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What Makes a Winner?

Audiences watch in admiration when top athletes display their skill and determination in pursuit of their goal. We are more than mere bystanders, however; the contest of sport serves as a metaphor for the course of life. "Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown," writes the apostle Paul (1 Cor 9:25). So what lessons can we learn on becoming a victorious Christian?

1) Follow the guidelines
"If anyone competes in athletics," Paul reminded the successor of his baton, "he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules" (2 Tim 2:5). A clause was added to the Olympic oath against doping—and when athletes failed to live up to their oath, they lost their gold medals.

The Bible tells us, "Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city" (Rev 22:14). Keeping the Lord's commands is not discounting His grace, nor is it being legalistic. Just as the athlete who adheres to the rules without complaint glorifies the game, the faithful who abide by the commandments glorify the Creator. Jesus Christ said, "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love" (Jn 15:10).

2) Keep the goal in focus
We need to be clear about the goal, or we may stray from the course, falter, or fall away: it is to enter the kingdom of heaven and receive, as Paul reminds us, the "imperishable crown." We don't follow Jesus out of the expectation that things will always go our way, that our lives will be successful and trouble-free. If the Lord grants us material blessings, healing, or peace, it is out of His mercy and grace. "But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you" (Lk 12:31).

3) Run with conviction
When an underdog was asked whether she expected to win, her reply was a firm "Yes." To be a winner, you need to run with full conviction in the prize ahead. Every step must be a firmly placed move closer to the finish line. "I run thus: not with uncertainty," says Paul, "Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air" (1 Cor 9:26).

4) Discipline yourself
"I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest…I myself should become disqualified" (1 Cor 9:27). Athletes have to withstand a lot of pain and drain in order to win. We've seen some who compete even while injured. Their will to win compels them on to surpass their physical limitations.

As spiritual athletes, we are in a constant struggle against the weaknesses of our flesh: worries, desires, pride, sin. Sometimes it's painful, but we need to press on, overlooking the momentary burn, toward the lasting gains.

Discipline also means constant watchfulness, for even when we feel strong, we need to be careful. Studies have shown that athletes are more susceptible to viral infections right after competition because their immune systems are weakened after the strain. Even if we are at the peak of our conditioning, fighting spiritual battles can leave us vulnerable. "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor 10:12).

Yet we are not on our own. God is our Helper, and willing to fight for us. But we have to have the will to follow His way first. We have to learn the rules and stick to them, and run with full conviction towards the goal.

Publisher: True Jesus Church