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Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Lesson from the Olympics

Like most of you, I have been feasting on the Olympics this past week. Since Colin has been home sick, we have even seen some of the competitions aired during the daytime. One thing you can't help coming away with is a sense of the commitment each of those athletes made to get to this point. I am reminded of the Apostle Paul's use of athletic metaphors to describe the Christian life, in particular 2 Timothy 2:5  "... if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules." If you don't keep within the guidelines of the rules, you're disqualified. It doesn't matter how hard you're trying, nor how long you have trained. If you don't compete according to the rules, it was all in vain.

Likewise, believers need to be careful to pay attention to the "rules" behind their Christian walk, which brings to mind the oft overlooked area of our motives. Paul writes in Romans 12:1 "... in light of God's mercy, offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship." Note that it is to God we need to be holy and pleasing. Not to each other.. not to ourselves... but pleasing to God. In The Discipline of Grace, Jerry Bridges writes, "We must ensure that our commitment is actually to God, not simply to a holy lifestyle or a set of moral values. We should not seek holiness in order to feel good about ourselves, or to blend in with our Christian peer group, or to avoid the sense of shame and guilt that follows the committing of persistent sin in our lives. Far too often our concern with sin arises from how it makes us feel, rather than on God's dishonor." Bridges relates his experience speaking at a retreat about "the importance of putting on a Christ-like character while at the same time seeking to put off sinful habits." At the end of the sessions he was approached by several people who were concerned about putting off persistent sinful habits in their lives. But no one came asking for help putting on any Christ-like virtues. He surmised the reason might have been because "sinful habits make us feel guilty and defeated. The absence of Christ-like character usually doesn't have a similar effect on us, so there is less motivation to seek change in our lives."

It certainly seems worth doing a little self-evaluation in order to make sure that our motive for living out the Christian life is that we might be "holy and pleasing to God." Just like the Olympians, we must pay close attention to the rules. The motive behind obedience matters.