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Author:Rev. Mendel Retief
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
 frckelmscott.org
 
Title:Press toward the goal of your calling
Text:Philippians 3:12-16 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Calling
 
Added:2013-08-21
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps. 95: 1 – 3

Ps. 69: 12

Hymn 34: 1 – 6

Ps. 40: 2 – 5, 7

Hymn 52: 3

 

Scripture reading:       1 Cor. 9: 24 – 27; Hebr. 12: 1 – 17; Phil. 3: 1 – 4: 1

Text:                              Phil. 3: 12 – 16

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Pressing toward the goal                    

Ps. 95: 1 – 3

Ps. 69: 12

Hymn 34: 1 – 6

Ps. 40: 2 – 5, 7

Hymn 52: 3

 

Scripture reading:       1 Cor. 9: 24 – 27; Hebr. 12: 1 – 17; Phil. 3: 1 – 4: 1

Text:                              Phil. 3: 12 – 16

 

Beloved congregation, saints in Christ Jesus,

 

We have just read three passages in which our Christian life is compared to a race in which we have to run towards the goal with determination and with perseverance, with our eyes fixed on the finishing line to win the prize.  

 

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may obtain it.  

And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things.   Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.” – 1 Cor. 9: 24, 25

 

Again in Hebrews 12:

 

            “…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” (verse 1)

 

And again here in our text:

 

“I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

 

If we paraphrase this verse, Phil. 3: 14, we may render it:

 

“I run straight towards the goal in order to win the prize promised by God’s heavenward call in Christ Jesus.”

 

So then, the apostle is running a race.  

But then he also exhorts us to run this race, and to run it the same way he does.

Let us have this mind, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind – verses 15, 16.

Let us all run this race together, pressing forward with determination and perseverance, with our eyes fixed on the prize!

 

What then is the goal and what is the prize?

The goal is our complete sanctification in and through Christ.

The prize is the heavenly glory with Christ which we will enter on the day of His coming.

And what does it mean to press forward to this goal and prize?

It means that we pursue holiness, without which no one will see the LORD.

 

But is this not a radical switch from the previous verses?    Did the apostle not count his own righteousness as rubbish and a loss, in order that he may gain the perfect righteousness of Christ?

Brothers and sisters, the apostle puts no confidence in the flesh.   And he does not try in any way to earn his salvation by his own obedience to the law.    He acknowledges that he has no righteousness in himself to stand before God, and he seeks no other righteousness than the perfect righteousness of Christ which is freely imputed to him, put on his account, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Is it then not a radical switch from such statements in the previous verses when he now tells us to run the race with all our might in order to win the prize?

No, it is not a radical switch.   He does not suddenly come with a different theology, or a different gospel.

Just as he is very jealous for our justification in Christ, just as jealous is he for our sanctification in Christ.

It is not a different gospel, but part and parcel of the same gospel.

 

Dear congregation, in Christ our salvation is sure, and we run the race with no uncertainty.   We are fully assured of the outcome as we trust fully on God’s promises.   He will cause us to persevere and He will give us the victory through Christ.   But this certainly and assurance does not make us idle or passive.  

We noted previously how the apostle does not see any tension between God’s sovereign grace and human responsibility.  

 

“…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” – Chapter 2: 12, 13

 

We have to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling because it is God who works in us!   We dealt with that passage already.

And here we have the same again.

In the first part of chapter 3 we saw how the apostle renounces any confidence in the flesh.   He clearly said that any confidence in himself, or in his own worth, or in his own achievements, is rubbish.   And he sticks to that.   He does not run the race with any confidence in himself.   Having been freely justified by the imputed righteousness of Christ, he runs the race with full confidence in Christ – for the power of Christ’s resurrection is at work in him!   He is growing in union with Christ, and the more he knows Christ the more he becomes conformed to His death and resurrection.   He mortifies his flesh as he becomes conformed to Christ’s death.   And being raised with Christ he starts to live a new life of holiness and obedience.   That is the goal unto which Christ saves us.   That is the aim of our union with Christ: to live a new life before the face of God, with God, unto God.  

The apostle does this with all his might.  

He runs the race by the power of Christ’s resurrection.

