We Have Not Yet Arrived
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.
Paul had a form of tunnel vision. It was the intentional, singular goal in his life – that he press on towards Christ. Paul realized that the distractions of life would pull at him, and try to derail his efforts, keeping him from doing what God had determined before time began that he should accomplish:
15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
Each of us has a calling from God to do what God has planned in advance for us to accomplish. We must strive with every ounce of energy in our bodies to do that which God desires for us to accomplish for, and in, His name.
Many people would look at the ministry of Paul and say that Paul had arrived, that he had advanced as far as he could spiritually, was mature and complete, lacking in nothing. But Paul reminds us here that he himself recognizes that he has not yet arrived. Paul can only see one thing – Christ and Him crucified. Paul is in the process of allowing God to nail everything that is not of God that is still in Paul to the cross of Christ. Paul still has a sin nature he inherited from Adam, and that causes him distress:
21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
Forget the Former
Paul has a secret weapon that he uses effectively and mightily in the war on his flesh: He forgets what is behind. When we dwell on the past, we are not able to focus on the future. The past holds us in its grip, reminding us of our failures (guilt and shame), as well as our successes (pride and haughtiness), and traps us in a mental loop where we are unable to see clearly what we are doing or where we are going. Paul reminds himself that he is forgiven. You are forgiven! All that you have ever done, are doing, and will do, is forgiven by God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
The ordinance of baptism is not only sign of obedience to God and to that world that you are now identifying with Christ rather than the world, it is designed, symbolically, to represent the cleansing of your sins, shedding all of the dirt of your past. Practically, this act is designed to remove from your conscious and subconscious, all traces of guilt and shame for what has gone before. When we go under the water, then come back up, our conscience is completely clean. We feel new, and the burden of what was has been removed from our shoulders:
12 “A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. 13 He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him.
14 “Then he said: ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. 15 You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’ [Emphasis mine]
The blood of Christ washes our sins away. Baptism washes the psychological effects of our sin away. When we are baptized, we can feel that God has cleansed our conscience, and from there move forward. If you have not been baptized because:
- You have heard that it is legalism (it’s not – obedience to God is not legalism, it is the act of gratitude and respect towards your Father in Heaven)
- You have heard it is not required for salvation (it isn’t – the thief on the cross was not baptized, yet Christ promised he would be in his kingdom [also look at Joel 2:32]. Requirements are just that – absolute, inviolable precursors needed to ensure success)
- You have heard that you don’t have to be obedient in this command
then I highly recommend that you find someone who is willing to baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit so that you can receive the blessing that comes both from obedience and the cleansing of your conscience!
Paul was straining towards what is ahead. His sole focus was to keep his eyes on Christ, and continue to arrange his life in such a manner that he was passionately pursuing his own sanctification as well as the mission that God had provided to him. Paul sought to please the Lord in everything he said, thought, and did. He did not always succeed, but rather than live in the past, Paul strove towards the future and his goal: honoring his Lord Jesus Christ in all that he did and all that he was.
Gazing toward the Goal
The key to doing all of this is to keep our eyes focused solely upon Jesus. There is a refrain in an old hymn that puts this in perspective:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
A Qualifying Question
Let’s ask a question: What am I doing to press on towards the goal?
A short prayer of preparation:
Father in Heaven, may all praise and glory be unto the Lord God Almighty, who is worthy. I thank You for Paul’s life as an example of how to live in a way that honors and glorifies Your name. Thank you for showing me that perfection in this life is not possible, but it is You that looks at the hearts of men, and gives grace and mercy to all of us who fail, even though we strive with all of our hearts to obey You in everything You have said. Grant me the strength to forgive myself, and help me to keep my eyes upon Jesus, so that I would always look forward, and leave the past behind. Father, I know it is Satan who tries to get me to dwell in my past. Help me to let go of the past. And Father, I ask that you would help me to better understand how baptism cleanses my conscience. Give me clean hands and a pure heart, unaffected by my past, that I can strive with the singular purpose of love and obedience in following Jesus. Amen.