The final whistle blows; the hard-fought championship final is over. S. had played an outstanding match, easily his best performance in many years of high quality professional football. By contrast, P. had been in bad form today with a passing success rate of 36%. Which of the two will lift the trophy? We don’t know because the trophy belongs to the winning team and we don’t know to which teams S. and P. belong. You may have played miserably but if your team won, you will lift the trophy. You may have offered a “man of the match” performance but if your team lost, you’re not going to lift that trophy.
The analogy has its drawbacks, most especially (a) in not telling us why the team of Jesus Christ will win in the end, and (b) in suggesting that there might be another team playing in the same league. But not everything can be said at once and it may help clarifying this: It is not our own personal performance which determines whether we’ll be smiling when the final whistle blows but the question whether we are on the winning side. (And just in case you’re in any doubt: The winning side is going to be Christ’s because of his own personal performance.)
Also, if you’re underperforming the solution is not to be found by following the training regime of your old “Law” team but by following your coach, the Holy Spirit. But this is something which Paul will bring to the fore only later in the letter.
Which is my team? Do I follow the lead of my manager? Do I accept the discipline of my coach? Am I a good team player? Or am I trying to do my own thing in life, choosing for myself with whom to play and which training exercise to follow, trusting that I can make a success of it on my own?