"Running the Race of Faith"

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on October 23, 2016
By Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:What Does Romans 5:8 Mean Today?)
Copyright 2016 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: 2 Timothy 4:6-8

The Apostle Paul said, "I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is now laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing."

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia.

Are you stumbling through life today? Do you feel like you took a wrong turn somewhere and any hope you had for finding joy is just gone? On the way toward your goals, do you feel like your life is falling to pieces? Your energy sapped by sickness? Your career crippled by a mistake? Your contentment stolen by other people's nastiness? Do you sometimes feel like you are all alone on the proverbial 400 meter track of life with every one watching, with you stumbling not into the lead, but into the very back of the pack, lap after lap after lap? If that's how you feel, what then? What's next?

A few years ago, sophomore runner Arden McMath, began to actually struggle like that. Right in the middle of the 3200 meter race of the Ohio Division III girls state track meet, she felt herself blacking out as she attempted to run. As she entered the final 20 meters of the race, her legs, that had carried her through all the year's training and competition, they folded beneath her and she fell down on the track. Dazed and confused it took a moment for her to understand what was happening; it was all coming unraveled, falling apart. She wouldn't win. She wouldn't even lose. She wouldn't finish at all.

Then suddenly, she felt arms come around her, lifting her back onto her feet. The crowd and the coaches went crazy as they witnessed what many later would call a heroic act of sportsmanship. Meghan Vogel, the first-place winner of the 1600 meter race, run earlier in the day, had been running this time in last place behind Arden, having a difficult time of her own. Her struggle meant that as Arden fell, she was in the right place to do what needed to be done. With Arden's arm over her shoulders, Meghan walked her forward, one step at a time, and carried her across the finish line. That act of selfless care for the fallen competitor was the victory most remembered that day as the video and story was shared all over the internet and major news stations across the United States.

What a message of sportsmanship, of help. But God's message today is even more than a helping hand; it's more than giving you and me a lift to the finish at the back of the pack. His love is one that takes our losses and makes them His victory. It takes our weaknesses and covers them with His strength. It takes our sins and covers them with His righteousness!

What God wants you to know today is that your very life, with its struggles and pains, unfulfilled dreams and real heartaches, it doesn't have to end in defeat and there can be the joy of His victory even in the midst of that momentary struggle. The Apostle Paul, who himself had been beaten down in life, threatened, ridiculed, and unjustly imprisoned, even abandoned by his friends, he wants you to know that there is real victory through it all. He says, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing."

St. Paul wants you to know the power to run the race of your life with courage, with boldness, with strength, and most of all, with victory. What if I told you that you could fight the good fight; you could agonize the agony as it were?

I know that our lives are full of turmoil and agony. People are looking for something, be honest, and yet they are not even always sure what they are seeking. Very often, this life is a struggle. This life is a fight.

Yet in our reading, Paul literally says that he has good agony. How can that be? I know that the English says, "good fight," but the word for fight is "agona." It is the word upon which the word agony is based. The Greek word agona refers to the athletic competition. It is about the battle and fighting against our competitors. No matter how you look at agony, it is a struggle. It is not rest. It's not peace.

Yet Paul can say in Christ, his agony is good. That doesn't mean it isn't agony. That doesn't mean it isn't a struggle. But it is good agony. That doesn't mean Paul rejoices in pain. He doesn't like to be hurt. But he knows the fight, the agony, is good because it's worth it. He knows that the result of his agony, the result of the fight is a crown of righteousness; living his life in Christ, not living his life trapped in his sin and unrighteousness.

If you are battling today, that's good. We are all sinners. We all are battling with guilt and shame. To give in to that, to quit battling with that, it may seem tranquil for the moment, but the wages of sin without Christ is death, destruction, never-ending failure and judgment.

Do you battle with sin in your life? Or have you just decided to let sin rule your life? Have you given in to the teachings of this world that you are number one? Have you succumbed to the notion that all of life really revolves around you? Don't do it!

Battle. Fight the good fight. Agonize the good agony. But here's the key; fight the good fight. Why, because in Christ your victory is already won.

By faith, Jesus stands ready to turn your searching and stumbling into the greatest and biggest gold medal ceremony the universe has ever known and He wants to include you in it. Jesus wants to transform your life and give you peace and confidence that in Him you have victory and purpose now and the promise of glory with Him forever. He wants to make your life more than just a scramble for fleeting pleasure, but a race that is eternally worth the run. The pursuit of eternal righteousness, peace that passes all understanding, a love that can transform your life and others. That's worth the struggle, whatever the cost, because the fullness of that graced life is already yours in Jesus Christ through His victory for you on the cross and for you through His empty tomb!
In fact, when the Bible describes the Christian life using terms of racing, we're given an opportunity to understand what Jesus did for us and what He has in store for us, and better to understand the role He has for us in this world as we move closer each moment of each day to either our death or Christ's return.

