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Pressing on to Perfection (Philippians Sermon 15 of 24)

Pressing on to Perfection (Philippians Sermon 15 of 24)

February 08, 2004 | Andy Davis
Philippians 3:12-16
Sanctification, Walk by Faith, Holiness

Two Journeys of Progress

Well, I am excited to preach on this passage today, Philippians 3:12-16. I think about the truths in this text every day, and I think we're going to learn some things this morning, I trust, on how to run the Christian race that's set before us. As we've talked, the Book of Philippians sets before us two races to run, we could put it in those terms today. The internal race of personal holiness, so that we are moment by moment growing to be more like Jesus. And that external race of worldwide gospel advance. Have you heard that before? I know it's repetition, but I just want you to know what the Book of Philippians is about, and the scriptures as well. God has a work to do inside you, and God has a work to do outside of you. And in the end, they end up about the same. And the goal of both is that the Church would be perfect in Christ.

Now, that word "perfect" is an interesting word, isn't it? In Psalm 19:96 the Psalmist says, "To all perfection, I see a limit." Now, that's an interesting thing, isn't it? When you stop and think about it, the Psalmist is looking for perfection. He looks around and he's seeking it. He wants to find it. Secondly, he doesn't find it. No matter where he looks, he does not see perfection. To all perfection, there is certainly a limit. If you were an expert in diamonds, you could spend your whole life looking for the perfect diamond, in color, and clarity, and cut, and carat. You would search and you would never find one. You might find one diamond that was better than every other diamond you'd ever seen, but you would not find the perfect diamond. If you are a coffee connoisseur, which I am not but some of you are, and you were to spend your whole life searching for the perfect cup of coffee, you would never find it. You could remember that one cup you drank in such and such a place and every other cup would not come up to that level, for the rest of your life. Some of them badly so. But you would never find the perfect cup of coffee. The expert chef is searching for the perfect dining experience, and never finding it. The composer for the perfect sounds, the perfect tones, and it's never achieved. The poet for the perfect combination of words to evoke from within what he or she is trying to say through the poem, and never finding it.

Perfection eludes us. "To all perfection, I see a limit." And yet, I believe, just like it says in Ecclesiastes, I think it's 3:12, "God has set eternity in the hearts of men." I think he's set perfection there too. Oh, we're hungry for it, aren't we? We would like to see something perfect. And even more, the more we go on in our Christian lives, we would like to be perfect. We would like to be done forever with our sin. And we'd like to live, wouldn't we, in a perfect world? We would like to be perfect because we don't want to ruin that perfect world by being there, but we would like the world around us to be perfect too. And so that's a different way of coming at the same thing again in Philippians, that God is working within us, transforming us little by little until we are as perfect as Jesus is. And God is doing that same work around us in the world, bringing people from every tribe, and language, and people, and nation, until at last, His perfect kingdom comes.

Now, all of this perfection comes from God's own nature. We serve and love and worship a perfect God, don't we? We serve a perfect God. God is absolutely perfect. He is perfect in His person. He is unchanging, never changes, that means He is never improving and never getting worse. Because He can't, he is already perfect. He is omnipotent, that means perfect in power. It is impossible for God to have any more power than He does right now. He is omniscient. It is impossible for God to know anymore than He knows right now. He knows all things now. God is perfect in holiness. He hates evil. In Him, there is no darkness at all. He is absolutely perfect in His holiness. He is perfectly just. He loves justice and righteousness, and hates wickedness. And it would be impossible for God to love these and hate the wickedness anymore than he does. He's already perfect. These days, there's the idea of a changing God, a transforming or growing God, that God is growing along with us. That is false. God is perfect now, He's always been perfect, and He always will be perfect. And God is perfectly loving. It is impossible for God to love you, in Christ, anymore than he does right now. It's impossible. It's frankly impossible for God to love His enemies more than He does right now. He sent them a beautiful day, in this area anyway, and he continues to love his enemies with a perfect love as He defines it.

