Press on Towards Christ – Philippians 3:12-14

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.

Aggressively Advance

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.

Awaiting  Arrival

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!

Pointedly Proceed

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.

Want more? Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?

Unity in Christ – 1 Corinthians 1:10-17

God Desires Unity In The Body Of Christ

10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Solidarity in Speech

God has, throughout His word, been consistent in His message to us, as He uses the life experiences of His people to reveal Himself to the world.  God has been consistent in His character, and expects us to be consistent as well.  If we are being led by the Holy Spirit of God, then we should all be saying the same things about God and His word, for His word doesn’t change.

When we are not in solidarity with what we are saying concerning God, it is because some (or all) of us are not being led by the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit of God is not divisive, but rather gathers in unity.  It has been said that if several people are tasked to decide something, and all of them go into different rooms and pray, when they come out, they should all have the same answer, for there is but one Spirit of God who we are following.  If we have different (contradicting) answers, then we have a problem.  It is to the glory of God that there is unity in the body, and unity in speech is one of the outwardly evident signs that God is who He says He is as we live our lives.

Destroy Division

Paul further goes on to say that we need to ensure that there is no division among us.  The Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are in complete unity and harmony.  All three are in unison as they go about their assigned roles and tasks.  Each are God, and therefore omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.  How can they be One if they are divided?

We are doing God a disservice when we are divided.  If there is a difference in opinion on how we are to be doing something, the people responsible need to seek God and ensure that they are seeking to submit themselves to the will of God.  It has been said, “United we stand, divided we fall”.  It is the desire and life’s work of the enemies of God to sow division among God’s people.  In unity, we are able to stand together as a single body against the power and efforts of the enemy:

Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Chosen in Christ

In the Corinthian church, there was division by some people because they were proud as to who had mentored them.  They considered it a great honor to be mentored by someone of renown, such as Paul, and it became a badge of honor that was causing division among some of the people.   Paul tried to remind them that they were to be following Christ, and not men, for they were baptized and chosen in Christ, not in Paul, or Peter, or any of the other apostles.

When we categorize and rank ourselves with each other, we form cliques that cause division in the body.  Are we not all parts of the same body, whose head is Christ?  Were we not all baptized in Christ, rather than those who mentored us?  Paul reminds us to be wary of such division within The Church, for it is easy to be ensnared by the pride of life.  Each of us has been hand-picked by God to serve in our appointed roles.  We must remember that it is Jesus who is directing His church.  When we think that it is we who are directing it, we are not longer submitting to the Holy Spirit of God, but rather to our own passions.

Preach with Power

Paul uses a simple example of this with His own life.  Studying under Gamaliel was a great honor for Paul.  But Paul, as learned and capable as he was for making persuasive arguments and debating, preached Christ and Him crucified without wisdom or elegance.  By doing so, the power of the cross of Christ was made evident in the simple message – God so loved the world, He gave His one and only Son for us to be crucified for our sins, that we would be able to be reconciled to the Father.  Preaching this message as “God has a wonderful plan for your life”, or using argument or pretense, is to empty the cross of Christ of its power to show the love and compassion that God the Father has towards us.

Although the great commission of Christ – to go forth and make disciples of every nation – is also followed with a command to baptize, the most important part is that disciples are made, and that they follow the commands of Jesus.  Obedience to Christ is the hallmark of discipleship, and without that, the rest is merely window dressing.  Let us walk therefore in the unity of the Spirit of God as we conduct ourselves each and every day that we may be found in Christ when He returns.

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask a question:  Am I promoting unity in the church through submission to Christ and one another?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, You are all-powerful, glorious, and beautiful to behold.  I ask and pray this day that You would fill Your people with the desire to walk, talk, and think in unity with the Holy Spirit so that through submission we function as the body of Christ.  Please remove division and pride within the body so that we can follow You as You intend for us to follow.  Strengthen the body through unparalleled unity so that we would be filled with Your power, presence, and purpose.  Help us to seek unity in the body, and to rid ourselves of the desire to be noticed by others, desiring only to hear our Lord and Savior say to us when we finally meet Him, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  Strengthen us for the difficulties ahead, and place the burden of unity and submission upon the hearts of each and every person who is called by Your name and whose name is written in the book of life.  This I ask in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Want more? Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?