Enduring Through the Race to Eternal Life

A believer must not simply declare victory at the beginning of his conversion, but must endure and finish the race before him to completion in order to obtain the prize of eternal life.

by Greg Cooper

I know of no dedicated couple who has walked into a chapel on their wedding day expecting to very soon spitefully hate their spouse months later, or no supercharged Olympic long distance runner charging forward following the starting gun with the thought, 'I'm starting this race, but I'm definitively not finishing it'!  No established building contractor would likely be found not expecting to complete an end-product; perhaps no seasoned, highly recognized school teacher may even have a fleeting thought that she will end up utterly despising and abandoning her little first grade students by the end of the year.  It would be surprising to hear of someone even slightly expecting such a devastating result that from which they firstly had in mind. 

With the Christian, any supposed acceptance of the basic moral expectations of conversion in a person will likely result in a similar expectation of success.  Like the Olympic runner, he starts mentally and physically dedicated, fully expecting success (and like the world, pushing away 'negativity' and 'bad thinking'), though he may be aware of any possible impending dangers of injury or other pitfalls along the way, the thought does not dominate or hinder him, nor typically any of his coaches.  The goal for everyone and for the athlete is to finish, and that is where the expectation lie.

Winning after the first step

With many conversions to the faith today, the 'win' mistakenly comes at the immediate point of conversion.  When a person “receives the Lord as his or her Savior”, the 'coaches' around that person (what we might call teachers, pastors, bishops or lay believers), having misunderstood the gospel in its completion as relating to salvation, mistakenly believe that the race has already been won, and no further endurance is remotely considered.  In their eyes, the new convert has already obtained the crown, which, biblically speaking, will only be given at the finish line: 'Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.'[1]

As for the Olympian, he knows where the finish line is; it is several miles away.  The first step of the run is just the beginning of the journey. Any reasonable person understands that this man starting such a race doesn't qualify him to win, or to even come close to finishing due to unforeseen distractions, impeding people or other catastrophic failures.  No coach, runner, or coordinator knows if he or any of the competitors will actually finish the race, nor who will win.  Similarly, not one soul knows the fate of a believer (or supposed believer), whether a person will finish strong and enter into Heaven upon his death, except for the Lord.  As the runner who has complete confidence in his start, he is obviously not handed over a guarantee of a certificate of completion, as will not many professing Christians looking to Heaven either. 

Paul's running analogy

While this running race analogy may make logical sense from a human perspective, it certainly does not prove the point spiritually.  In the Paul's letter to the Corinthians, he addressed the far-too-frequently sin-struggling, compromised Church residing there, who appeared to have been take “shortcuts” in regards to their faith-journey.  Paul addressed their condition by giving them an analogy as related to the Games performed in his day: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.”[2]  He implies that one must run with all of his might, and emphasizes its order: “An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.”[3]  Obviously, many were willing to start the race, but not willing to endure the sufferings or trials and on to the finish line.  There were difficulties in finishing the course set before them in the overwhelmingly evil, sensual, and unbelieving world in which we they lived.  So much so that evidently not everyone who confidently started off in the faith looked like they were going to reach their intended destination. Paul addressed the heart of the matter: 'You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?'[4].  The believers in Corinth were cutting corners, and dropping out of the race that was leading to eternal life, being led astray by sinful people, and their own wicked, sinful desires. 

Paul knew he himself must endure patient suffering and to deny his sinful nature as to finish the race: 'Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.'[5]  Disqualification from a race means not finishing, and consequently not receiving the promised prize of eternal life.

Paul was dead-set on finishing well, and in order to finish his race, he also had to endure much suffering, trial, endurance long-suffering along the way, and as he indicated, a far greater amount than his brothers throughout his life as a Christian, in which he described in detail: '”...far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure...'

Having proven his faith, Paul had the authority to judge their course; he was an example of someone who persevered until the end. He himself was a genuine believer and lived out his faith, from the point of his conversion on the road to Damascus, and until the end of his life, in which he died by beheading: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.'[6].  He finished well.

Imagine if this man had completely given up following Christ just after his first trial of being struck by someone on the cheek.  If he had thought, "this just isn't worth it", these New Testament writings may as well have never been written, which would have been extremely catastrophic to the church as well as his race, just as he warned others: 'And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.'[7] Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.[8] 

Job as an example of endurance through trial

A good example of an enduring saint who didn't once draw back is Job, whom the Lord called '”My servant'”, a man who was described as '”blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.'”[9]  Satan accused Job to the Father by looking to destroy him through the testing of his faith.  Job's faith was in fact tested thoroughly, but he was later found to be genuine and proven – but not after having endured terrible loss and immense physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual suffering.  If Job had followed the advice of his wife, who was at her wits end with his suffering, and scrutinized: “Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.”[10], a case can be made that Job would most certainly not have ended up even more blessed and victorious than before his great trial [11], even though he would have received a conversely opposed blow.  Jesus spoke of this well after the life of Job: 'And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.'[12]  Also saying: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.[13], and as such God's moral Law also applies to even Job, the rarest of men in righteousness who ever lived. 

Our faith-journey requires endurance through trials such as Job experienced as well - if God so allowed it to happen to us.  The truth of the matter is, we are almost always tested on a much, much smaller scale as Job was.  The amount of faith required to endure such a test as he was tested with is simply mind-boggling.  He lost his children, his grand collection of livestock, his health, endured much physical pain, was given grief by his companions, and last but not least, his “helper” wife turned on him, and threw him a towel to give up!  Most everyone of those who casually consider themselves a Christian today would not survive this great trial, in fact may simply give up very sooner than later.  For us, the first endurance test may well be the unwillingness to turn away from sinful desires: 'Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”'[14]

Our hardships in endurance need not destroy our faith, and not only so but trials can be fully expected: 'Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.'[15]  When we are tested, we are in need of consistent fighting in order to receive what 'God has promised to those who love Him', as in the case of the Smyrna church as spoken of by Jesus in the Book of Revelation: 'The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.'[16]

The course set before us today in our current time is also a very challenging one.  As a believer pushes on through his life on the road that leads to Heaven, obstacles can and do arrive.
It is not by accident that they do relentlessly present themselves in our weakest moments, and are specifically designed for us to give up trying to run the race of our lives completely. The adversary who is setting these obstacles is Satan himself, and his legion of fallen angels, who does in fact even accuse believers to the Father in Heaven[17]

As believers, we must push on through trial and obstacle, centering on Jesus as the Author and Finisher of our faith.  If we enter the race, we are most certainly expected to push through the course, and to finish well.  As the Scriptures testify, many along the way will not make it; they will give up and will drop out of the race.  Sadly, their end will be hell, but those who continue in the faith, finishing strong, and enduring to the end of the race will indeed be saved, and inherit the crown of life promised to those who love him.


[1]James 1:12 (NASB)
[2]1 Corinthians 9:24 (ESV)
[3]2 Timothy 2:5 (ESV)
[4]Galatians 5:7 (NIV)
[5]1 Corinthians 9:26-27
[6]2 Timothy 2:7 (ESV)
[7]1 John 2:28 (NIV)
[8]Hebrews 10:38 (KJV)
[9]Job 1:8
[10]Job 2:9 (NLV)
[11]Job 42:12 (NIV)
[12]Matthew 12:32 (NIV)
[13]Matthew 5:17 (ESV)
[14]Matthew 16:27 (NASB)
[15]1 Peter 4:12 (ESV)
[16]Revelation 2:10 (ESV)
[17]Job 1:6-8

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