Towards the Prize
Main Point: We must never be satisfied with where we are at in our Christian life. Instead we need to continue onward toward the prize that eternally awaits us in Christ.
1. Never Satisfied
2. Continuing Onward
a. forgetting what lies behind
b. energetically living out our salvation from the inside out
3. To the Prize
Psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck studies human motivation. She has come to believe that there are two mindsets, which she calls fixed and growth. A fixed mindset, according to Dr. Dweck, believes that we are who we are, we live within the hand we have been dealt and work with what we have. A growth mindset, on the other hand, believes anyone can change and grow through hard-work and perseverance. While I disagree with much of the secular psychology of personal growth, I do think her basic premise is really helpful and actually pretty close to what we see in our passage in Philippians. And what Paul teaches here is that we must not have this fixed mindset, we cannot rest on our laurels, settling for where we are at, spiritually speaking. Rather, we need to have a growth mindset, seeking to grow in our Christian faith.
We must never be satisfied with where we are at in our Christian life. Instead we need to continue onward toward the prize that eternally awaits us in Christ.
- Never Satisfied
With all that Paul has just said in the previous verses, he knows that there could be some misapplication of what he has taught. If we are declared fully righteous by the work of Christ and if there isn’t anything we can supply to the act of salvation, there is the danger of our sinful natures being satisfied to not do much in our relationship with God, of us getting this fixed mindset. If it has been fully settled, case closed, then I can take my gift of salvation and tuck it away like a fire insurance policy, maybe lean on God when things are really hard, but other than that I don’t need to do anything, so why should I try? It is easy to just be happy with where we are at in our faith because we feel that there is no real urgency especially if the end result is the same. If I believe in Jesus, the thinking goes, then I get heaven just like Paul. I think this is something that all of us, if we are honest, have thought at one time or another in our Christian faith.
That is the attitude Paul moves to correct in these verses, starting in verse 12. He begins with this phrase, “not that I have already obtained this.” What is the “this” that he does not already have but that he presses on to make his own? I believe he is referring back to the summary phrase of the previous section in verse 10, “that I may know him.” In other words, Paul is saying he knows Christ, he knows what he has done for him, what he is doing in him, but he wants more. He is not already perfect, or that word also means mature, in his experiential knowledge of Christ and he is not satisfied. He wants to press on towards more and more maturity in his faith, into deeper and deeper fellowship and closeness with Jesus Christ. He will never arrive, never have had enough, never satisfied with where he is at.
If Christ is an infinitely deep ocean than we can’t be those who are happy to just look at the water from the shore, or dip our toes in sometimes. No, we must want to dive deeper and deeper into Christ. To explore the depths of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge that are in Christ, to know more and more of his heart for us, more and more of the power of his resurrection, becoming more and more like him in every way. We must never settle for only a part of the Christian life, we must never be satisfied with where we are at but, like Paul, we must keep pressing on, continuing onward in our faith.
- Continuing Onward
And Paul shares different things in these verses that we could point out and focus on for what that looks like, but I want to just look at two that I think will give us a good handle on this idea. Because so far this is all very nice sounding, hopefully, but what does it actually mean? So, while I think it means a lot of things, it includes these two points from this passage.
a. forgetting what lies behind
First, notice in verse 13, Paul says that he is forgetting what lies behind. He continues on in his faith by forgetting what lies behind. Now it is important to understand what he does not mean here; we don’t want to misunderstand him. He is not saying that everything in the past is to be forgotten; this is not a blanket statement against history, in that sense. Rather, in the context of this passage, I think Paul is specifically forgetting his sin, failures and wrong thinking of the past. Remember the previous verses, Paul had lived his life in zealous pursuit of self-righteousness. Everything he did was to earn him favor before God. That was all completely and totally useless and sinful, it was rubbish, it was a wasted life. Now that he has come to know Christ as his Savior, as the only means that he can be declared in right standing before God, he has thrown away his old life and way of thinking.
More than that, he does not let the past hinder his progress now, in the present. He is not held back by feelings of guilt and shame over his past sins and failures because now he knows what Christ has done for him. He knows that all of his sins, past, present and future, have been crucified with Christ and they are no longer held against him, therefore he can forget, completely and totally everything that lies behind. All of his sin, all of his shame, all of his guilt, all of his wrong ways of thinking about God have been wiped away.
