Yes, Paul tells early Christians to run the race so as to win the prize. But the fact that we run in the race has nothing whatever to do with us. Rather, Christ’s winning of the race, yea, of the battle! puts us in the field with Him as if we are running along side Him or – more accurately – as if He is running inside our bodies. So, it is God’s mercy that puts us where we are – safety on the journey to full salvation. And who will win? Each of us whose God is merciful.
“It is not neither of man willing [Therefore it is not neither of a man willing], neither running, but of God having mercy.”
Paul calls us – that is, Christians – “rational creatures.” As rational creatures, we owe God our “bodies as a living sacrifice.” I like Paul’s use of the plural when he refers to the bodies of Christians and the singular when he refers to the living sacrifice. Paul often refers to Christians as members of the singular “body of Christ.” The whole body of Christ, i.e. the Church is the “living sacrifice” we owe to God. Together we must “offer up [our] bodies” that are “consecrated to God and worthy of His acceptance.” Worship is a mutual undertaking, i.e. worship is meant to occur among fellow Christians. As “rational creatures,” Paul expects us to understand these truths. He calls us to worship together as one; to offer our bodies together as one, united “living sacrifice.” We are the body of Christ, the Church of which He is the head.
“And now, brethren, I appeal to you by God’s mercies to offer up your bodies as a living sacrifice, consecrated to God and worthy of his acceptance; this is the worship due from you as rational creatures.”
Ever done a favor for someone; perhaps even for a stranger, someone who may have knocked at your window at a stoplight to ask for money? Paul says this is what God does for us, strangers, even enemies. God does a favor for us! He makes sinners “just men.” We are not due this favor; we do not earn it. In other words, our salvation is not a reward. Rather it is a favor.
4 The reward given to one who works to earn it is not reckoned as a favour, it is reckoned as his due. 5 When a man’s faith is reckoned virtue in him, according to God’s gracious plan, it is not because of anything he does; it is because he has faith, faith in the God who makes a just man of the sinner.
We gain God’s favor by recognizing, if you will – by believing that it is a favor. We recognize and believe God does us this favor “according to [His] gracious plan.” Paul says that “it is not because of anything [we do].” Yes, it’s a favor.
“True wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord; he best discerns, who has knowledge of holy things.”
7 True wisdom is founded on the fear of the Lord; who but a fool would despise such wisdom, and the lessons she teaches? 8 Heed well, my son, thy father’s warnings, nor make light of thy mother’s teaching; 9 no richer heirloom, crown or necklace, can be thine. 10 Turn a deaf ear, my son, to the blandishments of evil-doers that would make thee of their company. 11 There are lives to be had for the ambushing, the lives of unsuspecting folk whose uprightness shall little avail them; 12 there are fortunes to be swallowed up whole, as a man is swallowed up by death when he goes to his grave. 13 No lack of treasures here, they say, rich plunder that shall find its way into our houses; 14 thou hast but to throw in thy lot with us; every man shares alike. 15 Such errands, my son, are not for thee; never stir a foot in their company; 16 thou knowest well how eager they are for mischief, how greedy for blood, 17 and the snare is laid to no purpose if the bird is watching. 18 What do they, but compass their own ruin, plot against their own lives? 19 Such is ever the end of greed; he who cherishes it must fall by it at last. (Proverbs 1: 7-19)
The opposite of true wisdom, without a doubt, is foolishness. And foolishness leads, apparently, to greed. The cherishing of money is, indeed, the root of all evils. Foolishness results in chasing after people who say “throw in with us; you’ll never lack. We’ll share our wealth with you.” The foolish one fails to see how “eager they are for mischief, how greedy for blood.” When he keeps their company, he invariably sets himself up for a fall.
On the other hand, true wisdom is the fear of the Lord and “knowledge of holy things.” What is knowledge of holy things? Some would say it’s avoidance of the world. Some might say it’s keeping in the Word of God and in the company of the saints. Avoiding the world is the wrong approach to true wisdom. Rather, lean not on your own understanding. Rely on God’s understanding. How? By keeping in His Word. True wisdom is understanding that with God, life is always better than it is without Him.
Does Paul mean to say that God chooses whom He blesses? Paul may as well say, “Of course I do!” Paul pulls out some ammunition from the old covenant scriptures. He mentions the clear division between Pharoa and Moses – one an object of God’s wrath, the other an object of His mercy. Paul briefly tells of Abraham’s two sons; he says, “You know them; you know how that all came down.” Then he fleshes out the story of Rebecca’s two sons: Jacob and Esau. He writes:
“God’s sonship is not for all those who are Abraham’s children by natural descent; it is only the children given to him as the result of God’s promise that are to be counted as his posterity. 9 It was a promise God made, when he said, When this season comes round again, I will visit thee, and Sara shall have a son. 10 And not only she, but Rebecca too received a promise, when she bore two sons to the same husband, our father Isaac. 11 They had not yet been born; they had done nothing, good or evil; and already, so that God’s purpose might stand out clearly as his own choice, 12 with no action of theirs to account for it, nothing but his will, from whom the call came, she was told, The elder is to be the servant of the younger13 So it is that we read, I have been a friend to Jacob, and an enemy to Esau.”
