Run To Win


Do you remember when running was actually fun? Doesn’t it now blow your mind to think that running was ever considered a vital element of playing?

The revelation that running is actually work came when I went out for high school football. I never really understood what “taking a lap” had to do with scoring touchdowns. The wind sprints made more sense, but most of us on the team approached those like they were the primary cause of an early death. Of course, the coaches knew something we didn’t even want to consider: It takes hard work to win!

We all admire the exhausted defensive line holding on for one more down to win the game. We’ve all applauded the guy who trips and falls in a race, but gets up and finishes the race dead last, bleeding and limping. People are inspired by the courage and dedication it takes to win.

Those of us who have long passed the prime of our athletic conditioning still fantasize about running like the wind and breaking the tape just ahead of our competitors. Our flesh is certainly weak, but deep down inside we sense that we were created to run – and to win. That takes dedication.

One of my very favorite quotes comes from one of the greatest coaches in football history, Vince Lombardi. He would greet his new players every new season with this challenge: “Gentlemen, we shall strive for perfection, knowing all the while that perfection is unattainable. But if we chase perfection, we shall surely catch excellence.” Wow!

The apostle Paul, along with other New Testament writers, grasped this fact. He used the metaphor of running a race to convey the idea that our life on earth is like a competition for which we must prepare, and to which we must commit if we expect to win. Paul admonishes us to run in such a way as to win the prize, an everlasting crown.

He notes that this can happen only if we go into strict training, totally committing ourselves to the victory (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). The writer of Hebrews encourages us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1-3).

In our preparation to compete in life, it is necessary to eliminate anything that gets in the way of winning. It takes absolute dedication and perseverance.

Everyone at some point is ready to quit. Life is full of pain and suffering. Maximum dedication and effort are essential to overcoming the circumstances that resist our progress.

Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, is also our example. For the joy set before Him, He endured … even the cross. The everlasting prize was His motivation to run his race flawlessly. When we grow weary and are fast losing heart, we need to consider Him.

That is central to Paul’s motivation. In Philippians 3:7-15, he considers every earthly thing, tangible and intangible, as garbage compared to the “surpassing greatness” of knowing Christ Jesus the Lord. Paul’s ultimate desire is to be found in Christ, knowing Him intimately and sharing in His resurrection.

That motive is so powerful that Paul is able to forget everything else and press on, straining to win the prize of eternal life with his Lord. In Paul’s last recorded epistle, 2 Timothy 4:6-9, he implies that his death is near. He states confidently that he has “fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith.” Now, there is in store for him the crown of righteousness, the prize that is awarded to all who will run the race to win their everlasting life.

I realize that we live in a day when abused grace and effortless faith characterize the dominant theology. Ears itch to be tickled with the idea that if we intellectually assent to correct doctrine, our tickets to heaven are punched and we can spend the rest of our earthly days hanging around the bleachers of life watching others struggle to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).

In the end we will be judged by our deeds, not our belief system (Revelation 20:12-13; James 2:14).

Indeed, we cannot “earn” salvation; it is a gift that comes by faith rather than by our feeble human efforts. We are saved by grace to do good works God prepared for us to do “in Christ” (Ephesians 2:10).

There is a race marked out for us by the righteous Judge. That race requires serious dedication and maximum effort against all resistance to overcome this present world. The desire to know Christ intimately moves us to put aside every distraction so that we can finish our race and take our place in the winners’ circle with Him. Lord God, help us to run with purpose so that we may win our eternal prize.

God bless you.


[LeRoy Curtis is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Asbury Theological Seminary. He served four years as a U.S. Naval Officer after which he became a pastor, Bible professor, educator, author, and missionary living in E. Africa for eight years where he and his wife developed a curriculum of biblical studies for untrained pastors in rural Kenya. His passion for training young church leaders takes him to various parts of the U.S., Latin America, and Africa. He and Judy are currently residing in Carrollton, Georgia.]


