You see, if a person is born again, they're not going to rely on that little card they filled out 20 years ago for their salvation. They will know that they have been born again—but not because of a one-time event that they went through in the past, but because of the life that they live, and they keep on living, day after day and year after year. Galatians 2:20—I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh—in this body—I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. If we are saved, it’s not a matter of “what I did.” It’s a matter of “What God is doing in me.” But does that mean we turn into robots who just automatically do everything the way we’re supposed to? I wish! When we finally come to that point where God gets ahold of us and frees us from our old life, we need to examine our lives in light of the Scriptures and ask, “OK, Lord, you have freed me from sin. Now, what is required on my part?” Because there is a cost involved on our part. Jesus tells us in Luke 14:28—“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it?” When a person says they want to follow Christ, He asks them, “Are you sure? Are you sure you want to follow Me—not just for a little way, but knowing what it’s going to cost, are you willing to forsake everything for Me? For good?” And when we say, “Yes, Lord,” a battle begins. And not just between us and Satan. But between us and ourselves.
See, God has put within us a new heart—one that seeks to follow Him. But what are we still stuck with? These bodies of flesh. Is there anything good in these bodies of flesh? No. In fact, if you read the 7th chapter of Romans, Paul lays out the battle that goes on inside every true believer. Romans 7:18-20 (NET)—I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For I want to do the good—that’s the new heart that God has put inside us—but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the very evil I do not want! Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer me doing it but sin that lives in me. That is the battle that goes on inside us when we go through the new birth. We have a new heart that wants to do what God wants us to do. But we still have this same body of flesh that wants to do what we used to do. And this is why we say that salvation is not a one-time thing. We don’t look back on something we did. We point forward to the hope that we have. If anybody could have rested on their laurels, so to speak, and considered themselves to have done enough to get an automatic ticket to Heaven, it would have been Paul. But here we see that even he did not consider himself worthy of such an honor.
Philippians 3:10-14—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. 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. Brethren, 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, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
A marathon is 26.2 miles long. If I am running a marathon, and I am 3 miles ahead of the nearest competitor. (I think you can tell that I'm being very hypothetical here.) I’m 3 miles ahead of the nearest competitor, I've run the 26 miles, and all I have left is the last 0.2 miles. I stop and sit down. I'm done. I've won, haven’t I? Look how far those people are behind me! Look how far I've come! I'm finished, aren't I? No? Why not? Because I'm looking back at what’s behind me. Instead of looking forward and pressing on toward the mark—the goal. I want to pick up verse 11 real quick. Because in the English, they use the same word twice, but in the Greek it is actually two very different words. …being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected. In verse 11, the word translated “attain” (καταντάω, katantao) actually means “arrive.” That is what the word means, literally. If, by any means, I may arrive at the resurrection from the dead. But in verse 12, the word translated “attain” (λαμβάνω, lambano) means “obtained” or “received.” Not that I have already received it. It’s the same word he uses in Philippians 2:7 when he says that Jesus took upon Himself the form of a slave, or received the form of a slave.
Now, have we received the resurrection? No, not yet. But because we believe in Christ, we have received the Holy Spirit, who is the promise of the resurrection. Ephesians 1:13-14—In whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise…the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory. In other words, we have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us, to guide us in living a life that glorifies God—as a “down payment” from God. But we also have our flesh on the outside, trying to lead us back into bondage to sin. So we have not received the fullness of the promise of the resurrection. We have been changed on the inside, but not on the outside. What I mean is, we have been set free from sin and death. But do we always act like it? Do we still sometimes act like slaves of sin? Yes. That’s the flesh. And, Paul says in Galatians 5:17 (NASB)—The flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. Does it sound like we have finished the marathon? So Paul says he’s going to live as if his salvation depended on himself.