Like Meghan did for Arden in their grueling run and final victory of compassion, Jesus did and more. He made Himself last by His willing humiliation so that He would take upon Himself our sin, our weakness, our failing and then He gave to us the things of His life where He carried us across the finish line through His death and resurrection and crowned us with the glory of His resurrection righteousness and grace.

In Hebrews 12 it says that it was because of the joy set before Him, the joy of knowing that sinners like you and me would be saved, that joy compelled Him to take on the cross, scorn its shame, and earn the victory that was beyond our reach or our effort.

It's one thing to help someone finish their race. It's another thing to run their race, to win, and then give them the medal you've earned in their stead. That's a glimpse of the love of God in Jesus Christ, Who ran the race we couldn't even start because of our sin and unfitness, and Who gifted us with His victory crown and all the perks that go with that.

The image of the race is one way to try and describe the eternal effort that God in Christ accomplished for us when He ran to the cross because of our sins, and ran through the cross to the resurrection so that we might have eternal victory, a victory only He could earn! But, the Bible also uses the image to describe the life of a follower of Jesus who now gets to run for the sake of others.

The life Christ earned for us, it motivates us to live in Him for others. Paul urged the Corinthian church to hold fast to the gospel and refrain from anything that would disqualify them from God's salvation, saying it this way, "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 one". (1 Corinthians 9:24-26).

"We don't run aimlessly," he says. In Christ, there is purpose, there is power, there is eternal potential for the race of life run by faith.

Think about it. Here is Paul imprisoned and likely facing execution for his Christian faith. He's honest about some aspects of his hard race. It's filled with opposition and struggle, yet it's one run with the gift of Jesus' righteousness, the hope of Jesus' promises, and the glory of Jesus' accomplishments all being his; Paul's eternal possession by grace through faith in Jesus.

But even St. Paul needed his fellow brothers and sisters in the faith for comfort and encouragement this side of heaven. He suffered so that they might know Christ, Timothy and other believers like him, they agonized their agony with Paul to be partners in the Gospel with him.

For all of us, there are times when we need someone to come along side us and lift us up because of our mistakes, a shortage of our strength or even opposition from others who knock us down. We are baptized people of faith because Christ joins Himself to us in new life. We are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. As we encounter the needs of others, it is the Lord's love and blessing that's delivered through our words and deeds and that can lift up the fallen and encourage faith in our Savior. As we live each day and encounter people who are lost in their sin, the Lord would have us love and serve them as He does us, speak the truth to them so God's gift through us would also be His gift to them and all together we will cross the finish line in Christ's victory.

Think about what we get to give others in this life. We not only have the joy of victory, the assurances that our struggles and failures will not keep us from God's love; we get to come alongside of people with that same kind of love as a gift for them. We get to race over to them with reminders and strength-giving comfort, not only on Sundays, not only from pastors, but by all of God's people Growing numbers of people who need the real victory only Jesus can give. Without Christ, all of us are just chasing after the wind in meaningless dead end pursuits. We get to run alongside of others as believers in our vocation with a persevering, agony fighting love, and a gospel proclamation that offers God's care and victory to them as well.

The race of faith, it's worth the struggle of the run because victory is sure in Christ, the presence of Jesus is sure to those who trust Him, and the purpose of serving others; that has eternal significance in the race we run by faith in Jesus!

All of this "fight the good fight, run the tough race" life is empowered by God's gracious love. It's a love that does not wait for us to be loveable before God loves us. It does not demand that we become worthy of His affection, it covers our unworthiness affectionately!

As the Scripture proclaims, even though our strength may fail, our legs give out, and we tumble to our knees, those who wait upon the Lord, who trust in His love and grace, they will rise to run, they will have strength to serve, they will finish the race because He has promised that it is so.

And, this love will ultimately, eventually make what we consider to be an awful thing at the moment even that will become something good.

We just recently celebrated the retirement of our Cross Country Track Coach Mike Unger; well, he was our math teacher too. He coached me at Lutheran High West in Detroit back in the '70s. He was new to the job at the time and I was new to this thing called cross country. My Mom and Dad would not let me play football until my sophomore year, but they would not let me no nothing that first fall either. She said "You're running cross-country to get in shape for basketball." Okay, no big deal, right? Well, have you ever run 7 mile runs in 50 minutes? Have you ever run 10 mile runs in Detroit smog, with bus fumes? Have you ever run spring workouts, 330s, 220s, 110s, then back? It was agony at times, my friends, but that agony made us a team as we fought through those practices together. That agony made us victors as we won meet after meet after meet even in those early years. That agony even allowed us to suffer the loss of a gifted track star in the prime of his life due to an aneurism. Why? We weren't just team mates; we were Christian brothers and sisters! Looking back, I'm glad that I got connected to that team. I'm glad we followed a coach who put us through the paces and believed that we could win. I glad though, that we ran not just as brothers but as believers in Christ too because that's what we'll all be celebrating together someday; not at the finish line of this life, but at the starting line of life eternal!

