"So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. …Then the man said, 'Let me go, for it is daybreak.' But Jacob replied, 'I will not let you go unless you bless me.'" - Genesis 32:24, 26
"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me." Philippians 3:12
The image is unforgettable… desperate Jacob has sent his whole family across the Jabbok river, because he believes his brother Esau, bent on revenge, is bearing down on them with four hundred men. Jacob stands to lose everything God had given him, and he has nowhere to turn. He is left alone on the other side of the river and a man appears and wrestles with Jacob. Jacob senses rightly that this wrestling match will decide his future. He wrestles with the strength of desperation, with the savage determination of a man facing his own destruction. He absolutely will not let go, seizing his supernatural opponent so fiercely that he overcomes and wins the match. Jacob’s vice-like grip saved his life. But the wrestling costs him the health of his hip… for the rest of his life, Jacob would walk with a limp because of the strain of that night. At the climax of it all, the wrestler cries to Jacob, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” Jacob refuses, saying “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And so the angel does bless Jacob… the angel of the Lord, the pre-incarnate Christ blesses Jacob with a favorable encounter with Esau, and with protection and prosperity for the rest of his days on earth.
The Apostle Paul speaks of another wrestling match in Philippians 3:12, another “vice-like grip” even stronger than that of desperate Jacob. The grip belongs to Christ Himself: “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” At the moment of salvation, the Lord Jesus Christ took supernatural hold of Paul and determined that He would never let go, “I will not let you go until I bless you!” Christ’s grip is sovereign, it is unbreakable, it is effective, and it will have its way in the end. The same grip is mentioned in John 10:27-29: My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand.
And what is the blessing for which Christ took hold of us? Philippians 3 implies the blessing is nothing less than absolute heavenly perfection: the full salvation of perfect conformity to Christ—body, soul, emotions, mind, will, everything. “Not that I have already obtained all this (i.e. resurrection) or have already been made perfect…” This, and nothing less than this, is the blessing for which the heavenly wrestler Jesus Christ took hold of us. And no power in heaven or on earth can break His grip on us until He has fully blessed us in heavenly perfection.
And what is the effect on Paul? Is it limp laziness in the arms of such a powerful and sovereign grip of grace? Not at all… it energizes him to “press on to take hold of it” too! It makes Paul a mighty wrestler over his own salvation: Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:26-27)
Our big problem in life is that we wrestle too weakly, and care so little. We do not wrestle with the savage urgency that Jacob displayed on the far side of the Jabbok. We care about eternal matters very little. One of the whole purposes of Christ in taking hold of us, is to stir up in us a passion to wrestle over our souls as much as He does. Charles Kingsley put it this way:
“Be earnest, earnest—mad if thou wilt; do what thou dost as if the stake were Heaven, and that thy last deed before the Judgment Day.”
Wrestle mightily to take hold of that infinite blessing of perfect salvation for which Christ took hold of you. He will never let go of you until you also will never let go of Him!