Materialism is what the American economy thrives on, as over 70% of our economy is consumer driven spending. It is this rat race we are in, trying to keep up with the Joness. We are encouraged tempted to spend more than we have through the use of credit and borrowing. Materialism never leads to contentment- it leads to envy and discontent. Most advertising is designed to make you discontent with what you have and desire to have the latest, the newest, the best of everything. We go through life like we are playing a game of monopoly acquiring things we believe will make us happy. We let the appetites of our flesh control us. I like what Susanne Wesley wrote: Whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind that thing is sin in you.
If we cannot say no to an indulgent appetite, we will find it harder and harder to say no to a lustful thought.
Paul reminds of what our old sinful life was like: When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? We all have done things we are ashamed of , would be absolutely mortified if anyone knew about them. As I often do, I think about the Prodigal Son. I think about how he wanted to be free of his fathers control of righteousness and I see him- first enjoying the sinful life. The NIV says squandered his wealth in wild living. He ended up in the pig pen, didnt he? Sin, as I always say: took him further than he wanted to go, kept him longer than he wanted to stay and costs him more than he wanted to pay.
Remember we talked about the benefit package of salvation. Here is the benefit package of sin- it brings shame- and look at your wages- the wages of sin is death. Eternal separation from God.
The first sin in the Garden reveals some very important spiritual truths. First of all, most of us if we are honest, think or have thought the eating of the forbidden fruit was not such a horrible sin and maybe God was overly harsh in his punishment of Adam and Eve for making one mistake. Now if you have thought that before, you need to realize it is your deceitful heart that has brought that thought to your mind. For the enemy of our soul is able to able to make sin and evil appear innocent.
Notice the devil questioned the Word of God: did God really say you must not eat from any tree any in the garden? Satan in this one question began an attack and strategy that has been going on ever since. He questioned the authorship of the Word of God; the accuracy of the Word of God and the acceptability of the Word of God. You see, Gods word demands obedience and the conflict arises when the demand of Gods Word is contrary to the desires of your flesh.
When Eve in her answer to him handled the Word of God carelessly, adding to it, Satan immediately moved to call God a liar. The enemy made his false promise, because he is a liar. He told them you will not die. Remember what we said about advertising being used to make you discontent with what you have and desire what is being advertised. Marketings role is to minimize the risk in order to maximize your interest. If you can sin without consequences- then why wouldnt you sin. Satan took away the risk and guaranteed satisfaction or your money back didnt he? He lied.
Because we were born with sinful natures, our reasoning or understanding was darkened. Our desires were to gratify the cravings of our sinful natures and our wills were perverted. Then we got saved and we were transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. We were enlightened in our understanding and begin to understand spiritual truths. We begin to submit our wills to God and our emotions delighted in this turn of events as we had become new creatures. But the Word of God tells us we must transform our minds, set our affections on things above and submit to God, resist and devil and he will flee.
A battle within us has begun. We have the ability to be victorious. We have to learn how-we have to pursue holiness and practice holiness until the gap between our position in Christ and our practice in practical living are not as far apart as when we first started.
In battle whoever holds the high ground has the advantage. The high ground is the mind, and the battle is for the mind. We transform our minds with the Word of God.
New Years Resolution. Daily intake of Gods Word.
No One can pursue holiness who is not prepared to obey Gods Word.
As we think about Pauls illustration of running the race. Make sure you are not running aimlessly but for the right purpose. Watch out for that sin that so easily tangles, so you can run with perseverance. But remember if you fall, get up and get back in the race. Realize you are not running against others, so do not compare to others. You are running the race marked out for you. Fix your eyes on the finish line and the One who awaits you and what He has done for you so you will not lose heart or grow weary. (Hebrews 12)
And remember the closer you get to finishing the race- do not let up. In fact, now is the time every athlete knows is critical- it is the time to put on the last kick to drive across the finish line.
We are to pour it all out like a drink offering, Paul said. As the time comes for our departure, we want to say: I have fought a good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge will award me on that day- and not only me, but also all those who have longed for His appearing. ( 2 Timothy 4)