Summary: How is your race of Christian faith going? Tired? Seemingly endless hurdles? Great? Easy? Jesus takes us off the spiritual treadmill and hands us the prize of heaven! Run as one who has already won!
Are you familiar with these decals or stickers? (26.2 or 13.1) You might see them on the back of a car or truck. They are the distances for a marathon (26.2 miles) and half marathon (13.1 miles). People might put them on their vehicle as an indication that they have run a marathon or half marathon, or to make people think that they have completed one of those long-distance races. However, some people have responded to those stickers with their own stickers (2.62) or (0.0). I’m not sure which category you fall into when it comes to long-distance running. Maybe you are an avid runner or more of a leisurely stroller, a marathoner or more of a run-only-when-chased type of person. Whatever the case might be, the words of Philippians 3 remind us of the race of Christian faith that each of us is running. The Holy Spirit entered you in this race when he created faith in your heart and you have been running ever since. So let me ask you, “How is that race of Christian faith going?” Are you tired or worn out, are you distracted sometimes finding yourself looking back instead of looking forward, do you feel strong and well trained? That’s what these words from Philippians 3 lead us to consider today as we look at the race of Christian faith.
The Apostle Paul thought that his race for heaven was actually going pretty well. That might not surprise you because after all he was an Apostle of Jesus and someone who wrote nearly half of the New Testament. But I’m not talking about the time when he was a Christian. I’m actually referring to the time BEFORE he was a Christian. That’s right. Before Paul was a Christian, he was convinced that he was doing all the right things to win heaven. He followed a super strict religious training regiment that was based upon his obedience of God’s commands in addition to a whole bunch of other things he and others had developed which they were convinced would make them right with God. In fact, Paul provided a list of those things that he had at one time been convinced were winning for himself heaven. Take a look at his “trophy case” and listen to his list of accomplishments. “Of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church, as for righteousness based on the law, faultless” (Philippians 3:6). Paul had turned his family and nationality into a reason God should award him with heaven. Paul had turned the Bible into a rule book that if he just did enough of the right things, God would certainly award him with heaven.
The only problem was that while Paul may have been achieving the standards that HE had set for heaven, Paul was not living up to the standard that God had set. God makes the standard for heaven very clear in Leviticus 19:2 “Be holy because I the LORD your God am holy.” As hard as Paul tried, perfection was a standard that not even Paul could achieve. It was like running on a treadmill and thinking you’re actually going to arrive at a different place. It just doesn’t work. You’re not getting anywhere!
Then Paul met Jesus, or maybe more accurately, Jesus met Paul. Jesus showed Paul a different way of gaining heaven, of gaining the perfection and righteousness that God requires for heaven. Jesus showed him a way that actually worked for imperfect people, for sinners like Paul. This was what Paul referred to when he writes, “Not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:9). Jesus took Paul off the spiritual “treadmill” of trying to obey God in the hope of making himself right with God and reaching heaven on his own, and Jesus said, “Stand here. I have something to give you.” And Jesus gave to him the perfect life that he had lived for Paul. Jesus gave to him the forgiveness of sins purchased at the cross with his suffering and death. Jesus gave him the righteousness that Paul needed to gain heaven. With the righteousness Jesus provided, Paul had won the prize of salvation. And what did Paul need to do to receive this? Nothing. He simply believed that what Jesus said was true, and the prize of heaven was his.
No more spiritual treadmill for Paul. No more trying to achieve heaven on his own. No! Now Paul was going to be running with a new purpose. He was going to be running the race of Christian faith. The struggle of this race would not come from trying to GAIN the righteousness God requires for heaven. Instead, the struggle of this race would come, in a sense, from keeping the righteousness that Christ had given to him through faith. The struggle would come in staying focused on the finish line of heaven, identifying the distractions along the way, and continually recalling the eternal value of what Christ had given to him through faith.