“You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.”
God’s Amazing Grace, page 342
“‘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. . . .’ (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Those who engaged in running the race to obtain the laurel which was considered a special honor were temperate in all things, so that their muscles, their brains, and every part of them might be in the very best condition to run. . . . Only one received the prize. But in the heavenly race we can all run and all receive the prize. There is no uncertainty, no risk, in the matter. We must put on the heavenly graces, and, with the eye directed upward to the crown of immortality, keep the Pattern ever before us. . . . The humble, self-denying life of our divine Lord we are to keep constantly in view. And then as we seek to imitate Him, keeping our eye upon the mark of the prize, we can run this race with certainty.”
Galatians 5:6-8 (The Message)
“I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace. Meanwhile we expectantly wait for a satisfying relationship with the Spirit. For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love.
“You were running superbly! Who cut in on you, deflecting you from the true course of obedience? This detour doesn’t come from the One who called you into the race in the first place. And please don’t toss this off as insignificant. It only takes a minute amount of yeast, you know, to permeate an entire loaf of bread. Deep down, the Master has given me confidence that you will not defect. But the one who is upsetting you, whoever he is, will bear the divine judgment.”
“I’m sorry, but your daughter will never walk again.” The words sounded like a final sentence to the little girl and her mother. But they weren’t. Wilma’s left leg was twisted and weakened by polio. But her mother was determined Wilma would someday walk.
Week after week, Wilma’s mother brought her 50 miles from home to do physical therapy. At home, her mother, brothers, and sisters helped her exercise her leg. Throughout her childhood Wilma went to school with a heavy metal brace on her left leg. She used the brace, crutches, and a corrective shoe. And despite the doctor’s prediction, she walked.
When she was 12, Wilma was finally able to walk without any assistance at all. That was when she made an important decision. She had already overcome tremendous odds. She was walking, even though doctors had told her she never would. But Wilma wanted to do more than walk. She wanted to run. She wanted to become a world-class athlete.
It might have seemed like a crazy dream for a poor African-American girl in the southern United States in the 1950s. Poverty, racial discrimination, and physical disability were all stacked against Wilma Rudolph, saying she’d never become a success.
But a strong will, a supportive family, and determination were on Wilma’s side. Day after day, she hit the track running, training to make her left leg as strong as her right. She ran until she could run as well as any other teenage girl—and then she ran until she was a lot better.
When she was 16 years old, Wilma went to her first Olympic Games and came home with a bronze medal. Four years later, in Rome in 1960, she became the first American woman ever to win three Olympic gold medals.
1. Did Wilma know when she was crippled that she was being trained for the Olympic Games?
“Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!”
“Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.
“Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.
“Is the sinner free from disappointment, perplexity, earthly losses, poverty and distress? O no! In this respect he is no more secure than the righteous. He often suffers lingering sicknesses, yet has no strong and mighty arm to lean upon, no strengthening grace from a higher power to support him. In his weakness he must lean upon his own strength. He cannot look forward with any pleasure to the resurrection morn, for he has no cheering hope that he will then have part with the blest. He obtains no consolation by looking forward to the future. A fearful uncertainty torments him, and thus he closes his eyes in death. This is the end of the poor sinners life of vain pleasures” (Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, April 28, 1859).
“I don’t want to be a Christian,” your friend at school says. “It’s too hard, and it’s no fun. Following all those stupid rules, and never getting away with anything!”
You’re about to open your mouth when a friend who attends a different church says, “You’re nuts! Being a Christian’s not hard; it’s easy! Jesus saves us. I got saved in church when I was 10, and I don’t have to do anything else about it. What’s so hard about that?”
What do you think? Which friend do you agree with? Is being a Christian hard, easy? Or would you explain it some other way?
Go to http://guidemagazine.org/rtf to post your answers. Your thoughts and feelings may seem clearer to you when you write them down, so we’ve provided space for you here as well. You may also wish to share them with your class later. Be up front and honest.
Please read the following passages from the Bible. Following the texts are questions to help you connect them with the lesson.
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
“And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation.”
“Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’
“‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked.
“‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’
“The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
“In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, ‘Ananias!’
“‘Yes, Lord,’ he answered.
“The Lord told him, ‘Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.’
“‘Lord,’ Ananias answered, ‘I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.’
“But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’
“Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord–Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here–has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
“Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, ‘Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?’ Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.
“After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.