That's good agony. There is a fight worth fighting. It's the fight to follow Christ in all things, because He has already gifted you with the victor's crown of His life, His death and resurrection. It's a fight worth fighting, a race worth running because there are people to encourage, to love and to serve along the way, to sweat it out together!

Jesus agonized the ultimate good agony. Jesus fought the fight between evil and righteousness. And He won. Jesus defeated sin. He never gave in to temptation. He lived totally righteously. He loved God and loved His neighbor perfectly. He fought the ultimate good fight. He agonized. He won. He earned the crown of righteousness. But He didn't earn it for Himself. He earned it for you. He earned what you never could. He won the victory we can't win on our own. And He gives you the crown of life eternal. May that love empower you and that faith sustain you to see that your race with Christ is worth the run. Amen.

Action in Ministry for October 23, 2016
Guest: Rev. Tim Radkey

Action In Ministry 84-08 October 23, 2016 Rev. Tim Radkey The Home Run King

ANNOUNCER: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. This is Action In Ministry and today in your message we learned that there is a good agony involved in running the race of faith.

SELTZ: You are exactly right, Mark, and Jesus picks us up when we fall and He carries us even to the very finish line of life.

ANNOUNCER: Pastor Tim Radkey speaks directly to men on this very topic in an online resource titled: Home Run King and he's here to share with us how God enables men of faith to step up to the plate, as it were, and be the husbands and the spiritual leaders God has created them to be.

SELTZ: Pastor Radkey, thanks for joining us again.

RADKEY: Thank you. Glad to be here.

SELTZ: This resource that you've written, you've written in a wonderful language, a language we all love; the language of baseball. You hit on a topic that really is close to home for a lot of us; being a good husband, father, spiritual leader. So let's just say that a lot of us, we've struck out a lot of the time and some of us maybe are already thinking we've lost the game. So why are you saying, then, to us, "It's really time for you to step up to the plate"?

RADKEY: Definitely. This is one of the greatest privileges that God gives to men is to lead their homes and to lead their families spiritually. It's really the way God designed it to be. You can see from just numerous statistics where the father's not involved, the consequences in the loss of faith in their children and future generations. But when the father is involved, you see it's off the charts in terms of the family staying in the church, being connected to the church, being connected to Christ when the father is active.

SELTZ: Guys, this is vital to your relationship with your family but it's vital for you too, like you were just saying, and for our kids.

RADKEY: Definitely.

ANNOUNCER: Now, how do you define a home run king? What is that and how do you know if you qualify?

RADKEY: My point is I think you really realize God has made you a home run king. He has gifted you and equipped you and made you ready to do exactly what He's called you to do. You might not be perfect but the God Who calls you is perfect. I always think of that and realize that He's given me all that I need to be the home run king that I need to be.

SELTZ: It's funny. I talk about this a lot too when we talk about you live a graced life, which means God has done all things well for you. But then even the good works He has for you to do, He gives you credit for those as well. What an incredible thing. Well, listen, you title one of the sessions: Where's the Beef? Now I know that you're not talking about what's on the grill here, so what kind of meat are we talking about here?

RADKEY: The meat we're really looking at here is looking at and thinking about Jesus in the wilderness and thinking how He is tempted three times by Satan; to really step away for the vocation and the calling that God has sent Him into the world to do. I think what we need to really realize as men is there are many different distractions that try to lead us away from that which God has called us to do in our homes. So, we look to Jesus as a great example of saying no and being in the Word and the Word is where the meat is.

ANNOUNCER: As far as gauging one's progress toward this goal, how do you know if you're batting 100 or batting 1,000?

RADKEY: Well, first, ask your wife. I've always heard that the voice of God actually sounds similar to your wife's voice. So, ask people in your home. Ask your children. Ask other godly men and they will always give you an honest assessment of how you're doing in that category.

SELTZ: Okay, then, if we need some improvement, how might we get that average up?

RADKEY: I think our greatest help is keeping our eyes on Jesus and being in His Word and really gathering with other men who are in the same battle, stepping up to the same plate, striking out, hitting home runs, and really just mix it up with other men so that you can be in the Word together and grow from one another.

ANNOUNCER: This resource passes along wisdom from God's Word that helps us to be more godly husbands and fathers and as we apply that Word to our lives, what results might we see?

RADKEY: I think we'll always see that God's work always bears fruit and I think we'll see stable homes. I think we'll see marriages that maybe aren't perfect but marriages that know where to go for reconciliation when there's problems and when there's breaks. I think we'll see that fruit all over our homes and in our families, and hopefully in our church as well.

