Posted by: Brad Beaman | October 7, 2007

PRESS ON IN CHRIST, Philippians 3:12-16

One of the greatest Christian classics, maybe the greatest of all is John Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress. It is an allegory written by a Baptist Pastor who wrote while he was imprisoned for his faith. It gives us an analogy of the Christian life.

Pilgrims Progress is the story of a man named Christian, led yonder through the wicket gate, who begins a pilgrimage where he encounters all kinds of opposition. He encounters different personalities like Moneylove, Envy and Ignorance and Talk. It is such a great classic because we can identify with these problems.

In our Christian life we are on a pilgrimage. We will come across all these difficulties. There is a problem for how some people take this analogy. They come into difficulty, struggling with the idea of Christianity and whether they want to make their commitment to Christ and all these temptations come to them and finally they make their commitment to Christ. Somehow they have gotten confused. They think now their pilgrimage is over and they have finally reached the Celestial city. That is not the way the Bible portrays our Christian pilgrimage.

The Bible talks about the Christian life as a pilgrimage. When you become a Christian you have only begun the pilgrimage. Once you become a Christian, then you are called to press on in Christ toward the great goal of becoming like Jesus.

There may be a struggle in coming to Christ, but no one should consider that when they become a Christian they have arrived. No, the journey has just begun. There is a saying; Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven. That saying may be true, but it is not an excuse for a sinful lifestyle.

We recognize that nobody has arrived and Christians are not perfect. We are on a journey to become more like Jesus Christ. Christian maturity does not come instantly. That is why there are many, like those in the current discipleship class, who discipline themselves and work hours weekly in Bible study, prayer, improving relationships and in scripture memorization. Because Christian maturity is a process and requires discipline, to become more like Jesus Christ.

Some people believe that you can have some experience in your life and all of a sudden you have arrived, you’re perfect. That is not the way our Christian life is pictured in the Bible. In this passage we have a call to press on. There is a warning that no one has arrived. We never reach a level of moral perfection in this life. That will happen when we are with the Lord in heaven.

It could be summed up by the old Negro Spiritual song. “Please be patient with me. God is not through with me yet.” It is a journey. It is a goal. The first goal that we see is that we must press on. Look at verse 12.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

This is the Apostle Paul speaking. He is saying, “I have not yet arrived. I have not yet obtained all these things.” So we know that nobody in the Christian life has arrived. Not the Pastor, not the deacon, not Billy Graham. No one has arrived. We are all called in this journey to press on.

Here is Paul talking about his own life. He had a dramatic experience. He had encountered Jesus Christ on the Damascus road. His testimony was probably more dramatic than any of us, yet he had not arrived. He was just called to a pilgrimage of becoming more like Jesus Christ. Paul was not satisfied only with having this encounter with Jesus Christ. For Paul that was only the beginning. That was only the start of becoming more like Jesus.

Spiritual growth requires an ongoing lifetime commitment. Paul wrote this instruction because there were members of the church at Philippi who thought they had arrived. They thought that everything was where it needed to be in their life and they did not realize they need to continually press on in Christ.

For Paul, the main purpose of his life was to press on in Jesus Christ. For him everything related to the goal of being more like Christ. We need to remember this when we get discouraged and when we wonder if it is worth it to press on. We have troubles and our world seems to cave in. Is it all worth it? The answer is yes.

Those are the times we are called to press on. We are to be more like Christ and continue to look ahead to the finish line. Paul wants to make this point so clear. He does this through an illustration. He talks about the imagery of the games. He talks about one who is running a race. The race could only be won when the runner gives the race his full attention.

That is what we find in the story of the tortoise and the hair. Here is one who can run fast, but if distracted they will not win the race. Paul says, Run in such a way that you may win. Press on that you have your eyes fixed on Jesus Christ and the goal of becoming more like him.

Recently I read the biography of one of the great Christian Missionaries of all times, William Carey. He said that if there is only one thing that he wanted to be remembered for, it was that he was nothing special. He had no special intelligence, but when people wondered how he and his team of two others translated the Scriptures into forty languages it wasn’t because they were greatly gifted. He said it was because they were ones who could press on.

He called himself a plodder who was one who continually had the goal of becoming more like Christ. That is what we are called to in the Christian life. We all need to know that God has called us for a purpose and we only realize our purpose when we keep our eyes fixed on Christ and press on.

We need to become plodders and press on. We need to keep our eternal perspective. To grow in Christ will require commitment. It is going to mean commitment to Bible Study. It is going to mean service in the local church. Pressing on in Christ will require a commitment to prayer. It requires discipline to grow spiritually.

When they ran the race in those ancient games they would take the victor’s prize of a wreath and put it at the finish line. So for those who were running the race, they could see the prize before them. It would motivate them to run in a way in which they might win.

