The other night I was at our church building preparing to host and serve dinner for a local high school football team. I made my way to our kitchen to help our volunteers get set up for the night. After I had made sure that they had everything they needed, I began to head back to the house so I could go pick up our catering order. As I was walking out, I was talking to our volunteers and looking over my shoulder when WHAM! My face was forcefully met by a metal pole in our kitchen.
As I was looking back, I wasn’t paying attention to what was in front of me and I paid the price for it. It hurt. As I am considering Paul’s letter to the Philippians, I can’t help but see the relevance of my interaction with the metal pole and Paul’s charge to the Philippians.
In my previous post, I discussed one of the marks of a mature Christian-humility. This characteristic seems to be easy enough-no one would claim to be perfect. Many Christians will acknowledge that they needed to be saved. However, Paul doesn’t stop there. Following Paul’s call to humility, he moves the Philippians to pursue a deeper knowledge of Jesus Christ. This is a 2nd mark of a mature Christian.
The apostle says, “But one thing I do: 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.” Here is a man that is not content with his present stage in the Christian faith; he wants to progress. How does he intend to accomplish this? By forgetting and straining. Paul is passionate about growing in his understanding of the gospel and its implications for his life.
Are we passionate about our own spiritual growth? If we desire to grow in our Christlikeness, it’s going to take effort. Paul uses two participles to describe his growth in Christlikeness: forgetting and straining forward. Let’s take a look at how these two actions help us in our spiritual growth.
Paul uses the word ‘forget’, which could be translated “forget” or, “to neglect, overlook, or care nothing about.” What is Paul forgetting? Paul could either be forgetting the past achievements in His ministry (Which God was responsible for) or his past failures in his life.
If we take the first case, Paul is not allowing his past achievements to make him passive in the present. He is not living in the “good ole days.” There are times when Paul recounts previous victories, but he never uses them as an excuse to remain idle in the present. It is good for us to remember past victories, but not at the expense of living faithful today. Consistent reminiscing of the past can create stagnation in the present.
Are you holding onto the past so tightly that you neglect what God is doing in your life today? There are many churches that are missing out on what God is doing today because “we have never done that before.”
Christian maturity involves going deeper into the gospel and never beyond the gospel.
Think about this: what would happen if a team won a championship, but then never practiced again? Would we expect them to repeat that same feat the next year? Perhaps they could rely on sheer talent, but more than likely that team will not make it to the end. Why? Because they focused too much on their past successes that they have grown stagnant, thinking that what has happened in the past will give them the same result in the present.
Think about your struggle with sin. A past victory over a certain sin struggle is not reason enough to grow complacent in your battle today. Why? We may take a day off, but our adversary won’t. He seeks to devour us and to destroy us. Therefore, we should passionately grow in our knowledge of Christ and the gospel, so that we will be more faithful today.
Consider the 2nd case: forgetting past failures. Too often, the world places too high of an emphasis on one’s past. There are some that believe your past determines your future. Yes, your past can affect your life, but it doesn’t have to determine your future. The gospel is greater than your past. Think about the guy that is writing this letter! He persecuted Christians. He sought to destroy the way of Jesus, but he was transformed by the gracious power of the gospel. Now, Paul is writing to Christians and instructing them on matters of the Christian faith.
Paul doesn’t fall into the trap of thinking, “I have messed up. I’m of no use now for the kingdom.” He simply forgets and runs ahead. Now, we must not think that this means we shouldn’t repent and seek reconciliation with the Father or those that we have harmed; the gospel calls for this. We must deal with sin, but if you’ve been forgiven and sought to make things right, then forget and run. Don’t let Satan bring up accusations against you if Christ has forgiven you (Merida & Chan, Philippians, 153).”
As Paul forgets what lies behind and strains forward, he does so by remembering the gospel. The gospel is our foundation and motivation to live faithfully in the present. Paul references the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus (v.14).” What is this call? It is the call of salvation; it is the call of grace. We have been saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Paul is not moving beyond the gospel. Christian maturity involves going deeper into the gospel and never beyond the gospel (Ibid., 155).
We grow as Christians out of the overflow of the salvation that we have received from God’s gracious hand. Too often, Christians believe that the gospel is only necessary for salvation. The gospel is necessary for salvation, but it’s also necessary for our sanctification. If we wish to be faithful in our Christian lives, we must adopt an understanding of how the gospel shapes every area of our lives. If we attempt to live obedient lives to the praise of the Father without being ‘gospel-fueled’ we will quickly burn out and quit.
Don’t let Satan bring up accusations against you if Christ has forgiven you.
We must remember that we have been saved by grace and are now indwelt by the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit seeks to lead us into righteousness and faithfulness. We are indwelt with this power and are now able to live faithfully before God. We must walk in Christlikeness by the power of the Spirit. This is Paul’s heart. He says, “But I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own (Phil. 3:12).” The gospel motivates us into a desire to live a life that is pleasing to God.
Consider your life. What are some things that you need to let go of today? Are there past failures that are holding you back from living faithfully before God? Are you growing stagnant in your faith because of past achievements? If so, be like the Apostle Paul and ‘forget and run’.
What motivates you in the present? Is it the gospel? Has the gospel given you a passionate desire to grow in Christlikeness? If not, take that to the Lord and confess that you long to be more like Christ. Ask God to bring to remembrance the beauty of His gracious work in your salvation. Remember the gospel daily. The gospel isn’t just for unbelievers, but is necessary for believers every second of every day. Continuously proclaim the gospel to yourself.
May we never grow stagnant in our faith, but may we be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria
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