SELTZ: Yeah, it is an incredible resource. Guys, you need this and it will bless you. Tim, I know we're not always going to bat 1,000 as husbands, but because of what Christ has done for us, His model of fatherhood to us, we're able to step up to the plate like you've talked about and then let Him do His work through us for others. Thank you for this resource. I know it only touches the surface. Thanks for being here with us.

RADKEY: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

SELTZ: And that's our Action In Ministry segment today; to bless, to empower, and to strengthen your life in Christ for others.

ANNOUNCER: Once again the name of this resource is Home Run King. You can view this content for free at our website. Go to lutheranhour.org and click on Action In Ministry. That's lutheranhour.org. Or call 1-855-john316. That's 1-855-564-6316.

LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for October 23, 2016
Topic: What Does Romans 5:8 Mean Today?

ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Gregory Seltz explores another favorite Bible verse. I'm Mark Eischer. Today our verse is Romans 5:8 which says, "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." That seems to be pretty straightforward. But do you have any insight into what that verse might mean for us today?

SELTZ: Mark, this is a truly amazing and wonderful verse. It's straightforward yes, but the implications are enormous. They are far reaching. Those words, if the facts are true, contain tremendous hope and promise for all people in our world today.

ANNOUNCER: What does this verse promise for us?

SELTZ: God loves. We know God loves even sinners because of what He did on their behalf. To me, that is the best news of all. God loves people in spite of their sinfulness and powerlessness.

ANNOUNCER: That's something people don't want to hear though. They don't want to be told they are sinners; you are saying God loves sinners.

SELTZ: It doesn't really matter if people want to be labeled sinners or not. It is simply true all of us sin. We all live our lives contrary to God's will in some way or another. When we live or think or speak in a way that is not how God wants us to act, think, or say, we are sinning.

ANNOUNCER: Why does God have so many rules if He knows we are going to break them anyway?

SELTZ: That is a good question. But, it's not that He has so many rules; it's that we've found so many ways to rebel against Him. Simply put, we have to be perfect and holy to be in His presence; but as sinners, we continually miss the mark. In fact, God's law loving tries to show us our sin, our need for Him as well as what's right for us.

ANNOUNCER: So, even the law was given because God loves us.

SELTZ: Exactly. God does not command us to do things or forbid us from doing things just because He wants to make it hard for us to be good. He gives rules and commands because they are truly what's best for us.

ANNOUNCER: What do you mean by saying God's rules are really what is best for us?

SELTZ: God gives us commandments and rules so that we know His will is for our lives. But Jesus gets to the heart of it all when He summarizes the whole law this way, "You should love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and love your neighbor as yourself."

ANNOUNCER: But when we live outside of that love in any way, we are sinning; and God says there is punishment for sin.

SELTZ: That's the point. The reason for that is that our sin cuts us off from God, and God is the only source of life, and love, and righteousness. Outside of His love is only darkness and death because that is the absence of God!

ANNOUNCER: So, the consequences of sin, God's temporal punishment, are really trying to wake us up to it before it's too late.

SELTZ: And His eternal punishment is merely making our rebellious, cutting ourselves off from Him, making that a permanent condition; which is why this verse should be great news for all people.

ANNOUCER: Because while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

SELTZ: Exactly. While we were still sinners. Still. God doesn't wait for us to change. His love changes our situation, even changes us. His love comes to us through our Savior. His love is given freely to those who don't deserve it. His love, amazingly, is given to sinners.

ANNOUNCER: Some would say how is God's love shown through the death of Christ?

SELTZ: God gave up His Son to death to pay the penalty for all of our sin. When Jesus died on the cross, an innocent One Who took the place of the guilty, He, as God in human flesh, gave up His life to pay for the eternal debt of all of our sins. In Christ, God took the punishment for sin on Himself so that we could have salvation and life.

ANNOUNCER: Why would God do this for people who don't listen to Him, don't serve Him, or even claim He exists?

SELTZ: Why, because they couldn't do it for themselves and because He loves all people. No other reason. You don't have to earn it. You don't deserve it. Sin is serious; God's love even more serious. If you think otherwise, you are missing out on some incredible news.

ANNOUNCER: Loved by God, even while we are sinning.

SELTZ: Yes, even then. We struggle with our sins still, we stumble and fall, but to those who believe in Jesus, Christ covers it all. Salvation is given as a gift. That's love. That's grace. That's God. That's life. That's Good News. Death, damnation; well, that's when you go it on your own!

ANNOUNCER: So, God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. That's amazingly good news.

SELTZ: Amazing.

ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"In God, My Faithful God" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

"Chief of Sinners, Though I Be" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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