If Paul has not arrived, then neither have we. The apostle Paul, arguable the greatest Christian to walk on the face of this earth, tells us in Philippians 3:11-16 that he has not arrived. He has not attained the prize. He is still running the race and pressing forward. He says,
“that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 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.”
Why does Paul not believe he has attained the prize?
Paul has not attained the prize because he is not yet in heaven with his Savior. Nor has he received his glorified body at the second resurrection. Since he is neither in heaven, nor clothed in his resurrected body, he has not yet finished the race.
Paul believes only those who persevere in the Christian life will be raised to be with Christ for all eternity.
A one time confession of faith is not enough for Paul. Yes, he believes the phrase “once saved always saved.” But there is more to that phrase than most people want to include. Along with a confession of faith, there must be growth in Christlikeness and endurance until the end. A one time confession of faith. A trip down the aisle. A faith that has no growth will not do.
That is not to say we muster up Christlike character and endurance on our own. No, it is God who empowers us to live the Christian life and endure to the end (Phil. 2:13; 3:3). He is the One who predestines, saves, sanctifies, and glorifies (Rom. 8:29-30).
We still must endure
Even though God has promised that those who are His will be glorified, we still must endure. We cannot become complacent, prideful, and apathetic, thinking we have attained the prize, when we have not. This thought is what leads Paul to say,
“that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil. 3:11)
Some of you may be thinking:
“Hold on a minute. Are you telling me that Paul, the greatest Christian to ever live, is not sure if he will be with Christ in heaven?”
Yes, in one sense I am saying that, because Paul is saying that. Paul believes he is saved and as one who is saved he believes he will endure to the end. However, since the end has not yet come, he holds this assurance in tension with what he knows of his own sinful heart and what he doesn’t know about the future. He will only know that he has “arrived” when he crosses the finish line at the end of his life.
You see, Paul knows those who have professed faith in Christ and lived like Christians, only to have walked off the track never to return and cross the finish line. You all know people like that as well. People you thought were solid Christians, who denounced their faith, lived the rest of their lives like atheists, and died, having never returned to the race. At one time, you may have thought they were a shoe in for the finish line, but it turns out they were not. Since they did not finish the race, they will not attain to the resurrection from the dead to eternal life when Christ returns.
Hope and a Challenge
For good measure, may I also add that those who never finish the race prove they were never in the race to begin with, even though they thought they were, because those who are in the race will finish the race.
While we know that those who are in the race will finish, we cannot become complacent, we cannot stop running, we cannot take our eye off the prize. If we lose focus, if we are attracted by the lures of the world, we may run off the track and never finish. We must keep pressing on, using every means possible to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
No matter if you have been a Christian for 1 day, 1 month, 1 year, 10 years, or 50 years, you have to keep pressing on. You have to keep running the race, using any means possible to attain to your prize, Jesus Christ.
Again, this does not mean we run in our own power. God is the One who is ultimately working in us to cause us to endure, changing our desires and empowering us through the Holy Spirit. Even so, we must still run.
So then, Christian, hope in Christ. Trust God will glorify those whom He has saved, but don’t become complacent and apathetic. Use any means necessarily by the power of God to attain to your prize. Keep running! Keep pushing! The finish line is in sight!
- How does Paul’s view of finishing the race change your view of salvation?
- Have you ever thought of the Christian life as a race that must be finished in order to attain Christ?
- Do you know that God is the one empowering you and causing you to endure in the race? How does knowing that change the way you run the race?