To illustrate the race of the Christian for the crown of life, Paul uses the races of the ancient Greeks. He says: “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.”
To win the prize-a chaplet of perishable flowers, bestowed amid the applause of the multitude-was regarded as the highest honor by the Grecian runners. In the hope of gaining this prize they subjected themselves to the most severe training and to continual self-denial. They put aside every indulgence that would tend to weaken the physical powers. We are striving for an infinitely more valuable prize,—even the crown of everlasting life. How much more careful should be our striving! how much more willing our sacrifice and self-denial!
There is work—stern, earnest work—before those who win this prize that God holds out. They must “lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset, … and … run with patience.” One of the weights that they must lay aside is the indulgence of appetite. Intemperance has cursed the world almost from its birth. Noah’s son was so debased by the use of wine that he lost all sense of propriety, and the curse that followed his sin has never been lifted from his descendants.
Nadab and Abihu were men in holy office; but their minds became so clouded by the use of wine that they could not distinguish between sacred and common things. They “offered strange fire before the Lord, which He commanded them not. And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.”
Alexander found it much easier to subdue kingdoms than to rule his own spirit. After conquering nations, he fell through the indulgence of appetite,—the victim of intemperance.
Through appetite Satan controls the whole being. Thousands who might have lived to honor God and bless humanity have gone down to the grave, physical, mental, and moral wrecks because they sacrificed their powers to self-indulgence. Those who gain eternal life must bring every appetite under the control of the Spirit of God. Then will they have power to run the race set before them.
The Christian must lay aside all selfishness, living and working for the good of others. The only way to grow in grace is to do the work that Christ has enjoined upon us, helping and blessing those who need the help we can give. Strength comes by exercise; action is the very condition of life. Those who endeavor to maintain Christian life by passively accepting the blessings that come through the means of grace, and doing nothing for Christ, are trying to live by eating without working. And in the spiritual as in the natural world, this always results in degeneration and decay. A man who would refuse to exercise his limbs would soon lose the power to use them. The Christian who will not exercise his God-given powers, not only fails of growing up into Christ, but he loses the strength that he already had.
The spirit of unselfish labor for others gives depth, stability, and Christlike loveliness to the character, and brings peace and happiness to its possessor. The aspirations are elevated. There is no room for sloth or selfishness. Those who thus exercise the Christian graces will grow and will become strong to work for God. They are most surely working out their own salvation.
The Christian must lay aside all self-seeking. The hypocrisy of the Pharisees was the product of self-seeking. The glorification of self was the object of their lives. It was this that led them to pervert and misapply the Scriptures, and blinded them to the purpose of Christ’s mission. This subtle evil even the disciples were in danger of cherishing. It was this that prompted the strife as to who would be the greatest. It was this that came between them and Christ, making them so little in sympathy with His mission of self-sacrifice, so slow to comprehend the mystery of redemption.
As leaven, if left to complete its work, will cause corruption and decay, so does the spirit of self-seeking, cherished, work the defilement and ruin of the soul. Yet among the followers of our Lord today, as of old, how widespread is this subtle, deceptive sin! How often our service to Christ, our communion with one another, is marred by the secret desire to exalt self!
Only the power of God can banish self-seeking. This change is the sign of His work. When the faith we accept destroys self-seeking and pretense, when it leads us to seek God’s glory and not our own, we may know that it is of the right order. “Father, glorify Thy name” was the key-note of Christ’s life, and if we follow Him, this will be the key-note of our life.
The Christian must lay aside doubt. Not one that in penitence and faith has claimed His protection will Christ permit to pass under the enemy’s power. The Saviour is by the side of His tempted ones. With Him there can be no such thing as failure, loss, impossibility, or defeat; we can do all things through Him who strengthens us. When temptations and trials come, do not wait to adjust all the difficulties, but look to Jesus, your Helper.
There are Christians who think and talk altogether too much about the power of Satan. They think of their adversary, they pray about him, they talk about him, and he looms up greater and greater in their imagination. It is true that Satan is a powerful being; but thank God, we have a mighty Saviour, who cast out the evil one from heaven. Satan is pleased when we magnify his power. Why not talk of Jesus? Why not magnify His power and love?
The rainbow of promise encircling the throne on high is an everlasting pledge of God’s love for us. It testifies to the universe that God will never forsake His people in their struggles with evil. It is an assurance to us of strength and protection as long as the throne itself shall endure.
Envy, malice, evil-thinking, evil-speaking, covetousness,—these are weights that the Christian must lay aside if he runs successfully the race for immortality. “If thy hand cause thee to stumble, cut it off; it is good for thee to enter into life maimed, rather than having thy two hands to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire. And if thy foot cause thee to stumble, cut it off; it is good for thee to enter into life halt, rather than having thy two feet to be cast into hell.”
Why this earnest language, than which none can be stronger?—Because “the Son of Man is come to save that which was lost.” Shall the disciples of Christ show less regard for the souls of their fellow-men than the Majesty of heaven has shown? Every soul has cost an infinite price, and how terrible is the sin of turning one soul away from Christ, so that for him the Saviour’s love and humiliation and agony shall have been in vain.
Any habit or practise that would lead into sin and bring dishonor upon Christ, would better be put away, whatever the sacrifice. That which dishonors God can not benefit the soul. The blessing of heaven can not attend any man in violating the eternal principles of right. And one sin cherished is sufficient to work the degradation of character and to mislead others. If the foot or the hand would be cut off, or even the eye would be plucked out, to save the body from death, how much more earnest should we be to put away sin, that brings death to the soul.
Every step that the Christian takes is a step of advance. The Lord draws near to him as he strives to reach the object set before him. Each temptation overcome marks a triumph. Each night of conflict and trial, bravely borne, hails the dawn of a better day. Laying aside all that would hinder his progress, forgetting the things that are behind, he presses toward the mark of the prize of his high calling.
— E.G. White, Signs of the Times, March 19, 1902