To see the words that the apostle Paul has written is both interesting and encouraging. First, let me say that the apostle Paul is one of my heroes. I’m not sure that he would be pleased with me but I’m certainly pleased with him. So I find it a little surprising when he writes, “not that I have already obtained this…” I can understand Paul saying that he is certainly not perfect, for none of us are. But if anyone has “arrived” at spiritual maturity during their lifetime on earth I would think it would be Paul.
But he says that he has not already obtained nor has he made “IT” his own but instead he acknowledges that Christ Jesus has made him His own and that causes him to press on toward the goal. How do we move forward in the spiritual life?
We should begin by looking ahead rather than behind. One of the struggles I have in life, personally, is how to deal with the past. Years ago we used to sing a chorus that included the words: “Satan remindth me of the crimes that I have done. I know them well 10,000 more but Jehovah findeth none. He findeth none, He findeth none, they’ve been washed in the blood of His Son.” Often times I find myself dwelling on the wrong I have done in the past. On my best day I recognize that I can’t change the past and need to simply push on under the cover of the Lord Jesus Christ. On my worst day I slide into depression remembering that my past includes many wrongdoings. If I’m not very careful I can lose much of a day wallowing in depression and defeat. I have a plan I would like to recommend to you. The next time Satan comes around telling you about your past, stop, take a minute, and remind him about his future! Satan is going to be bound and cast into the lake of fire that burns forever and ever. My future, as a child of God, is a heavenly home prepared by the Lord Jesus Christ. So we need to join with the apostle Paul in…
Forgetting what lies behind. Look in the verses just before our text found in Philippians 3:7-8. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.
Unlike most of us, much of Paul’s past would have been considered good by the average person. We’ve looked at it before and seen how Paul had lived an exemplary life. He was born into a godly family, a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin. In regards to the Mosaic law he considered himself blameless. But he knew also that he had been a persecutor of the church and he considered himself to be the chief of sinners.
This does not mean that Paul continued in sin it means that he had, in the past, set the benchmark so far sin is concerned. Let me illustrate: Suppose you were a high jumper in college and you broke the school record by a foot. The school placed a mark on the gym wall with your name beside it, showing the height of your jump and proclaiming you as champion, or “chief.” Twenty years later you walk into the same gym. There is your mark on the wall. No one has even come close to breaking your record. You're still the chief. This is what Paul meant and why he considered himself “chief of sinners”!
Even though Paul remembered the past he made a choice to stop living in it. He was willing to “forget” what lies behind because it was covered by the blood sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. We sing, “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” If God has washed it away why should we continue to mull over it? The past is not a good place to live even on the good days. We need to join with God and put our sins, all of the past, as far away from us as the East is from the West. (Psalm 103:12) That’s how far God has removed our transgressions from us. Never, ever. will the blame get back to us if we are in Christ Jesus. Let me give you an illustration. If you were able to fly in an airplane directly West no matter how many times you circled the earth you would still be going West. You may travel North until you reach a point where all travel from there will be South. But there is no “East Pole” or, “West Pole” the two directions will never, ever, meet. Praise God that’s the example of how far He has removed our sins from us! Forget what lies behind and keep on…
Straining forward. Turn with me to Hebrews 12:1-2. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
I’m not a great sports fan but there are many illustrations in sports to guide us in our spiritual life. One thing you will notice about runners is that they, “lay aside every weight”, and then they run with endurance.
