"If anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor's crown unless he competes according to the rules." (2 Timothy 2:5).
Just like professional athletes who astound us with their discipline, dedication, and determination — we also should give such an commitment to Christ that others are equally moved by the excellence and beauty of our endeavors.
When Paul wrote of the athlete who competes, the word he used literally means "to be a champion" — one who has defeated all opponents. As followers of Jesus we are called to conduct ourselves as champions, to stand in the power given to us in Christ and defeat anything that tries to make us less than what God wants us to be. Over the next five days, I will point out the five facts of our Olympic championship in Life.
Fact #1 — There is a Contest in Which We Struggle - Luke 13:24
"Jesus said to them, 'Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.'" (Luke 13:24).
As Champions, we are to cast aside anything that would hold us back; overcome any obstacle which seeks to pull us down; fight through any difficulty which seeks to deny us of accomplishing our goal. There is no such thing as cruise control in our journey to glory.
We are in pursuit of such things that require our every step to be contested, thus making our progress a matter of unrelenting determination. No one will float into heaven, sipping on a soda, eating grapes and strumming a harp.
There is a contest in which we struggle — a quest for superiority and victory. Love over hatred, Faith over suspicion, Hope over despair, Truth over deceit, Freedom over bondage, Joy over sorrow, and Life over death.
Jesus has won the victory and offers it to each one who follows Him. But to possess it, you've got to want it enough to contend for it.
As followers of Jesus we are called to conduct ourselves as champions, to stand in the power given to us in Christ and defeat anything that tries to make us less than what God wants us to be.
Fact #2 — There is an Opponent Against Which We Contend
"Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour." (1 Peter 5:8).
Peter, who wrote these words so long ago, knew what he was talking about. Jesus once told him, "Peter, the devil has desired to have you, that he might sift you as wheat." It was one of the worst ordeals of Peter's life — but Jesus brought him through it.
There is an opponent against which we contend, and we in our own strength are no match for him. Our strength comes from the Lord who is with us, and in us. "Greater is He who is in you, than he that is in the world.
Our opponent is subtle; we therefore must walk in wisdom. Our opponent is deceitful; we therefore must walk in the truth. Our opponent is arrogant; we therefore must walk in humility. And all heaven cheers us on as we engage in this epic contest.
"Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race that is marked out for us — looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith." (Hebrews 12:1-3).
The call upon our lives is to conduct ourselves as champions; to stand in the power given to us in Christ and defeat anything that tries to make us less than what God wants us to be.
Fact #3 — There is a Goal Toward Which We Press
"Train yourself to be godly. For 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." (I Timothy 4:7-8).
Train yourself to be godly. The word train means "to exercise naked" — as the Greek athletes. The idea here is the removing of any encumbrance, as well as the disrobing of all pretense.
Notice also that he places the emphasis on personal responsibility — train yourself. Far too many in today's world are living like bottom feeders in a pond, waiting for the farmer to dole out today's portion of grub. Life's best and highest moments are for those who show initiative in the things that truly matter. Train yourself.
And then he gives us the object of our training — to be godly. In other words, to become like Jesus. Not imitation, but indwelling; Christ in us, making Himself known through us. You don't need to ask, "What would Jesus do?" — and then try to do it yourself. No; rather yield your life to the Lord in every situation so that He Himself can do what He does through you. That's the goal.
As Champions, we press on with relentless intensity toward the goal of becoming like Christ in our Character, our Conduct and our Conversation. For such a life holds great promise not only for the time we spend here on earth, but also deep into eternity as well.
We now come to the fourth fact in our consideration of the call that is on our lives to conduct ourselves as champions; to stand in the power given to us in Christ and defeat anything that tries to make us less than what God wants us to be. And so we will look at the fourth fact about our Olympic championship.
Fact #4 — There is a Strategy by Which We Advance
"Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you." (Philippians 1:27).
On a personal level each one of us is required to conduct ourselves in such a manner that brings honor to the name and cause of Christ. It is a regrettable thing when one who professes to follow Jesus behaves in such a way as to dishonor His name and bring reproach upon all other believers. We each take a hit when someone on our Team compromises and falls.
The phrase, "contending as one man", literally means team athletics — each person finding where he or she fits, and then doing their part to insure the victory for the whole Team.
"Two are better than one, because they have good return for their work. If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!"(Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). Something happens when a team comes together; the combined efforts of the many actually raise the ability of the individual. You can go farther and faster with others than you could ever go on your on.
As Champions, we skillfully advance against our opponent by working together with one another, thereby compounding our abilities and efforts — as well as our results.
Are you a team player?
God summons us from on high for us to stand in the power given to us in Christ to defeat anything that tries to make us less than what God wants us to be.
Fact #5 — There is a Means By Which We Win
"To this end I labor, struggling with all His energy, which so powerfully works in me." (Colossians 1:29)
As we have already noted, the life we have with Jesus is not about imitation — it's about indwelling. In other words, Christ being Himself in and through us in the sphere of our influence; empowering us by His Spirit to do His will and achieve His purposes. That's the secret which has been made known — "Christ in you, the hope of Glory."
Jesus said, "Without Me, you can do nothing"(John 15:5). Perhaps there are some who are trying to help the Lord out by doing things for Him — things He never asked them to do. Much of our religious fervor falls into this category, and ultimately becomes the wood, hay, and stubble burned up just before we enter the Golden Gates.
As Champions, we are to acknowledge the authority and power of Jesus Christ by submitting our lives to His Lordship that we might therein find the strength of character to overcome all opponents. And as we discover the wonder of His indwelling Spirit we can exclaim in the words of the Apostle Paul: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!" (Phil4:13).
This way He gets all the glory.
As we conclude this five-part series, let me sum it up by saying — half-hearted contenders never make it to the championship level. They give up somewhere along the way because of the various difficulties they encounter. They lack that inner quality of character that drives true champions to excellence and to victory.
There is a contest in which we struggle, an opponent against which we contend, a goal toward which we press, a strategy by which we advance, and a means by which we win. Each of us must decide the extent to which we are willing to go to show ourselves as true men and women of God, as champions in a world of quitters.
See You at the Finish Line!