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. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. —1 Corinthians 9:24-27 ESV
John Piper explains, in a sermon, “Olympic Spirituality”:
In other words life is not a game with no lasting consequences. The way we live our lives has eternal consequences. Life is a proving ground where we prove who we are, whom we trust, and what we cherish. Eternal life, the upward call, the crown of righteousness—all these hang on what our life says about who we are, whom we trust, and what we love.
Make no mistake here! Life is not a place for proving to God or anybody your strength. Life is a place for proving whose strength you trust—man’s or God’s. Life is not a place for proving the power of your intelligence to know truth. It’s a place for proving the power of God’s grace to show truth (Matthew 16:17). Life is not a field for demonstrating the force of our will to make good choices. It’s a field for showing how the beauty of Christ takes us captive and constrains us to choose and run for his glory.
The race of life has eternal consequences not because we are saved by works, but because Christ has saved us from dead works to serve the living and true God with Olympic passion (Hebrews 9:14).
The race of life has eternal consequences not because grace is nullified by the way we run, but because grace is verified by the way we run. “By the grace of God I am what I am and his grace toward me was not in vain, but I labored [I ran, I fought] more exceedingly than all, yet it was not I but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). Paul’s running did not nullify the purpose of grace; it verified the power of grace.
Eternal life hangs on the way we run and the way we fight not because salvation is based on the merit of works, but because faith without works is dead (James 2:26). Life is a proving ground for whether faith is alive or dead—a proving ground for whom we trust.