Philippians 3:12-14

Philippians 3:12-14
12Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

How I’ve looked forward to sharing with you my very favorite passage in all the Word of God! I turn to these verses whenever I fail in my struggle with the flesh. One of our enemy’s favorite tricks when we fail is to come whispering a short time later, after things have settled down, saying something like, “If you were really a Christian, and really born again as you proclaim, you wouldn’t have done/said/thought what you just did. I thought you were supposed to be some kind of new creation.” Then, he’ll start to call into question the Gospel itself, and even the very existence of God. It’s the same old lie that he first put forth to Eve in the garden – calling into doubt the Word of God. It is indeed a plausible and effective lie that ensnares many, causing some to abandon their calling forever. We must never forget that this is a lie straight from the pit of Hell itself, and we must remain ever vigilant against it.
 
Before we start to look into the process of sanctification, we need to remember something very important. The enemy of our souls is powerless to take our salvation from us…
John 10:27-30
27My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. 30I and My Father are one.”
Nevertheless, the enemy does have power to divert us from our Lord’s commission to witness His Gospel and make disciples. If we are not aware of the enemy’s deceit, and on guard against it, we might even allow his lie to debilitate our testimony to the point where others turn away from the Gospel…

Romans 2:21-24
21You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? 22You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? 24For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” as it is written.

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With that said, let’s now take a closer look at the process of sanctification.
 
On Memorial Day of 2000, I had an encounter with the living God of the universe – Jesus Christ. For many years prior to that evening I had been a true believer in the Truth of Jesus’ Gospel, but I had remained in rebellion in my sin. You might say that I had fulfilled half of what’s needed to be saved…
Romans 10:8-13
8But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): 9that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” 12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. 13For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”
I had believed in my heart the Truth of the Gospel, and I had even confessed with my mouth that Jesus is Lord, but I had not actually made Jesus the true LORD of my heart and life. I had not committed to repenting of my sin – turning away from it, and toward the service and worship of the LORD.
 
Then that night while I was praying, Jesus spoke to me saying, “How can you expect Me to hear your prayer, when you continue in your sin?” Prior to that day, for almost my entire life, since the age of 11, I had been deeply embroiled in a sin so despicable that even now I am too ashamed to confess it before you. But on that night I asked Jesus to cleanse me of it, and forgive me for it. As my dear brother John might say, on that night I stepped through the door of repentance into fellowship with our Lord Jesus. I believed (and still believe) Jesus redeemed me from that sin, and many others at the very moment I decided to confess and repent – to truly and finally turn toward serving Him with my life – making Him truly my Lord, not just my Savior.
 
So, you can well imagine how heartbroken I was a few months later when I stumbled right back into that very same sin of which I was convinced (and still am) Jesus had healed me. After all…
2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
This is one of the first verses a baby Christian learns. Only later do we discover…
Philippians 1:6
…that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;
At first glance, these two concepts seem to contradict each other. The fancy technical terms for them are justification and sanctification respectively. Justification is and was accomplished by Jesus’ death on the cross, and nothing else. By this miracle, God redeemed fallen mankind to Himself forever…

Romans 3:21-26
21But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

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By contrast, sanctification is the process by which God’s Holy Spirit works within the heart of the indwelt believer, to conform the redeemed individual to the image of Jesus…
2 Corinthians 3:18
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
Remember, it is God’s Spirit within us that gives us the very will to repent of our sins and perform good works. It is not in our nature. In fact, God’s will by His Spirit is constantly at war with our carnal, sinful nature. Nevertheless, we can take comfort that God is faithful in our sanctification, even when we are not…
Philippians 2:13
for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
So, being assured that God continues to do a work within us, by the power of His Spirit conforming us gradually into the image of Jesus, we can also take great encouragement from Philippians 3:12, in that Paul also struggled with this process of sanctification. Consider, for example…
Romans 7:15-25
15For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.
We can take comfort, also, in…
Proverbs 24:16
For a righteous man may fall seven times
And rise again,
But the wicked shall fall by calamity.
But let’s be careful, and not become complacent. Earlier, I shared one of my favorite songs by that great theologian Robert Zimmerman – Pressing On, but while I dearly love this song, and sympathize with the sentiments my dear brother Bob expresses in it, he is dead wrong on an important point of doctrine – sin is always a choice…
1 Corinthians 10:12-13
12Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. 13No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
Yes. God does, indeed, always provide a way of escape from temptation, but because of that pesky “free will” thing, He leaves it up to us to seek and then use the way out He provides. We need to ensure that we do indeed struggle with sin, not merely rest assured in our salvation, remembering always that sin is a choice…
Romans 6:1-14
1What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? 3Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
5For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. 7For he who has died has been freed from sin. 8Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. 10For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
12Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. 13And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
We must also always keep in our mind that those who profess Christ are continually scrutinized by unbelievers seeking to know whether our conversion is real…
1 Peter 2:11-12
11Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, 12having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.
Not only that, but even more important, we must always remember that God Himself desires better for us than that we remain entangled in sin…
Ephesians 4:30
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
Matthew 26:41
“Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
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Philippians 3:12(cont)

…but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.

