Magnifying Christ in 2015 (Mike Riccardi)

Philippians 3:12–14   |   Sunday, January 25, 2015   |   Code: 2015-01-25-MR




Well, we’re going to wait just one more week before returning to our study in the book of 2 Corinthians. As many of you know, Janna and I had the opportunity to visit our families in New Jersey over the holidays, and I had the distinct privilege of preaching in my home church. And because I happened to be preaching on the Sunday before New Year’s, I wanted to give them a charge from Scripture that would orient their lives for the whole of 2015.


And even though many of you have heard a version of that sermon before, the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to share that message with you again. Yes, as hard as it is to believe, we’re almost through the first month of 2015, and many of us have already given up on our New Year’s resolutions. But I don’t think it’s too late to sort of take a step back, re-orient ourselves, and to set ourselves on the proper course of rightly worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ in 2015.


As professing followers of  Jesus—as those who claim to be concerned first of all with the glory and magnification of Christ—it must be our aim to order our lives in a manner that most puts His glory on display to the world. Our number one resolution for 2015 must be to magnify the glory of Christ. And I declare to you this morning that the life that magnifies the glory of Christ is the life that is lived in passionate pursuit of communion with Him.


Now that makes sense, doesn’t it? We magnify the worth of whatever it is that we pursue most passionately. We display the glory and the majesty of whatever it is that captivates us—whatever it is that we find so satisfying that we shape our entire lives to get it. The baseball player magnifies the worth of a world championship by dedicating himself to playing 162 games at the highest level of athletic performance he can achieve—all so he can hold that trophy and wear that ring.  The Olympic runner displays the glory of the gold medal by keeping a strict diet, by prioritizing his exercise regimen, by training for four years at a time—all so he can win that medal. You see, we magnify the worth of whatever it is that we pursue most passionately. And the Christian magnifies the worth and displays the glory of Christ by ordering every aspect of his life so that he can see, and know, and enjoy, and finally gain the Lord Jesus Christ.


This is what our lives need to be about, GraceLife. This is what must set the tone for us in 2015. And while I might be pushing the time limit for a New Year’s sermon, as I reflected on these things I thought it would be profitable for us—at what is still a time of reflection and reorientation—to return to Philippians chapter 3, and to exhort you to press on to lay hold of Christ in 2015.


Now you’ll remember that in Philippians 3, the Apostle Paul is concerned to safeguard the church at Philippi from the damning effects of false teaching by clearly defining the nature of a true Christian and true Christianity. And he does so by giving a spiritual autobiography of sorts—by pointing to himself as an example, and telling his readers: the true Christian life looks like this.


In verses 5 and 6 he lists out all of the religious advantages that he had trusted in for righteousness before He met Jesus Christ. He trusted in his orthodoxy, his pure bloodlines, his social standing, his religious traditions, his religious devotion, his sincerity and zeal for Judaism, and the self-righteousness that he managed to obtain by an external conformity to the Mosaic Law. And he says in verse 7 that he had counted all those inherited privileges and religious achievements as gains with respect to establishing his own righteousness before God. In his mind they were all pluses, written in black ink in the “Assets” column of his spiritual ledger book. Surely, if any man had a shot at achieving righteousness before God by his own efforts, it was the Apostle Paul!


But in verse 7 he says, “Whatever things were gains to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ!” When Christ appeared in a blazing glory on the road to Damascus, the light of His holiness shone across the pages of Paul’s ledger book. And in that light, every fleshly advantage that he had written in the “Assets” column had been moved to the “Liabilities” column. All of Paul’s self-righteousness that once looked like gains to him were now like the heavy cargo on a storm-tossed ship, weighing him down and threatening to drown him in the sea of eternal punishment. He counted all of his religious credentials as loss, jettisoned the cargo of his self-righteousness overboard, and trusted in the righteousness of Christ alone for his acceptance before God. And that is what it is to be a Christian: to survey all of your religious accomplishments, and to chuck them overboard, as loss, for the sake of gaining Christ—trusting not at all in your own righteousness for acceptance with God, but in Christ’s righteousness alone.