 

I proclaim God’s Word to you with the theme…

Press toward the goal of your calling

We will note…


1.      The race towards the resurrection

2.      The aim of all the saints


In the first place we note…

The race towards the resurrection

 

Our text starts with verse 12:  

 

            “Not that I have already attained…”

 

What is it that he has not yet attained?

The resurrection from the dead! – verse 11

 

We actually have to recap from verse 10:

 

“…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

 

So that is what he wants to attain: the resurrection from the dead.

But, says he, I have not yet attained it – verse 12.

 

What then does he mean when he says that he wants to attain the resurrection from the dead?   

You would have noticed that he speaks of two phases of our resurrection. 

He wants to know the power of Christ’s resurrection now and here in this life, the power of His resurrection which is now working in us to raise us up to a new life in Christ and with Christ.   But this power of Christ’s resurrection does not bring us to perfection in this life, and thus he presses on to attain the resurrection from the dead – that is the final resurrection in glory and perfection.

On that day of Christ’s coming we will be changed in a moment and be made perfect, completely conformed to the image of Christ.

It is two phases of the resurrection, but it is one resurrection.

Our resurrection starts now already, but it is never complete in this life.  Therefore we press on towards the final goal; that is: complete perfection, complete unity with Christ and complete conformity to Him.

 

The apostle is already experiencing the power of Christ’s resurrection in his life, but he is not yet perfect.   The race is not over yet!

 

The pursuit after holiness and complete conformity to Christ is never finish in this life.  

We have not yet arrived.   And may we never start to live in this world as if we have arrived!

May we never leave the sprinting course before we reached the finishing line!

May we never become complacent, satisfied with ourselves, thinking that we have made enough progress and now may start to relax!

 

The apostle exerts himself to run the race with his eyes fixed on the goal, running as fast as he can towards the goal in order that he may win the prize.

 

Dear congregation, in Christ the victory of the resurrection is ours, but we do not reach that final resurrection in glory without a fierce struggle in this life.   Daily we have to strive against our own sin and put to death the desires of the flesh, and press on to the goal of perfection unto which God calls us in Christ.

 

“Not 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.” – verse 12

 

I have not yet reached the goal, he says.    I am not yet perfected.   But I press on towards it.

Perfect holiness and obedience, yes, the complete sanctification which is worked by the power of Christ’s resurrection, is the aim of his life, the goal to which he presses on.

 

We also confess this in LD 44:

 

“If in this life no one can keep the ten commandments perfectly, why does God have them preached so strictly?

 

And then follows the answer:

 

“First, so that throughout our life we may more and more become aware of our sinful nature, and therefore seek more eagerly the forgiveness of sins and righteousness in Christ.

Second, so that, while praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, we may never stop striving to be renewed more and more after God’s image, until after this life we reach the goal of perfection.

 

So then, perfection is the goal for which we are striving.   We do not reach the goal in this life – we make only a small beginning – but it remains our goal and aim.   In this life we may never stop striving to be renewed more and more after God’s image.   We may never quit running before we reach the goal.

And thus, in this life, we are never finish with the race.   We never reach a stage in this life where we may stop striving for the perfection unto which we were called.

 

In the second part of verse 12 the apostle says:

 

            “…that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has laid hold of me.”

 

The apostle wants to lay hold of the perfection unto which Christ saves us.

Christ laid hold of me, therefore I lay hold of Him, and of that to which He saves me.

 

            “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended…” – verse 13.

 

The Greek word which is here translated “apprehended” means: to lay hold of, or to grasp or seize something.   He again confirms that he has not yet laid hold of the perfection that he pursues.

 

“…but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

 

The apostle pictures for us an athlete pressing towards the goal, running the race with his eyes fixed on the goal; running with determination to win the prize.

 

One thing I do: I press forward towards the goal to receive the prize.

 

That he forgets the things which are behind, means that he is like a sprinter in the race who do not look back over his shoulder, but keeps his eyes right in front of him as he presses on straight ahead towards the goal.   He does not allow anything to detract him in his course.

 

The things that are behind him are the things of the flesh and of this world.  

The things which are ahead of him, on which he fixes his eyes and towards which he is pressing on are the things unto which Christ saves us and restores us: a new sanctified life to be lived by the power of Christ’s resurrection. 

