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1 Corinthians 9:26–27

“So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

Thanks be to God, salvation is a free gift, granted to us entirely by the free grace of God. We can do nothing to earn our salvation; it comes to us entirely apart from our good works (Eph. 2:8–9). That is the best news that any sinner can ever hear.

Yet, while salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, given to us wholly apart from our works (Titus 3:4–8), there remains a place for our efforts in the Christian life. The grace of God trains us to live “self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (2:11–14). In fact, motivated and empowered by the grace of God, we are to train ourselves for godliness (1 Tim. 4:7–8). This requires effort on our part—reading the Scriptures; attending to the means of grace, including preaching, the sacraments, and prayer; avoiding occasions for sin; and putting to death the lusts of our fallen nature. Salvation cannot be lost; all whom God justifies He also glorifies (Rom. 8:29–30). But if we do not discipline ourselves for godliness, we will prove ourselves to be those who tasted the outward benefits of Christianity without ever truly resting in Christ alone for salvation (Heb. 6:4–6).

As is evident from most of the Scriptures cited above, Paul emphasizes the need for self-discipline and training in the Christian life. However, as today’s passage indicates, the Apostle serves also as our example in such things. Having called the Corinthians to discipline themselves so that they may inherit the prize of eternal life, Paul notes that even he disciplines and trains himself (1 Cor. 9:24–27). Well aware of his own sin and potential for self-deception, Paul worked diligently to learn and practice self-control, to not practice his Christian freedom in such a way that would hurt other believers (see vv. 1–23). The Apostles did not stand apart from the church as those who had no need to discipline themselves; rather, they were fellow believers who had to work hard to persevere in the Christian faith. Under the grace of God, they worked out their salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12–13).

Paul did this so that he would not be disqualified even after leading many people to faith in Christ (1 Cor. 9:27). He well understood that all those who have true faith in Christ persevere to the end but that only those who persevere to the end have true faith in Christ. He did not use his ministry success as an excuse to neglect discipline. He trained himself to persevere.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Matthew Henry comments that “holy fear of ourselves, and not presumptuous confidence, is the best security against apostasy from God, and final rejection by him.” If even the Apostle Paul had to discipline himself to persevere, surely we must do so as well. We need not fear that God will fail to keep us in the faith, but we show our confidence that He will do so by seeking to practice self-control for the sake of godliness.


For Further Study
  • Proverbs 5:21–23; 12:1
  • 2 Timothy 1:7
  • Titus 2:2–6

Running to Obtain the Prize

The Wilderness Fathers

Keep Reading Luther on Trial: The Diet of Worms

From the April 2021 Issue
Apr 2021 Issue