But self-righteousness isn’t all Paul lost. He goes on to say in verse 8: “More than that, I [continue to] count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” Paul says that he has actually suffered the loss of all things. You see, not only did he abandon all confidence in himself and in his own religious performance. He also lost all the privileges in life that he would have enjoyed if he were to continue as a respected member of Jewish society. He was disowned and disinherited by his family. He traded his vocation as a respected religious teacher for the blue-collar work of tentmaking. He forfeited a comfortable lifestyle with an upper-class income for a life of beatings, imprisonments, homelessness, and constant conflict.


Money, possessions, reputation, status, comfort, easy living, even family—Paul lost them all. And as the false teachers are tempting the church to go back to the Mosaic ceremonies, the believers are looking at Paul and asking him, “Paul, do you miss what you had in Judaism? Do you ever wish you could have it all back?” And he says, “Not only do I not miss it, I count it all as refuse! Nothing more than the garbage that is fit only to be thrown to the wild dogs!”


How can he speak this way? What makes a man behold all the earthly glory of self-righteousness, possessions, money, property, reputation, status, comfort, ease, and ten thousand other things—and regard them as trash? Look again at verse 8: “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” Paul can lose everything that this life has to offer and rejoice—He can lose everything and call it gain—because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ!


And so this intimate, personal, day-by-day communion with Christ is something that we as the people of God simply cannot afford to pass up. Because that knowledge of Christ is the unique source of spiritual strength that will empower us to sever ties with all of the idols that our world tempts us to worship—to lose everything that this life has to offer us, if God should will it so—and say, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain!” To say “Jesus is worth more than a comfortable life! He is worth more than the approval of my family or the prestige of worldly fame! He is more satisfying than all of the pleasures that power, and money, and sex could offer me! I count them all as worthless in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord!” And that is what it means to be a Christian—not only to trust Christ as your righteousness, but also to worship Christ as the treasure of your life.


And that means that, whatever other New Year’s resolutions we’ve made for 2015, we must be committed to the passionate pursuit of communion with Christ. As Paul continues defining the character of the true Christian and true Christianity in Philippians chapter 3, in verses 12 to 14 he pictures the true Christian as a runner in an Olympic race—ignoring every distraction, straining every muscle, and forsaking all rival pleasures for the sake of crossing that finish line. And in the race of the Christian life, perfect holiness—perfect fellowship and unhindered communion with Christ—is the prize that awaits us at the finish line. He is the goal of everything that we labor and strive for in this life.


And in our text this morning, Paul teaches us how to pursue that goal. So follow along with me as I read Philippians chapter 3, verses 12 to 14: “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. 13Brethren, 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, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”


In this text, Paul provides us with five principles for running the race of the Christian life—five principles by which we must order our lives so that we can run this race of sanctification that is set before us with the intensity, and with the strategy, that it takes to reach the finish line and win the prize. If we are going to display Christ’s worth and magnify His glory in 2015, we need to give attention to the principles modeled for us in this passage.


I. A Sober Self-Assessment (vv. 12a, 13a)


And that first principle, number one, is: We must have a sober self-assessment. Look at verse 12: “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect….” You see, Paul is modeling for us a sober self-assessment. He says, “I’m not perfect! I’ve still got a long way to go! I’m still pressing on!”


You say, “Paul, you’re a new creature, 2 Corinthians 5:17. God’s given you a new heart, Ezekiel 36:26; He’s given you a new mind, Romans 12:2. You’ve been united with Christ in His death and resurrection, Romans 6. You’ve been forgiven of your sins, justified before God, you have Christ’s righteousness imputed to you. You’re even indwelt by the Spirit of God!” “Yes, all true. But I’m not perfect. I won’t be perfect until I attain to the resurrection from the dead,” verse 11. Paul had a sober self-assessment.


Now, I can’t imagine that there are too many of you sitting here this morning who need to be told that you have not yet been made perfect. If there’s anyone here who believes they’ve reached sinless perfection and are done with their sanctification, please come see me after the service; I’d love to meet you. No, the spiritual disease that is far more prevalent—but just as deadly—as the deception of perfectionism is the deception of complacency. “Well, I’ve come far enough. I’ve matured just enough. I mean, sure, I struggle. Sure, I could do better. But I’ve made some good progress. I’m OK where I’m at. I can afford to coast a little while.” Now you may not say that outright, but that’s the attitude you’ve taken. You’ve become lax in your spiritual growth, and you’ve grown content in that apathy.


