“Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.” (1 Cor. 9:24)
Just imagine your spiritual life is like a racetrack set before you. A straight road as far as the eye can see. And this is the only road you can take to pursue God.
Both dispensationally and personally, this road was once filled with obstacles. Before the age of grace, this road was covered with seemingly insurmountable obstacles for us Gentiles. We were without the oracles of God. We were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world… And now, all those obstacles are gone, because now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
In this age of grace, we still had many other obstacles in front of us. We had the penalty and consequence of our sins. Now that obstacle is gone, paid for by the all-sufficient work of Christ on that cross.
We had our old sin natures, our bondage to sin in the flesh. Now that obstacle is gone because when we trusted the gospel we became crucified and risen with Christ. We’ve been freed from the dominion of sin over our souls. The power of control over our lives has been transferred away from bondage to sin in the flesh and given back to our souls to choose to yield to His righteousness by studying His Word allowing the life in His Words to strengthen our inner man by the Spirit by which we may perfect His holiness in our walks. Imagine that! The obstacle of the dominion of sin is now gone.
Then there was the old Mosaic law and the condemnation that came from living under that law, which was nothing but a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. Now the obstacle of the law is gone, nailed to His cross.
This is why it’s so perfect that Pastor Fred Bekemeyer would often call this a victory program by His grace. Nothing but victory and glory, because we’re free to truly lay hold on our eternal life, to make the most of that gift God has given us.
Because of the cross, every conceivable obstacle in the way of our desire to pursue God to the very fullest, all those seemingly insurmountable obstacles have all been wiped off the track. Now there are no obstacles before us. Now we’re free to run that race with as much passion and desire and heart as we can muster in ourselves.
And the farther down the road we go, the more His Word gets into us and works inside of us being fortified in our souls, our minds are renewed, bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. The farther down the road we go, the more strengthened we become by His Word.
The farther down the road we go, the happier we become, filled with even more joy, peace, love, and hope. Nay, abounding in hope!
The farther down the road we go, the more we want everyone else we know to be there with us.
The farther down the road we go, the more we appreciate everyone else in our assemblies who are there running with us and encouraging us.
The farther down the road we go, the easier it becomes for us to run and to run even faster than when we began…
But that’s not to say that running down that road will be all blue skies and butterflies. There will be storms. There will be heartaches. There will be suffering and pain while we run. There will be distractions along the way, the wiles of the devil, designed to knock you off that road and never get you back on it. There will be times when, because of your acquiescence to your own sinful flesh, you will trip up and fall.
But you get back on your feet and you keep on running. There is no going back. There is only forward, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, always pressing onward ever more toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Because the end of that road is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, there, exalted in the Heavens, the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords… dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.
And somewhere down that road, without even knowing it, you will have developed yourself into a perfectly conditioned spiritual athlete in this race, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ being filled with all the fullness of God Himself, which means the entire triune God may be known and seen in you. As William Kelly would say, “These are the ways, and this the victory, grace through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
But if we run that race and we strive for the masteries and we finish our course, notice what also awaits us. “And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.” (2 Tim. 2:5). Then Paul writes in 2 Tim. 4:7-8, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”
2 Tim. 2:5 was the setup and 2 Tim. 4:8 was the payoff. The setup was Paul sharing the principle that every athlete strives for the mastery to win the race to obtain the crown, and so we, too, as believers, strive for mastery in our walk. To be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, as Paul mentioned in the beginning of 2 Tim. 2, is to strive for mastery in God’s program of grace. He isn’t just one who has reckoned everything that God has made Him in Christ nor is he just living like the saint that God has made him, but he has mastered his walk so well, perfected holiness in his walk so beautifully, that when a person meets him its like encountering Christ Himself.
With the athlete, we’re given the illustration of someone purely dedicated to achieving the mastery of that one thing, which God wants to see in us regarding our walk in the victory program of His grace. Dedication and discipline helps you gain the mastery.
Notice that there are two strivings in 2 Tim. 2:5. First, the athlete strives for masteries. In his training, he separates himself from the normal activities of the world and he puts the time and effort needed to master the sport.
The second striving here is during the race itself: he strives lawfully. He doesn’t cheat. There are no shortcuts, no cheating, to mastering the sport and winning the race. And there is no way to master the race at all unless you build upon the foundation laid by Paul. In order to win, the athlete must put the time and effort needed to train so he can perfect himself, and when he races, he wins legitimately.
Likewise, for the saint, there are no shortcuts to becoming strong in His grace. One cannot simply listen to a few messages and suddenly be strong in His grace. One must put the time and effort needed to train, which is to study His Word, and this is more than just understanding right division. This is also about understanding how God’s grace program works, which is to first understand what God made you in Christ – dead, buried, and risen with Him, and if you’ve wrapped your head around that, and you’ve reckoned it true, then you allow His ways to become your ways in all the circumstances of life. It is possible to gain a mastery in God’s grace program and you can run that race lawfully like the greatest athlete and win that crown.
Now we’ve arrived in 2 Tim. 4, the payoff to all these thoughts on the eve of his death. Notice how Paul begins vs. 8 with henceforth. “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness…” Some commentaries would point out that henceforth in the Greek only means “it remaineth then.” Well that expression, “it remaineth then” means “henceforth,” “from this moment forward.” That verse was accurately translated. In other words, Paul is saying that from that moment forward a crown of righteousness was waiting for him because he fulfilled the requirements of receiving that crown in vs. 7. He is receiving that crown of righteousness because he fought a good fight, he finished his course, he finished that race he ran striving for the masteries, and he kept the faith.
He’s not saying these things to congratulate himself. He’s saying these things to inspire us all to run the race as fast as we can. Not only that, the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give [a crown] unto all them also that love his appearing… The idea here, I suspect, is that the crown is not immediately given to Paul upon his death but that this crown is waiting for him to be given to him at the Bema Seat at the Rapture, except not to Paul only but also to everyone that loves His appearing. If you are on course and you are running that race and that race happens to be cut short by the Rapture before you’ve had the chance to gain the mastery, then you will still be rewarded a crown for being in the race, which means that you would naturally love His appearing.
This crown of righteousness is yet another motivation to love Christ and to live for Christ. This is the climax of God’s positive-reinforcement, total victory program by grace in which there’s nothing but triumph and glory ahead of us.
How does one define this crown? I suspect the crown of righteousness is the recognition of the rightness of His ways living out of us because we strived for the masteries running the race. The glory for all the good that comes out of our lives always goes to Him because it’s us walking in His Spirit through which we may exhibit the rightness of Christ in our walks, but there is still effort on our part studying His Word choosing to yield to His righteousness, allowing our choices to be guided by His Word as we run that race to the end, and the Lord is still willing to reward us for that effort at His appearing. This is recognition of our faithfulness. This is the recognition of our fidelity to the truth, the firmness of our stand in all that grace He’s bestowed upon us, and the effort on our part to be the living sacrifices God the Father intended for us to be. Greg Resor once made the point to me that one aspect of that crown is motivation. Greg wrote, “Paul knows he is getting to the end of his life and will not be caught up in the rapture. He knows Romans 5:3-5. Tribulation worketh patience, patience experience, and experience hope. The hope kept him on track. He thought he could be part of the catching away until he gets to the end of his life. Those that allow that thought process to motivate them to finish the course and keep the faith will also be given the crown of righteousness.” And all the saints said “amen.”
So run! Run the race! Strive for the mastery! Press toward the mark!
Pursue that glorious crown of righteousness!