Overcoming the Power of Sin
- Running to Win -

 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives
the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.
     And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things.
Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable
     Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as
one who beats the air.
     But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when
I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
                                                                                     1 Corinthians 9:24-27 

1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Justification Not the Issue
     Justification, meaning deliverance from the penalty of sin, is a gift freely tendered
by a merciful God to anyone who in faith simply asks for it. Nothing more!

     For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves,
it is the gift of God, not of works ...
                                                                                              Ephesians 2:8-9 

     Obviously, then, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 is not about justification. Why? Because hard work, determination, and discipline - virtues not at all required for justification - are what 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 is all about. No, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 is about sanctification, not justification; more specifically, it’s about “working out”  the salvation that justification imparts ...

     Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling ...
                                                                                                                                                                                 Philippians 2:12

  • We don’t work out our justification;
  • We do, however, work out our sanctification.

Worked Out by
Crucifying the Flesh
     Sanctification calls for believers to crucify the flesh ...

    ... the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness, self-control.
     Against such there is no law.
     And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
                                                                                                                                 Galatians 5:23-25

     Jesus himself in Mark 8:34 underscores this very truth, using exactly the same metaphor used in Galatians 5:23-25: crucifixion.

Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
                                                                                                                                                                   Mark 8:34

A Neglected Truth
     Crucifying the flesh and sanctification - meaning cultivating the fruit of the Spirit - go hand in hand, precisely what’s often not taught in churches anymore. Instead what’s taught, though sometimes inadvertently, is quite the opposite: that because justification requires no effort - and certainly no pain and suffering - it must be so with sanctification as well ...

  • that sanctification is spontaneous; 
  • that consequently it just happens;
  • that it requires no real effort;
  • that it entails no grief or distress.

Believers Often 
Throw in the Towel
     All too often pastors teach that sanctification requires nothing more than drawing closer to Christ through prayer, fellowship, and Bible study. And, yes, all three disciplines are vital. But extraordinary effort along with pain and suffering are inevitable nonetheless. And when believers run headlong into that reality, many of them simply throw in the towel - jettisoning their Christian walk altogether, believing its claims are misleading. Either that or they twist scripture to accommodate their failure to overcome the sin plaguing their lives - whatever it is: pornography; alcoholism; drug addiction; homosexuality; infidelity; gambling; an angry, embittered temperament; etc.

Its Visceral Reality
     David Guzik casts a telling light on what exactly the early disciples understood when Jesus spoke about crucifixion ...

     In these twenty centuries after Jesus, we have done a pretty good job of sanitizing and ritualizing the cross. (How they reacted to the thought of crucifixion is how we’d react if Jesus said), “Walk down death row daily and follow Me. Taking up your cross wasn’t a journey; it was a one-way trip. There was no return ticketing; it was never a round trip.

Mark Tessel is equally as trenchant and insightful ...

     Cross bearing does not refer to some irritation in life. Rather, it involves the way of the cross. The picture is of a man, already condemned, required to carry his cross on the way to the place of execution, as Jesus was required to do.

     Christians today are not prepared for this kind of straight-forward, no-holds-barred truth. It’s not part of our cultural baggage. It doesn’t fit well with an American mindset that’s geared toward quick fixes and pain-killing opiates. 

The Mindset
Sanctification Requires
     Sanctification requires a specific mindset - the very mindset Paul spells out for us in 1 Corinthians 9:24 ...

     Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.
                                                                                                                                                                                           1 Corinthians 9:24

In short, don’t just run, run to win.

The Mindset of a Champion
     Sixty years ago, back in 1957, I was privileged to be on the California state cross county championship team. The team was trained by a coach whose name, Ross Clover, even today awakens in me a sense of profound respect and awe. His teams won the Northern California championship in ten of the eleven years he coached. They were indomitable.
     At the beginning of every new year, Coach Clover would summon his freshman runners to his office and lay out for them the principles he believed were at the bottom of his teams’ successes. One of those principles had to do with the mindset a runner must cultivate to be a champion. He’d describe what every middle and long-distance race looks like no more than twenty seconds after it starts. Next, he’d tell us where in any race he expected his runners to be - from the beginning of the race to its end. And, finally, he’d spell out in no uncertain terms the focus and discipline he expected his runners to muster. What he’d tell us was straightforward and simple.
     Shortly after the start of any race 880 yards and beyond, there will be a few runners in the lead; followed by a pack of other runners bunched up in the middle; and following them, a group of still more runners struggling just to stay in the race and cross the finish line.
     I will not tolerate any of you running in the second and third groups. If you want to compete for me on my team, you must run to win - and that means staying up with the front runners at all times. If you think you’re not up to that, pick up your track shoes right now and leave. 
     If you “tie up” while running out in front, OK. I can work with you on that. But if I spot you running in the pack or hanging back with the stragglers as a matter of course, I’m going ask you to quit the team. You don’t have the mind and heart of a champion, and I won’t waste my efforts on you.