But Paul had no category for that kind of thinking. He even repeats his declaration. He says in verse 12, “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect,” but I press on toward perfection. And then again in verse 13: “Brethren….” And with that great term of personal endearment and familial affection, it’s as if Paul places both hands on their shoulders, looks dead in their eyes, and says, “I really mean this, now: I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet.” But I press on. He has absolutely no desire to be misunderstood here. Even though perfection is never achieved in this life, perfection must be pursued in this life.


Now, the danger of what Paul’s warning against is apparent, isn’t it? If a runner believes that he’s already crossed the finish line, there is no reason at all that he’ll continue to run the race! People who think they’ve reached a state of holiness where striving is no longer necessary will not give themselves to “pursuing the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord,” Hebrews 12:14. They become complacent, content with their current level of holiness. They relax. They become indolent. And in convincing themselves that they’ve reached an adequate level of spiritual maturity, they deaden their conscience and become desensitized to sin. In a sad irony, the claim of satisfactory spiritual progress only catapults people further into sin!


But the godlier a person is, the greater their awareness of and sensitivity to sin. Did you get that? The godlier a person is, the greater their awareness of and sensitivity to sin. A godly person has a greater ability to perceive the great standard of God’s holy law. And a godly person’s conscience has been trained by the Word of God to know how desperately far short his own character falls of that standard. And, do you know what the result of that is? That same godly person, who is aware of and sensitive to their sin, is the one who is most fully engaged in battle against his sin. And that’s what Paul says he’s after.


And so if we, dear friends, are going to have any hope of faithfully and successfully running the race of the Christian life, we need to develop a holy dissatisfaction with our present spiritual state. By means of a sober self-assessment, we need to disclaim all thoughts of sinless perfection—or of the thought that we’ve matured just enough. We need to be aware of and sensitive to our sin. We need to be daily examining ourselves in the light of Scripture, asking God, in the language of Psalm 139, to “Search me, and try me, and see if there by any hurtful way in me”—to be painfully reckoning with how far short we fall of God’s standard—how far from the finish line we actually are. Only then will we have a clear picture of the race that is set before us.


II. A Sustained Effort (vv. 12b, 14a)


And only then will we heed the second principle for running this race. Not only does running the race of the Christian life require a sober self-assessment. It also requires, number two: a sustained effort. Look again at verse 12: “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.”


This phrase, “I press on,” translates a Greek word that means “to run after, to follow hard after.” It describes a zealous pursuit, a strenuous attempt, an aggressive, energetic endeavor. It was used of hunters who were in active pursuit of their prey. In fact, this is the same word that Paul uses in Philippians 3:6, when he refers to his former manner of life in Judaism as a persecutor of the church! This is the word for persecuting people! Just as Paul had once followed hard after the followers of Jesus, and pursued them zealously, energetically and aggressively seeking them out in every corner where he could find them, in the same way he is now following hard after holiness. He is zealously pursuing it, strenuously straining for it, aggressively seeking it out in every corner of his life.


The Christian life, friends, is no passive endeavor. We’ve already quoted Hebrews 12:14 and noted that the Christian life is a pursuit. In 1 Timothy 6:12, Paul calls it a fight, as he exhorts Timothy: “Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.” In 1 Corinthians 9:24–27, using a similar metaphor to the one we have in our own text, Paul compares sanctification to the contests in Olympic Games. He writes, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.”


Pursuit. Fight. Race. And just like Paul repeated himself about not having attained perfection, he repeats himself about this diligent, sustained effort he makes in sanctification. He’s already said he presses on to lay hold of that for which also he was laid hold of by Christ. And then in verses 13 and 14 he says, “One thing I do…I. press. on!” We are to make every effort, my friends, as we run this race of the Christian life (cf. 2 Pet 1:5).


