In his letters, the apostle Paul frequently compares the Christian life to a race. At the time, the Isthmian Games were regularly held near Corinth, meaning that Paul’s audience would have had the reference points to understand the spiritual lessons he was drawing.
These races revolved around three essential elements: the runner, the race, and the victor’s reward. Not everyone was able to participate in these earthly races, but nobody is excluded from the Christian race. God does not show favoritism: regardless of wealth or social status, everyone has the same privileges and opportunities in Christ.
In the ancient Greek races, participants had to fulfill certain conditions, register their names, and commit to following the prescribed rules. If they failed to do so, all their efforts were in vain.
The same goes for the spiritual race. The first rule is: “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Another rule reads: “If anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5). The conditions for entering the Christian race include leaving everything behind, taking our cross upon us, and following our Savior.
Anyone who wanted to succeed in the race mentioned by Paul had to prepare. The Christian race also requires preparation. The runners back then had to cast off anything that slowed them down, and the same goes for the spiritual race today. “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).
An earthly runner needs to be strong and healthy. That involves making healthy nutritional choices and avoiding food or drinks that harm the body. “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly” (Luke 21:34).
This is also true of the spiritual race. We need a strong and healthy soul. In order to overcome, we must be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. To become strong, we need to choose our nutrition carefully—we need good spiritual food. For example, we are sometimes strengthened in the Christian race through fasting or praying.
In contrast to the ancient Greek races, the spiritual race can be won by all participants at once. However, each person still needs to personally cross the finish line. Many people are more interested in other people’s races than their own. Have you ever seen someone taking part in a race turn around to criticize another participant? No! There is simply no time for that; the only focus is the goal, and every effort goes into running the race.
The Christian race is not undertaken just for fun. It is about achieving something, about reaching the goal we have in our sights. Paul writes: “One thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13–14). Let us always remember that Satan is trying to stop us and prevent us from earning the crown. We cannot just sit back and relax. Instead, we need to keep going, equipped with God’s power and grace at all times.
It is important that we not miss the goal but emerge from the contest victorious. In the end, the outcome of a race here on earth does not really matter, but losing the spiritual race means losing eternal bliss and entering into eternal pain and suffering. It means unending night and darkness in the presence of Satan and his angels.
Let us therefore run the race and endure until the end. When we are tried and tempted or when we grow tired, let us look to the Lord and claim the promise: “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31). Through God’s grace, everyone who wants to can endure and overcome to win the crown.
The victors of the ancient Greek races were awarded a wreath that soon dried and withered, but our prize is an everlasting crown. “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).