We are called on to do the same thing spiritually. Lay aside every weight of memory and even lay aside the sin that clings so close to us. We cannot run the race well if we are burdened down with our wrongdoing from the past. Remember, if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9) if God says it is forgiven then you can take His word for it. Don’t spend time and energy rehashing the past. Confess it, thank God, and to go on with your life. Remember, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, many times greater than when the writer of Hebrews wrote these words. The faithful throughout history have gone on to be with the Lord. Their lives are witness to us that the life can be lived. We are told that we are to look to Jesus, and with Him in view, we can run the race that is set before us with endurance. So long as we follow that plan we will be successful in…
Reaching for the Goal. Turn with me to Ephesians 1:11-14. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Nine times in the letter to the Ephesians Paul uses the term “in Him”, referring to the inheritance we have. It is impossible for human language to completely explain all that we have in Christ Jesus. God chose those who are His children before He created the world and the names are recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Paul saw himself in the first generation of believers and realized that God had a plan that allowed them to be “to the praise of His glory”. Having believed in the truth that is Christ Jesus, God the Father seals us with the Holy Spirit. And then God begins the work of shaping us into the image of Christ Jesus. Ultimately, we are going to be like Him. The word of God promises us that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. (1 John 3:2)
Becoming like Christ Jesus in every respect is God’s goal for the life of the believer. As we grow in grace and the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ we will become more and more like Him. We will go through many trials and temptations along the way. The obstacle course that is life is designed to root out of us everything of the flesh and build into us everything that is the Spirit of God. Nothing ever comes into your life without first passing by the Holy Spirit who is our guarantee. He only lets things into our lives that are good for us no matter how painful they are at the moment. The Lord Jesus promised be with us even to the end of the age.
The goal we are reaching toward is…
The upward call. Turn with me to Colossians 1:3-8. We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, 7 just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf 8 and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
Throughout the Christian life we are being changed into his likeness. We are progressively becoming more and more like Christ. Our goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit that God has placed in our life. We, like the apostle Paul, are not perfect but we are pressing on towards perfection. We have put on a new nature which is constantly being renewed. The gospel bears its fruit in our life so long as we are faithfully laying aside every weight and running the race that’s set before us. The call that we have received is an inner call toward sanctification. Our inner awareness of God grows stronger and stronger as we live our daily lives. We begin to know God is our loving Father in heaven. We have been adopted into his family since we have passed out of the family of Adam and Eve. The Holy Spirit that God has placed in our lives bears witness with our spirits that we are children of God. As time goes by, and we continue to grow spiritually, the intensity of our understanding is such that though we have not seen our Lord Jesus Christ, we indeed love Him!
It is an upward call because the goal itself is in heaven. The Bible tells us that we are joint heirs with Jesus and that our inheritance is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us. (1 Peter 1:4) We are kept by God’s power not by our own strength. So God protects us even when we are not aware of it because we are His children.
Our inheritance is also protected because it is in heaven with God. Anything that one possesses is only as secure as the place it is kept. When you put your money in the bank it is guaranteed by the federal government. That’s pretty secure but it is not totally secure. But to have an inheritance in heaven is absolutely, totally secure! So we respond to the upward call of God knowing that in the future we have a secure inheritance. However, along the way we should remember…
What we have attained. Paul wrote to the Philippians that we should hold true to what we have attained. Turn with me to Romans 8:15-17. We can see some of what we have attained. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
We have received the Spirit of adoption. With that one Spirit we have been baptized into one body — making us children of God. (1 Corinthians 12:13) We are able to turn to God as our loving Father.
Without any disrespect we can call him “Daddy” in our day-to-day conversation. We have already attained a place in the family of God. We are now God’s children and as such we have the right to come to our heavenly Father for the help, health and strength we need to live our life secure in Him.
We should be encouraged every day to run the race that God has given us to run. We need to forget about the past and focus on the future. We have before us the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. And as we grow in spiritual maturity we will see more clearly the path that lies ahead of us.
It is a wonderful thing to know that we are children of God. All people everywhere are born with an awareness of the existence of God. Satan, suppresses the truth in order to keep them from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus came into the world to bear our sins on the cross and defeat the enemy completely. If a person confesses with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believes in their heart that God has raised him from the dead the Bible says they will be saved. There are no good works that make us children of God. It is by grace through faith only. If you have come to faith in Christ you will certainly grow in grace and the knowledge of the Lord on a day-to-day basis. The Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are children of God and though we have not seen our Lord Jesus Christ physically we love Him! Do you need to confess Christ as your Lord today? Today is the day of salvation, you have no promise of tomorrow.
All scripture quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.