I. Our Perfect God, Our Perfect Salvation

Our God is a perfect God. And not only is our God in His person perfect, His salvation plan is perfect too, isn't it? God had the whole salvation plan worked out perfectly, down to the jot and tittle. He had the whole thing worked out before the foundation of the world, and there's no way that it could be improved to bring Him more glory and us more joy. Amen. It's a perfect salvation plan. To create a world perfect, with no evil in it at all. To allow, in some way unknown to us, a mystery to us, evil to spring up within His world, and to deal with it over millennia the way He has, with perfect wisdom. To have called out a people of his own, the Jews, to lead them out with a mighty hand in an outstretched arm from Egypt, and to give them commandments, which they could not follow in their wickedness. And to put up with that wickedness for 1,000 years of national history in the promised land. And to give prophet after prophet, telling them how wicked they are and that they need a savior, who's going to come and he's going to be like this. To give them a king like David, who exemplified the best a human king could be, and to promise David that he would have a son who would sit on the throne forever.

And to set up in the hearts of the people an expectancy, that someday that savior would come. And to give them a perfect picture of His work through the animal sacrificial system. The blood of the sacrifice shed in the place of the sinners. They get to live, the animal dies. All of it a picture of the Lamb of God, who would come to take away the sin of the world. And then, in the fullness of time, Jesus came. In the fullness of time, born of a virgin, and lived under the law a perfect life of obedience to the father. Never committed any sin, never broke any of Moses's law, obeyed all of it to the Nth degree. Perfect righteousness. Did mighty miracles, that we can't even describe, more than we could even count. The world itself would contain all of the books that would be written, if they were written, of all the mighty works that He did. And at the right time, He died on the cross. At Passover, wouldn't you know, isn't that perfect? At Passover, He would shed His blood at the moment that the Passover sacrifice shed His blood for you. That He would take all of your guilt and your sin and weakness on himself, and shed His blood to pay the penalty for your sin and for mine.

Now, that's a perfect salvation plan, but not done. Because the message had to be gotten out. And for 2,000 years, He's been using people like you and me to share the gospel, to preach the good news. And people have been and are being saved, and they're going to keep on getting saved until the Lord returns and brings in that perfect kingdom. What a perfect salvation plan. Don't ask me to do that again, I don't think I could do it. But that is the perfect salvation plan. From alpha to omega, He had it all worked out before the foundation of the world. Our God is perfect in his person, He is perfect in His salvation plan, and He has communicated to us through a perfect Bible. As a matter of fact, if it weren't for the perfection of the Bible, we would not know that God is perfect in His person or that His salvation plan is perfect. "The words of the Lord," it says in Psalm 12:6, "are flawless. Like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times over." That means they can't be any more perfect. The word of God is perfect.

Therefore, God can have no imperfection around Him. He can't. He can't have any wickedness near Him. Habakkuk 1:13 reminds us that God's eyes are "too pure to look on evil," He "cannot tolerate wrong." Well, if he can't even look at evil, if He can't tolerate wrong, how is He going to live with it in Heaven for eternity? How many sins did Adam and Eve commit to be evicted from the perfect Garden of Eden? Just one. That's it, just one. Because God is holy and perfect. And our God, therefore, commands perfection. He commands us to be perfect. It says in James 2:10, "Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point, is guilty of breaking all of it."

Now, you might think that's not fair. Have you heard the story of the boy who put his finger in the dike? It's a story based in Holland. And I have flown to Holland from the North, from England, going over, and it was early morning, I remember that. It's that transatlantic flight, the night is the shortest of your life, three or four hours of darkness, and then boom. And I didn't sleep at all. And there it was. As we're coming down into Amsterdam, I couldn't tell the difference between ocean and land. It's the low countries. And they have to have dikes to protect the land that they have reclaimed from the sea. Can you imagine if there were a single little hole in the dike? Is that any big deal for you, if you live in that village? Oh, you better believe it's a big deal. Because sin doesn't stay put, does it? It just spreads and spreads and spreads and spreads. It's a cancerous tumor. It's a vicious evil. And so God will allow no evil in His kingdom. He'll allow no evil in you or me.

Christ Commands Us to Be Perfect

He commands us to be perfect. He does it directly in Matthew 5:48, "You must be perfect therefore, as your Heavenly father is perfect." Every time I witness, every time I share the gospel, I try to use that verse. Because you know what people tell me every time, whenever I say that? "Nobody's perfect." Exactly. "That's why we need a savior," I say. I say it every time. They're just perfectly set up. "You must be perfect to go to Heaven." "Well, I'm not perfect." "Well, then you're not going to Heaven, without a savior." You must be perfect, it's commanded from our perfect God.

