I recently sat down with some friends and had a great conversation. These were mature Christians whom I have much respect for. Anyway, the conversation slowly turned towards the gospel and our responsibility when it comes to sharing it. They had no doubt that we are all called to share it, but when asked to pursue people in a more mature role in our church they seemed to falter, mostly because of the belief that they do not know enough about God, along with having legitimate fears of people invading their life and time. And after reflecting on this, I realized they had forgotten what the prize is. They had made the goal of living the Christian life the Christian life itself. And I realized we as Christians often slip into thinking that the goal of living a redeemed life is to get God and get into heaven. But the problem with this logic is that the gospel has already provided us with both.
I think Christians play this game of mental tug-of-war. We go back and forth in different seasons of life saying the purpose of life is either to study God or to love people and share the gospel with them (as if these were mutually exclusive!). We alternate back and forth between theology and mission, between truth and grace. For my friends, in that season, it was mostly about studying Jesus and being afraid they don't yet have enough knowledge to talk about him. And as long as their perspective was that it was just meant to be them studying their Bible alone, their life remained neat and their time guarded. The only problem is Scripture, namely Paul's letters, that tells us what the goal of this life is. And he uses the analogy of a race.
Let me stop for a second and ask a question. Have you ever wondered why God saves people and then leaves them on earth rather than bring them home? Why does he allow us to stumble around for decades, slowly learning about our sin and His glory, rather than bring us directly into His presence and showing us? The answer is because we're not the only ones he's saving. Harvey puts it this way; "you were not only saved from something [sin], you were saved to something [Jesus’ mission]."
In chapter nine of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, he gives them a lesson on evangelism, or, if you prefer the modern Christian word, mission. He says that he does everything he does, becomes all things to all people, in order that he might save some. And it is in this context of text he transitions into talking about a race and a prize. Paul then makes the interesting claim that only one runner receives the prize. So what is Paul saying? A lot of people interpret this verse to mean if you run your race well you will receive the prize of Christ. But how can that be, for many people receive God and salvation? This has to be speaking to something else.
"Our time becomes someone else's time, so that someone else's soul may become His."
What if the prize is not God, but people? What if our race occurs in the hearts and eyes of the men and women around us, so that in the end either the allure of this world wins or the gospel? What if the prize is the souls of your neighbors, co-workers, waitress, or parents? What if your mission on this earth is to reveal the good news of Jesus to the dead around you rather than spend time alone with God and wait to die?
Don't mishear me, spending time with Jesus is an absolute necessity! However, this faith and passion must move from our house and into our city. Although the Holy Spirit is indeed the one who saves, Scripture is clear that the Spirit waits upon men to speak and act before He moves (see Romans 10). So then, how can we ever be confused as to what the purpose of our life is? If it was just to know more about Jesus, then the best way for God to accomplish this is to simply kill us. But if it is to interact, love, pursue, and preach the gospel about a fallen humanity and a crucified God, then we have to stay. Then our time becomes someone else's time, so that someone else's soul may become His.
Simply put, we run our races for the prize of men's hearts. So, let's run our race well.