And not only does this text put the lie to the perfectionists who say that there’s no need to pursue holiness any further. It also strikes at the heart of the great error of antinomianism, which teaches that holiness isn’t necessary anyway. These are the people who say, “Listen, if we’re saved by grace through faith alone, and if you’re telling me that I can never attain perfection in this life anyway, why bother pursuing holiness at all? I’m still going to heaven, and I can’t be perfect! Why bother?” Well, if that’s your attitude you may not be going to heaven.


Paul says the Christian counts all things as loss and pursues holiness, not merely for holiness’ sake, but because as we increase in holiness we get to see and know and enjoy more of the treasure that is Christ Himself! And I’ve never heard anybody, having a treasure chest dropped in their backyard, only stuffing a handful of gold coins in their pocket, saying, “I don’t want to take all the treasure because I’m never going to be able to lift that whole chest anyway!” If your attitude toward holiness is, “Why bother if I can’t be perfect?,” you may still be blind to the surpassing value of the glory of Christ. Perhaps you’ve never truly beheld the value of that treasure with the eyes of saving faith.


We bother, friends, because it is the nature of our Christian life to bother! If we are alive, we’ve got to be growing! Peter tells us that newborn babies long for the nourishment that comes from their mother’s milk. He says the Christian who is alive longs for the pure milk of the Word of God, so that by it we may grow with respect to salvation, 1 Peter 2:2.


And so if we are going to run this race of the Christian life in a faithful, God-honoring way—if we’re going to run so that we may win the prize (cf. 1 Cor 9:24), we need not only to have a sober self-assessment that teaches us that we’ve not yet arrived. We also need to make a sustained effort—the maximum effort—in our pursuit of that prize.


III. A Solid Foundation (v. 12c)


A third principle Paul lays out for successfully running the race of the Christian life is, number three, that we must have a solid foundation. Look once more at verse 12: “…I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ.”


I want you to notice that all of Paul’s sustained effort in vigorously pursuing Christ through increasing holiness—all of his pressing on to apprehend the prize—is grounded upon another, prior “apprehension.” It is founded upon Christ’s apprehension of Paul at his conversion on the Damascus Road. Paul says, “Before I ever thought about pressing on in hot pursuit of Christian holiness, Christ laid hold of me. And it is only because Christ laid hold of me, and forgave me, and saved me from my sin, and justified me on the basis of His own righteousness—that I can make any progress in my sanctification.”


You see, friends, justification—being saved—is the necessary prerequisite to sanctification—becoming holy. Put in the language of Philippians 2:12 and 13: you can’t work out your salvation with fear and trembling if you have no salvation to begin with! If the Lord has never removed your heart of stone and given you a heart of flesh—if He’s never breathed into your soul the breath of the divine life—if you’ve never truly repented of your sins and trusted in Christ alone for your righteousness—dear friend, don’t try to make any progress in the Christian life! Receive Christian life as a gift, first of all, by turning from your sins and believing in Jesus Christ!


And yet if you are a true believer in Christ, you need to recognize that your pursuit of holiness is grounded upon the solid foundation of your justification. And that reality needs to affect the way that you run this race. As a believer, covered in the righteousness of Christ, you run this race of sanctification—not as one who is trying to earn God’s favor—but as one who has already been granted God’s favor as a gift of grace in Christ. And that fact needs to fuel your fight against sin. We need to battle against sin—not as if we were just any other religious person with a strong willpower. You can get a strong-willpower, religious person to fly a plane into a building because he’s convinced it’s his duty. But that’s not the way God’s people—indwelt by the Spirit of God—progress in true holiness. We need to battle against sin in the strength and in the freedom of that Gospel-driven foundation: that I can be victorious over sin in my life, only because Christ has already conquered sin in me by virtue of His work on the cross.


But your justification also needs to affect your sanctification in another way. Look again at the text. Paul says, “I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ.” Paul is saying that Christ laid hold of him for a particular purpose. And whatever it is that Christ laid hold of Paul for, it’s that thing that Paul presses on to lay hold of. Paul’s goal in living is entirely consistent with Christ’s goal in saving him. Paul derives his purpose for life from the purpose for which he has been saved.


