It seems God wired us to appreciate excellence. Since we are created in His image, this should not be surprising. He is excellent in character and actions and created us with a drive to be like that, too. One example of human excellence that people love to watch is the Olympics. The same was true during the apostle Paul’s life, and he used the ancient Olympics to illustrate some spiritual principles:
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. (1 Corinthians 9:24-25, NASB1995)
Run to win. Strive to be the best you can be. Rather than living half-heartedly for Christ, give it your all. While we are not competing against others for a single prize; our prize is a strong, healthy faith filled with the peace and joy of far more life that will continue for eternity.
Christ-following is an all-encompassing lifestyle. Christianity is not a part-time pursuit or a hobby; it impacts every aspect of your life. Like elite athletes, our goal requires us to live for more than temporary pleasures. To become the best, athletes must be self-controlled in their schedule, activity, rest, leisure, nutrition, and more. These are all areas that Christians can use for God’s glory — and find far more life along the way!
The prize is worth the investment. Ancient Olympians hoped to achieve immortality by winning their race. Although they and their olive wreath eventually died, we are promised eternal life through Jesus Christ. Dedicating our lives to Him and striving to glorify Him in every aspect leads to great reward! We are promised eternal glory that far outweighs our sacrifice (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Similar ideas are communicated in another of Paul’s letters:
Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. (I Timothy 4:7-8, NIV)
The Greek word translated “train” is “gymnaze.” It literally means “to exercise naked, to train”. Why would God want us to exercise naked?
Ancient Olympians trained and competed naked, their physical features and flaws exposed to all. The contenders did not mind because they wanted to impress the Greek gods with their physical strength and muscular physique. While God is not impressed by our strength and physique, we are indeed naked before Him, whether or not we admit it.
In our spiritual training, it is beneficial to make ourselves naked by acknowledging our flaws, weaknesses, and sin. The writer of Hebrews describes it like this:
…Let us strip off anything that slows us down or holds us back, and especially those sins that wrap themselves so tightly around our feet and trip us up; and let us run with patience the particular race that God has set before us. (Hebrews 12:1, NIV)
What else does the Bible say we need to put off to be spiritually naked?
…Lay aside the deeds of darkness. (Romans 13:12, NASB1995)
…Put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires (Ephesians 4:22, NIV)
Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices. (Colossians 3:9, NASB1995)
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. (Ephesians 4:31, NIV)
Get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent… (James 1:21, NIV)
Our spiritual training involves taking off sin, moral filth, evil, and old desires and habits that pull us away from God. We must stop lying to ourselves and others about our own spiritual power, physique, and abilities. The foundation of far more life is seeing ourselves as God does and understanding our true spiritual state. Without Him, we are depraved, helpless, and hopeless (Romans 2:5). In Him, we are forgiven, have power over sin, and hope for the future (Acts 13:38-39, Romans 15:13).
When we are spiritually naked, we are ready to train in godliness. While physical training puts on muscle or strength, spiritual training puts on character qualities and attitudes:
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts. (Romans 13:14, NASB1995)
…Be made new in the attitude of your minds…put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:23-24, NIV)
…Put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him. (Colossians 3:10, NASB1995)
…Put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other… (Colossians 3:12-13, NASB1995)
Put on love… (Colossians 3:14, NASB1995)
…Put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. (1 Thessalonians 5:8, NASB1995)
Far more life puts on Jesus. Not in a fake way, like wearing a mask. Rather it takes on His character traits and becomes like Him. It adopts His values and goals as well as His likes and dislikes. It embraces His perspective and responds as He would. It believes what His Word says is true and acts on it.
Fortunately, it is never too early or too late to step up our spiritual training. God is always available and willing to help us take the next step. We have nothing to lose and far more life to gain by training with Him!
What excellence do you enjoy viewing?
In what do you strive for excellence?
Is the “prize” you are seeking in life perishable or imperishable?
How do you feel about being spiritually naked before God? Yourself? Others?
What do you need to put off to continue your training?
What are you ready to put on?
Enjoy far more life as you train with Him!
Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso