The Christian and the Olympian
The 2020 Olympics has just finished under the shadow of a pandemic. Australia fared well with a haul of medals. There were some unexpected wins and losses. Regardless of win or lose, we really appreciated the athletes’ doing their utmost in every event they participated in. That was their privilege and duty to their country and themselves. This is the picture Paul presented to us in 2Tim 4:7-8 using himself as an illustration: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” It reminds me of Harry Garside wining the boxing bronze medal for Australia, first in 33 years, and Patrick Tiernan, Australian 10,000m runner, staggering to the finish line before collapsing. They did not win gold, but the most important thing was that they fought the good fight and finished the race. That is what the Lord asks of us, in response to His saving grace and to be worthy of our calling, just like our athletesics striving to do their best in response to their calling of being their countries’ representatives. The Lord will judge us, not in comparison to others (whether we win gold or not), but our diligence in being who He has called us to be.
In saying that, it may raise questions in the minds of some Christians: Doing the Lord’s will, paying the cost of discipleship, being diligent in witnessing for Christ in daily life, and developing a good habit of consistent Bible reading, prayer and personal devotions all take effort and discipline. In doing so, are we relying on self to earn God’s favour and salvation? Is it not biblical to “rest” and abide in the Lord always, relying totally on Him to change and sanctify us? The Bible admonishes us in a strongly imperative sense to do certain things, including to believe, repent, bear
fruit, and strive to enter the narrow gate (Lk 13:24: RSV). It also talks about seeking rest in the Lord and abiding in Him. Are these teachings contradictory? I do not think so. The seeming contradiction could be resolved if we take account of the following:
1. Our diligence is the rightful response to grace, not the means of earning God’s favour. Just like the Israelites in the OT were given the Law to obey AFTER God brought them out of Egypt; not requiring them to observe the Law first to earn their redemption. The latter would have been “salvation by works”.
2. Salvation by grace does not nullify our necessity to be diligent, as James says “faith without works isn dead”. A person who has no desire to follow Christ and grow, is like what the writer of Hebrews said of his original readers in Hebrews 6 (preached on last Sunday). A “Christian” who does not grow should re-examine himself whether he/she has truly believed.
3. Human diligence and God’s work of transformation are not mutually exclusive. They should co-exist. Paul taught the Philippian Christians “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Phil 2:12-13).
It is interesting that the writer of Hebrews urges us to “strive to enter God’s rest” (Heb 4:111), and Jesus invites us ““Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mat 11:28-29). We need to go to Jesus to find rest, but even that requires us to do something on our part: to take on His yoke and to learn gentleness and humility from Him. The latter is our response to His saving grace, it does take effort, there is a cost of self-denial, and we cannot expect Jesus to do that for us. But He has promised to empower us to do what we need to do to bear the fruit of true repentance (Mmatt 3:8). Praise the Lord.
Let us, in God’s grace, fight the good fight and finish the race.
2020年的奧運會在全球疫症的陰霾下剛剛結束。澳洲的表現出色，奪得了多個獎牌。也有一些意想不到的勝利和失敗。不論輸贏，我們非常感謝運動員在參加的每一項賽事中都盡心竭力，那是他們對國家和自己存有的特權和職責。這就是保羅在提後4章7-8節中以自己為例説明;「 那美好的仗我已經打過了，當跑的路我已經跑盡了，所信的道我已經守住了。 從此以後，有公義的冠冕為我存留，就是按著公義審判的主到了那日要賜給我的；不但賜給我，也賜給凡愛慕他顯現的人。」這讓我想起爲澳洲贏得三十三年來首面拳擊銅牌的哈里·加塞德 , 和一萬米長跑手帕特里克·蒂尔南在倒地前踉蹌到終點線。他們沒有贏得金牌，但最重要的是他們打了一場美好的仗，完成了比賽。這就是主對我們的要求，回應祂拯救的恩典並配得我們所蒙的召，就像我們的運動員為響應他們被召為國家代表而竭盡全力一樣。主會審判我們，不是與他人比較（不論我們是否奪金），而是否已努力成為祂呼召我們要成為的人。
「安息」和常住在主裏面; 完全依靠祂去改變我們並使我們成聖，這不都合乎聖經嗎？聖經以強烈的命令意識告誡我們要做某些事情;包括相信、悔改、結果子，努力進窄門（路13:24 和修版）。聖經還談及在主裏面尋求安息，並住在祂裡面。這些教導相互矛盾嗎？我不這麼認為。如果我們考慮到以下幾點，表面上的矛盾就可以解決：
1. 我們的殷勤是對恩典的正確回應，而不是為賺取神喜悅的途徑。就像舊約中的以色列人在神領他們出埃及後，就頒佈律法要他們遵守一樣；不是要求他們先要謹守律法後才獲得拯救。後者是「 靠行為得救」。
2. 藉恩典得救並不使我們要殷勤的必要性失效，正如雅各所說「 信心沒有行為是死的」。一個不渴慕跟隨基督並成長的人，就像希伯來書的作者在第六章（上主日證道）中對受書人所説的話一樣。一個沒有成長的「基督徒」應該重新檢視自己是否真正相信。
3. 人的殷勤和神轉化的工並不是互相排斥的。它們應該是共存。保羅教導腓立比的基督徒「 ……就當恐懼戰兢，做成你們得救的工夫。因為你們立志行事，都是神在你們心裏運行，為要成就他的美意。」（腓 2:12下-13）。
有趣的是，希伯來書的作者勸我們「竭力進入那安息」（希伯來書 4:11），耶穌邀請我們「凡勞苦擔重擔的人，可以到我這裏來，我就使你們得安息。我心裏柔和謙卑，你們當負我的軛，學我的樣式，這樣，你們心裏就必得享安息。」（太 11:28-29）我們需要到耶穌那裡得安息，但即使如此，我們也有需要作我們份內的事：負祂的軛，學習祂的溫柔和謙卑。後者是我們對祂拯救之恩典的回應，這確實是需要努力和付捨己的代價，我們也不能期望耶穌去替我們完成那些事。但祂已應許賜給我們能力去作我們需要作的事，以結出真正悔改的果子（太 3:8）。讚美主。