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. 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, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12–14, ESV).
I find Paul’s statement encouraging. I’m glad that Paul admits to not being perfect. He is on a journey and has yet to arrive (at the time he writes this). By the way, we do not pull ourselves up by pulling Paul (or anyone else) down. Paul would want our comparisons made with Christ, which is where we recognize our lack as well as find our help.
Paul’s admission, however, reminds us that everyone needs grace. Everyone needs to grow and mature in Christ. Everyone needs sanctification — the process of becoming more holy and Christlike. It is easy to have a Sunday morning facade if we are not careful. Paul’s honesty encourages our own.
I find Paul’s statement challenging. I want you to notice the phrases that communicate effort and purpose: “I press on,” “But one thing I do,” “straining forward,” and “I press on.” Paul does not approach the Christian faith in a lackadaisical manner. By Paul’s own admission “Christ had made me his own.” The person who belongs to Christ has no higher commitment. God and Christ come first.
I can’t earn or merit my salvation, but we can’t read Paul and say that eliminates any effort in Christian living. Paul will admit that he’s not relying on just his own strength later in the letter: “For all things I have strength, in Christ’s strengthening me” (Philippians 4:13, Young’s Literal). But the need for strength means there are things that challenge and tax our strength. Paul was a tireless worker for Christ who challenges me to be about the Lord’s business.
I find Paul’s statement inviting. Paul has a destination to his life. The perfect that he has not yet attained lies ahead. I’m reminded of Paul’s own blessing, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely” (1 Thessalonians 5:23a, ESV). I long for that.
Look again at Paul’s terms: “what lies ahead,” goal, prize, and the upward call. God’s upward call is to be in his presence for eternity, and the only way we can have a hope of such a thing is in Christ. He has paid the price. Paul is inviting us to live a Christian life of purpose, because life in Christ has a goal, a wondrous destination — the upward call.