The Apostle Paul said to the Philippians, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Of course, sometimes when we hear the phrase “press on” we make the assumption that we’re called strive… to earn… to accomplish something! If we just work hard enough… if we push ourselves… if we sacrifice enough… that, somehow, someway… our strength will bring us to Jesus. Or in other words that the merit of our good works gets us closer to God. But if we think about the context of what Paul is saying, we realize, he’s saying just the opposite.
Paul said, "If anyone has a reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more." If anyone could come to God through works, it was Paul. He was as “religious” as you could get! He was born into a religious family, he had a religious upbringing and he was trained in his religion. He was zealous about his religion… to the extreme, I suppose.
Paul kept all the laws and did all the right things… “dotting every ‘I’ and crossing every ‘t’.
Yet… he said of himself, "whatever gains I’ve had, I regard as loss because of Christ." He goes on, "More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord." In other words… Paul was saying… nothing he’d done, or accomplished, in his own power and will, amounted to anything. It was all nothing when it comes to knowing Christ.
And that’s significant. Paul had been a steadfast follower of God. So steadfast and committed to his faith, that he persecuted those who didn’t believe and think and act and work… like him.
But then… in the middle of his desperate attempt to please God by holding others to account… Jesus met Paul on the road to Damascus, and turned his life around!
After that he stopped persecuting Christians… and became one! Taking up preaching the Good News of Christ. And he spent the rest of his life on the road spreading the Gospel. He was beaten and imprisoned and shipwrecked and even stoned and left for dead. But he never stopped preaching the Good News… that "Salvation is by grace through faith."
We like to talk about grace, don’t we? We sing about God’s “Amazing Grace” that saved us. But, how often do we live as a people of Grace?
We’re all guilty of thinking, or acting like… to some degree… that our works still play a role in our salvation. Maybe it’s because we don’t understand or appreciate the nature of God’s righteousness and our righteousness.
Sometimes… we all think of God as some kind of “scorekeeper” I suppose – with a long checklist, keeping up with all our deeds… and when we do something bad we lose points… when we do something good, we gain points… and if we can just do enough good… if we can please God enough… if the good outweighs the bad, we’ll make it… we’ll cross the finish line and gain our reward!
But Paul reminds us, that’s not how this works. It’s not how grace works.
Paul said, "I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith."
Paul's goal was to be in Christ. He had tried to find salvation by doing all the right things. And it didn’t work! The only thing that saved him… was faith.
Not faith in the Law… not faith in rules and regulations and rituals and tradition and actions. But faith in Jesus.
"Salvation is by grace through faith."
And once Paul understood that… once he embraced it… and began to live it… everything changed!
His goal… his ultimate goal… that he kept pressing towards… was NOT to earn or merit God’s favor… it was to gain Christ! More and more of Christ.
It reminds me of the old hymn! “More about Jesus would I know, more of his grace to others show, more of his saving fullness see, more of his love who died for me!”
Paul says "Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own." Paul’s goal was to follow Christ. Paul knew that thru the redemptive work of Christ’s death and resurrection we believers have gained eternal life. There’s nothing we can do to earn it! It’s pure… grace.
Of course, our love for Christ, our calling to follow Christ, sets the desire in our hearts to work for him… to live for Christ… to be his hands and feet and voice in this world! But our striving is for Christ. The goal, the prize… is Jesus. The only striving we’re called to do, is to be as much like Jesus as we can be…
The best news I can share with you today, or any day, is that the prize has already been won. Our calling is to press forward! To strive to be more and more like the One who guaranteed our salvation.
Put your faith in Christ. Seek him as your one and only hope. And live your life in such a way, that everything you do… is done through faith in Christ… for his honor and glory!