And in fact, the better way to say the first part of verse 12 is, Not as though I had already attained or was already perfect. It’s a small change but it is huge. He’s not gonna live his life with the mindset of “Oh well, I'm saved. I'm just gonna kick back and take it easy from now on. Hey, why not? I'm saved, right?” On the contrary. He’s saying that he is going to go out and live his life as he says in verse 13, Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet (Philippians 3:13 [NASB]). He does not consider himself to have crossed the finish line yet. He actually is perfected in Christ. Hebrews 10:14—For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are sanctified. But he is telling us that while we are still in these bodies, we should consider that last 0.2 miles as being a million miles away.
So not only does Paul say that he is going to live like he had not received the resurrection, he says, Not as though I have already attained, or as though I am already perfected. Completed. In other words, He knows that God is not done with him. That as godly as he was, and as much as God was using him, he would never consider himself to have reached the point where he would consider himself to be “perfect” spiritually. As far as our physical bodies, there is a point in our lives where we can see that our body has stopped growing. Otherwise, if we lived to be 100 years old, what would happen? We would probably be about 30’ tall. But when it comes to our spiritual lives—do we ever stop growing? NO! There never comes a point where we should ever say, “OK, I've done enough. I'm retiring.” 2nd Peter 3:17-18—Beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Will we ever be perfect in terms of never ever doing anything bad ever, ever again? What happens if we stop progressing? We regress. Those of us who used to be slaves to sin will, from time to time, act like a slave of sin. But does that mean we are still slaves of sin? We are perfect in the eyes of God if He has called us and drawn us to Himself (later).
So, because Paul doesn’t consider himself to be “perfect” or “complete” what does he do? Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on… The word translated “press on” (διώκω, dioko) literally means “to run swiftly in order to catch a person or thing; to run swiftly to reach the goal in a race; to seek after eagerly.” Does that sound about like the way we should think of our salvation in Christ? Shouldn’t we “seek after it eagerly?” Isn't Christ someone we should “run swiftly in order to catch?” Listen to 1st Corinthians 9:24-25—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. That’s a word we’ll see in a little while. And everyone who competes for the prize is self-restrained in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Does athletic training hurt? When athletes train, what is the ultimate goal of that training? To be the best athlete they can be so that they can be #1.
To that end, the athlete training for the Olympics—or the NFL or the NBA—they control themselves in what they eat, pushing their bodies to become as strong and as fast as they can be. They will gladly put up with the wind sprints and the Indian runs and the two-a-days—all the rigors and sacrifices that are required to get to the Olympics or the Super Bowl. Do they get to a point right before the event they're training for and say “OK, I've trained enough. I'm bigger and stronger and faster than the other guy. Just give me my award?” The undefeated team playing in the championship—can they just ignore the game and be handed the trophy? No. They can't just look back and say, “OK, we’ve got a better record than you. We automatically win.” They have to press on for that last 60:00 if they want to be called “World Champions.” Just ask the New England Patriots. And they're doing it to gain the praise and adoration of people, and for a trophy that is gonna sit in a trophy case and rust.
God Himself has set before us a crown that, if we seek and strive and train and put up with the rigors and sacrifices it takes to win it—we will gain the praises of God and we’ll gain a crown that will last forever! That’s why, as he finished up that passage in 1st Corinthians 9, that because he was running to gain an imperishable crown, Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified (1st Corinthians 9:26-27 [NASB]). He trained his body and his mind so that he could be the ultimate example of Christ living in that person. At the end of his life, he wrote, in 2nd Timothy 4:6-8—The time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day. So the question then becomes—what? If men are willing to sacrifice everything in order to win a trophy that is gonna rot and decay—shouldn’t we be willing to leave our old life behind and strive for a crown that will be ours forever and will never fade?
