In Philippians 3:12-4:1, Paul tells the church that he has not attained resurrection or perfection yet. Nevertheless, he wants them to know that he keeps striving hard towards it every minute of every day.
Surely this is no small task. It is not easy to try so hard at anything, let alone being perfect. Yet Paul continues day in and day out to give Christ and his call to a holy life his all. What gives a person that kind of drive? He tells us:
“…because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” -Philippians 3:12b
Both before and after this statement, Paul assures his readers that he is not yet perfect. He is saying, “I am not there yet.” He knows perfection is an impossibility while we live on earth. No matter how much we try – and if anyone tried, it was Paul, both before and after conversion – we simply cannot keep God’s law perfectly. Everyone fails.
If this was all he had said, it would be discouraging. We may be tempted toward an attitude that says, “If I am going to fail, why try?” I admit I have been stuck there too many times. Not Paul. He says also, “I press on to make it may own” and “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Forget where you failed. Reach for glory.
How hard it is to forget; to not let past failures define our present and our future; to believe that all the trying and failing is worth something in the end; to keep holding on to the truth we have been called to. Yet Matthew Henry says, “A holy fear of coming short is an excellent means of perseverance.” This is, by no means, a sinful forgetting of our sin in exchange for cheap, non-effectual grace as many practice. It is, instead, a deep concern regarding our past failures coupled with a deliberate forgetfulness rooted in faith in the One who makes us clean.
There is no flippancy, excuse-making, self-justifying, or brushing off of sin here. There is no attitude here that says, “Oh well. Everybody sins. I can’t help it; might as well indulge.” …and then pretend I didn’t do anything wronger than anyone else ever did. That, friends, is sin. This forgetting is faith. One runs into more sin, false profession, and final condemnation. The other presses on toward holiness, perfection, and resurrection. Understand well the difference.
Paul’s instructions are clear: imitate me; watch the godly; stand firm. Why?
1. Because Christ Jesus has made you his own.
2. Because many walk waywardly. Many are enemies of Christ, the cross, and, therefore, you. Many are headed for destruction. Many worship self – food, drink, earthly things. You are one of the few.
3. Because you are citizens of heaven.
4. Because you are loved, beloved.
Notice how Paul deals with his church when speaking about perfection and failure. He doesn’t give them a guilt trip about not being perfect. He doesn’t rail upon them about all the times they messed up. He doesn’t make them feel bad by compounded accusations and I’m superior to you charges. He simply says try your best. Try your best because you belong to Christ. That’s what a father would say. Be your best because you bear my name; because you belong to my family; because you’re mine. Try, because I love you and you love me.
Then, he admits that he is not perfect either. He doesn’t lord his great accomplishments and superior example over them. He doesn’t get up on his self-righteous high horse and make a speech about how great he is. (He just got done calling his religious reputation poop, in fact.) Instead, Paul identifies with his friends about the conundrum Christians face when striving toward holiness. Try, but you won’t succeed perfectly. Just try your best, guys. Remember, we aren’t there yet.
Finally, forget the mistakes of your past. Don’t beat yourself up. You know Christ. You belong to him. You are his and he is yours. Nothing can separate you from his love. Move on from whatever guilt, regret, or past failures the enemy is holding over you. Strive toward the goal. There is no sense in letting the past ruin your present and future. Just don’t go back there, in thought or deed. Move on.
Paul’s message here is quite different than what the religious men of his day were preaching. It’s quite different than what the religious men of our day are preaching. Thank God for Paul and his Word.
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