Crowns and Judgment and Running the Race :: By Nathele Graham

We’ve all heard the phrase, “It’s a rat race out there.” And so it is. Everybody seems to be in a hurry to get ahead of the other guy and it doesn’t matter who is stepped on when moving up. Was life simpler a century ago? Was it simpler in biblical times? They had different problems, but they still had problems. Today it seems life is centered around getting that raise, getting that promotion, and getting more stuff.

As Christians, we need to turn our eyes to what truly matters: Jesus. When we run in the rat race it’s easy to lose our focus. We are surrounded by rats who are all running after the corruptible cheese. When the race we run is for Christ the rewards are eternal.

“Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown: but we an incorruptible.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25)

The prize for the Christian who runs for Christ is an incorruptible crown. Let the world chase after the cheese. Athletes train to run a race and so should Christians. We don’t need to do jumping jacks or deep knee bends to train to win eternal crowns, but we do need to strengthen our walk with the Lord.

An example of people who weren’t walking close to the Lord are the Christians in Corinth. They were very worldly and tolerated sin in their congregation. Instead of honoring God they blended in with the pagan world around them and they were not running to win but were hobbling along to the finish line.

The first thing they should have done was to feed on the word of God. Every athlete training to win a race needs a healthy diet. Because these people embraced the ways of the world they couldn’t be fed the meat of God’s word. They were content with standing at the starting line.

“And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.” (1 Corinthians 3:1-2)

That’s a sad comment on the leadership in Corinth. Sin must be addressed in each congregation, but sin can’t be addressed if the leaders haven’t grown past drinking milk. How do you get a healthy portion of God’s word? Well, you read it. Don’t wait for someone to force feed you on God’s Word but start reading and digesting it for yourself. Read both the Old Testament and the New. When you read it, study it. When you study it, apply it. This will help you to gain more understanding and enable you to dig even deeper into the meat of Scripture.

Everyone who desires to run a race knows they can’t just read a “how to” article or watch a video on running and then go out and win. Get up out of your easy chair and apply what you study. Recognize the sin in your life and turn away from it. Sin will weigh you down and hamper your endurance. At first you may have to make a strong effort to turn away from the sin in your life, but it will get easier. In Corinth there was a man who was committing fornication.

“It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife. And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:1-2)

Not only was this sin happening, but they were “puffed up” about it…took pride in it. Tolerance of sin within a congregation isn’t anything to be proud of. Today there’s a feeling that Christians aren’t to judge another person’s actions or lifestyles. This passage says differently.

It isn’t judging when you apply God’s Word, and this man was clearly living in sin. Paul told the leaders in Corinth not to tolerate it and they were to put this man out from the congregation. Later we learn that he turned from his sin and was restored to fellowship. Had they continued to accept this lifestyle they would all continue a downward spiral into destruction.

In fact, Jesus Himself said “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Righteous judgment is directed by God in His Word, and we need to exercise judgment with prayer and discretion.

What exactly is this goal we are racing to?

When a person first sincerely gives his or her life to Christ, salvation is guaranteed. I’m not talking about a casual stroll down the aisle to answer an altar call in order to please family and friends. I’m talking about a sincere belief that you cannot save yourself from Hell and only the blood of Jesus will save you. At that moment you are forever sealed with the Holy Spirit.

“In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14)

So since you’re salvation is secure, this race must be to win something other than salvation. The prize to be won is a crown. Or maybe even more than one crown. Works cannot bring salvation, but they can win a stephanos, or a victor’s crown.

There are five crowns named in Scripture that can be won. A crown of victory is named in 1 Corinthians 9:25; the soul winner’s crown named in 1 Thessalonians 2:19; a crown of righteousness in 2 Timothy 4:8; the crown of life in James 1:12; and the crown of glory in 1 Peter 5:4.

These crowns will be awarded after the Rapture when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ. That’s when we will wish we had lived more God-honoring lives here on earth.

“For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11)

We have a solid foundation to build upon, and that’s Jesus Christ. What we build on that foundation is up to us. Christians will be judged by what they’ve built. The judgment seat of Christ isn’t about salvation, but about the crowns.

“Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.” 1 Corinthians 3:12-13.

There are no secrets here. Everything you’ve done in your life will be laid bare before our Lord. Do you attend worship meetings but despise every moment you’re there? Fire will burn that one. Do you resent it when the elderly man next door asks you to change a light bulb for him? Yep, that work will go is up in smoke. Maybe a widow down the street needs her fence repaired and you fix it because you know she will bake a cake for you.

If you don’t do a kindness for the glory of Christ then it will also be burned. Instead of grumbling as you change the light bulb, maybe you could marvel that Jesus is the Light of the world and that the first spoken words of creation were, “Let there be light.”

“If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:14-15)

Salvation won’t be lost, but the rewards depend upon works done for Christ.

Will we take these crowns and hang them in the mansion that awaits us? No, there is a better use for them. As we mature in out Christian walk we should become aware that every good thing comes from Christ.

“That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.” (Philemon 1:6)

If Jesus hadn’t given His life, we would have no everlasting forgiveness of our sins. Animal sacrifice could never take sin away, only cover it. I don’t know if anybody can truly understand what it cost Jesus to leave His place in Glory to purchase our salvation on the cross of Calvary.

Do we truly understand that without His sacrifice we would face eternal death? Can we truly understand what it means to spend eternity in the lake of fire because we have rejected Christ’s blood sacrifice? When we see Him at the Bema Seat judgment it will all be made clear. We will know and feel the pure love He has for us and all we will be able to give Him are the crowns we have earned.

In the book of Revelation, John describes the scene around God’s throne after the Rapture. He saw 24 elders, who represent Christians.

“The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” (Revelation 4:10-11)

Truly, our Lord is worthy. Oh, Jesus my Lord! Thank You for salvation, thank You for Your sacrifice for me. I want a crown to give back to You! How disappointed I will be if all I’ve accomplished in this race that I’m running will be burned up like wood, hay, and stubble. How about you? It isn’t too late to start running to win.

“And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Colossians 3:17). Run a winning race by doing everything for the glory of Jesus. One day you will want the privilege of casting the crowns you’ve won at His feet.

God bless you all,

Nathele Graham

Ron and Nathele Graham’s previous commentaries archived at

All original Scripture is “theopneustos” (God breathed).