One of my first blogs asserted that the Christian life is a full-time job. This was meant in the context of occupation, not just living by faith in whatever workplace. Most people disagreed with that position. I would like to revisit it today.
Right now God is taking me through a discipline of learning just how hard it is to live the Christian life He calls me to. (We are called in the same way I still contend, though I will write this blog today in the first person.) By living the Christian life in full time occupation I mean living a free, holy, sinless, righteous, worshipping, serving, ministering life before God with and among His Body of fellow believers who live likewise. (Yes, this sounds like some eutopia but hand on for a moment to gather in my Biblical rationale.)
The daily stuggle obviously centers around living either in obedience or sin. It is a matter, as God says in Romans 6:16, of yielding, "Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?" I have the power by the blood of Jesus and the indwelling Holy Spirit to make this choice every moment of my life. This is something that no sinner has. While they are powerless to stop sinning, I am not. The question is, what does it take to do it?
The apostle Paul was by no means a super athlete. Yet God used through his pen so many examples of the athlete to describe the power, responsibility, and actions I must take in order to obey unto righteousness, that I awake (and remain awake) to righteousness and sin not (I Corinthians 15:34). Before I get to the Scriptures, I will describe an Olympian example of most of us are aware of.
Michael Phelps won eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics last year. His is just one of a handful of examples of those who could be classified as super athletes, the best of the best. They are truly a handful in number. For while there are hundreds of players out there, perhaps thousands, and thousands more over the centuries, only a few rise to the top classified as household names.
My aim here is not to become a household name. My aim is to worship God unhindered by sin. It is to serve the Body freely. It is to gather treasure in heaven to cast as crowns back to my Lord Jesus. As you will see, there is great profit in this both in this life and that which is to come.
Here are some excerpts of Phelps' training six to seven years ago before he became the biggest Olympic champion of all time. These are taken from "Swimming Technique", January - February 2003, as written by his coach Bob Bowman and Michael J. Scott. First, I assert that as the coach, Mr. Bowman is like a discipler, and Mr. Phelps is the disciple.
Mr. Bowman describes Phelps this way, "One component of Michael Phelps' phenomenal success is his "made-for-swimming" physique. But the main component is the carefully-crafted training program that his coach, Bob Bowman, has created for him."
God says in II Corinthians 5:17, "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." Our success in living the Christian life starts with this reality, that we are "made" for it by Jesus. We are new creatures. Second, we need to be discipled by a trainer.
The work of training/discipling is a two-sided coin. There is much personal responsibility that I have to modify the way I think. There is much work for those who make me a disciple to guide me along the way.
"Michael is much more disciplined than he was in his earlier days....he might have to do some things he didn't want to do, like train, sit still, pay attention and not talk....
These days, he's modified his behavior_either voluntarily or involuntarily....'you are going to do it in practice.'"
My thinking is modified as I obey Romans 11:36-12:2, "For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen. I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God."
"Michael has an athletic mentality second to none. He is keenly competitive, and that's what drives him. In competition, he is incredibly focused and able to relax. The higher the level of competition, the better he is. That's something you just don't see very often.
What he needs to work on is the same thing he had to work on as a child: to strengthen the connection in his mind between what happens on a daily basis and how that affects what's going to happen when he gets in the big meet. He's better now and better than 90 percent of the population, but he still has those days_about once every six weeks_when he's tired, and it's a struggle for me to get him to do things and maintain the same intensity in workout that he gives in the big meets."
Now that Phelps is better than the entire population of this planet, we can see how this determination and focus paid off. But even the best get tired. Here's how Paul continued to strive:
"I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." - Philippians 4:13
"And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." - II Corinthians 12:9
"We continue to develop Michael as a complete swimmer."
I am already complete in Christ as God says in Colossians 2:10-12, "And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead." See how the constant mortification of sin must be done. We must work out our salvation in this way to develop our completeness.
"...we have spent a lot of time on endurance work, improving technical issues and gaining strength...."
"Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ." - II Timothy 2:3
"But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved." - Matthew 24:13
"Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God." - Hebrews 12:1-2
"Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy." - I Peter 1:13-16
"Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness." - Isaiah 41:10
"Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees." - Isaiah 35:3
"Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD." - Psalm 31:24
After all this, Mr. Bowman and Mr. Scott show the daily regimen of training that Michael Phelps uses. It is every day of his life. There are no breaks. It is morning, afternoon, and evening. No time off. Training and competition are his entire life. There is nothing he does that is not focused to this end. It is his full-time job.
The apostle Paul used athletic and military terms to often describe what it takes for us to live the Christian life. I think he used these terms because they are easily understood by the common man. Paul himself probably was not an athlete. He was a Pharisee and a sailmaker by trade. But as a keen observer of life and an astute practitioner of their methods, he learned to "keep under" his body (flesh).
"Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." - I Corinthians 9:24-27
Paul lived this way, fought this way, and won this way. God did not provide us with an alternative. This is the way. It is hard. The knowledge of the way is simple. It is a matter of yielding to the flesh because it is easy, or yielding to obedience unto righteousness. God wants me and you and all of His saints to live this way, fight this way, win this way. "Failure is not an option." (Here's an interesting tidbit...the terms and their various derivatives "option" and "alternative" do not appear in Scripture. As I said in a blog a few weeks ago, I find this comforting and reassuring because it makes the way simple. It does not make the way easy, but it is simple to understand that there is only one way.)
"Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." - Matthew 7:14 If you are of the remnant, then you are of this few. Go through the gate with me, get on the way, find it, and finish strong.