Pressing on to the Mark
“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
Perfection, from one perspective, is the end goal of the Christian life. After all, we have the hope that when Jesus “appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Christ never sinned, and one day, all of those who are united to Him by faith alone will likewise be completely free of the desire to sin. “Creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:19), that point at which all the world will know that we are the Lord’s chosen because we reflect His character fully.
That this will happen when Jesus “appears” keeps us from expecting perfection in this life. Perfection in the sense of being unable to sin will be ours only at the resurrection, because only then will we be free of the presence of sin. (Of course, our spirits that rest in heaven before the resurrection will already have been perfected in this regard.) Until that future day, full holiness is something that we strive for, and we need help to make true progress in our reflection of Christ.
Even the Apostle Paul needed such guidance as He pressed on toward the mark of holiness (Phil. 3:12–14). For him, we know this guidance came from God’s moral law, because the fruits of holiness that he speaks of in his epistles are actions and attitudes encouraged by the Ten Commandments (Gal. 5:18–24). He did not seek to follow God’s law of love by the assistance of the Holy Spirit in order to be set right with our Creator. Instead, knowing that he had been reconciled to God through the perfect righteousness of Christ, Paul did what comes naturally to regenerate people and sought to please the Lord by putting into practice the Lord’s statutes (Phil. 3:2–11; 2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Peter 1:13–25).
Our glorification is certain (Rom. 8:29–30). We will surely be perfect and unable to sin in the age to come. Today, we are called to show forth the holiness that will be ours fully in the future by living out, albeit imperfectly, the will of God. Because sin still clouds our thinking, we need the constant preaching of the Lord’s moral law to show us how to fulfill this call (Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 115). The righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in believers as they walk according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:4), and our need for the law’s teaching has not passed away.
Christians make true progress in their fight against sin over the course of their Christian lives. Yet, we continue to discover new sins we never saw before until we die, and our sin-clouded minds need help in knowing the Lord’s will. This is one reason why we should seek and treasure the teaching and preaching of God’s law. It gives us the righteous standard to which we must strive, telling us precisely what it means to please God.
Passages for Further Study
1 Thessalonians 4:7
1 Peter 4:1–3