But I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. These two times Paul uses the phrase “lay hold of” (KJV—“apprehended”). That word comes from the same root word he used when he said, “not that I have already attained…” But here’s the thing: they're from the same word, but they have slightly different meanings. The word for “lay hold of that” (λαμβάνω, lambano) means “to receive.” The word that is rendered “Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me” (καταλαμβάνω, katalambano) means “to go out and get.” Literally, “To take eagerly, seize; to lay hold of so as to make one’s own.” 1st Corinthians 9:24--Run in such a way that you may lay hold of (καταλαμβάνω, katalambano) it and make it your own. To sum up the entirety of this verse, Paul is saying something like this:
“I have not received the resurrection yet. Nor am I perfect by any means. Therefore I run. I run and I run, and I train and I sacrifice. For this reason: that I take possession of that crown that Christ has promised me—He promised it to me because He took me and made me His own.”…that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. First, he says he wants to take possession of that prize. …that I may lay hold of that… In the beginning of the verse, he says he has not “attained” it, or “received” it—passively—and now he says he wants to "seize it"—actively. He doesn’t just sit back and say, “OK, God, I've done enough. Now give me my trophy.” He is making it known that he is actively pursuing that trophy. He is pressing on, he is following after, he is sprinting, running, chasing after the crown that Jesus has laid up for him. He doesn’t look back on the things he has already done and say, “Well, that ought to do it!” He has the attitude that as long as he is living—and even if he dies—when people see him, they will have no choice but to see Christ in Him. In fact, he says a couple chapters back, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death (Philippians 1:20 [NASB]).
…that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. This is one of the clearest indications that it is God who begins the work of salvation. Was Paul walking around one day when he had the bright idea to follow Christ? How did he become the apostle of Christ? Go back to Acts 9, and you can read how the risen Christ called him to be an apostle. Christ laid hold of him. Christ lays hold of us. In fact, He lays hold of us because the Father lays hold of us. John 6:44—“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” If God started it, He will finish it. Philippians 1:6—He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. Hebrews 12:1-2—Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of faith. He is the author—He is the finisher. He starts it—He completes it. We do not seek Him--He seeks us.
We don’t want to seek Him. We love somebody more than we love anybody else in the whole wide world. And who is that person we love so much? Yeah, ourselves. So here is what He did. He sent His Son, gave to Him the form of a slave, sent Him in the likeness of man so that He could die and rise again and triumph over the one who had the power of death. By His death He has perfected us—not so that we could live as though we were already perfect. But He has given us the means by which we can reject sin—which we did not want to do before—and we can live a life that glorifies our Father in Heaven. …that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.
Finally, verse 14. Brethren, I do not count myself to have laid hold of it—Same word we just got done talking about—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. Continuing with the theme of the footrace. That Christ is the one we should be pursuing. And that Heaven is the finish line. Does he act as if he’s there yet? I do not count myself to have apprehended. What’s that next word? BUT. …one thing I do… Singleness of mind. All the distractions all around him. Enemies outside seeking his death. False brethren creeping into the church seeking to undermine the work he has done. Trials and Roman soldiers and all these tidal waves crashing in all around him—and …one thing I do…
The same mindset Jesus had when Luke 9:51 says, when the time had come for [Christ] to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem. Luke is calling to mind Isaiah 50:7—“The Lord YHVH will help Me; therefore I will not be disgraced; therefore I have set My face like a flint, and I know that I will not be ashamed.” Were there people all around Jesus seeking His attention? Only everywhere He went. People who wanted to be fed and healed and have their dead raised to life. But when the time came for Jesus to go to Jerusalem to be crucified, did He let anything distract Him?
And in much the same way, Paul says that even though all of these matters were crushing in all around him, …one thing I do… And that was what? …forgetting those things which are behind… "None of the stuff I did before matters." That’s in the past. The only thing that matters is the Christ that I have set before me. I'll finish with what Albert Barnes said about this verse:
"A man will accomplish little who allows his mind to be distracted by a multiplicity of objects. A Christian will accomplish nothing who has not a single great aim and purpose of soul. That purpose should be to secure the prize, and to renounce everything that would be in the way to its attainment. Let us then so live that we may be able to say, that there is one great object which we always have in view, and that we mean to avoid everything which would interfere with that."…one thing I do…
Jesus Christ is Lord.