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When athletes are preparing for their event, they place specific restrictions upon themselves. Diet. Sleep. Exercise. These are just a few of the daily routines they do not deviate from. This isn’t something that comes naturally for them. It’s a requirement they submit themselves to. It’s no different for you and me. If you expect to grow in your Spiritual life, you must place certain restrictions upon yourself. You need to train yourself to be godly.
Welcome to The Point of Purity Podcast. I’m your host, Steve Etner, Author, National Speaker, and Purity Coach for The Pure Man Ministry. This is episode #69, and in this episode, we are going to take a look at what the Apostle Paul means when he says we run in a spiritual race. So, grab your bibles, open them to 1 Corinthians 9, and let’s talk about “Running the Race.”
Listen closely to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
The first thing I want you to notice here is that Paul likens the Christian life to that of a long-distance runner. Now, I’m not much of a runner (truth be told, I don’t run at all – unless I absolutely have to), but I do know that in order to run the distance you have to be in shape.
In verse 25 of our text, Paul says, “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.” In other words, that runner has to train himself in such a way that he is able to control the unfruitful longings and desires of the flesh so that he can accomplish his ultimate goal. If he doesn’t, he runs the high risk that those fleshly desires are going to get in the way and keep him from reaching his goal and receiving the prize.
That kind of control involves denying fleshly desires, ignoring the cries of his body for rest, relaxation, and enjoying the pleasures of certain foods. The one who trains for the run must constantly push and exert his body, taking it to the limit and beyond – all for the purpose of winning the prize at the end of the race. He knows that if he gives in and yields to the desires of his body, he would not be able to finish the course and win the race.
As a Christian, you should also deny your fleshly desires. You should daily choose to ignore the cries of your body for sinful pleasures. Sure, giving in is definitely enjoyable for the moment (otherwise you would never give in), but the long-term ramifications aren’t worth it. You must choose to live each day with the understanding that if you yield to the sinful desires of your body, you will compromise your ability to run the race, and you will not be able to fulfill your life’s purpose.
Paul goes on to say, “They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 9:25) The athlete running in a race knows there is the risk that he or she will not win. So they push themselves beyond their limits so that they might win the prize at the end of the race.
The exciting thing about the race that Christians are running is that every Christian who applies themselves to careful training and submitting to God’s Spirit in their inner man will win! This is why Paul counsels us to run in such a way as to get the prize. We aren’t running for a gold medal that will sit in a case on the mantle and collect dust as time passes. We are running to (as verse 25 says) receive a “crown that will last forever.” Paul calls it a “crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:8) This is a grand and glorious prize “that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you.” (1 Peter 1:4)
Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1) Running this spiritual race isn’t easy. It requires perseverance through the rough times, seeking the joy of the Lord as our strength. It means that you endure the pain of trials and testing, pushing on by the power of the Holy Spirit. The only way we can run like this is to go into strict training, just like the athlete. The athlete trains to receive a reward that won’t last. But God assures us that the reward He gives will last forever!
When athletes prepare for the main event, they place specific restrictions upon themselves. They are careful about their diet, sleep habits, exercise routines, and other aspects of their lives. They set up daily routines and do not deviate from them. This isn’t something that comes naturally for them. It is a requirement they submit themselves to. It’s no different for you and me. If you expect to grow and excel in your Spiritual life, you must place specific restrictions upon yourself. You need to be careful about your spiritual diet. What are you allowing to enter your mind through the things you see and hear? In other words, as 1 Timothy 4:7 says, train yourself to be godly.
Paul also says we should not live our Christian life without a purpose or goal in mind. Back to our main text for this episode, we see in 1 Corinthians 9:26 Paul says, “I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.” The person who runs with a purpose is looking straight-ahead to his goal. All of his attention is focused on the finish line. We read in Hebrews 12:1-2 that we are to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us ... (fixing) our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”
The person who runs with a purpose is the person who doesn’t give up, no matter what. The person who runs with intent pushes on no matter the obstacle. Paul expresses it this way in Philippians 3:14. “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. To “press on” means to run swiftly in order to catch the thing you are pursuing. In other words, don’t quit. Don’t give up.
Back in our primary text of 1 Corinthians 9, Paul now moves his illustration to that of a boxer who is shadow boxing. He says, “I do not fight like a man beating the air.” You see, a shadow boxer is one who is “beating the air” instead of hitting an opponent. Although shadow boxing can help a boxer warm up his muscles and get into a rhythm, it does not constitute actual boxing. He is hitting the air, not fighting his adversary. Shadow boxing is simply a means of getting ready for the main event. In real boxing, there is a purpose to each and every blow. Paul’s point is this: if all you ever do is spiritually shadow box, f all you do is put on a show for others, you will not know genuine spiritual victory. You need to actually get into the ring and strike precise blows against your enemy – which, in this case is your sinful flesh.