Now, sin has already conquered us. Sin is already all around us. Sin is already through our bodies like a cancerous tumor spreading through the lymph nodes, it's through the whole body. It says in Romans 7:21, "I find this law at work when I want to do good, evil is right there with me." I can't shake it. "What a wretched man I am. Who will rescue me from this body of death?" I can't get away from sin. Paul says, in Romans 7. So perfection is out of the question. And therefore, all human fleshly efforts at perfection are doomed from the start. Now, there've been a lot of them, haven't there? In 1516, Thomas More wrote a book called "Utopia." The word "utopia" is actually play on words. "Good place" and "no place," is what it could mean depending on the translation. And I think he intended the pun. It's about a perfect society. And he's writing about a perfect world and he's calling it "no place." And that's right, because there is no perfect place here in this world.

Human societies are... Cannot be perfect because they're made up of sinners. Many people have thought that they could set up a perfect society. The French Revolution was an attempt, based on enlightenment philosophies of Voltaire and others, thought that they could set up a society based on liberty and brotherhood and equality. What they ended up with was a bloody, vicious, guillotine-ridden revolution, ultimately ending up in Napoleon's dictatorship and his military conquering ambitions. That's what they ended up with. Communism was an attempt at setting up a perfect human society. And we have looked at the crumbling of what's left of the communist society, in so many places in Europe, and we're still praying for it in other places in the world. It's a total failure. And the reason is, it's not that it's not good to distribute goods so that there's no poor people, it's not that. It's that human sin sabotages the thing from the start. And so communism is a brutal failure.

And then there are individual efforts at self-improvement. I've preached about those the last two weeks. The religion of self-effort, and self-righteousness, and saying, "I will. I will. I will." Trying to do better, to pray more, to give more, to be a better person, to not be so argumentative or complaining, to try better. And it never adds up to anything. Human efforts at perfection lead to nothing. There's a whole market of self-help books. I don't know if you've seen it. You can go into a secular bookstore, and they proliferate. They're selling by the millions because people want to help themselves be perfect, if they can. And they never do. "So I find this law at work," said Paul in Romans 7, "When I want to do good, evil is right there with me."

And so we must have a perfection that comes from the outside in. And brothers and sisters, that's what salvation is. It's a perfection that came from the outside in. It came from God to us, because there was no way that the perfection could come from the inside out. And if you think perfection's not required, you haven't been listening. Our God is a holy and perfect God, and He must have no sin and evil in His presence. And so we must be perfect. It can't come from inside, it must come from the outside in. And praise God, it has. Praise God that God has given us a perfect salvation. Now, I said "has given us," understand that I believe salvation is a process. It's already and not yet. And that's true for every human being that's ever lived, that needed saving. Jesus is fully in His resurrection body, but nobody else is. Nobody's fully saved yet, because nobody has the great resurrection body yet except Jesus. But someday we will. Someday we're going to be fully saved. And therefore, our salvation, as I've said before, is an already and not yet issue. We already have some of it, and we don't yet have other parts of it.

We already have a perfect righteousness before God, if we have trusted in Christ. If you have repented of your sins, come to the cross, seen in Jesus everything you needed for righteousness, and laid down your sins at the foot of the cross and said, "His blood is sufficient to save a sinner like me." You are seen by God to be perfect, now. Isn't that incredible? You can't be seen anymore righteous or more perfect than Jesus's imputed, or gift of, righteousness to you. Already perfect. But are you perfect? Shall I ask your spouse or your best friend? Are you perfect? You are not perfect. And so you say, "Well, I don't understand. We've got this invisible, by-faith, gift of righteousness, but then we've got how we really handle our money, and how we really pray our prayers, and how we really deal with our best friends, and our family members. And how we deal with temptations like lust, and laziness, and pride, and selfishness." Now, that's the real deal. And frankly, there's not one of us, including me, that would want to have our last 168 hours, the last seven days, shown on the screen up here on the wall.

And so we are short of the perfection that God requires for Heaven. Not short in the imputed righteousness, but short in our behavior and performance. Such that if we didn't have Christ's imputed righteousness, we would die for the sins we've committed in the last hour or less. So we're not there yet, and we want to see the growing happen. And Paul in this text tells us how it's going to happen. Because of this already and not yet aspect, we must have a spirit led pressing on toward perfection. By your pressing after perfection, you will not be saved. Without your pressing after salvation, you will not be saved. You're not going to get saved because you're working hard and trying harder and harder, no way. We already showed that the religion of self effort will not work. But I'm telling you, if there's not a principle of pressing, striving, straining, pushing after holiness, you're not saved. You're not saved. The Holy Spirit works that in you.