The goal of becoming more like Jesus Christ is before us. We see Jesus Christ and his life in the Scriptures. We have this goal before us of becoming more like Jesus, for Paul, that was his great all consuming goal.

If out goal is to be more like Jesus Christ, then how can we reach that goal? The answer is verse 13. It will require a commitment to single mindedness.

13 Brothers, 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,

Paul said there are many things, but this one I do. I strain forward in the race, the pilgrimage of becoming more like Jesus Christ. He said I forget what is behind and strain forward for what is ahead. Paul’s reminder is clear. You have not arrived in your Christian life and you need to continue in your spiritual disciples in you life.

We need to forget the past. Paul had a past where he persecuted Christians. He was in hearty agreement when Christians were put to death. He could have allowed himself to become paralyzed because of sorrow and grief over his past. But Paul says those things of the past I put behind me. I forget about what is behind.

So many Christians have wasted much of their lives thinking if only they had been faithful things might be different. The call of Scripture is to put that behind and to take today for what it is. To say from this moment on I am going to be straining forward in the race of becoming more like Jesus Christ. Forget what is behind and has been wasted. Also we need to forget, in a sense, the great victories that we have had. Those victories might tempt us to think we can coast along in our Christian life.

We had this experience with God that is dramatic. We have seen people come to the Lord. We have taught Sunday school where the class members have gone on to have great and mighty ministries. All these things and we could tell ourselves, now it is time for me to rest. Now it is time for me to sit back and let others get involved. Look at verse 14.

14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

We may retire from a job or even from vocational ministry, but as Christians we never retire from pressing on to be more like Christ. Whether you are young or a senior adult the call is the same, press on in Christ.

Could you imagine if an athletic team would rest in their past? They had won the great championship last year. This year they have decided not to practice. They will just go into every contest and tell the opposing team, we were the champions last year, so we are just going to walk in here and expect to win. They would never last as champions. If they are to continue to stay champions it will require they continue to discipline themselves and to get better.

In the Christian life there is a call to continued discipline. To continue to press on. We need to be single minded about this. We need to learn not to be distracted by so many things all around us. We need to single mindedly keep our focus on the really important things. The things that really matter, the eternal things

We can become distracted and look away from the goal of becoming like Christ. If you saw the movie Chariots of Fire, then maybe you remember the great runner Abraham. He had won so many races. His coach held up such discipline. But he finally lost one of the races because he looked to the side. Just as he was about to finish the race he looked to see where the competitor was. His coach said to him, that look cost you the race. He was not single minded on the finish and the prize that lay ahead.

That is similar to what Paul is calling our attention to here. He is calling us to be single minded toward the goal of becoming like Christ. Yes there are many things that are good. But there is only one thing that is really best. Those are the things that count for eternity. We make our lives more like Jesus.

When we are running the race it is not time to stop and check our watch, tie our shoes or listen to the cheering crowd. When we are in a race it is time for us to be single minded and press on.

We need to keep our focus on things that really matter. Did you know that God has a purpose for you life? God has put you on this earth for a reason. He has a purpose that he has only for you. God has something exciting in store for you, but you must trust him. You must continue to press on. To do this we must develop a spiritual maturity. Look at verses 15-16.

15 All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

In our salvation we have been called in Christ. Now we must live up to that calling and develop a spiritual maturity. We must press on in single minded service to Christ. Spiritual maturity is not instant. There are times when we call for immediate decision. We ask people to commit their lives to Christ on the spot. We never make a call to instantly receive spiritual maturity. This comes by a process. It is a pilgrimage. It is an ongoing commitment to Jesus Christ.

We obtain salvation but we continue to seek spiritual maturity. We must recognize that we need to press on. We begin to reach the mark of spiritual maturity. Spiritual maturity is not looking for shortcuts. Spiritual maturity is committing to the Christian life for the long term. To look to Christ in the good times and hard times and to press on. That is what the call is. God’s purpose for you will mean keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus.

We should have that goal that Paul had to become like Christ. We have the same call to press on. Maturity is being teachable and being willing to listen to what God has to say to us. It does not matter if you have been a Christian for forty years or for just forty days. The key to spiritual maturity is being teachable before God. Be willing to move on, to press on to grow in Christ. It will mean forgetting what is behind and straining to what is ahead. To become like Christ.

It is a matter of priorities. It is a matter of finding out what is really important in your life and going after it. Spiritual maturity is a growth process, so we need to be willing to press on. Are you willing to press on? Are you willing to be single minded in becoming like Christ? You must press on in Christ.

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Responses

  1. Good Word! Inspiring and meaningful as I strive to keep my eyes on the prixze of eternal life.
    God Bless!


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