“When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him. When the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
“Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.”
“‘Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.’ When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet.
“Then Paul said: ‘I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, 5as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.
“‘About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, “Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?”’”
“‘“Who are you, Lord?”’ I asked.
“‘“I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.
“‘What shall I do, Lord?” I asked.
“‘“Get up,” the Lord said, “and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.” My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.
“‘A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. He stood beside me and said, “Brother Saul, receive your sight!” And at that very moment I was able to see him.
“‘Then he said: “The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.”
“‘When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance and saw the Lord speaking. “Quick!” he said to me. “Leave Jerusalem immediately, because they will not accept your testimony about me.”
“‘“Lord,” I replied, “these men know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.”
“‘Then the Lord said to me, “Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.”’”
1. What kind of character did Saul have?
“What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a ‘law man’ so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not ‘mine,’ but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.
“Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.”
Steps to Christ, pages 60 and 61
“There are two errors against which the children of God—particularly those who have just come to trust in His grace—especially need to guard. The first, already dwelt upon, is that of looking to their own works, trusting to anything they can do, to bring themselves into harmony with God. He who is trying to become holy by his own works in keeping the law, is attempting an impossibility. All that man can do without Christ is polluted with selfishness and sin. It is the grace of Christ alone, through faith, that can make us holy.
“The opposite and no less dangerous error is that belief in Christ releases men from keeping the law of God; that since by faith alone we become partakers of the grace of Christ, our works have nothing to do with our redemption.
“But notice here that obedience is not a mere outward compliance, but the service of love. The law of God is an expression of His very nature; it is an embodiment of the great principle of love, and hence is the foundation of His government in heaven and earth. If our hearts are renewed in the likeness of God, if the divine love is implanted in the soul, will not the law of God be carried out in the life? When the principle of love is implanted in the heart, when man is renewed after the image of Him that created him, the new-covenant promise is fulfilled, ‘I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them.’ Hebrews 10:16. And if the law is written in the heart, will it not shape the life? Obedience—the service and allegiance of love—is the true sign of discipleship. Thus the Scripture says, ‘This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.’ ‘He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.’ 1 John 5:3; 2:4. Instead of releasing man from obedience, it is faith, and faith only, that makes us partakers of the grace of Christ, which enables us to render obedience.
“We do not earn salvation by our obedience; for salvation is the free gift of God, to be received by faith. But obedience is the fruit of faith. ‘Ye know that He was manifested to take away our sins; and in Him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him, neither known Him.’ 1 John 3:5, 6. Here is the true test. If we abide in Christ, if the love of God dwells in us, our feelings, our thoughts, our purposes, our actions, will be in harmony with the will of God as expressed in the precepts of His holy law. ‘Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous.’ 1 John 3:7. Righteousness is defined by the standard of God’s holy law, as expressed in the ten precepts given on Sinai.”
Is being a Christian hard or easy? On the one hand, it’s easy. Accept Jesus, and you’re saved. God does all the work. On the other hand, sometimes it seems as if there are so many rules and expectations. Go to church. Follow the rules. Set a good example.
If it’s so easy, why is it so hard?
The secret is that being a Christian is both the easiest and the hardest thing you’ll ever do. Getting right with God is easy. Just let Him know you want your sins forgiven. He does all the rest.
But then God begins the work of shaping you into the person you were created to be. He takes you just as you are—bad habits, bad behavior, the works. But He loves you too much to let you stay in your sinful state. And just like an Olympic athlete in training, you put in the effort to run the race, keep your rebellious muscles surrendered to the program, stay in top form. Not because you want to earn God’s approval or buy your way into heaven, but because you’re starting to catch His vision of the kind of person He wants you to be—a gold-medal Christian, someone transformed into His image.
1. What Bible text can you think of that tells us we can’t earn eternal life?
Match the text with the phrase that has been taken from the corresponding verse.
2 Timothy 4:7 (NIV)
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NCV)
2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)
2 Peter 3:18 (NKJV)
Matthew 5:48 (NLT)
Hebrews 12:1 (CEV)
_______ 1. “But grow in grace and in the knowledge. . . .”
_______ 2. “But you are to be perfect even as your Father. . . .”
_______ 3. “Such a large crowd of witnesses is all around us!”
_______ 4. “I have fought well the good fight. . . .”
_______ 5. “You know that in a race all the runners run. . . .”
_______ 6. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ . . . .”
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
“‘The person who knows my commandments and keeps them, that’s who loves me. And the person who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and make myself plain to him.’”
