The Goal and the Grace to Get There

Septuagesima
1 Corinthians 9:24-10:5
February 12, 2017
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

2.

One of the habits of highly effective people is to begin with the end in mind. Knowing what you’re working toward is essential to getting to the goal. It’s not enough to have trained and worked hard and gotten yourself into tip-top shape. You need to have a plan of attack. Runners (and I’m only speaking from conjecture, you all know I’m not a runner), you can train yourself a log hundreds of miles, but if you don’t have a game plan, you’re not going to do the best you can.

Or to change the athletic metaphor to something I’m more familiar with, it’s essential to drill basketball skills not only into your head, but into your body. In practice, you remind yourself to square up to the basket, to bend your knees, to shoot at the top of your jump, to follow through with your hand, to use good arch, so that when the time for the game comes you don’t have to think about it.

This is the power of habit. When a basketball player is in the zone and can’t miss a shot it’s not because he’s calculating the distance to the basket and thinking about everything so hard. In fact it’s quite the opposite. Habit takes over. Your body is as much in control of your mind as your mind is in control of your body. In the 1992 NBA playoffs game 1, Michael Jordan from the Chicago Bulls scored a record 35 points in the first half, including 6 three-pointers. After the last of them, he looks at the bench and just shrugs, “I don’t know how I’m doing it, either.” That’s the power of habit.

St. Paul uses the metaphor: Don’t you know that all who are in a race run but only one wins the prize? Like them, run to win! Anyone who enters a contest goes into strict training. Now, they do it to win a wreath that withers, but we do it to win one that never withers. So I run with a clear goal ahead of me. I fight and don’t just shadow box. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that, when I’ve called others to run the race, I myself will not somehow be disqualified (9:24-27).

The first pass over this passage might make you think about Christian disciplines, with the “strict training,” and, “I beat my body.” And that’s right. But that alone won’t get you very far. The point of training and discipline is to get you to do things without thinking of them. And the same is true of good works for a Christian. You don’t discipline yourself so that you know the right thing to do, you discipline yourself so that you do the right thing without even knowing it. That’s the irony of Christian works—if you’re thinking about doing a good work, you’re probably not doing a good work. That’s Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats. When did we ever feed You, or give You a drink, or clothe you? You did it without even realizing it. That’s the power of habit.

But even habit alone won’t get you far if you don’t have a right orientation, if you don’t begin with the end in mind. You can discipline yourself for days and run for miles and lift until you’re cut, but if you don’t have a vision of the end goal, you’re not going to win. You can be the fastest person on the course, but if you aren’t aimed at the finish line, you can run faster than everyone else and still not win.

So what is the goal of the Christian life? It’s not heaven. The goal of the Christian life is the resurrection and a new creation. It’s to put your body in the grave so that Jesus will raise it again incorruptible when He returns. That’s why the Law, even in its third use, even as instruction and a guide for Christian living, is a use that restricts and restrains the flesh. I discipline myself, I beat my body, and enslave it. That doesn’t mean self-flagellation or mutilation. You don’t intentionally injure yourself.

This right orientation is essential to living a Christian life. You can spend a lifetime of doing good works, of preaching the Gospel, of fighting crusades for Jesus and hunting heresy wherever it nests…and still be disqualified yourself. This is a very real and present danger that St. Paul identifies. You can live an entirely Christian life and do even greater things than the apostles did, and still miss the goal. Do not be that guy. Stay the course, keep the end in mind, don’t grow weary along the way.

1.

Discipline, law, and works will never point you in the right direction, they will never orient you in the right way. The only way to be right—or, righteous—is to be made righteous by God. He does this by setting the cross of Jesus Christ before your eyes and showing you that the goal of this life come by cross, by death, and by resurrection. And setting the cross before our eyes is precisely what St. Paul does.

Although he does so in an unexpected way. He abruptly shifts metaphors from Greek Olympics and sports to the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. I want you to know, fellow Christians, our fathers were all under the cloud and all went through the sea, and by baptism in the cloud and in the sea all were united with Moses, all ate the same food of the Spirit, and all drank the same water of the Spirit, because they drank from the spiritual Rock that went with them, and that Rock was Christ. Yet God wasn’t pleased with most of them — they were killed in the desert (10:1-5).

The Israelites were in a different kind of race, it wasn’t so much skill or speed, but one of endurance. Forty years of wilderness living, waiting to get to the land of promise. He calls the beginning of their journey a baptism—by cloud and by sea. They began their journey through water, and by water they were led. The glory of God was in the pillar of cloud. They came together because of that water and followed Moses.

Along the way they were strengthened by spiritual food—bread came down from heaven every day to feed their ragged bodies. And when their lips were parched, God caused spiritual water to come from a rock. Like runners in a marathon who take nourishment and fluids to sustain them. But this isn’t just metaphor that Paul is using now. He said to run like a runner in a race. But now he says that that Rock was Christ. Like means like, and is means is. Christ was the Rock, and He supplied the spiritual drink.

But many of them despised the spiritual food and drink, they looked back with longing to their captivity, and they displeased God. They died, and that was their end.

We have the same Rock that followed Israel. His side was pierced on the cross, and out flowed blood and water. Jesus said at the Feast of Tabernacles that anyone who was thirsty should come to Him and drink, because the Scripture says, “Out of His heart will flow streams of living water.” This is the Spirit of God, a spiritual water, the stream of forgiveness. It is continual and it is flowing. As often as you sin, the forgiveness of Jesus through the means of the Spirit cancels those sins.

You have a spiritual bread—the body of Christ. You have a spiritual drink—the blood that flowed with the water. These are given to you to eat and to drink. The Supper is your weekly meal for sustenance along the way. In fact, in the earliest church, it was a daily meal for the faithful. Could we not partake at least on the Lord’s Day?

If you beat your body and discipline yourself, but in the end, reject the Lord’s means of grace, you will be killed in the desert like the grumbling Israelites. But the Lord Jesus Christ has given you a blessed meal and a refreshment along the way so that you would keep rightly oriented with the cross before your eyes and maintain a vision of the goal—death in Christ and a resurrection in glory for life everlasting.

Christ Is the Rock Who Goes with You to Sustain You

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA