Earlier this week, cyclist Eloy Teruel blazed across the finish line in the seventh stage of a 700-mile race known as the Tour of California. He pumped his fists in the air and shouted, celebrating his victory.
After battling his way to the lead and finishing several lengths ahead of his opponents, he took his hands off the handlebars of his bicycle, raised them to the sky, and just coasted. It was time to relax and enjoy his success.
But something wasn’t right. He checked over his shoulder. Yes, he had clearly finished ahead of his nearest challenger. But why were the other cyclists pedaling so furiously after crossing the line?
Teruel had indeed crossed the finish line—but he still had a lap to go. He tried to regain his momentum, but by the time he had finished the final lap (an additional 3.1 miles) and crossed the finish line for real, fifty-five other cyclists had passed him by. It was a difference of just seventeen seconds.
What he thought was his greatest victory had become his greatest defeat.
The same can be true for us as Christians if we aren’t careful. While it is certainly fitting to celebrate our baptism, we must remember that baptism is not the finish line. We must strive onward, living day by day for God and doing the work of the Church.
Think of all that Paul had accomplished for the Church through God. Think of all he had overcome. Yet he recognized that even he was in danger of losing the race—and the prize of heaven—at any moment if he quit too early: “…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” (I Cor. 9:26-27).
We, too, must discipline ourselves, remaining steadfast until the end when we receive the crown of life reserved for those who endure (James 1:12; Rev. 2:10).