A NEW YEAR’S MEDITATION
One of the most difficult things for the sinful human heart to do is to let go of its own importance and its own achievements.
Although we sing about God’s amazing grace demonstrated and given to us in Jesus Christ, there is something deep within us that seems to constantly resist grace. We do not like to be seen as beggars. We do not like to be seen as undeserving. We do not like to be the recipients of something we have not merited and for which we can never make any recompense. Our minds are so conditioned to think in a ‘tit-for-tat’ manner that we continually revert to a legalistic outlook, even when we think about our salvation.
Paul, the great teacher of grace, recognized and personally understood this struggle. In Philippians 3 he confronts it head on, challenging his readers, challenging us, to live before God and each other with the mindset of grace, and stating his own on-going resolution to do so.
First, he gives a command: ‘Rejoice in the Lord’ [Philippians 3:1, see also 4:4]. As we read through Philippians 3 we realise that this command is given in a very specific context. It stands in direct contrast to the common bent of our human hearts to rejoice and glory in ourselves. Here Paul is telling us where our joy, our confidence, our glory and our boasting should be: not in our own merit, not in our own works, not in our own performance, but in Christ alone.
Paul lists a number of facts about himself and his achievements from which he used to get his joy and his confidence before God. He states that he now considers them worthless rubbish, with no value at all to gain from God acquittal and acceptance. Only one thing can achieve that: Jesus Christ.
While Paul does not state it there is an inverse truth here also: just as his list of merit counts for nothing, so also does his list of sin [addressed in 1Timothy 1:13-17]. Just as his personal ‘goodness’ cannot save him or keep him saved, so also his personal ‘badness’ cannot stop him from being saved or interfere with his salvation. Nothing that he has done, either good or bad, counts for anything. The only thing that counts is Jesus Christ.
It is in this context of the powerlessness of our personal achievements [whether good or bad] that Paul stated his resolution:
‘… one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus’ [Philippians 3:13,14].
Notice that Paul uses two present participles to govern his resolution: forgetting – it requires a continual forgetting [the verb used means to put something out of one’s mind], and straining – it requires a continual effort [the verb used means to reach out towards something].
So deeply ingrained is self-centredness and self-importance, that it is an on-going struggle to let go of our own merit and our own demerit. Those of us who think we are good, constantly tend to base our acceptance by God on that goodness. Those of us who think we are bad, constantly tend to think that badness prevents or diminishes our acceptance by God. Paul’s commitment to his resolution involves deliberately and continually forgetting about himself – whether his perceived goodness, or his known sin. He resolves to continually stop giving his goodness saving value. He resolves to continually stop giving his badness the power to sever him from God. He resolves to deliberately and continually put all thoughts of a self-based relationship with God out of his mind – a resolve that cuts right across the bent of our human hearts.
As well has this on-going resolve to put his goodness and his sin [‘what is behind’] out of his mind, there is a contrasting on-going resolve to continually ‘strain’ towards ‘what is ahead’. This is the knowledge of Christ and his perfect righteousness that he has mentioned in verses 7 to 11. It is as if he stands with his two hands stretched out in two opposite directions– one behind him pushing and casting aside all of his own sense of personal merit or demerit, the other reaching out towards Christ and his righteousness. Both actions are necessary: to discard ‘the flesh’ and embrace Christ [verse 3].
With this attitude of constantly putting himself out of his mind and constantly reaching out to Christ, he comes to the core of his resolution: he presses on. The verb is dioko – the verb commonly translated ‘persecute’. It is a persistent tracking down, a constant, uncompromising pursuit. He has already stated the object of this pursuit:
‘the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ’ [verse 8],
‘that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own … but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God’ [verse 9],
‘I want to know Christ …’ [verse 10].
This knowledge of Christ and this salvation in Christ is what God has called him to. This knowledge and this salvation is the ‘prize’ towards which he strives. His resolution is fixed on this: this is what he resolves to continually focus on with every fibre of his being. There is no room here, there is no time here, for pre-occupation with his own goodness or preoccupation with his own sin.
In heaven his knowledge of Christ and of his salvation in Christ will be complete. In the meantime, his resolution is to remain focused on and grounded on both.
May this be our resolution also. Only with such a focus and such a grounding will we enjoy the peace with God for which he saved us. Only with such a focus will we give glory to Christ rather than to ourselves. Only with such a focus will we rejoice in the Lord.