This is a great mystery which has been debated by theologians for nearly two millennia. The themes of repentance and free choice to either follow God or reject Him run throughout His Word…
Joshua 24:15
And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.
Yet the Word also speaks frequently of God’s own choice in our justification and sanctification…
Psalm 65:4
Blessed is the man You choose,
And cause to approach You,That he may dwell in Your courts.
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of Your house,
Of Your holy temple.
Indeed, Jesus Himself tells us…
John 6:44
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.
It is this seeming paradox that Paul addresses so succinctly here in Philippians 3:12. Certainly Jesus lays hold of us by His grace…
Ephesians 2:8
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,
Nevertheless, it remains up to us to respond to God’s call, and to honor His calling with our lives. This is what Paul means when he speaks of laying hold of that for which Christ Jesus had also lain hold of him. Our justification and our sanctification are indeed both gifts of God. Nevertheless, we must respond to His call, and lay hold of them both in turn for ourselves.
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Philippians 3:13
13Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,
As we saw earlier in Proverbs 24:16, although we struggle with our sinful nature, when we stumble we continue to get up and move forward over and over, clothed in the righteousness of God, knowing that our sanctification is not by our own power or will. It is a work of God which He is faithful to complete. We are blessed in the assurance of our justification by the blood of Christ, even as the process of our sanctification continues. Our part in this process is to remain contrite, humble, and willing to serve and honor God in ministry to people.
 
This is the reaching forward that Paul speaks of here in Philippians 3:13. But what are those things which are ahead? Paul sums up the purpose and calling of his own life in his final farewell to the Ephesian elders…
Acts 20:24
But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
Our calling to ministry (service) from God is simple (but sometimes difficult) – evangelism, worship, and obedience…
 
Evangelism…
Mark 16:15
And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”
Worship…
Psalm 113
1Praise the LORD!
Praise, O servants of the LORD,
Praise the name of the LORD!
2Blessed be the name of the LORD
From this time forth and forevermore!
3From the rising of the sun to its going down
The LORD’s name is to be praised.
4The LORD is high above all nations,
His glory above the heavens.
5Who is like the LORD our God,
Who dwells on high,
6Who humbles Himself to behold
The things that are in the heavens and in the earth?
7He raises the poor out of the dust,
And lifts the needy out of the ash heap,
8That He may seat him with princes—
With the princes of His people.
9He grants the barren woman a home,
Like a joyful mother of children.
Praise the LORD!
Obedience…
Ecclesiastes 12:13
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:
Fear God and keep His commandments,
For this is man’s all.
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Like most people (presumably), I don’t find reaching forward to those things which are ahead too difficult. After all, reaching forward is our only choice apart from abject surrender to the world. It is also easy for me to accept the need of forgetting those things which are behind. We can never go back to erase our past sins. The best we can do is to seek forgiveness from those we’ve sinned against, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
 
Edward Fitzgerald, in his English translation of the Persion poem The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám famously wrote…
“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

Yet in practice, it’s hard to just forget our reprehensible sins of the past. Another of our enemy’s most effective lies is his continual reminder of our old sins. We know that, in addition to whispering his accusing lies into our hearts, he also stands before God in Heaven doing the same. Yet we may take heart in knowing that he will be eventually be defeated and cast out…

Revelation 12:7-12
7And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, 8but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. 9So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
10Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. 11And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. 12Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.”

Even now, when the accuser whispers to us, we may also take heart that Jesus Himself is our advocate before the Father…

1 John 1:9 – 2:2
9If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.
1My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

Just as we often forgive but not necessarily forget the wrongs done to us by others, so we may accept the forgiveness offered us by Christ without truly understanding or accepting that by His sacrifice, He has indeed forgotten our sins altogether. Jesus tells us…
John 10:7-10
7Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. 9I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.
We can’t claim the abundant life Jesus promises us, or offer ourselves fully to His service if we continue to carry in our hearts the burden of guilt in our past sins. We need to truly and finally lay that burden at His feet, because it is too much for us to bear on our own, and will destroy our witness of joy in the Lord. If we continue to carry the burden of our sins within our hearts, we hinder our witness of the glory and power of the full Gospel…
Psalm 103
A Psalm of David.
1Bless the LORD, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name!
2Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
3Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
4Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
5Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
6The LORD executes righteousness
And justice for all who are oppressed.
7He made known His ways to Moses,
His acts to the children of Israel.
8The LORD is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
9He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
10He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor punished us according to our iniquities.
11For as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
12As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
13As a father pities his children,
So the LORD pities those who fear Him.
14For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust.
15As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
16For the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
And its place remembers it no more.
17But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting
On those who fear Him,
And His righteousness to children’s children,
18To such as keep His covenant,
And to those who remember His commandments to do them.
19The LORD has established His throne in heaven,
And His kingdom rules over all.
20Bless the LORD, you His angels,
Who excel in strength, who do His word,
Heeding the voice of His word.
21Bless the LORD, all you His hosts,
You ministers of His, who do His pleasure.
22Bless the LORD, all His works,
In all places of His dominion.
Bless the LORD, O my soul!
In his beautiful allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan describes what happens if we truly allow Jesus to take our burden from us (see handout).
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Philippians 3:14
14I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
This verse stands on its own. I’ll offer just a brief reminder (the parable of the talents) of the prize…
Matthew 25:23
His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’

2 thoughts on “Philippians 3:12-14”

  1. I have been so uplifted by this teaching and I imagine it has been helpful to others as it is common to all brothers and sisters in christ,thank you Brian,and thank you Jesus

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