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. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
You run, workout, eat right, take care of your body. You are studious; complete your assignments on time, accurately, with thoughtfulness and care. You are chaste; respecting your girlfriend, not placing her in any scenarios that would harm her good reputation. You are courteous and respectful toward your parents, honoring those in authority. You study Holy Scripture on a regular basis, pray daily, read, fast, frequently attend Church, and give to the poor and needy. Or maybe not so much?
Where you have failed in any or all of these ways, repent. Seek out a faithful pastor. Confess your sins to him. Receive absolution from him as from God Himself. In this way God forgives your sins. Not doubting, but firmly believing this, seek to do better. Not so that you may merit forgiveness of sins or earn God’s favor, for that could never be. But because it is pleasing to God your Father who created and redeemed you in Christ Jesus and has freely given you His Holy Spirit. In his Large Catechism, Dr Luther says, “The Creed teaches us to know [the Triune God] fully. This is intended to help us do what we ought to do according to the Ten
Commandments” (LC II 2). In other words, you are declared righteous before the Father by faith alone in His Son for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph 2:10).
Walk. St. Paul says run. Run the race. This is the metaphor for the Christian life, which consists of living in faith toward God and in love toward the neighbor. Both of which require self-discipline. Elsewhere St Paul says to the young Timothy, Train yourself in godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it hold promise for the present life and also for the life to come (1 Tim 4:8). Its not a sprint, nor is it a super-ultra marathon. The Christian life is not merely one of endurance (this, coming from a cross-country coach!), but includes “spiritual cross-training.” St Paul says, “I don’t shadow box, but pummel my body and make it a slave” (1 Cor 9:27; my translation).
Make the body a slave. Not to its passions and lusts, but as slaves to the righteousness of Christ which leads to holy living (Rm 6:19). Bodily training – the first half of that list at the top – is of some value: for school, for health, work and life. But spiritual self-discipline – the second half that list and all Ten of the Commandments – is of eternal value and significance. Not that it is by
your power or self-will, but it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Seventeenth century Lutheran pastor Johann Gerhard wrote, “Divine power increases in us only when natural powers fail. Only when our own will has been put to death are our works done in God. Only when we are brought to nothing and disappear do we truly exist in and live in God.” (Meditations on Divine Mercy, 116). According to His merciful and gracious will, He shall bestow upon you the imperishable wreath, the crown of everlasting righteousness.