Upon crossing the line, she received a medal and trophy for her 3rd place finish and posed for photographs with the prizes. Her 3rd place finish should not have surprised anyone as she was an international athlete who had recently won a race in which she set a world record by running 255 miles in 48 hours.
However, some people had cause to be suspicious, and a subsequent investigation proved these concerns to be valid, as it emerged that Zakrzewksi had travelled around 2.5 miles of the race by car. After establishing that she had cheated, the run directors disqualified her, removing her from the list of finishers. There have also been calls for her to be banned from future events and for her previous races to be analysed.[i]
This incident reminds us that the Christian life is often pictured as a race. Various authors of Scripture show to us that the believer is called to run a race, in accordance with the rules, to follow the course, and to know there will be a prize for all who legitimately complete it.
Although you may not run a 50-mile race, if you are a Christian you are involved in running a race on a course that the Lord has set for you. Running in such a way that you are not disqualified is of paramount importance.
The Christian life is not a sprint but a marathon – a race which requires perseverance, patience, and endurance. The writer to the Hebrews encourages us to look at the life of faith that others have lived and let that be a witness for us as we seek to run the race.
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews12:1).
Dr Joasia Zakrzewski gave the impression that she ran the whole race with patience, but she had seriously circumvented the rules. If we are going to run the life of faith legitimately then we must look carefully at how we run.
Firstly, there needs to be the removal of anything that would stop us completing the course. Just as a runner would not carry anything that is not required so we should take an inventory of our running kit. Is there anything or anyone that is slowing us down or that could cause us to give up? We must be ruthless with that which is not beneficial in the race. Although there is no rule against wearing diving boots in an ultra-marathon no one will do that. Likewise, although something may be legitimate, if it is hindering progress then we must lay it aside.
Along with that which is legitimate, there can be sin in our lives and that is always illegitimate. When the Holy Spirit convicts of sin we must not harden our hearts but deal with it.
To persevere or show patience in the life of faith is evidence that your heart is “good soil”.
“But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15).
Although Dr Zakrzewski did initially receive a prize this was taken from her when she was deemed to have run (or rather, not run) unlawfully. When Paul writes to the Corinthians, he does not suggest that salvation is a result of running well, but rather, that because of salvation we should run in a way that ensures a prize. The prize is the reward for faithful service.
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it” (1 Corinthians 9:24).
Most onlookers had no idea that Dr Zakrzewski had not run lawfully but in the end her sin was found out. There is a great parallel with the Christian life here. It can be easy to fool other people into thinking we are running well. After all, the eleven Apostles had no idea that Judas was not genuine. However, we cannot fool the Lord. When it comes to the Judgement Seat of Christ where rewards are given, He will know all our works and the motives that drove us.
The words of 1 Corinthians 9:24 do not mean that in the Christian race only one person can win the prize. We do not compete against each other but against everything that would hinder us. If, after careful Spirit-enabled self-examination, we discover that we have not been “running lawfully” up to this point, we can remember the words of one who once said, “It is never too late to start doing what is right.”
Although many people get enjoyment and health benefits from running, there is a race of far greater importance that every believer must run legitimately and patiently, so that at the end they can say, “I have finished the race” (2 Timothy 4:7b).