By James Metsger
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. 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, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. (Philippians 3:12-16)
I have an ideal Christian self. It’s the me I want to be.
Wisdom beyond my years. Strength under difficult circumstances. Courage against all odds. Boldness to face enemies with winsomeness. Compassion to love others well.
I see these attributes in other Christian leaders, and I long to be like them. If you’ve ever looked to a pastor, a church leader, a well-known Christian and thought, “He’s so much further along than I am!” than we share something in common.
As we’ve read through Philippians, has anyone else thought that Paul sounds like a super-star Christian? He’d never say that because true “super-star” Christians are also humble. But the guy has it all. He is bold in his preaching, rejoices in his suffering, finds joy in the faith of others. He’s sacrificial, fervent, obedient, compassionate and full of encouragement. On top of all that, he literally wants to die, so he can be with Jesus. Like Paul, I’d love to be and do all those things, and then with confidence tell people to “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). That is Christ-fueled confidence, and it is inspiring. But notice how Paul is also honest about his Christian experience. Sometimes there is a disconnect between your ideal Christian self and your real Christian self. So, how do you respond when you realize you’ve got some work to do?
One place to start would be with an honest assessment of yourself. Despite, all the years of devoted service and sacrifice to God, Paul gives an honest assessment of his current condition. “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect…” Church planter, missionary, theologian Paul admits, “I’m not there yet.”
He hadn’t yet obtained the goal. He was not already perfect! And he wouldn’t be. Christian growth is possible and really should be expected. But Christian growth will always be an ongoing, unfinished endeavor this side of heaven. You won’t get to the point where you sit back and say, “I remember when I was still a work in progress. It seems so long ago.”
Paul’s ideal was not fully realized. “Not that I have already obtained this or been made perfect.” The “this” to which Paul refers is found in the preceding verses: knowing Christ; experiencing the power of his resurrection; being made like him in suffering. He was still a sinner looking to the completion of his salvation.
Watch out for anyone who talks about the Christian life as if the only time they struggled with sin was before they met Jesus. Though we are no longer slaves to sin, we still choose to sin. There are many Christians who can look back in life and see the change from before Christ to after. Paul would be one of them. He went from “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1) to being a foundation of the Lord’s church. But here he is, roughly 30 years after that Damascus Road experience, honestly proclaiming “I’m not there yet.”
How do you respond when you realize you haven’t “arrived” in the Christian life? Begin with an honest assessment. There’s still progress to be made.
God, I confess there’s still work to be done. Please help me!