And what is that purpose? Why did Christ lay hold of him? Romans 8:29: “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.” Conformity to Christlikeness is God’s aim in our salvation. He justifies us to sanctify us. Titus 2:11 to 14 says the same thing. Paul says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.” You see? Justifying grace instructs us to live righteously and godly. Paul goes on to say that Christ “gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.”


So you see: the reason that God saved you is to conform you into the image of His Son—to make you more and more holy throughout your Christian life. And so if this is the purpose of our salvation—if Christ has laid hold of us in order to make us more like Himself—then we better order our entire lives according to that purpose! We better make whatever adjustments in our schedule, and in our routine, and in our priorities that we need to make, in order to live according to that purpose!


Do you know what you call a life that’s not lived according to the purpose of its Designer? Wasted. It’s a wasted life. Dear friend, don’t waste your Christian life—the life that Christ died to give you—fooling around with the passing pleasures of sin. Don’t waste your life, enslaved to the fleeting gratification of sexual immorality. Don’t waste your life, enslaved to the false promises of drugs and alcohol that promise you relief and comfort and numbing, but never deliver. Don’t waste your life, enslaved to the fear of man when the fear of God is the fountain of all blessedness. Don’t waste your life enslaved to pride and boasting and an overinflated view of yourself, when God looks upon him who is humble and contrite of spirit and who trembles at His word (Isa 66:2).


Friends, don’t waste your life; live your Christian life to its fullest potential! Paul would say in Romans 6: “Don’t go on presenting the members of your body as instruments of unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace” (Rom 6:13–14). I love that! The Law could never make you perfect. But grace can! Dear Christian, Christ has laid hold of you to conform you into His own image. So run the race of the Christian life grounded upon that solid foundation.


IV. A Singular Focus (v. 13b)


There’s a fourth principle for running the race of the Christian life in this text, and that is, number four: we must have a singular focus. Look with me at verse 13: “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do….”


This is a forceful interjection and is extremely emphatic in the Greek text. Literally, Paul simply says, “One thing! One thing!” He had a singular focus. This is the highest priority of pursuing Christlikeness with all his might. It “captivates his full attention and demands total concentration” (Hansen, 253). This reminds me of times when I’m focused on trying to get some work done at home, so I’m staring into my computer—but I’m still trying to carry on a conversation with Janna. She’ll be talking to me about something, and I want to be responsive to her, but I’m also preoccupied with getting whatever it is I’m working on done. And so I’m doing one of these: “Uh huh. Yeah. Mhmm.” You know, that whole “I’m listening to you but not really listening to you” thing? And eventually she’ll ask me a question, and there’ll be a break in the conversation because she’s expecting a response, and I snap out of it. “Wait, what’d you say?”


That is not the kind of focus that this passionate pursuit demands of us. This is not putting our relationship with Christ on autopilot. This is not, “Oh, well I pray in the shower.” Or “I pray in the car.” It’s not, “Well I do my devotions in the car by listening to the Bible on CD, while I’m trying not to run people over on the 405.” That’s not the kind of singular focus that this text is calling for. This is undivided attention.


And that only makes sense. Have you ever seen a race where the runners are looking all over the place—back behind him to see where his opponents are, down at his feet to analyze his form, out at the crowd to look for his fans? No! The moment a runner in a race is doing any of that, what happens? He starts to go off his course. He starts running out of his lane. He starts deviating, and even faltering. But Paul says the runner in the race of the Christian life has a singular focus: and that is the finish line—that is Christ Himself. That’s why the author of Hebrews calls us to “lay aside every encumbrance” (Heb 12:1). Every distraction is to be thrown aside, and we are to fix our eyes on Christ alone. The whole bent of our mind is to be given exclusively to this upward call of God in our sanctification.


Friends, we must give ourselves in singular devotion to this task of sanctification. We need to heed Solomon’s words in Proverbs 4:25 to 27. He says, “Let your eyes look directly ahead and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you. Watch the path of your feet and all your ways will be established. Do not turn to the right or to the left.” Our world continues to invent more and more things to distract us from this business of pursuing holiness: TV shows, movies, sports competitions, video games, computers, blogs, fantasy football, FaceBook, Twitter. It never ends! And all of those things can be fine, lawful recreational activities; some of them can even be good things! But not, dear friends, not if they distract you from your pursuit of God in Christ! Not if you’re checking your Twitter feed before you’ve gone to the Lord in prayer in the morning. Not if your hobbies—whatever they may be—crowd out your Bible reading. No, we need to have a singular focus. Our pursuit of Christ must be the orienting principle of our lives. He must have the priority. He must be our singular focus.


