Living in a university town, we hear much talk about Big Ten sports teams. The University of Illinois located here frequently recruits some of the best athletic talent in the country. Without doubt the players who play on the many athletic teams here possess far above average physical skills, superior ability in sports, and unusual athletic acumen. Often those who arrive as freshmen on campus have been the best athletes on their high school teams, and throughout their sports careers to this point they have experienced unbridled success. But suddenly, they discover that all the inherent talent they have is not sufficient to afford them success on this level. And we hear constant comments regarding how much better they need to understand their coach’s system, how hard they must train, how strenuously they must work out, and so forth. The point is this: regardless of the greatness of their innate ability, it is not sufficient to guarantee them success in this new and bigger arena; they can no longer expect just to show up and excel: they must put in great effort in order to succeed.
I fear that far too many of us believers are like many of those incoming freshmen. We tend to rely on basic strengths in our Christian walk and fail to get the proper spiritual exercise that is required to live victoriously for the Lord.
The fact is that spiritual victory is not a Christian birthright; it does not follow automatically as night follows day. Early on, the Lord was preparing His disciples for the fact that a struggle lay ahead. For example, even in an age when the disciples were surrounded by miracles, the Lord was warning them that it would be a mistake to presume on that kind of supernatural event. Regarding their failure to cast out a demon, the Lord told them: “this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (Matt. 17:21). Miracle power existed, but that was not intended to be a substitute for a walk of faith and self-sacrifice.
The Christian life is not a walk in the park. The many exhortations, admonitions, and encouragements should be evidence of that reality. And yet far too many of us act as though we can get up in the morning, put on our basketball jerseys and shorts, lace up our shoes, and go out and play a winning game on the court. It does not happen that way.
Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians was that the Lord might give them “the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him” (1:17). Clearly, they were not to presume on a superior knowledge. He exhorted the Christians in Colosse thus: “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving” (2:6, 7). And clearly, though “success” begins with the receiving of Jesus Christ, it does not follow automatically. We, as the Colossians, must “walk in him.” And that which is “rooted” must also be “built up” by continuing attention to what we have been taught. Furthermore, it must be exercised with ample amounts of thanksgiving.
None of these things happens automatically. And the Word of God provides vast numbers of additional examples of such admonitions all of which make clear the fact that believers do not become victorious merely by virtue of our having believed. As Paul wrote to Timothy: “Exercise [discipline] thyself rather unto godliness” (I Tim. 4:7). Salvation will get us to heaven, but a victorious walk on earth requires our devoted participation.
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