How easy it is to be held back and slowed down in our faith because those feelings gnaw at us! They so easily pop up into our minds. “You aren’t good enough.” “Look what you have done, you have no right.” “Who do you think you are?” “Oh, you are suffering, going through a hard time? God must be punishing you.” That is our sinful nature talking and it wants us to go back to our deadness and slavery in sin. But Christ has set us free and there is no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ! He has taken care of it all therefore we can forget what is behind us because it is truly and completely behind us forever. There is no punishment waiting for us if we have been forgiven by Jesus Christ, that is all taken care of because it was put on him in our place.
And Paul knows this is a battle. That word “forgetting” is in the present tense meaning he will continue to fight against those feelings of guilt and shame and those old ways of thinking. Remember he says he is not perfect; he has not obtained a perfect knowledge of Christ that makes him sinless or keeps him always in the right frame of mind. But he presses on, he is willing to fight against the past when it rears its ugly head again, and he forgets it once more, and he will do it again and again if he has to. He wants to know Christ, who he is, what he has done for his people, his heart for us and he wants that to stand in the place of those feelings and thoughts of condemnation. But that won’t happen in our lives if we are satisfied with just a little Jesus in our lives, a portion on the side as it suits us. If we do that we will never move forward, we will always be stuck in the past, held back by our sin, our feelings of guilt and shame, our wrong thoughts of God and we will rob ourselves of the joy that Christ died to bring to us through knowing him more and more.
Don’t let the sins and failures of the past keep you from running forward today. Fight to know Christ in those moments, to know what he has done on your behalf and forget what lies behind and continue onward in Christ.
b. energetically living out our salvation from the inside out
Second, not only does Paul tell us to forget what lies behind, but he also encourages us to continue forward by energetically living out our salvation from the inside out. Where do we find that in the text? Well, this is kind of a summary statement of several different things Paul says here, which is why it’s kind of a longer phrase. Let me show you what I mean.
Those two phrases, “straining forward” and “press on” are very similar and are a picture of a runner giving it their all, being fully committed to running the race, using up all their energy and focus for that singular purpose.
And in verse 15, Paul talks about mature and immature thinking and needing to have everything in our minds be moving forward towards maturity in Christ, in knowing him more and more. So, everything inside of us, from our way of thinking, to our focus and energy, is to be on growing in Christ.
And that plays out in how we live, the outside, our actions, which is what Paul is talking about in verse 16. This is a bit of a confusing statement and different translations handle it in various ways. But the main point Paul is making is that we are to have the outside, what people can see in how we live, that is to reflect a growing and maturing inside. The more energy and devotion and focus we place on knowing and maturing in Christ in our hearts and minds, the more our lives, the outside, will change. From the way we interact with our coworkers, our relationship with our spouses and children, how we handle our finances, the words we use, everything will be more and more in line with what it means to know Christ and to grow in him. Perhaps this is more something that everyone can relate to, a desire to see the outside changed. This, to me at least, is a little more tangible. I can see clearly in many places I need to change. But we won’t ever see growth there if we are not energetically pursuing growth in our hearts and mind in knowing Christ more. We can’t focus on the outside while the inside is focused on worldly things, sinful desires. It all rises and falls together with the outside being a reflection of what is happening on the inside.
Again, we aren’t perfect, and Paul says he is not perfect in this, and that is not the goal in this life although we keep pushing on towards it. But even with that Paul says he keeps going. He wants more. He is never satisfied with where he is at. He wants to live more and more like Christ and that can never be exhausted. We can never get to the point where we say we are enough like Jesus in how we live and think. Therefore, we can’t ever stop growing, we can never settle, we should never want to! There is more for us to do, deeper for us to go into Christ and being like him, more and more fullness of life to find in him. So, let’s be like Paul and keep going, keep continuing onward.
- To the Prize
So far, we have answered the how question of continuing onward but now we need to drill down deeper and answer the why question. Why must I do this? Well one of the reasons is because there is a goal in mind, a purpose for which we are saved in Christ, a prize that awaits us. What, then, is the prize that we are moving towards? Paul answers that question in verse 14, “I press on toward the goal” which is, “the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” as the ESV translates it. The goal of our salvation, that prize that we are moving towards is our upward call of God in Christ Jesus. That is the end of this earthly life, the race that we are running here and now, our calling home, to eternity with the Triune God, that is the goal of our new life in Christ on earth. That is what Paul says he is aiming for, pressing on toward, focusing on, straining forward towards, the reason he is never willing to settle in this life.
