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One of the most difficult things for the sinful human heart to do is to let go of our own importance and our own achievements.

We sing about God’s amazing grace demonstrated and given to us in Jesus Christ, but something deep within us constantly resists grace. We do not like to be seen as beggars. We do not like to be the recipients of something we have not merited. 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 personally understood this struggle. In Philippians 3 he confronts it head on, challenging us to live before God and each other with the mindset of grace, and stating his own resolution to do so.

He commands us: ‘Rejoice in the Lord’ [3:1;  4:4]. This command has a very specific context. It stands in direct contrast to our common practice of boasting about ourselves. Paul is reminding us that our joy, our confidence, our glory and our boasting should not be focused in ourselves, but in Christ alone.

Paul now considers the religious merit he used to glory in worthless rubbish, with no value at all to gain God's 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 [see 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’ [3:13,14].

This resolution involves two on-going actions: forgetting – it requires a continual forgetting [the verb  means to put something out of one’s mind], and straining – it requires a continual effort [the verb 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 both his perceived goodness and his 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.

At the same time he also resolves to continually ‘strain’ towards ‘what is ahead’:  the knowledge of Christ and his perfect righteousness (3:7-11).

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 – commonly translated ‘persecute’. It is a persistent tracking down, a constant, uncompromising pursuit.  He has already stated the object of this relentless 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 for pre-occupation with his own goodness or 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.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2014, 2019, 2023