One of the biggest problems in the Christian church today is that so many believers are aimless. In other words, they have trusted in Christ for salvation, but they have never surrendered their lives to His control and guidance. It is as if they have said, "Okay, I'm saved. Now what?" They have no idea, no clue, about what Jesus expects of them with regard to their lifestyle or even that they have a responsibility to live under His Lordship. In his devotional book "Awake My Heart", J. Sidlow Baxter remarks:
"It is possible to have a saved soul and a lost life! That is because there are those who believe on Christ for the salvation of the soul from damnation in eternity, yet never hand over their life to Him, thus failing to render Spirit-filled service here, and to receive reward hereafter."
In other words, you can get to Heaven by the grace of God and the blood of the Lamb, yet stand there with absolutely nothing to present to the Lord. In that case, your whole life will have been wasted, consumed by your own will, flesh, and desires. We need to recognize that, according to God's Word, He has saved us and called us. Most Christians readily acknowledge that they have been saved, but all too few fail to understand that they are called. I'm convinced that when the writer to the Hebrews speaks about pressing on to maturity, he has more in mind than repentance from "sin" when he refers to not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works. I believe he is exhorting the believers to lay aside unprofitable activities, ways of life that have no eternal value to them. Too many Christians have given up their "sins" but continue to be involved in things that do not advance the Kingdom of God or His purpose. Scripture teaches us that one day all our "works" will be tested with fire. Any whose works pass through the fire will receive a reward, but for those whose work is burned up, "he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire" (1 Corinthians 3:15). Many believers are walking aimlessly through life, building "works" of flesh that will not survive the fire of testing.
Paul was not aimless; he had a vision and a direction to his life. He knew what he wanted, where he was going, and how to get there. Keeping his eyes squarely on the goal, Paul disciplines himself for the race. He said, "I buffet my body and make it my slave" (1 Corinthians 9:27). "Buffet" is a translation of the Greek word "hupopiazo", which literally means "to hit under the eye." In a figurative sense it refers to subduing one's passions. In either sense self-control is involved. Many Christians face defeat and failure because they lack self-control; they are slaves to their passions and desires. On the other hand, like any well-trained athlete, Paul was disciplined in every area of his life, having brought every fleshly passion and every human desire under strict subjection and control.
When I was in high school I ran the mile and some cross-country and was on the wrestling team for awhile. One thing my wrestling coach stressed to all of us was the need to keep our bodies strictly under weight limits. Even a few extra pounds could put us in a higher weight category and at a disadvantage against other wrestlers who might be bigger and stronger. I remember him telling us, "If I ever catch you at McDonald's, you're done for." We were given special passes for the cafeteria that authorized us to eat the athletic meal prepared especially for the students involved in various sports. The goal was to make sure that we were in top physical condition and had our appetites under control.
The ancient Olympics that were held in Paul's day consisted primarily of foot racing events. The Corinthian games, with which Paul may have had particular reason to be familiar, were second only to the Olympics. One common strategy in these events was to try to distract competing runners by rolling balls of solid gold across their paths. That would be equivalent today o dangling several thousand dollars in front of an athlete's face. If the ploy worked, the runner would slow down to pick up the ball, losing a few precious seconds of time. Not only that, but the added weight of the heavy gold also would slow him down, resulting in his losing the race. Athletes had to learn to maintain strict self-control even in the midst of tempting distractions.
Crossing the Finish Line
Not only was Paul consumed with running a good race preaching the gospel and reaching the lost, he also was consumed with crossing the finish line in victory. He exercised self-control in all things in order to ensure that he did not fall or falter along the way of fail to complete the commission that the Lord had given him. Paul did not want to disappoint or let down the one who had been so gracious and merciful to him. He says, "I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified" (1 Corinthians 9:27). The Greek word for "disqualified" is "adokimos", which signifies not standing the test, rejected, disapproved, and so rejected from present testimony, with loss of future reward." The word was primarily applied to the testing of metals, as in assaying gold or silver to determine their level of purity, or in proving the strength, quality, or temper of the iron used for sword blades r spear heads. Metals that did not pass the test were reject as unworthy and useless.
By using the word "adokimos" Paul is saying that all who are in the race face testing. We face the tests of integrity; of purity; of financial accountability; of carnality, ambition, and pride; and of authority. (Or, in other words, are we controllers or do we have a servant's heart?). Paul doesn't want to come to the end of the race only to find himself disqualified or rejected or to discover that he is no longer usable. (Remember that we are talking about "rewards" here, about winning the prize.)
When Paul stood before the Roman governor Felix defending himself against false charges brought against him by Jewish religious leaders, he said, "I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men" (Acts 24:16). The phrase "do my best" also could be translated as "exercise" or "strive". Paul's goal was to live every day with a clean conscience before both God and men, faithfully obeying the Lord and faithfully discharging his responsibility before men to proclaim Christ to them in word and action. He aspired to nothing less than to be pure in the sight of both God and man every day. That's quite a goal!
Paul was faithful to his mission, the special course that God had laid out for him. The course that God has laid out for each of us may not be the same course as Paul's, but we are all in the same race. Each of us has a particular course to run that God has set for us. According to J. Sidlow Baxter,
"the Christian life is to be viewed as a race, by every Christian believer ... [The Lord] has a special, individualistic track of service marked out for each of us, whoever and whatever we may be. As in the physical race there is a track, a goal, and a prize. As in the physical race there are spectators, so in this spiritual race there are spectators - some encouraging, some discouraging. As in a physical race the runners discard all hindering weights and hampering indulgences, so in this spiritual race we must "lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us" (Hebrews 12:1). As in a physical the runners concentrate with keen determination to press on, so in this spiritual race we must concentrate with keen determination to press on. As in a physical race the runners keep their eye on the winning post and the prize, so must we keep our eyes on the goal and the heavenly prize."
Paul's words to Timothy should be an inspiration, an encouragement, and a challenge to us. "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there I laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing" (2 Timothy 4:7-8). Let us be committed to run a good race with discipline and self-control, not dropping out along the way. Let us not drink from the river, only to die in the wilderness. Rather, let us press forward to the goal of fulfilling God's purpose for our lives!