This leads us to verse 27, where Paul says, “No, I beat my body and make it my slave.” Why? Because “in me, that is, in my flesh dwells no good thing.” (Romans 7:18) If you do not submit complete control of your body to the Holy Spirit, it will lead you down the path of sin ever time (much like a car with its wheels out of alignment). You cannot let your body’s sinful desires and tendencies dictate to you what you will and will not do. It must not exercise kingly authority over you.
God’s will is that you be sanctified (living a life that is set apart for Him), and He instructs you to learn how to control your body in a way that is holy and honorable. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4 tells us that “the will of God (is) that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor.” When you choose to give in to the sinful desires of your flesh, you won’t be yielding to the desires of the Holy Spirit. As Matthew 6:24 tells us – you cannot serve two masters. Either you will love the one (you’ll love the flesh) and hate the other (hating God and God’s perfect will for your life), OR you will be devoted to the one (you’ll be 100% sold out for God) and despise the other (loathing King Me). You cannot serve both (Matthew 6:24) When you choose King Me, Christ cannot be exalted in your body. Fact. Period.
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) Every Christian is to live a life worthy of the calling we have received (Ephesians 4:1). We are commanded to “purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1) This means we MUST take control of our bodies.
Looking once again at 1 Corinthians 9:27, we see that Paul uses a very strong term here. He says he “beats” his body. It literally means “to turn black and blue.” Now wait a minute here – does this mean we should be taking a whip or a bat and literally beating ourselves with them? Is Paul advocating self-flagellation? Most emphatically not!
This concept literally means you are to treat your body with severity, subjecting it to stern and rigid discipline, leaving no room for error. To better understand this, let’s make note here that we must – as Paul says in Romans 6:19-20 – offer our bodies as a slave to righteousness. When we submit our bodies to the control of righteousness, we will reap benefits that lead to holiness.
In other words, you are to deny your body the sinful pleasures it craves. You are to be stern and rigid in the discipline of your body. No matter how much your flesh cries out for satisfaction and fulfillment, if what it craves does not glorify God, you must deny what it wants – submitting the control of your body to righteousness through God’s Spirit. That will often involve great difficulty and even, sometimes, pain. This is why Paul uses the term, “beat my body.”
Furthermore, Paul writes this phrase in the present tense, active voice, and indicative mood. In other words, every single moment (present tense) you need to beat your body and make it a slave to the right desires of the new nature – placing it under the control of the Spirit. You can never let up. You can never take a break. And if YOU don’t do it, it will never get done (active voice) because no one else is capable of doing it for you. There is no room for deliberation on this. It’s a simple statement of fact (indicative mood).
Here's the exciting thing. As a Christian you have the Holy Spirit dwelling within you, guiding and empowering you (1 Corinthians 6:19). You can indeed do all things through Christ, because He gives you the strength and ability to accomplish it (Philippians 4:13)
Paul put it this way in Romans 8:11 – “If the Spirit of Him who raise Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who lives in you.” (Romans 8:11) It is possible to just say “no” to the desires of the flesh. Titus 2:12 tells us that God and His Word “(trains) us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” You have the power of the One who raised Christ from the dead living within you! Think about that. The very same power that raised the dead is enabling you to deny the sinful desires of the flesh and make it do that which will glorify God!
If you would like to learn more about this topic, let me encourage you to do two things.
First, go to Amazon.com and purchase my book called “Extreme Mind Makeover: How to Transform Sinful Thoughts and Habits into Patterns of Life Pleasing to God.” Much of what you heard in today’s podcast was taken from or inspired by this book I wrote. Again, that title is “Extreme Mind Makeover: How to Transform Sinful Thoughts and Patterns” available on Amazon.com.
The second thing I would encourage you to do is download my free App. Just go to your App store and search for “My Purity Coach.” The app is free and is chocked full of all kinds of helps and resources to guide you as you walk by the Spirit. Again, that free app is called “My Purity Coach.”
And if you have not yet subscribed to this podcast, let me encourage you to do so today so you won’t miss any of our upcoming episodes!
So, until next time this is Author, Speaker, and Purity Coach Steve Etner reminding you that if you are going to glorify God in your everyday living, He must first be glorified in your every moment thinking.