And that means that when life gets busy and your schedule gets tight, the first thing to go is not the devotional time! And it’s going to take intentional thought and planning to figure out what is going to go. But no matter what, you need to protect this time of personal communion with Christ.


Paul tells us that this one thing—this pressing on to lay hold of Christ—is characterized by two activities. The first is: “forgetting what lies behind.” And we mentioned this. A runner doesn’t look over his shoulder to see how much ground he’s already covered, or to see how far ahead of his competitors he is. He doesn’t turn around to admire how great of a jump he got off the blocks. And if he got a bad jump, he doesn’t turn around to lament that either! The moment he does any of that, his concentration is broken, and he starts to veer off course.


Paul says the Christian runner in the race of sanctification does the same thing—he forgets what lies behind. He’s not discouraged and incapacitated by past failures, and neither does he seek to live on the past successes of the “good old days” to fuel his present performance.


And how easy it is to fall into one of those two traps! On the one hand you have people who can never get over the guilt of their past failures. Sins they committed years earlier are paralyzing their growth in the present. “How could God ever forgive me for that kind of sin? I just did it over and over again. And it would be one thing if I wasn’t a Christian, but I’ve searched my heart and I believe I was saved when I did those things! No, I just have to live with the reality that I’m a second-class Christian. I’ll never be able to make progress in sanctification like those normal people.” Rather than looking to Christ and His righteousness as the ground of their acceptance, they make too much of their own spiritual performance, and they despair of ever making adequate progress in the race.


But then on the other hand, you have those who look to some golden age in their spiritual experience to validate their present stagnation. They say, “Oh, back when I first got saved, oh boy, you should have seen me! I devoured those Scriptures, man! I was reading five chapters every day. I read through the entire Bible in six months!” And you ask them, “How many times have you read it since?” “Oh, uh, well… Hey, you should have seen me back then! I really dug into the deep stuff and studied the Bible—study Bibles and commentaries and dictionaries: the whole bit! I even taught Bible studies, and I used to evangelize all the time. Man, you couldn’t shut me up: I’d tell everybody about Christ!” And you say, “Who in your life, currently, are you praying for and making it a point to speak the Gospel to now?” And the answer’s the same: “Oh, well, um… Aw you should have seen me back then!”


You see, when you’re trying to live your Christian life on the basis of past successes, you get complacent; you get content. You lose that holy dissatisfaction that we spoke about earlier. You lose your grip on that sober self-assessment. But Paul says the Christian forgets what lies behind. Any past remembrance that would detract from pressing forward—the Christian intentionally banishes that from his mind.


And then, to put it positively, he says he also “reaches forward to what lies ahead.” This word that gets translated “reaching forward,” is an extremely vivid and emphatic word that “describes stretching a muscle to its limit” (MacArthur, 247). And if “minding what lies behind” was pictured by a runner looking back over his shoulder, “reaching forward to what lies ahead” pictures the runner “straining every nerve and muscle as he keeps on running with all his might toward the goal, [with] his hand stretch[ing] out” as if he was laying hold of that prize right then and there (Hendriksen, 173). The dictionary translates this word, “to exert oneself to the uttermost” (BDAG, 361). This is maximum effort. Friend, does it describe your life? Are you straining every muscle? That’s what Paul calls for.


V. A Steady Gaze (v. 14b)


Well, we’ve seen that in order to run the race of the Christian life, we must have a sober self-assessment, we must be marked by a sustained effort in sanctification, we must be standing firm on a solid foundation, and we must be captivated by a singular focus. The fifth principle for successfully running the race of the Christian life is that we must have a steady gaze. Look with me at verse 14. Paul says, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”


Now this word, “goal,” is the word skopos in the Greek, and it’s where we derive the English word scope. It refers to “a mark on which to fix one’s gaze” (MacArthur, 248; O’Brien, 430). For an archer, the skopos would be the bull’s eye on the target. For a runner, like our passage talks about, the skopos is the finish line. And that runner keeps looking at the finish line. He concentrates on that finish line. He disregards everything else but that finish line. And if at some point of the race he gets tired, or gets a cramp, or for whatever reason begins to feel like he can’t make it—he raises his eyes to the finish line, and the sight of his goal so close within his reach causes him to bear down and give it everything he’s got.


