Christian life requires discipline, growth, and perseverance
Paul wrote a letter to the church at Corinth to discipline them and respond to questions that they asked. Corinth was the home to the biannual Isthmian Games, so they would have been familiar with the sports analogies that Paul used.
Paul called the church to become spiritually disciplined and to live the Christian life as if they were athletes in training. Paul himself had to continually discipline his flesh to conform to what the Holy Spirit wanted. He ran the race in order so that he wouldn't disappoint his Lord Jesus and lose his crown (reward).
Paul was not speaking of losing his salvation. Salvation is based on the work of Jesus on the cross and faith, not on Paul's works. If Paul could lose his salvation based on his works, few of us would have any hope of salvation.
We are to have a single-minded focus on Jesus. He has a plan for our life. We have to discover that plan and pursue it with zeal and perseverance. It will not be easy. And it is optional. He respects our free will. We can either choose to walk our own way or to follow His way. His way is harder but is much more rewarding. His way requires us to seek, rely, and trust in Him completely. His way leads to transformation and glorification of the Son. But it is difficult and will require building of faith. Faith is developed through trials. If it were easy, we wouldn't need God.
David Prior, The Message of 1 Corinthians: Life in the Local Church, The Bible Speaks Today, ed. John R. W. Stott (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 163-4.
Created 12 months ago