II. Paul’s Pattern of Pressing Described

And Paul talks about it here for himself in verses 12 through 16. Now we see Paul's pattern of pressing described here. And there are different elements that I want to highlight for you. First, in verse 12, he says, "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. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it."

1) Not Already His: Perfection Impossible on Earth

Alright. Point one I want to make is that Paul considers that perfection is not already his. In other words, that perfection is impossible here on earth. Now this is so important. Other people have said and have claimed that perfection's possible here on earth. John Wesley is one of them. He wrote a book called, The Plain Account of Christian Perfection, in which he redefines perfection for us, makes it attainable, says that perfection is basically perfect love or at any moment, not violating a known command of God. Well, that's a little narrow, isn't it? Even that is hard enough to live up to, but he claimed that it was possible to be perfect for a little while and then slip back into sin and then be back to being perfect again for a while and then slip back into sin. That is not what Paul has in mind here, I can assure you.

No, no, no. He means perfection the way I understand perfection, body, soul, spirit, emotions, every part of me perfection. And Paul says that's not possible here on earth. I don't consider myself yet to have it. There's a journey to travel. There's a distance between me and perfection, and I must travel that journey. Paul constantly keeps in mind, "I'm not finished yet. I'm not done. I've got a journey to travel."

Now the word is, in verse 13 he says, "I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it." This is the same word he used early in this chapter. The word is logizomai. It comes from the Greek, the word logic. It's a rational thing but it has to do more with accounting, that we are accounting ourselves imperfect. We're thinking about ourselves that way. I consider myself imperfect. I consider myself a sinner.

2) Involves Great Effort on Paul’s Part

Second point that we notice, that this pressing after salvation requires great effort on Paul's part. You want to be saved? It's going to be hard work. Are you saved by your works? We already covered that, no, of course not. But if you are saved, you will work hard in your Christian life. You will. It's just what saving faith does to you. It's what God does to you through the power of the Spirit. He works energetically in you to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.

Look at verse 13 again and 14, "But one thing I do," he says, "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me Heavenward in Christ Jesus." Do you see these words? Pressing. Pressing, straining. These are powerful words, aren't they? They give you a picture. Imagine somebody wanted to get in really good shape, goes to the Atlantic Ocean, very turbulent, stormy weather, has produced breakers there. And the person goes out and gets a parachute, a little parachute behinds him, and tries to run through the surf as fast as they can. Parachute's filled with water behind them. They are pressing, they are straining. There's an opposing force at every step. That is the image I get that Paul gives us here. That Christian life is one of pressing. It's one of straining. It is not easy to be a Christian. It is not easy to grow in grace in the knowledge of Christ.

3) Success Absolutely Guaranteed: Christ Took Hold of Me for It

The third point that Paul makes is that success in this quest for perfection is absolutely guaranteed. Isn't that incredible? Paul says, "I'm going to be perfect someday." Now, you say, "Well, where do you get that?" Well, you get out of probably one of my favorite verses in the whole bible, Philippians 3:12. Look at it again. "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." Now, there's a lot of words in there and some grammar, let's unfold it. Okay, let's start with the logical order in Paul's mind. He's starting with Christ, actually. Christ Jesus has already taken hold of Paul. "I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me." So Christ took hold of Paul, and he did it for a purpose. "That for which Christ Jesus took hold of me." He had a reason. Jesus is a very purposeful being, you'll find that. I'm finding it. The more I grow, everything's for a purpose, everything.

And so Jesus took hold of Paul for a purpose. What was the purpose? In context, there can be no doubt, it's Paul's perfection, his salvation, his completion in the salvation process. Jesus took hold of Paul to make him perfect. And as a result of Jesus taking hold of Paul, Paul presses on to take hold of perfection. "I press on to take hold of that for which, that perfection for which Christ Jesus took hold of me." So therefore, Paul's perfection is absolutely guaranteed. It's as rock solid as Jesus's grip. Do you see that? Oh, that's exciting. Oh, that's encouraging.