And the prize is the final glory which has been promised us in Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

“I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” – verse 14.

 

The “upward call” is the call by which we are called heavenward.    In this case he does not speak of “the heavenly calling”, but “the call towards heaven”.   It is the call of the gospel by which God calls us out of darkness into His light; from death unto life.   He calls us to seek the things which are above, and to set our mind on the things above, not on earthly things (Col. 3: 1, 2).

And the prize is that which has been promised us in Christ Jesus: complete salvation; eternal life with God in His glorious presence.  

 

Now, he says: “…one thing I do…”   He expresses his single mindedness.   I do only one thing.   Like an athlete running the race he does not look around as if he is walking in a shopping mall.   He keeps his eyes fixed on the finishing line and runs straight ahead towards the goal with one determination: to win the prize.

 

Dear congregation, this description of the Christian life is not the apostle’s private opinion, or some fanatic religious idea.   The apostle writes this under inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He exhorts us to follow his example and to be of the same mind and to live according to this rule.

This is the way each of us should be living this life.

 

We note that in the last place…

The aim of all the saints

 

“Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.” – verse 15

 

This is the way we have to live.  

He does not leave any room for a different mindset.   This is the mindset we ought to have.   

When he adds, “and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you”, he does not mean that there are believers who have a different mindset and that such believers need further revelation before they can come to the same mindset.   No, this one mindset is the mindset of all the saints; of all believers.   This course of life and this way of living has been clearly revealed.  

But, if there is anything else, if there are any inconsistencies with this outlook, anything that does not fit this mind-frame, the Lord will also make that clear to them.

 

In other words, the apostle does not say: this mindset is a matter of indifference; something on which we can agree to disagree.   No, this teaching is of the highest importance.   All the saints are to live this way, and this way only.   But if there are smaller points in their life which are not yet in agreement with this rule, then that also needs to be straightened out and set right in due time as they grow in spiritual insight and understanding.  

 

He does not allow a different mindset; he only allows time to grow in this mindset, so that anything that deviates from this rule may be set right, as they grow in the understanding of this revelation.

 

And thus he continues to say in verse 16:

 

“Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.”

 

He urges the congregation to live, all together, according to this rule.

Walk by the same rule; be of the same mind.  

 

What then is this mindset?

Let us make it our aim to reach the resurrection from the dead.

Let us by the power of Christ’s resurrection seek to be conformed to His resurrection.

And let us confess with the apostle that we have not yet attained this goal.   We have not yet arrived!

In Christ we are justified and restored, but this is through faith only.   In ourselves we are still far from it.   The race is not finish yet.   And woe to him who quits running before the finishing line!

 

Brothers and sisters, in Christ we are perfect, but we are still far from perfect in ourselves.

We need to make constant progress; we need to finish the race, and not stop short in the middle of our course. 

 

If anyone would think that he has made enough progress, that he no longer needs to exert himself in the pursuit of holiness and in the struggle to mortify his flesh, then he will not reach the goal, and not receive the prize.

The whole purpose of this passage is to urge us on to strife with single-mindedness and with determination and with perseverance to grow and increase in our knowledge of Christ – not only a mental knowledge, but to know the power of His resurrection, and by the power of His resurrection to grow in conformity to Christ.  

 

Let us never become satisfied with our progress and fall asleep in self-complacency.  

The prize is still to be won.

 

Dear brother, sister, do you still see your daily life as Christian as a race towards sanctification and complete conformity to our Lord Jesus Christ?  

Do you walk according to this rule?

Is it your sole desire to know Christ and the power of His resurrection?

 

Congregation, let us fix our eyes on the glory that has been promised us in Christ, and live towards the day of His coming.   For on that day our salvation will be complete.

On that day we will be raised in perfection and be completely conformed to His image.

 

The apostle’s confession in this passage is a humble confession: I am not there yet.  

I have not yet reached this goal of perfection.  

But the power of Christ’s resurrection is active in me; therefore I press on towards that glory which has been promised us in Christ Jesus.

 

Brothers and sisters, you have been called.

And by this gospel God continues to call us to a new life in Christ Jesus.

 

Amen.

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Mendel Retief

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