Our present condition is summed up in one word that begins verse 12 of chapter 3 in Philippians: “Not”. We’re not there yet. We’re in this world and, as our Savior told us, we will have trouble. As Peter told us, we will endure fiery trials. While spiritually we have been sanctified positionally, we grow and mature as Christians as we walk the Christian walk and become more and more sanctified practically. In the 12 verse, Paul states “Not that I have already attained or am already perfected”. Now here was the greatest evangelist, theologian, and pastor that has ever lived who was a mature teacher and preacher of God’s truth and he realized that he was not yet perfected. If he realized that he still had growing to do, how much more room for growth do we have as Christians. He says that there is still a goal in his sights-a prize to be won. He says “Not that I have already attained” and in verse 14 he says his goal is “the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”. He pictures this prize he seeks to attain as something external to him. He uses a word lambano (2983) which is often translated “to take”. He sees this prize as a goal in his future that he wants to lay his hands on. He also sees a personal transformation that will occur when he is redeemed. Paul says that he also is not “already perfected”. In the New Testament, the idea of perfection means to be complete or finished. Paul recognized that, in this life, we should grow more Christ like but we will never attain perfection until we are with Christ. In Romans 8:29, Paul writes that God “predestined [us] to be conformed to the image of His Son”. Paul also says that Christ intends to “present [us] to Himself, a glorious church, not having a spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing”. Eventually, we will be perfect and complete. However, in this world, we’re not there yet.
So, what do we do? Paul set an example that I think we should follow. He said “I press on”. We do not cooperate with God in our salvation and it is through His power that we are able to become more Christlike. However, we must exercise our spiritual muscles to develop them. When I use a pen to write, that pen lays the ink on the paper but I am the one doing the writing. In much the same way, Paul tells us to “work out” our own salvation but that God is the one working in us. The Greek word Paul uses here that is translated “press on” is dioko (1377) and it is used to describe an athlete exerting maximum effort in a competition. It is the same word that Paul uses in verse 6 of this chapter to describe persecuting the church. In other words, the same effort and intensity that Paul showed in his effort to imprison and kill God’s church was the same effort and intensity that he displayed in his pursuit of godliness. This was not a passive, halfhearted kind of faith. He was chasing this prize. As he states in verse 1st Corinthian 9:24, we should run as if we were trying to win a prize. We should follow Paul’s example then and “Go for the gold” in our pursuit of God.
Paul also displays intensity in how he describes his goal. He says that he presses on in order that he “may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me”. The word translated “lay hold of” is katalambano (2638). The preposition kata is used to show intensity of the verb lambano which he used earlier in this verse. When he said lambano it was translated “attained” and he was expressing the idea that he wanted to take the prize. Now, he has said he would “press on” (chase after) this prize so that he may “lay hold” (seize, take as his own) of it. He also recognizes that ultimately this desire to become more godly is given to him by God. In His providence, God chose Paul before the foundation of the world just as He also chose us. Paul recognizes that he was chosen as an instrument of God’s sovereign will and that it was Christ who “has also laid hold of” Paul. We read in the book of Acts how God called Paul on the road to Damascus. He intervened in Paul’s life and took Paul as His instrument to share the gospel with the Gentiles.
As Christians, we are being transformed by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. In this life, we will never reach perfection. However, we are called in the Bible to give our effort to putting into practice the faith that we believe. We do not live godly lives to obtain salvation. We live godly lives as a result of our salvation. Let us pray for a desire like Paul to “press on” and win the race.