I've told some of you this before, but I have enjoyed playing a game with my children. When they were younger I did this, they're too big for me now to do this, but I like to pick them up and just hold them close, give them a kiss on the cheek and just hold them, and then start to let go a little bit when they're little. Bigger, they... I can't even pick them up actually. I think I tried to pick one of them up recently and I thought, "This is the last time I will try to do this because I'm going to end up in the hospital. And that wouldn't be good." But when they were little, I would hold them tight and then I'd kind of let go, and they'd start to slip. Do you know what I'm talking about? And what would they instinctively do when they're starting to slip? They grab tighter. And then that would make let go a little more, and they'd grab even tighter. And they're slipping, and I say, "Well, you're on your own now. You're on your own." And they're screaming, that is all a big game. I don't do it over the Grand Canyon edge or anything, I'm a good dad. I'm not doing that.

But I'm holding on, but then I kind of let go, and they get anxious. Some people look at their salvation that way. They're holding on to Jesus. Jesus is wishing them the best, hoping that they'll have the strength to hold on right to the end. But if not, well, I've seen others fall. It's really sad when it happens. Don't let it happen to you now. Is that the Savior you know? Uh-huh. He's taken hold of you and He will not let you go. Another image is of a free soloist rock climber I talked to. In Yosemite National Park, there's all these great, great rock climbing things. Why anyone would do that, I don't know. And why anyone would do it with equipment and friends, I don't know. But these guys did it with no equipment and no friends.

Just their hands with chalk on them and special shoes and up they would go, expecting it to take 14 hours. And it's kind of like, then people think of salvation, that Jesus is a rock that doesn't move, but you better hold on to Him. You're a free soloist in the climb of salvation, so you better hold on tight as you're making your way up. Is that the salvation that gives you confidence? Is that what Paul is talking about here? No way. No, no, no. I press on to take hold of that for which Christ sovereignly took hold of me and won't let me go until I have it. You're not going to let me go. John 10. "My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they shall never perish. No one shall snatch them out of my hand." Do you see that? Nobody's going to snatch you from Jesus's hand.

So, as a result, Paul believes his final perfection is absolutely guaranteed. Now, look at the interesting thing. Does that make him kick back, relax, take it easy? The easy chair, La-Z-Boy route to Heaven: "As a result of the fact that I know absolutely I'm going to end up perfect, I don't need to get up early for prayer. I don't need to fast. I don't need to mortify the deeds of the flesh. I don't need to go to church. I don't need to do anything. I don't need to witness. I don't need to do anything in the Christian life. You know why? Because it's absolutely guaranteed that I'm going to Heaven." Is that the way Paul thinks? No. He says, "I press. I strain. I strive to take hold of the perfection that Jesus has in mind for me."

4) The Total Focus of Paul’s Life

Fourth. This becomes the total focus of Paul's life. Look at verse 13. "One thing I do..." Americans are 40 things I dabble at. Really, I mean, the options are overwhelming, aren't they? Through the internet and through air travel and through technology in general, it's incredible the options that are available to you at every moment of your modern lives. And it causes a kind of, almost like infinitely wide and infinitely shallow experience in life. That's not what Paul's talking about here. He said one thing I do, every day, one thing I do. I strain after Christ. I press after Christ. One thing I do. Total dedication.

5) Doesn’t Live in the Past, But Focuses on the Future

Fifth. He doesn't live in the past, but he focuses on the future. Faith is essentially forward-looking all the time. It's just future-oriented. Future-oriented. Look what it says, again. "Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it, but one thing I do, forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me Heavenward in Christ Jesus." Now, what does this mean, forgetting what lies behind? Well, let's start with the opposite. What does it not mean? It does not mean that we forget Jesus's death and resurrection. Heaven forbid that we should ever forget that Jesus died on the cross for us. Heaven forbid that we should ever forget that he rose from the dead on the third day. No, it's not that. It's not forgetting the truths of the Gospel that we have heard and believed. We should actually go back to them again and again and cherish them. It's not forgetting, frankly, any biblical truths that we've learned.