     Too tough you say! If that’s what you think, you don’t have the mind and heart of a champion - meaning sanctification will never take hold in your life. 

Double Minded
     You want to win, but you don’t want to pay the price winning requires - the pain and suffering it entails. Could it be that you’re double-minded? And if so, aren’t you aware that God doesn’t waste his efforts on a double-minded believer?

     ... he who wavers (double-minded) is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
     Let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord.
                                                                                                                                                                   James 1:6-7

     Nothing from the Lord!  God will not waste his efforts on anyone who is double-minded. Simply put, overcoming the power of sin is not possible for a half-hearted believer - a believer who isn’t prepared to embrace the suffering and pain that crucifying the flesh requires. 

Keep your Eyes on the Prize
     Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.
     And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things ...
                                                                                                                                                                   1 Corinthians 9:24-25 

     Verses 24 and 25 also speak of a prize (βραβειον). A prize is not a gift; it’s earned. It’s awarded only to those who merit it. How different from justification! And though Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 doesn’t tell us what the prize is, he does exactly that in 2 Timothy 2:11-13: it’s reigning with Christ.

This is a faithful saying: if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him.
If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us
If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.
                                                                                                          2 Timothy 2:11-13

     What we have here in an "inclusio," a literary device based on a concentric principle known as bracketing. It consists of similar ideas or concepts placed at the beginning and end of a section, with the middle composed of a different though related idea or concept. When graphed out, it reveals both the similarity and the difference between the bracketing ideas and the bracketed ideas.
  • Verse 11 is a justification verse. It’s true of anyone who has reposed faith in Christ. Christ’s death has become his death. And just as Christ rose from the dead, so shall he. It’s a restatement of Romans 6:4. Verse 11, then, speaks of a gift, not a prize.
  • However, verse 12 is different. What we have here is a sanctification verse focused on endurance. Endurance is not a requirement for justification, but it is for sanctification. Endurance - meaning hard work, determination, and discipline - produces sanctification; and a believer who sanctifies himself in this life will be awarded the prize of reigning with Christ in the next life. However, a believer who denies Christ in this life - meaning withholds his obedience by refusing to endure - that believer will be denied the prize of reigning alongside Christ in the next life.
  • Verse 13 returns us to justification. It tells us that though a disobedient, half-hearted Christian will be denied the prize of reigning with Christ, he does not thereby forfeit eternal life, a gift, not a prize.

​Graphing It Out ...

2 Timothy 2:11-13 - An Inclusio
Overcoming the
Power of Sin is not easy

Bracketing Verse - Justification

If we died with Him, we shall also live with him ~ 2 Tim. 2:11

Bracketed Verse - Sanctification

If we endure, we shall also reign with him ~ 2 Tim. 2:12a

Bracketed Verse - Sanctification

If we deny him, he shall also deny us ~ 2 Tim. 2:12b

Bracketing Verse - Justification

If we are faithless, he remains faithful. He cannot deny himself ~ 2 Tim. 2:13
Think of It This Way
     Let’s imagine I’ve got a son whom I love and for whom I’d gladly give my life if called upon to do so. I’m also a coach for a big time college football team, and my son is looking forward to the day he’ll play on my team. For years, as a child, he’s watched from the grandstands and on television my teams win championships; and after the games, he’s listened to the players revel in their victories and triumphs. But though he’s my son, he’s still required to earn his way onto my team. The fact that he’s my son does not entitle him to a spot. And if he thinks otherwise ...
  • believing that a spot on the team is guaranteed to him simply be­cause he’s my son;
  • and, in believing that, slacks off and doesn’t practice hard,

… he’ll be crushed when, in assessing his readiness, I have to tell him, “You didn’t make the cut.” Or, as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthi-ans 9:27, you’re “disquali­fied” (ἀδόκιμος)! That doesn’t mean he’s no longer my son and I’m no longer his father. Nor does it mean I love him any less. Not at all! It simply means that he won’t be playing on my team. With an aching heart, he’ll be watching the games from the grandstands. That’s his “portion” (Matthew 24:51).

Summing Up
     The next two verses, verses 26 and 27, use two Greek words to sum up the entire passage and to underscore in very straightforward, candid terms what’s at stake ...

  • the first word is "υπωπιαζω” which is translated “bring into subjection,” but which is more accurately translated “to beat black and blue;” and
  • the second is “αδοκιμος” which means “disqualified.”
     In short, anyone who fails to remorselessly press forward his sanctification by “beating his flesh black and blue” will be disqualified from reigning with Christ - a thought that troubled Paul and should trouble us as well.    
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