(All Bible quotations, except otherwise stated, are from the New International Version).
A Christian’s life journey is compared to an athletic race in the Olympic Games, among several other analogies. In a race, athletes compete for a prize. There are rules governing an athletic race, which athletes must adhere to strictly, in order not to be disqualified from the race and the ultimate prize. Athletes prepare for a race by following a strict regime of training and dieting, to keep themselves fit and in shape. In the race proper, the competitors must keep to the rules of the race- not to take off before the sound of the starter pistol, to run within their lanes and to strive to reach the finish line before others, in order to win the prize. Failing to observe any of these rules will disqualify an athlete from the race and the prize. Thus, like professional athletes, Christians must discipline themselves and run their spiritual race lawfully, in order to be considered worthy of the prize at the end of it all.
1 Corinthians 9:24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.
1 Corinthians 9:25 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.
1 Corinthians 9:26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.
1 Corinthians 9:27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
2 Timothy 2:5 Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.
But, what’s the prize the Christian is expected to win at the end of his spiritual race? For the professional athlete, the ultimate prize is clear-gold medal and the championship title. Only the fastest athlete in a professional athletic race who runs the race lawfully goes home with the championship title. So, what’s the prize the Christian athlete is supposed to win at the end of the spiritual race that he or she ran faithfully and lawfully? Some have opined that salvation is the prize at stake in the Christian race, and that not running lawfully or not coming out tops at the end of it all means the Christian is disqualified (castaway) and will fail to win the prize of salvation. Is salvation the prize to be won for running a successful Christian race? Is disciplining ourselves to run a lawful spiritual race just so that we can be saved? We’ll have to look at the Scriptures closely to answer these questions.
The Scriptures make the fact abundantly clear that salvation is not a reward for our labours. It’s not a prize we win for our hard work. Salvation is a gift of grace, not a reward for works! We do not merit salvation! We are saved by grace through faith. Salvation is a gift of God, to preclude men from boasting about earning their right standing with God! The Jews attempted to earn salvation through the works of the law and missed it! Abraham was saved simply by believing God. He didn’t work for his salvation, but was made righteous just by believing God! David described the blessedness of the man who does not rely on his works to be saved, but depends on God for justification. Thus, according to the Scriptures, we do not earn God’s salvation by our discipline and hard work while running the Christian race, simply because salvation is a free gift of God’s grace! We’re saved the moment we believe and accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour! Salvation is not a futuristic prize to be won at the end of the Christian journey, but a current and present possession of every born again Christian! Thus, the Christian is not running the heavenly race to be saved, but he’s running because he’s already saved! Only the saved are qualified to run the Christian race!
Ephesians 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God —
Ephesians 2:9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
Romans 4:1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter?
Romans 4:2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about —but not before God.
Romans 4:3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
Romans 4:4 Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation.
Romans 4:5 However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.
Romans 4:6 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
Romans 4:7 “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.
Romans 4:8 Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.”
Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
Romans 5:2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.
The Acts 16:25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.
The Acts 16:26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.
The Acts 16:27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped.
The Acts 16:28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”
The Acts 16:29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas.
The Acts 16:30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
The Acts 16:31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved —you and your household.”
St. Mark 16:15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.
St. Mark 16:16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
Romans 10:9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Romans 10:10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.
Romans 10:11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”
Romans 10:12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile —the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him,
Romans 10:13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
If salvation is not the ultimate prize Christians strive for in the heavenly race, what then is the prize the Apostle Paul alluded to that we must run to win? What is the reward for faithful Christian service? If we’re already saved at the beginning of the Christian race, what is the reward for our labours of love in Christ at the end of the race? The apostles made it clear in their writings that our Christian service will be appraised and rewarded by the Lord, not with salvation which we already possess, but with positions of honour and glory in God’s kingdom. In the future kingdom of the Lord, believers will rule with the Lord Jesus when he assumes his rightful place as King of kings and Lord of lords on earth. We will occupy various positions of authority, as we help the Lord in administering his kingdom. Our greatness in that kingdom will be determined by the faithfulness and diligence of our service to the Lord during our period of pilgrimage on earth right now. If we labour faithfully and diligently in God’s vineyard here, we will be adequately rewarded with commensurate positions of honour and glory in his kingdom. If we build God’s building (his church) according to God’s blueprint and with precious stones (representing high-quality selfless service), our labour will be accepted and rewarded accordingly. If, however, we build outside of God’s blueprint and with combustible materials, our works will be tested with fire, and if consumed, there will be no reward for our labours, though we will not lose our salvation, which is not a reward for our labours (that is, if we maintain our faith in the Lord to the end). Entering God’s kingdom is a free gift of grace, but our positions in that kingdom will be determined by our labours and diligence in serving the Lord.
St. Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
St. Matthew 16:25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.
St. Matthew 16:26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?
St. Matthew 16:27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.
1 Corinthians 3:6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.
1 Corinthians 3:7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.
1 Corinthians 3:8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor.
1 Corinthians 3:9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.
1 Corinthians 3:10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care.
1 Corinthians 3:11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 3:12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw,
1 Corinthians 3:13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work.
1 Corinthians 3:14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward.
1 Corinthians 3:15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved —even though only as one escaping through the flames.
Revelation 22:10 Then he told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near.
Revelation 22:11 Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy.”
Revelation 22:12 “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.
Revelation 22:13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
Hebrews 6:9 But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner.
Hebrews 6:10 For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.
Hebrews 6:11 And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end,
Hebrews 6:12 that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises (NKJV).
2 Timothy 4:5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
2 Timothy 4:6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near.
2 Timothy 4:7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
2 Timothy 4:8 Now there is in store 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 longed for his appearing.
1 Peter 5:1 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed:
1 Peter 5:2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them —not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve;
1 Peter 5:3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.
1 Peter 5:4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
Revelation 2:26 And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations—
Revelation 2:27 ‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron;
They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’—
as I also have received from My Father;
Revelation 2:28 and I will give him the morning star.
Revelation 3:21 To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.
The Lord Jesus, after saving us by grace, gives us gifts of grace with which to serve him and humanity. He expects us to use those gifts and talents and other resources he’s made available to us to minister to him and others and earn eternal rewards thereby. How gracious is the Lord in his kindness towards us! He saves us by grace, loads us with gifts of grace and still looks forward to blessing us for using those gifts! He requires only one thing from us- that we cultivate and use those gifts and talents well. That we discipline ourselves in the use of the gifts he has given us, in order not to misuse them. We’re going account for every gift, talent, skill and ability, and the rewards for our service to the Lord will be based on his evaluation of how well we used the gifts he gave us. All Christians will appear before the judgement seat of the Lord, not to be judged for our sins (those were already judged at Calvary), but to be judged for our works and service to the Lord. Our faithful services will be adequately rewarded, while unfaithful services will receive no reward, though our salvation will remain intact, as it’s a free gift of grace, through faith, and not a result of our works.
Matthew 25:14 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them.
Matthew 25:15 And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey.
Matthew 25:16 Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents.
Matthew 25:17 And likewise he who had received two gained two more also.
Matthew 25:18 But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money.
Matthew 25:19 After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.
Matthew 25:20 “So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’
Matthew 25:21 His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’
Matthew 25:22 He also who had received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.’
Matthew 25:23 His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’
Matthew 25:24 “Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed.
Matthew 25:25 And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’
Matthew 25:26 “But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed.
Matthew 25:27 So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest.
Matthew 25:28 Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents.
Matthew 25:29 ‘For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.
Matthew 25:30 And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (NKJV).
Romans 14:1 Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things.
Romans 14:2 For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables.
Romans 14:3 Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him.
Romans 14:4 Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.
Romans 14:5 One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.
Romans 14:6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.
Romans 14:7 For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself.
Romans 14:8 For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.
Romans 14:9 For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
Romans 14:10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
Romans 14:11 For it is written:
“As I live, says the Lord,
Every knee shall bow to Me,
And every tongue shall confess to God.”
Romans 14:12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.
Romans 14:13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way (NKJV).
In conclusion, salvation is not the prize Christians strive for as we run the Christian race, because salvation is a free gift of grace all born again Christians possess at the beginning of their Christian journey, the moment they placed their faith in Christ Jesus as Lord and Saviour. The prize Christians are expected to win at the end of the Christian race is the reward for our labours in God’s vineyard. We will be rewarded with positions of honour and glory in God’s kingdom, depending on how faithful and diligent we were in our service to God and his people. Our rewards in God’s kingdom, to be given to us after the evaluation of our works at the judgement seat of Christ, will be based on how faithfully we used the skills and talents God gave us, and how lawfully we laboured, according to God’s blueprint. If our labours are accepted after God’s evaluation, in addition to the salvation we already possess, we will receive exalted positions of honour and glory in God’s kingdom. If our labours are rejected (because we did not strive lawfully), we will lose our rewards, but will maintain our salvation, as long as our faith in Christ Jesus as Lord and Saviour remains firm to the end. Thus, the prize we strive to win at the end of the Christian race is not salvation, but positions of honour and glory in God’s kingdom, which are the rewards for faithful and lawful service.
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