We're actually supposed to be seeing within us, building a city of truth, brick by brick, layer by layer. We're not forgetting the things we've learned. Actually, so much of the problem in the Christian life is that we forget the things we've learned. And therefore, it's not a matter of forgetting God's faithfulness in the past. We should remember that. And it's not a matter of forgetting past successes in our Christian lives. We should learn from them and glorify Him and grow by considering them. And it is not a matter of forgetting your past sins in one sense. Think of it this way. Suppose you woke up every day with a perfect amnesia concerning the past. Some would say, "That sounds really good. That really is attractive to me." But think of it this way. If you had no memory of your past sins, what good would God's discipline be for you? Aren't you supposed to remember you did this thing, God responded this way, therefore, don't do that thing again? Isn't that the essence of discipline? We must remember.

But, what does it mean? Well, I think first, it means that we should forget our past lives as though we wish we could go back to them. Paul's not attracted back to his old way of life in Judaism. He's not wishing he could go back to the high priest and ask if he could maybe rebuild that bridge that he burned by preaching Christ. He didn't really mean it. He doesn't want to go back to Egypt. He doesn't want to go back to servitude. Jesus put it this way in Luke 9:62. "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of Heaven." Don't look back. We forget our past life. We're not attracted to it anymore. Jesus put it very succinctly in Luke 17:32. "Remember Lot's wife." What was Lot's wife? What was her problem? She was fleeing Sodom and Gomorrah, but wanted to go back and live there. And the angel told them, "Don't look back at Sodom and Gomorrah. It's gone. Forget it." But she couldn't let it go. She looked back longingly. She looked back saying, "I want to live there again." And she was turned into a pillar of salt. Jesus says, "Be warned. Don't look back at your past life and wish you could be there."

Secondly, don't forget... I mean, forget your past failures as if they depress you and bind you and say you cannot make progress toward perfection anymore as a result of this. That's the Devil's great trick. And you have to discern the difference between learning from the past so that you are successful in the future and looking back and saying, "Oh, woe is me. I can never recover. I will never be perfect. I can't do anything, anymore, ever again, because of this sin." No, God is in the business of reclaiming lost sinners. He's in the business of grabbing sinful people and cleaning them up and restoring them and setting them on the path again. Praise God.

So, we don't look back at our past failures and say, "They bind me, I can never do such and such again. I can't serve God." And then we don't forget our past success... I mean, we are to forget our past successes if we think of them as though the race is won and it's over. "Oh, remember back in those days when I did such and such." Living in the past. As Christians, we're not called to live in the past. Your past obedience isn't going to do you any good for today's test, except that you're in the pattern of habits and obedience right now.

The analogy I've used before and it's a good one, is of the 10,000 meter race. 25 laps, 400 meters each. Can you imagine leading at the 23rd lap, you cross the line and then all of a sudden you start to celebrate. You go over to your friends and give them a hug and they're shocked. "What are you doing? You got two more laps to run. Keep running, you're losing now." And you look for your spouse and say, "Where's that big American flag? And I want to jog around the track and celebrate and all that." While they're continuing to run and you're not running anymore. This is especially tempting for senior adults, if I can speak with tenderness. You're not finished yet because you're here now. If you're finished, you'd be home, you'd be in Heaven. And so therefore you still have a race to run. You still have an obedience to do today. You still have good works which God has stored up for you to do every day. Keep running your race until you go home. We forget what lies behind and we strain toward what lies ahead. The race isn't over as long as it's called today. And if today you hear His voice, don't harden your heart, do what He says.

6) Paul’s Striving Follows God’s Constant Upward Call in Christ

Sixth. Paul's striving follows God's constant upward call in Christ Jesus. Every day, God gives him an upward call. Basically says, through the spirit, "This is the way. Walk in it." Every day He says that and that's a great grace, isn't it? Most of the non-Christians in the world, they don't have any idea how to put one foot in front of the other. They don't know where they're going. But God gives us clear guidance. "This is the way. Walk in it."

Now, what is that upward call, that upward call of God in Christ, what is it? I think it's at least the scripture. Some of the simplest scriptures can be an upward call. Try this one, do everything without complaining or arguing. Period. Next verse. Wow. That's simple, isn't it? How have you been doing? I've been talking to some of you about that and you been... I didn't come to you, you came to me and you said, "This is the one verse I'm really working on here." How's it going? It's an upward call, isn't it? It's saying do everything without complaining or arguing and it stands over you the rest of your life and says, "Come up here. Come on up." It's like a magnetic pull upward. Or how about this one? Ephesians 4:2, "Be completely humble and gentle. Be patient, bearing with one another in love." How you doing? Is it going well? Are you being completely humble and gentle? Are you being patient with one another, bearing with each other in love? Ephesians 4:2 is an upward call, isn't it? It's pulling you upward. It's saying, "Come on up here to complete humility and complete gentleness." And there are many other verses, as many as there are in the Bible.