And we reach that goal, that prize, through one of two ways: number one, through death. When this life ends, we step into the next. God calls us home by ending our life here on earth and we awake in heaven. Number two, if Christ returns before the end of our life, we will be forever joined with him without physically dying.
But this raises an important question. If the only way we reach the goal of our salvation, the finish line of this life, the upward call of God, is through death or Christ’s return, why did Paul say he was straining forward at it? It is going to happen regardless, right? If I am saved by grace through faith in the death and resurrection of Christ, eternity with him is the sure and set ending and it will arrive when my time is up. That is the definite finish line and nothing I can do will change that. We talked about this last week, I cannot add anything to my salvation; Christ has secured it fully, completely and eternally. God has saved me entirely on his own, the goal is set by him and he promises it will be done. So, why does Paul say that he strains toward it and encourages his readers to do the same in verse 17?
I think the reason is because the upward call of God in Christ Jesus, our eternal life, whether in Heaven or the New Heaven and New Earth, is not so much about a destination or a place, but about a person, more specifically three persons. The goal of our salvation is not just about where we get to go, it is about who we get to be with, namely the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
When we only think of what is to come at the end of our lives as a place, it becomes completely detached from the here and now. “Heaven sounds great, I am looking forward to it, but since it isn’t here yet it doesn’t affect me all that much today.” And with that comes a lack of energetic pursuit of moving towards that goal. Like I mentioned earlier, there is no real urgency with that mindset.
But our eternal life is not a new story, so to speak, completely unrelated to this life. No, our life in heaven is a perfect, sinless continuation of the life that started in Christ here on earth. When we reach the end of this life, the goal, the plan and purpose of God for us, is to eternally and sinlessly continue growing us in ever increasing fellowship and knowledge of Him. God is infinite so it will take an infinite amount of time to know him.
Our Christian life now is a dress rehearsal for the eternal play; it is the appetizer to the main course of eternity. God has lavished his grace on us now, so that he can super-abundantly give it to us for all eternity. And I believe that Scripture tells us in different ways that what we do in this world, what we do with Christ now, will determine our capacity to receive that grace and growth in ever increasing fellowship and knowledge of God in the next. That is one of the reasons, I think, perhaps the biggest reason, that Paul says he wants to know Christ now, to throw off everything that hinders him now. He is not content to wait till the inevitable end because what he does with Christ now will directly affect what the upward call of God looks like then and for all eternity.
So, if we are content to know just a little of Christ now, our reward in the next life, which I believe is our capacity to grow in knowledge and fellowship with the Triune God, will be limited. Yes, there will be no more pain, no more sadness, God’s kingdom is a kingdom of joy forevermore. But the capacity and degree to which we are able to experience that joy will be different based on what we do with Christ here and now.
What we do in this life, affects what happens in the next, even if we are saved, even if we are going to heaven. That is why Paul wants to strain forward, he wants to focus on the prize because it has a direct connection with today; it is not detached from our daily lives. There is a purpose, a goal we are headed towards and we can’t lose sight of it and we can never be satisfied with where we are at in Christ because there is always deeper in which we can go.
And this life is just setting the table for the next life, for the real story to begin. But what happens in this life deeply matters for the next, they are not disconnected and we must keep our eyes on the prize we receive then so that it changes our lives for today. Let me leave you with a taste of that prize, put beautifully by CS Lewis at the end of his famous allegory The Chronicles of Narnia in The Last Battle.
At the end of the time in Narnia, the characters find themselves in a new world. As they are trying to comprehend what they are seeing and feeling, Lewis writes,
“It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right fore-hoof on the ground and neighed, and then cried:
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this. Come further up, come further in!””
A little later on Aslan the Lion, who represents God in the story, is explaining to them all what has happened. And Lewis writes,
“And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth had read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
Let us go further up and further in to Christ today so that when we enter into that Great Story, we too can say this is what we had been looking for our whole lives.