Pressing Forward

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” (vv. 13–14).

- Philippians 3:12–14

Although Paul did not know when he wrote Philippians whether his path to his final resurrection body would go through his death as a martyr, through his natural death, or simply through his being alive at the return of Christ, he was willing to attain this body through any of these means (Phil. 3:10–11). He knew that his participation in the final glorification of God’s people was sure, whatever the Lord ordained as the physical event that would put him in place for the resurrection of the dead. He had abandoned all of his own efforts at securing a righteous status before the Lord and cast himself entirely on Jesus, the only One in whom sinners can be reckoned righteous and acceptable to God (vv. 2–9).

Some misinterpret the Apostle Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith alone and the certainty it gives Christians about our part in the resurrection of the just as giving us permission to do nothing once we come to faith. But Paul’s teaching and example offer no evidence for a “let go and let God” attitude when it comes to perseverance in faith. Certainly, the Apostle explains that all those who have faith persevere to the end, for nothing can separate God’s elect from His love in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:38–39). Still, only those who persevere to the end have true faith, for we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling, even if our work results from God’s own work in us (Phil. 2:12–13).

So, in Philippians 3:12–14, Paul is only repeating his teaching on our role in perseverance that he introduced earlier in this epistle. Knowing that he had not yet reached the consummation of his redemption in his glorification, Paul told the Philippians that he was pressing on in service to Christ until that final day. Understanding that God would not fail to complete the good work of salvation begun in him (1:6) encouraged the Apostle to seek to know Jesus in every way possible. The security of being declared righteous in the Savior moved him to pay diligent attention to the Holy Spirit’s work, through sacred Scripture, to convict him of sin, bring him to repentance, and warn him to stay active as a runner in the race of faith (Heb. 4:11–13; 12). All those who rightly understand what it means to be declared righteous in Christ heed the Spirit’s work in these ways as well.

Coram Deo

John Chrysostom, the noted ancient church preacher, says that the pursuer of a goal “sees nothing, he thrusts away all who impede him with great force, he cherishes his mind, his eye, his strength, his soul and his body, looking at nothing other than the crown” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT vol. 8, p. 259; hereafter, ACCNT). We should embrace our pursuit of Christ in this way, that we might stay in faith until the ends of our lives.

Passages for Further Study

Proverbs 21:21
Isaiah 55:6–7
Romans 9:30–33
2 Peter 1:3–11

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