12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
15 All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
– Philippians 3:12-16
When I was in the fifth grade, our class learned that there was going to be a competition—a race to see which class had the fastest runners in the school. Each class was to select the four fastest runners to compete as a team in the big school race.
When I heard this announcement, I got so excited because I really wanted to make the team. The following day, Mr. Fornes, our P.E. instructor, asked all of the boys in our class to line up at one end of the field. He then told us that the first four of us to cross the finish line would compete in the school race. The finish line was 100 yards away. All of us lined up and got into our starting positions. Then, Mr. Fornes shouted, “On your mark! Get set! Go!”
As soon as he said, “Go!” we all took off. I ran as hard and as fast as my legs would carry me. I never once looked to my right or to my left. I just focused on the finish line and ran as hard as I could. When I crossed the finish line, I realized that I had come in fifth place. I was so disappointed. Mr. Fornes saw how disappointed I was and told me that if I wanted to challenge any of the top four to another race I could. So I did.
I challenged Benjamin who had come in fourth. I just knew I could beat him. We got back into our starter’s position and waited for Mr. Fornes to shout “Go!” When he did, Benjamin and I took off. Once again, I got beat. Benjamin had crossed the line just a step ahead of me.
Again, I was so disappointed.
In fact, all day long I couldn’t get my mind off of the fact that I had not qualified for the race. But what I learned about myself on that day is that God gave me this incredible desire to win. In fact, I believe God created all of us with this desire to win. It’s just part of our nature.
One of the things that I have learned from reading the Bible is that our time on earth is a lot like a race. And Paul often compares the Christian life to running. If we are really in a race, don’t you think we need to be putting more effort into winning instead of walking or jogging? Many Christians seem to be content with their spiritual progress. They go to church on Sundays. They put a little money in the collection plate. They may have a little devotional book that they read in the morning before they go to work. And that’s pretty much it.
I wonder if this is what Paul had in mind when he compared the Christian life to a race.
In Philippians 3:12-16 we learn some things about this race known as the Christian life. Read what Paul wrote. “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.”
When Paul wrote this letter to the believers in Philippi, his desire was to teach them how to run this race known as the Christian life. Paul taught the Philippians that there is a prize to be won. If prizes are going to be handed out one day, then it behooves us today as Christians to understand how to run this race in order to win the prize.
Do you want to run this race, known as the Christian life, in order to win the prize? If you do, then understand that there are three essentials necessary in order to run to win!
- To run the race to win the prize, you must never be satisfied with your spiritual progress. In verse 12, Paul writes, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect…” The goal of the Christian life is spiritual perfection. God’s desire for His children is to be conformed into the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). God’s goal for each of us is to live without sinning. That is why He saved us, and it is through our obedience that we bring Him glory. God began a good work in each of us when He saved us. And He has promised to complete this work in us. Philippians 1:6 states, “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” This is what sanctification is all about. Sanctification is God’s work in us, conforming us into the likeness of His Son.
- When we were saved, we were justified. That simply means that we were ‘declared righteous’ in his sight. Thus, from a legal perspective that is based on our faith in Jesus, we stand innocent in God’s court (Romans 8:1). But our lives often don’t seem to line up with our legal standing, now do they? As we live the Christian life, God is transforming us more and more into the image of His Son as long as we run this race yielded to Him. And one day, when we actually see Jesus, God’s work in us will be complete. 1 John 3:2-3 states, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” Here is the truth: spiritual perfection should be the goal of every believer.
- Desire more than anything to be like Jesus. It was Paul’s goal, but when Paul examined his own life, he recognized that he fell far short of being like Christ. This is why Paul wrote in Romans 7 verse 18, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” Moreover, this is why he declares here in verse 13, “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.” Paul realized that he had not yet achieved spiritual perfection. But that was his goal.
Is that your desire? Have you grown weary of sinning? Do you wake up every morning and pray, “Lord, help me to be like you today?” That should be our goal! And on this side of heaven, we should never be content with our spiritual progress.