“And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown” (1 Cor 9:25).
“I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14).
Christians are tasked with finishing the race that is the Christian life (1 Cor 9:24-27; 2 Tim 4:6-8). All who finish the race will receive a prize (1 Cor 9:25; Phil 3:14).
But what is the prize for finishing the Christian race?
There are two views.
The first, held by most Evangelical pastors and teachers as well as most Arminians and Calvinists is that the prize for persevering is final salvation. If you persevere, you will spend eternity with Christ in His kingdom. If you don’t persevere, you will spend eternity in the lake of fire.
The second view is that the prize is ruling with Christ. The believer who perseveres will rule with Christ forever and will receive certain prizes that accompany rulership (hidden manna, the fruit of the tree of life, special white garments, a special engraved white stone). The believer who does not persevere will not rule. However, he will be in the kingdom forever because salvation is final the very moment we believe in Jesus (John 3:16).
What difference does it make if you think that heaven is a prize to be won?
It is a matter of life or death, heaven or hell.
Suppose you are convinced that your eternal destiny depends on persevering in faith and good works. In that case, you do not believe the promise of John 3:16. Unless you believed that promise in the past or come to believe it in the future, you will end up separated from Christ forever.
If you are a believer who has been duped by false teaching in this regard, then your motives for serving Christ are wrong. You are hindering your present and eternal blessings by adopting a false gospel.
If you are a believer who remains certain of your salvation and who is looking forward to Christ’s soon return, then you long to hear Him say, “Well done, good servant” (Luke 19:17). You long for His approval (1 Cor 9:27). Your life now is much fuller because you “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7).
Everlasting life is a gift (John 4:10; Eph 2:8-10). It is without cost (Rev 22:17). It is not a prize to be won by fighting the good fight, finishing the race, and keeping the faith.
It’s great to keep your eyes on the prize. But be sure it’s the correct prize.