The Olympic Games in Rio have come and gone. But like many sporting events before and since, those Olympics were tarnished by doping, with individual athletes and even whole national teams being banned from competing because of systematic use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

Olympic Games were run in Bible times. So it’s not surprising that when the apostle Paul’s wrote to Timothy about the Christian way of life he uses the analogy of an athlete to illustrate his teaching:

”… if  anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the  rules” (2 Tim. 2.5 NKJV).

Drug-using cheats are banned from competing and even have their medals withdrawn when their cheating is discovered. The same principle applies to the followers of Christ. We cannot expect to be rewarded if we try to circumvent the rules.

But unlike some drug cheats in sport, if we disobey the rules we will always be found out. Not only are all our actions seen by God, but our thoughts are known to him even before we have a chance to put them into action.

No short cuts

If we are trying to be a Christian – a follower of Jesus Christ – there can be no short-cuts to success.

In that passage from Paul’s letter to Timothy, the Bible describes the victor as one who ”strives  lawfully”. Apparently, the Greek phrase ”one who strives lawfully” was later adopted to  describe the professional athlete, the person who dedicates all his time to improving his performance.

The emphasis in that phrase is on the striving, the dedication that is necessary to keep improving. And that commitment must be ours too. We cannot be part-time Christians.

Performance-enhancing drugs won’t help, but knowing the one who planned our spiritual ‘training programme’ will:

”… let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:2 NKJV)

The athlete knows he has to train very hard and keep to the rules if he is to have any chance of success in the competitions. Being a Christian is just the same.

Winning the prize

Jesus himself never gave up. Even as he hung on the cross at Calvary, he refused the drugged wine that would dull the pain but would also dull his senses. He knew he must remain fully alert to complete his victory over the power of sin

There will be times when we find following the example of Jesus and keeping his ‘rules’ very difficult. It’s then that we need to remember what we are preparing for. There are no gold medals to be won but something far more valuable:

”For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory… ” (2 Cor. 4.17 NKJV).

The hope of a place in God’s kingdom is certainly a prize worth striving for!