Not that I have already attained this—that is, I have not already been perfected—but I strive to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 3:12-14 NET)
Paul was the spiritual mentor of the Philippians and it was probably tempting for them to think of him as being spiritually superior. But he tells them that is not the case. He has not yet – after being a follower of Christ for about 25 years at this point – achieved his previously stated goals of knowing Christ [Philippians 3:10-11].
At the moment a person believes in Jesus’ work on the cross to be necessary and sufficient to pay for his sins he is born-again and is assured of going to heaven [John 3:3; John 3:16]. This is entirely the work of God wherein He makes people “His own”.
But being saved isn’t the end of the story. It is only the beginning. It is the beginning of a process during which we are transformed into the image of Jesus by getting to know Him. But whereas salvation is totally the work of God, the transformation process involves active participation of the believer in partnership with the Holy Spirit [John 14:26].
The Christian life is not meant to be passive. We are to participate with God in our spiritual development. Notice that Paul, “pressed on” to obtain that which he sought. The Greek verb here is διοκο (pronounced: dee-o’-ko) which means to run after something worth catching (e.g. a running to win a race).
Athletic metaphors are used throughout the Bible to describe the Christian life. Here Paul suggests that becoming a spiritually mature child of God is not a sprint but a marathon. It doesn’t happen quickly. It takes time. In fact, it is a marathon without a finish line because it takes a lifetime and more to become like Jesus. After two decades Paul was still running.
But we have to make the effort – we have to keep working out our spiritual maturity [Philippians 2:12]. We can’t go to the gym once in a while to be in shape. We have to keep going to maintain the healthy body that we desire. The same is true of our spiritual health. First we need to want to be spiritually healthy. Then we have to put in the constant effort it takes to get there.
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