  1. Hello Mr. Curtis—
    Whenever I read a piece like this one, I think of the sales ploy, “Bait and Switch”. Where an amazing offer is described…only to be replaced by an inferior product/plan. In this case, reconciliation with our loving Father through His sheer gift of grace alone, becomes a transaction. Quid pro quo. A business contract.

    I was raised with this concept. The wonderful joy of encountering Jesus the Christ was immediately coupled by the very things you mention.–striving, training, eliminating, enduring, straining, winning! Frankly, it was exhausting (and not a happy way of life at all).

    With all due respect, I don’t think our one Christ was at all pleased with the “switch” any more than I was!

    Thankfully, I was introduced to the writings of Brennan Manning (Catholic priest, now deceased). Brennan writes, “My life is a witness to vulgar grace…A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wages as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten til five.”

    I suppose this is what you referred to as “abused grace” and “effortless faith”. I offer Manning’s response–grace works without asking anything of us. It is not cheap. It’s free!

    As for citing St. Paul’s teachings as the basis of “Run To Win”–VJax is certainly correct about ambiguity in the Bible. But I would argue that he wouldn’t be too pleased. Here is Paul’s message to the new believers in Galatia (Message Version)–

    “You crazy Galatians! Did someone put a spell on you? Have you taken leave of your senses? Let me put this question to you–how did your new life begin? Was it working your heads off to please God? Or was it responding to God’s message to you? Are you going to continue in this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God.” Gal. 3:1-4

    Personally, any and all good I can claim in my life is a result of Christ in me. Born of gratitude. Full of joy. As you note, He ran the race, flawlessly. He won the prize. So I don’t have to.

    As St. Paul concludes in his beautiful benediction–“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith, henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness…and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearance.”

    ALL. By grace.

    • Well said Suz! As yo have whipped out our beloved Brennan Manning, let me respond with Episcopalian Priest the Incomparable Robert Farrar Capon …

      “The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellar full of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two-hundred proof Grace–bottle after bottle of pure distilate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly. The word of the Gospel–after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps–suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started…Grace has to be drunk straight: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale; neither goodness, nor badness, nor the flowers that bloom in the spring of super spirituality could be allowed to enter into the case.”

      Neither goodness, nor badness, nor the flowers that bloom in the spring of super spirituality could be allowed to enter the case! Yass Queen!

      • Hiya, Vjax—Thank you for this amazing selection from the writings of Robert Farrar Capon. You and I seem to be traveling the same path.

        After I discovered Brennan Manning, I thought, “This is good news!”
        Then I found Capon (who I lovingly refer to as “My Spiritual Father”) and I added, “This is good news! And there is NO bad news!”
        More recently, I have been following the teachings of Father Richard Rohr; and I realize,
        “This is good news! And there is NO bad news! For everyone and every thing; no exceptions!”

        I can only wonder where such immeasurable and unfathomable grace will lead us next!
        You, and I, and Mr. Curtis, too.

  2. “In the end we will be judged by our deeds, not our belief system (Revelation 20:12-13; James 2:14).”

    “Indeed, we cannot “earn” salvation; it is a gift that comes by faith rather than by our feeble human efforts. We are saved by grace to do good works God prepared for us to do “in Christ” (Ephesians 2:10).”

    These two sentences appear alongside each other in Rev. Curtis’ essay, and yet they contradict each other. Is it faith or works? To an outsider, it appears that the religious pick and choose what to emphasize depending upon the results they desire from their followers. Why not choose a horse and ride it? I guess some want to have it both ways.

    • OMG STF I was going to write the exact same thing you said!

      The Bible is ambiguous AF. That’s why Catholicism and mainline Protestant churches rely on experience and tradition as well as Scripture, i think. Martin Luther messed up by insisting on sola scritura, you ask me.

      And I fear that teaching like Curtis’, that to “win the race” you have to knuckle down and be hopelessly devoted to the hard work of salvation, may discourage people from ever experiencing blessed sweet communion with Christ for themselves.