Summary: Sermon 8 in a study in Philippians
“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; 16 however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.”
We ended the last lesson noting that in the things Paul has said in verses 8 through 11 there is a ‘now’ element and a ‘later’. In the economy of God we are a finished work and our everlasting standing is now complete and completely acceptable to Him as a result of the atoning work of Christ and His having ushered us by faith into this grace in which we stand.
Then we talked about the ‘later’, which is really not just something we wait for, although it is that, but it is a process that is ongoing as the Spirit continues to sanctify us with the purpose of conforming us to the image of Christ.
Today we’re going to look at verses 12-16 and focus more sharply on the ‘later’ element of what Paul is teaching; the process of progressive sanctification and our need to stay focused in our spiritual walk and growth.
NOT PERFECT BUT PRESSING ON
Scripture perfectly balances itself. For every point of doctrine that makes a definite statement on one side of an issue there is another that balances it. The reason men go on and on in their raging debates over their favorite points of Bible doctrine is almost always because they want to stress one extreme or the other, seemingly never realizing, or not wanting to agree, that the answer is in the middle.
So you have one camp saying salvation is by faith alone, and another arguing that it is by works, when the answer is that faith alone saves, but saving faith is not alone because its fruit will be good works. Isn’t that simple?
Then we come to a portion of Scripture like the third chapter of Philippians, and I teach from it that the work of the cross is finished, that at the moment we respond to the call of God in faith and are regenerated we are from that moment perfectly acceptable to God and in fact He declares us to be glorified in His sight, therefore our security is fixed and eternal. I teach that when Jesus died on the cross He paid the penalty for every sin you will ever commit; even the very last one you will ever commit if you live to be 500 years old; that it is done and Jesus paid it all.
So someone says, ‘Well that’s teaching cheap grace. That teaches that we can just do whatever we want because it’s already paid for and that gives license to sin’.
And I respond, ‘No, if you think that, then you have not understood God’s grace at all, because it is the knowledge of the above that made Paul very zealous indeed to walk in holiness and cooperate with God in the ongoing sanctifying process, which is the other side of that doctrinal coin, which is the balance, which is what he is now going to go on and provide for us.
When Paul writes, “Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect”, he is simply saying ‘I’m not the finished product’. There is a work going on in me that is not completed yet.
I’m not certain this is the best illustration, but if you have most of a Volkswagen put together and every part that hasn’t been applied yet is laying around, you might say, “That’s a Volkswagen”, and you would be correct. But you wouldn’t say it is a finished Volkswagen. On the other hand, you would be going on the assumption that since the major work has been done and the rest of the parts are available, that work is going to continue until everything is finally in place and the vehicle can be driven away.
This is the state of things Paul had in mind when He said in the beginning of this letter:
“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
What we’re really talking about here, is the divine side of salvation and the human side; again, the two balancing factors. What God has completed on the spiritual side, He will continue to complete on the human side, and that is the side that requires our cooperation, and if we pay attention to Paul’s wording here, it requires diligent cooperation.