Philippians 3:14. "I press on," this is the RSV, "I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."

7) Paul’s Striving Will Be Rewarded in Heaven

Seventh. Paul's striving will be rewarded in Heaven. There's a prize far superior to an Olympic gold medal, far superior to an Olympic gold medal. Our prize will last forever. Theirs is temporal, it's going to be corrupted someday. And so there's a prize and what is that prize? The praise of God. That God would look at your life and say, "Well done you good and faithful servant. You've been faithful than a few things, I'll put you in charge of many things. Enter now into the joy of your master." Oh, what a joyful moment that will be. The upward call to win the prize that God would be pleased with our faith filled lives.

8) Everyone (Even the Most “Perfect”) Must Think This Way

Number eight. Everyone, even the most perfect, should think like this. Everyone, even the most perfect. I think you almost could put quotation marks in here. This is for you John Wesley. Okay. "All of us who are perfect should think this way." Well, what way? The way I've been talking. That we're not perfect yet and that we need to strive and strain and press everyday of our lives after perfection. And that we have not already obtained it. I wish the apostle Paul and Mr. John Wesley could sit down and have a conversation about his plain account of Christian perfection and say, "John, you're wrong. Because there is no perfection in this world. There's instead a guarantee of perfection in Heaven and a striving, pressing, straining toward it on Earth."

All of us, who are perfect or mature, should think this way. And if on some point, I love this, this is Paul's personality, you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Don't you love that? I'm not wrong about the Christian life, the things I've been describing here on Philippian Street. They are in fact the real Christian life. And if you disagree, I'll love you anyway, we're still brother or sister in Christ, we're still friends, but someday God will show you. Do you see it, right there in the text? If on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only while we continue to disagree, let us, each one of us, live up to the Christian life we've already come to understand. Let's, today, press after Christ. Let's, today, walk with Him.

9) Living Up to What You Have Already Attained

And finally, living up to what we've already attained. If you don't fully understand the striving after perfection, you don't fully understand Philippians 3, live up to what you do understand of the Christian life. And as you continue to grow, you'll see more and more, this kind of life that Paul lays out for us here.

III. Applications

What kind of application can we take? Well, I think he told us at the end here. You should have this attitude towards salvation. You should consider that perfection's not already yours. That shouldn't be too hard, for most of you. That perfection is not yours already. Secondly, you should be willing to make extreme efforts in sanctification. You should be willing to cut off the right hand and gouge out the right eye if it causes you to sin. You should be willing to make extreme efforts toward sanctification. Destroying pride by humbling yourself and apologizing if you've done something wrong, even if it's really hard. Destroying lust by, perhaps, getting rid of the television from your house.

Destroying laziness by asking somebody to hold you accountable and say, "I want to accomplish these 10 things today. Will you ask me at the end if I did them?" I mean, vigorous efforts toward holiness. To be willing to do whatever it takes to be more like Jesus; pressing, striving, straining. Thirdly, while you're doing all that, would you please be absolutely confident that someday you'll be perfect? I mean, be absolutely totally convinced that someday no sin will trouble you ever again. Be absolutely confident that Jesus is going to get what He wants. Make seeking after perfection the total focus of your life, not 40 things you dabble in. This is the one thing you want, that you would pursue Christ in this race. And don't live in the past.

When you sin, confess it to God, receive his forgiveness, and move on. When you succeed, give God glory, be happy for a little bit, and move on. Keep running the race day after day. If today you hear His voice, don't harden your heart. Set before you Christ constant upward call in Christ, and by that I mean read the Bible every day. Just keep reading verses like, "Be completely humble and gentle," and say, "Lord, make me this way today." Now, if you have listened to what I've been saying, and it doesn't make any sense, and frankly if you know looking inward that you're not a Christian, don't listen to any of the things I just said. Come to Christ, come to the cross. For perhaps the first time, come to the blood and say, "I am lost, I need a savior. Forgive me. Forgive me. I trust in you. That you have the power to forgive sins and make something out of my life." Don't leave this room without coming.

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