Sermon: Running Hard After Christ Part 1 (Philippians 3:12-16)

Running Hard After Christ (Part 1)

Philip. 3:12-16 (ESV)

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  [13] Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  [14] I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  [15] Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.  [16] Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

Last week, we learned about Paul’s passion for Christ and how he learned that the righteousness God requires can only be found in Jesus Christ.  He said he was willing to part with everything if it meant gaining Christ and being found in Him.  The Apostle said that, I may know Jesus and share in His suffering attaining the resurrection from the dead. The Apostle had a longing for Christ that motivated his thoughts and actions.  Paul’s passionate longing for Christ is what motivated him to continue in the race of the Christian life.  This longing for Christ will also be motivation for us.  We must have this same motivation if we are to live a consistent, mature Christian life.

I’m so encouraged when I read our text for today.  I can relate to Paul in the sense that he didn’t feel like he’d arrived.  I could sit down and have a cup of coffee with Paul and discuss this aspect of his walk with Christ.  There are some people today who act like they’ve arrived and that the Christian life isn’t difficult to live.  I’m leery of those people because of verses like this.  I can’t relate to someone like this.  As long as we’re on earth no one is living for Christ perfectly.  However, we are to press on in imperfection toward glorification.

1.  Our Work Toward Completion (3:12)

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

As you read Scripture and understand who the men were who wrote portions of the Bible, you can begin to immortalize them.  This is true in the case of the Apostle Paul.  You might think that he always did everything right and never made any mistakes.  You might think that he always glorified God and never sinned.  In this one sentence we make an important discovery.  Paul was a lot like us.  He was used mightily by God but Paul was not perfect.  He would be the first to admit that there was still work to be done.

Paul’s spiritual journey was still incomplete, like ours.  He had not arrived.  One thing he had going for him, he had no illusion of perfection, no failure to adequately assess his true condition.

Paul’s opponents were very quick to assert their own pious perfection almost to the point of claiming sinlessness.  They were quick and bold to assert their achievements over and above everyone else’s.

Paul’s confession goes against all those people we hear today who want us to believe that heaven and perfection can be attained here on earth.  Those like Kenneth Copeland who makes the claim that since sickness and poverty are not a part of Christ now, we who are in Christ should never be afflicted by poverty or sickness.  This teaching does not come from the Bible.  It is a half truth with a wrong logical conclusion.  Jesus Christ is free from poverty and sickness now, that is true but nowhere are we promised this same thing apart from heaven.  This is not our best life now.  We are not sinless and free from sin’s effects now.

Like Paul, we must work toward completion or as he calls it, perfection.  He writes, I have not arrived but I am pressing on.  The reason he is pressing on toward perfection is because Christ has grabbed hold of him.  Christ first has grabbed Paul and now Paul is grabbing Christ.

Here, he uses a military phrase.  It’s the idea of pursuit and seizure.  Christ has pursued and taken Paul captive.  No doubt, he is referring to the Damascus Road experience when Christ overcame him and threw him to the ground and for a few days blinded him.  Now the Apostle is pursuing Christ-likeness and is in the process of laying siege to it.

2. One Thing We Must Do (3:13-14)

[13] Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  [14] I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

In these two verses we see absolute focus and commitment to achieving the goal.  The one thing Paul does is straining forward toward the goal or the finish line while forgetting what lies behind.

forgetting what lies behind- This phrase does not mean that Paul totally forgot everything in his past.  He didn’t have memory erasure.  If he dwelt upon the past he could have been crippled in life.  Many people today live with unpleasant memories and seem to be crippled by them.  His past included persecution of Christians including the martyrdom of Steven in Acts.  His past probably included other examples that were generally recorded and some that weren’t.

Paul’s past didn’t haunt him.  It didn’t keep him depressed.  Even though it was a very sinful and terrible past, it wasn’t what he focused on.

Do memories of your past nag and haunt you?  Perhaps it was one big sin, or maybe some chronic pattern of sinful behavior.  These memories can plague and cripple you.  Memories of past sin keep many from living up to their potential in Christ.

The Apostle was not out to forget or totally erase the past from his memory.  He wasn’t teaching memory denial or erasing his memory such as modern psychologists try to do through various therapies.  Through Christ, the whole person is redeemed, memories and all.  Through Jesus Christ our past can be redeemed.

If you suffer from past memories or sin then here are some practical steps to take:

First- realize that as bad as your past may have been, God was in your past.  Whether you committed the sin that haunts you or someone else committed it against you, God was on site.  These haunting events can be redeemed.  God can turn them to good.  This is modeled for us in Genesis 50 with Joseph.  God was always with Joseph.  He has always been with us.

Acts 17:24-31 (ESV)

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,  [25] nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.  [26] And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,  [27] that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,  [28] for

” ‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

” ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

[29] Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.  [30] The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,  [31] because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Second– realize while your past might influence your present beliefs or conduct, it does not determine them.  We must rid ourselves of the victim mentality and that we’re doomed to live in the haunting misery of our past.  We are fully responsible for our present choices no matter how much of the past lingers.

Third- Remember, God is in the process of redeeming you completely.  The past events that plague you from time to time or even most of the time can be reinterpreted through the lens of Christ.  These events can work to motivate you toward Christ and service to Him.  Here lies the hope God gives to sinners.  Allow Christ to put a biblical spin on your past.  Allow Him to help you interpret it and use it for His glory.

I may have done this or that…I may have been this or that…Because of Jesus Christ, I’m now different.

Paul’s own testimony…

1 Tim. 1:12-17 (ESV)

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service,  [13] though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief,  [14] and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  [15] The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.  [16] But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.  [17] To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Paul didn’t erase his memory but after meeting Jesus Christ, his past was redeemed by Christ.  Jesus came to save sinners.  Satan would have you wallow in past sin and failures and be useless to the Lord.  Satan would have you remember your past and forget the redemptive work of Christ.  Jesus would have you redeemed and very valuable to Him.

Not only did Paul have to forget what lies behind in past failures, he had to forget his past achievements.  Pride in our works and abilities can hinder our Christian maturity every bit as much as past failures.  He was running the race and not looking back, his eyes were focused on the prize of knowing Christ and the power of the resurrection.

Now, we’re ready to strain forward to what lies ahead.

[14] I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

In this life, we’re going to always have setbacks and failures.  In this life, even as Christian, we’re not free from sin.  However, it’s vital for our Christian walk to set our past behind us and press toward the goal.

The goal Paul had in mind was Christ-likeness and all its eternal benefits.  The finish line is heaven and God’s presence.  Paul has seen the finish line and it’s as if he begins to kick it in the last 100 yards or so.

3. God Wants All Believers to Finish Strong (3:15-16)

[15] Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.  [16] Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

Paul wraps this section up by writing that mature believers are chasing hard after Christ.  They are striving for the goal and pressing toward the finish line.  He also writes that not everyone is mature yet.  If that’s true of you, stay in the race and God will reveal Paul’s way of thinking to you.

How do we stay in the race and hold true to what we have attained?

God’s Word-

1 Peter 2:2 (ESV)

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation—

Pray-

Pray for your own maturity in Christ and pray for others as well.

Follow godly examples-

Paul told the Corinthians to be imitators of him (1 Cor.4:16)

Remember God uses trials to mold us into the person He wants us to be.

After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5:10)

May we, like Paul, forget what’s behind, our past sin and failures and even at times past achievements.

May we press on to finish the race well for the glory of our Lord and Savior, who has redeemed us completely.

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