Paul hears the protests. He realizes how this sounds to the human ear. God is unfair. How dare He pick and choose us like that. How dare He send some of us to eternal hell while rescuing only a few of us! Paul counters:
14 What does this mean? That God acts unjustly? That is not to be thought of. 15 I will shew pity, he tells Moses, on those whom I pity; I will shew mercy where I am merciful;16 the effect comes, then, from God’s mercy, not from man’s will, or man’s alacrity. 17 Pharao, too, is told in scripture, This is the very reason why I have made thee what thou art, so as to give proof, in thee, of my power, and to let my name be known all over the earth.18 Thus he shews mercy where it is his will, and where it is his will he hardens men’s hearts.19 Hereupon thou wilt ask, If that is so, how can he find fault with us, since there is no resisting his will? 20 Nay, but who art thou, friend, to bandy words with God? Is the pot to ask the potter, Why hast thou fashioned me thus?21 Is not the potter free to do what he will with the clay, using the same lump to make two objects, one for noble and one for ignoble use? 22 It may be that God has borne, long and patiently, with those who are the objects of his vengeance, fit only for destruction, meaning to give proof of that vengeance, and display his power at last;23 meaning also to display, in those who are the objects of his mercy, how rich is the glory he bestows, that glory for which he has destined them.“
Do you believe in destiny? Do you know God’s sovereign power? Do you protest against His own choices? When you recognize and accept God’s mercy in the light of Romans 9 and John 1 and Ephesians 1, to name a few, then you may find yourself melting away, or as Job puts it so well, “repenting in dust and ashes.”
“Jesus answers, and says to them, This is the work of God, that ye believe to him, whom he sent.”
The question is: “What shall we do, that we work the works of God?” Just as in Jesus’ day when He walks the earth, people ask and argue this question every day. Some people debate while others actually denigrate others’ ideas of what it means to “work the works of God.”
“And now dwelleth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the most of these is charity.” (1 Corinthians 13:13) Paul answers the question, “What shall we do, that we work the works of God” with a strong reminder that without charity, we are nothing.
I’ve actually heard people downplay the value of love, spouting that holiness is the key to God. Jesus, I believe, agrees except that He says that without love, holiness is of no value because without love, there is no holiness.
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For you have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but you have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.”
Now and then, in some special way, I emotionally experience what Paul means when he writes: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” Not to be a spoiler — that’s a spoiler alert, ladies and gentlemen — but toward the end of the movie, SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD, Dodge and Penny happen upon a line of people slowly walking toward something ahead. Every person looks at peace as he or she walks. The camera turns to show us where they are heading. We see the ocean open up between two seaside cliffs. In the shallows stands a minister of God; he is obviously baptizing babies in the waters of the ocean.
Suddenly, tears welled up in conjunction with a glowing emotion — what I can only describe as a heartthrob — and I knew God the Holy Spirit was witnessing with my spirit that I am a son of God. That moment in the film — which otherwise is devoid of any mention of God — was so tender, so touching, so real that I sat stunned in the dark theatre.
Dodge and Penny silently sit, speaking with others on the beach. No, we don’t see that they get baptized but subsequent events in the film make that truth possible, perhaps even likely.
God witnesses. His Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are sons of God. Do you know what that is like?
I climb — not as often as I’d like — but being attached to a rope when climbing is smart. Yes, there are people who climb without rope; they are free to fall with any mistake from which they are unable to recover footing or grip. I climb with a rope on belay. That means someone below is holding onto the rope so that if I fall, they will catch me within a few inches.
“But the Lord is true, that shall confirm you, and shall keep [us] from evil.”
Paul’s promise here is amazing. What a comfort — that “the Lord is true.” Jesus never utters a lie for our adversary is the father of lies and Jesus has nothing in common with him. In fact, Jesus “keeps [us] from evil.” He “confirms [us].”
Jesus is belayer and anchor — I don’t plan a climb without Him.
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.”
Day and night the heavens and the sky “proclaim [God’s] handiwork.” Day “pours out speech” and “night reveals knowledge.” And so, says Paul to the church at Rome, “men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20, NIV) We are without excuse “because what may be known about God is plain to [us], because God makes it plain to [us]. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – are clearly seen, being understood from what is made.” (Romans 1:19-20, NIV)
“Even though [we] know God”, says Paul, “we neither glorify Him as God nor give thanks to Him, for [our] thinking becomes futile and [our] foolish hearts are darkened.” (Romans 1:21, NIV)
Paul says “you, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things… When you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” (Romans 2:1-4, NIV)
Do not show contempt for the riches of God’s grace! Rather, withhold your judgment of others. Give thanks to God, renewing your mind, allowing His light into your heart. Listen to the day’s speech as it pours forth. Absorb the night’s knowledge as you sleep in God’s arms. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Paul is warned by the Holy Spirit to expect hardships and prison. He writes:
“But I dread nothing of these, neither I make my life preciouser than myself, so that I end my course [the while I end, or fulfill, my course], and the ministry of the word, which I received of the Lord Jesus, to witness the gospel of the grace of God.” (WYC)
“But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.” (KJV)
“But I count my life of no value to myself, so that I may finish my course[with joy] and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.” (HCSB)
However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me —the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. (NIV-1984)
I love the Wycliffe Bible translation! Note that Paul is not testifying about the gospel of the grace of God, but he is witnessing the good news firsthand. He is not counting his life so precious that he dreads imprisonment or hardships. Rather he determines not to “end his course” before he finishes “the ministry of the Word, which [he] received of the Lord Jesus.”
Perhaps the other translations miss this subtlety only slightly — that Paul does not testify about the gospel; but rather witnesses it himself. What Paul works to complete is “the ministry of the Word” which is certainly more than telling others the good news. Paul determines to consider his life worthless in comparison to his calling — for to Paul, to live is Christ and to die is Christ.