Gaining the Gift You Already Have
I tend to be the kind of person who is usually striving after something—some goal.
When I fall short of one of those goals, I can lose my sense of peace. It is not that being focused on a goal is bad—it is how I respond when I succeed (or do not succeed) at achieving and gaining that goal.
How about you? What is a moment in your life when you worked very hard towards a specific goal and you accomplished it? Can you remember it right now?
Maybe it was something you did as an individual. Maybe it was something as part of a group or team. Maybe it is something you are doing right now, and it is ongoing.
Why do I ask? Because I think I’m so goal-oriented that I make following Jesus much harder than it needs to be.
Please don’t misunderstand me.
In following Jesus, I tend to have two issues. First, I struggle putting to death some behaviors – my selfishness, my pride, my sin – that I know are harmful and wrong. Second, I allow my stumbling to lead to beating myself up. And I trip and stumble a lot.
So, as a goal-oriented perfectionist, I am hanging on some of the words we read today: (4) I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
The text goes onto say that if we are mature, we will think this way.
Run, press on, strain towards the goal. These are all strong and action-oriented words.
Yet the fuller text reveals important lessons for this Type A personality. I am going back to verse 8, upstream of where many Bibles insert a “sub-heading”—and adding in some thoughts:
(8) Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish,
So... will I, David, count all my striving as rubbish? Or will I allow pride to enter into my thinking as a follower of Jesus? It is not that I am going to stop trying to live a life of following Jesus. Rather, it is remembering how I can be in Christ…
…in order that I may gain Christ (9) and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law,
When I elevate my accomplishments, my strivings, to a level that, when I fail at achieving them, that failure de-rails my faith—then I have made the law my savior and not Jesus…
…but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— (10) that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, (11) that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
God’s righteous in me, is by faith—and having that faith is the prayer—so that I may know his power, and share in his suffering (now there’s a prayer!) so that I may attain the resurrection.
It is about faith.
Yet, the text has some interesting word-play around “having not obtained” and “holding onto what we have attained.” I have underlined those phrases below. (Sometimes underlining can be a distraction... I suggest reading the section through, and then re-reading with the underlined section.)
(12) Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (13) Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining 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 those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. (16) Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
I, too, want to make Christ Jesus my own because He has already made me his own. A slow read of the text reveals that Jesus has already, past-tense, made me His own. How utterly amazing! His work on the Cross is finished, and he loses none that the Father has given him.
Yet the interplay reveals that my work is not yet done…and here is deal…the fruit of that work is not my salvation. In verse 12 above, we read, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own …”
My old English teacher, Ms. Brown, would circle the word this every time on my papers and say “this” – “what?”, and she would circle the word it and ask a similar question.
What is the this and the it that the text is referring to?
You have to look back—and forward.
Looking back, we read in verse 10 that Paul is striving towards living more fully in the power of the resurrection, and even towards understanding how Jesus in his suffering did not sin, but maintained focus. So much so that he could say “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Looking forward, we read “…obtained this or am already perfect…” Well course, none of us is perfect—not until we obtain the resurrection. The word “obtain” I am taking to mean fully taken hold of. We have not fully taken hold of our perfected selves because we have yet to reach eternity with God.
All of this brings me back around to understanding that my nature is to be the kind of person who is usually striving after something—some goal.
And yet reminding myself that when I fall short of those goals, I have already received the gift that I am straining towards.