In 1951, Florence Chadwick became the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions. One year later, she set out to swim the 26 miles between Catalina Island and the California mainland. A few small boats surrounded her as she swam, in order to watch out for sharks and to come to her aid if she got hurt or grew tired. After about fifteen hours, a thick fog set in off the Southern California coast—so thick that she could barely see the boats that were accompanying her. But she continued on. But after another hour, she began to cry out to the people in the boats to be taken out of the water. Her mother, who was in one of the boats to encourage her, called out and said, “You’re close! Don’t give up! You can make it!” But Florence was exhausted. She stopped swimming and was pulled into the boat. When she got on board, she found out that the shore was less than half a mile away. And at a news conference the next day, she said, “All I could see was the fog. … I think if I could have seen the shore, I would have made it” (Alcorn).


And friends, if we would turn our eyes from regarding vain things—if we would lift our gaze from the fogginess of all the distractions of this life—we could see the shore! We could see the prize—we could see the Lord Jesus Christ Himself  there, waiting for us, and beckoning us, and cheering us on to give it everything we’ve got! And if we could but see Him, brothers and sisters, the sight of His glory would provide every ounce of strength and endurance that we could ever need or ever want to finish this race! Oh, if only we would look to Him! If we’d only fix our gaze on Him!


This is why the Apostle Peter, when he exhorts the churches of the dispersion to greater holiness, in 1 Peter 1:13, he says: “Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” You want to make progress? You want to be prepared for action? Then fix your hope completely on the grace that is to be brought to you when Christ appears, when you will see Him!


It’s why the author of Hebrews writes, “Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us [and so easily clouds our vision,] and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” How? “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:1–2).


Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:17 that “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.” And just a chapter earlier, in 2 Corinthians 3:18, in what is probably the most foundational statement in the New Testament on sanctification, Paul says, “We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” It is by beholding the glory of Christ, that we are transformed into the image of that glory. We are sanctified as we behold—as we fix our gaze steadily—upon the glory of Jesus.


Oh GraceLife, do you want that prize? Do you press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus?


In The Master’s Seminary Library, there are various plaques on the walls with quotes from Pastor John. I imagine they’re there to inspire and encourage the seminarians in their studies. One plaque hangs on the wall at the bottom of the stairwell leading to the basement, which is sort of the main room of the library. And every day that I went to the library in my first year of seminary, I walked past this plaque. And the quote engraved upon it became engraved upon my mind. It reads: “VISION. If you properly value the heavenly prize, it will compel you to give of yourselves and of your resources. Fervency springs from a vision of heaven’s reward.” Dear friends, look to the reward! Keep a steady gaze upon the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. And you will find in that vision of Him all the strength necessary to run this race with endurance.




GraceLife, don’t waste your 2015. Make 2015 the year that you lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles, and run this race of the Christian life in passionate pursuit of communion with Jesus Christ.


Keep a sober self-assessment—a holy dissatisfaction—with your present spiritual state.


Exert a sustained effort; embrace the necessity of diligence and devotion and intentional activity in the pursuit of holiness.


Run on the solid foundation of your justification, in the freedom of the grace of God.


Maintain a singular focus, eliminating all distractions, keeping your pursuit of Christ the number one priority in your life.


And keep a steady gaze unto the prize of gaining His glory—of the consummate blessing of face-to-face fellowship with Him. Cut through the fogginess of this life, and see the shore! Look to the reward!


Remember friends: the true follower of Christ magnifies the worth of Christ and displays the glory of Christ by ordering every aspect of his life so that he can see, and know, and enjoy, and finally gain Him. Press on, reach forward, keep running. Lay hold of the prize. Lay hold of Christ.