“This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
Messages to Young People, pages 123 and 124
“Children and youth may come to Jesus with their burdens and perplexities, and know that He will respect their appeals to Him, and give them the very things they need. Be earnest; be resolute. Present the promise of God, and then believe without a doubt. Do not wait to feel special emotions before you think the Lord answers. Do not mark out some particular way that the Lord must work for you before you believe you receive the things you ask of Him; but trust His word, and leave the whole matter in the hands of the Lord, with full faith that your prayer will be honored, and the answer will come at the very time and in the very way your heavenly Father sees is for your good; and then live out your prayers. Walk humbly and keep moving forward.
“‘For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.’ Ps. 84:11.”
Maybe sometimes you’re the one who says, “Christianity’s too hard.” You may look at the kind of life adults in church expect you to lead and feel judged or criticized.
That’s not God’s attitude. God has high expectations for us, but He’s pleased with every step we take toward Him. Remember Wilma Rudolph’s story? When she first began to walk with her crutches and brace, do you think her mom said, “Pick it up, Wilma! You’re not as fast as the other kids! And lose that limp!”?
Of course not. Loving parents want their child to become the best he or she can be. But that same parent stands beside you supporting you at every step, helping you overcome difficulties cheering you on.
That’s the kind of parent that God is. He won’t rest until you’re the best you can be. But He doesn’t expect you to do it alone. He gives you the power of His Holy Spirit every step of the way. And He doesn’t criticize or judge you when you slip and fall. He’s right there, helping you up again, cheering you on.
1. When do you feel judged by others?
“There are those who have known the pardoning love of Christ and who really desire to be children of God, yet they realize that their character is imperfect, their life faulty, and they are ready to doubt whether their hearts have been renewed by the Holy Spirit. To such I would say, Do not draw back in despair. We shall often have to bow down and weep at the feet of Jesus because of our shortcomings and mistakes, but we are not to be discouraged. Even if we are overcome by the enemy, we are not cast off, not forsaken and rejected of God. No; Christ is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Said the beloved John, ‘These things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.’ 1 John 2:1. And do not forget the words of Christ, ‘The Father Himself loveth you.’ John 16:27. He desires to restore you to Himself, to see His own purity and holiness reflected in you. And if you will but yield yourself to Him, He that hath begun a good work in you will carry it forward to the day of Jesus Christ. Pray more fervently; believe more fully. As we come to distrust our own power, let us trust the power of our Redeemer, and we shall praise Him who is the health of our countenance.
“The closer you come to Jesus, the more faulty you will appear in your own eyes; for your vision will be clearer, and your imperfections will be seen in broad and distinct contrast to His perfect nature. This is evidence that Satan’s delusions have lost their power; that the vivifying influence of the Spirit of God is arousing you.
“No deep-seated love for Jesus can dwell in the heart that does not realize its own sinfulness. The soul that is transformed by the grace of Christ will admire His divine character; but if we do not see our own moral deformity, it is unmistakable evidence that we have not had a view of the beauty and excellence of Christ.
“The less we see to esteem in ourselves, the more we shall see to esteem in the infinite purity and loveliness of our Saviour. A view of our sinfulness drives us to Him who can pardon; and when the soul, realizing its helplessness, reaches out after Christ, He will reveal Himself in power. The more our sense of need drives us to Him and to the word of God, the more exalted views we shall have of His character, and the more fully we shall reflect His image.”
1. When Christians get discouraged, what should they do?
2. What “exercises” should we do to make us fit for the “heavenly” race?
3. What might cause a Christian to lose sight of their goal?
4. How can you get back on track?
It’s not New Year’s Eve, but it’s time to set some goals. This is a little different from making “resolutions”—things you’re determined you’ll try to do even if it kills you! That’s relying on your own strength. Growing as a Christian is different—you rely on God’s power to get you there, even though you have to constantly choose to stay in touch with Him.
Take a few minutes to make a list of five things you’d like to change, accomplish, or improve in your life over the next six months. When you’ve finished making your list, go to a quiet place and pray out loud, telling God what you’d like Him to change in your life and asking for His strength to do it. To finish your prayer time, read 2 Corinthians 5:17 and claim God’s promise to make you a new person.