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?
7 thoughts on “If Paul has not arrived…”
Is Paul perhaps saying, starting with 3:3, let’s look at ways that one might attain the resurrection of the dead.
First, one might have confidence in the flesh and if anyone could rely on that, surely it would be me (3:4-6)
But let me tell you (and I can be relied on because if my fleshly credentials won’t attain the resurrection, then no one’s will) the only confidence in attaining the resurrection is being attributed Christ’s righteousness from God by faith (3:9).
Therefore, I count all my fleshly credentials and the life that gives me as loss. I discard it and give up confidence in it because that is the cost to know Christ, to know the power of His resurrection, to have fellowship in His sufferings, to be conformed to His death and, the ultimate prize, to attain the resurrection from the dead.
In other words, the “if” in verse 11, not being concern of not having it, but saying I am willing and have given up all confidence in the flesh IF that is the means by which resurrection from the dead is attained.
Then going on in verse 12 to say not that I have already attained it or am perfected but press on because this giving up confidence in the flesh and living by faith in God is an ongoing, daily activity. This perseverance or pressing on being the evidence that I lay hold of that (the life, the calling, the ministry and the resurrection to an eternity with Him) for which Christ laid hold of me.
Appreciate your thoughts.
Thank you for your comment on the blog. You have given me a lot to think about. Let me know what you think of my final comments, especially, the comments from verse 12 at the end. That will help as I write this weeks sermon.
Here is my response:
The one thing that is throwing me off as I think through it is his use of the “if” or ei in Greek.
Some commentators have said it does not have to represent doubt, but can represent expectation.
While they have also said that it may mean he does not want to presume upon God’s grace. In other words, he does not want to unjustifiable regard himself as someone who will be raised to be with Christ. So to avoid unjustifiable regarding himself as one who will be there with Christ at His 2nd coming, he is going to do everything possible to make sure he is there. The way he can do that is by deepening his knowledge of Christ, and, more specifically, by being conformed to the likeness of his death, which occurs as he suffers for the gospel through the power of the resurrection.
Here is what you said in regards to that:
I like how you put it, and I think that is one string of thought he is putting forth here. I myself tried to convey this in my sermon on 3:1-11. We see that even more so if we connect verse 3 and 10:
(3) For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— (10) that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 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.
Which provides a lot of strength to what you wrote above.
You also said:
I am not sure grammatically if that is possible to reach all the way back to confidence in the flesh with verse 11. It seems that 11 is connected to 10. Here is the connection I see: (Note: Scripture is placed in italics)
(9) 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,
in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him,
not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law,
but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—
(10) that I may know him
“know” seems to connect in thought to “not putting any confidence in the flesh” from verse 3, it also connects grammatically to verse 9 to express that same thought. I am not sure exactly where it connects in verse 9, but I am thinking it connects to “and count them as rubbish.”
Then Paul goes further to give three ways to know him deeper. The three ways act epexegetically to “that I may know him.” Basically, that means it explains further what “know” means. The three ways are as follows and they all modify “know”
(1) and the power of his resurrection,
(2) and may share his sufferings,
(3) becoming like him in his death,
I think we are good so far. The difficulty is in connecting verse 11.
(11) that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
It seems grammatically to connect to verse 10, but the question is where.
(1) Conceptually, it can connect to clause three “becoming like him in his death.” The idea conceptually would be that we must first die to ourselves to know Christ, and also it would hold the idea that we must die physically in order to be resurrected.
(2) Grammatically, it seems to connect to “know” in verse 10. The idea there is that we will ultimately know Christ when we are raised from the dead at the resurrection. Our knowledge of Him would in some way reach its completion at that time because we would see Him face to face.
So then, to bring verses 10 and 11 together, the thought is that if we want know Christ, we have to walk a mile in His shoes, which we do by living out clauses (1), (2), and (3), which are found in verse 10.
Now, bringing in verse 11. I think the thought is two-fold.
(1) We do not ultimately know Christ until we attain to the resurrection. In other words, until we meet Him face to face in the resurrection we do not fully know Christ.
(2) As well as in keeping with our thesis – To deepen our knowledge of Christ, we must first walk a mile in Christ’s shoes – we will not fully know Christ until we have actually experienced the physical resurrection He experienced.
Bringing both strands of thought together we get this:
(1) By meeting Him face to face, and (2) by experiencing the physical resurrection He experienced we come to a full knowledge of Christ.
I think we are good to this point.
As we move on, we know that Paul’s ultimate goal is to gain a full knowledge of Christ, and we learn from verse 11 that he will do whatever is necessary to get that full knowledge.
The difficulty then becomes in answering the question: Why does he use the “ei” in Greek, which is translated in English as “if” in order to express him reaching the final eschatological resurrection from the dead at Christ’s return? What does that tell us? Why not use a Greek conjunction that represents “so that/in order that”?
Your statement earlier:
certainly solves the problem. I am just wrestling with if grammatically it will work given what I have written out above. As well as I am wrestling with what comes next, which is Paul’s emphasis on not already attaining it.
(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.
Especially, since the point of verse 12, and the context up to verse 16, is to deepen our understanding of verse 11. In verses 12-16, Paul tells us that he has not attained it and he is going to press on, so that he will attain it.
All this leads me to think the “ei” or “if” in verse 11 introduces some doubt or desire not to presume. I ultimately don’t think he doubts it will happen given what Paul has written elsewhere.
That then leads me to think in terms of presumption. So that the idea would be that: He knows his resurrection is going to take place, but even though he knows it will happen, he is not going to presume it is going to happen. After all, it has not happened yet. He has not attained it yet. So then, instead of presuming it will happen, he is going to do everything he can to attain to it.
That sounds worksy. Like he is going to do some work in his own power to attain it. But I think the phrase at the end of verse 12 takes out the works in Paul’s own strength and desire.
There Paul writes: “because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” So then, the reason he is going to work to attain it, and the way he is going to work to attain it, is not because of his own desires, or his own strength, but because of God placing that desire in Him and God empowering Him. After all, Christ has already made him His own, and in making him His own, He will cause Him to finish the race since Christ will not lose any the Father gives Him.
I will stop there. That is a long answer and a lot of explanation, but the concept is tough. I have been wrestling with it for over a week now. Oh the mysteries of God’s Word.
In answering your concern in the past email, I will quote at length one author because he explains it way better than I could.
Here is what I am thinking in regard to what you wrote:
If we think about what justification entails, it might be helpful for our discussion. Justification ultimately entails us being said to be not guilty when we stand before the judgment seat of God. Of course, that does not mean that justification does not have implications for the believer now, it does, Jesus has broken into this world and died for our sins, we can experience the results of justification right now.
Here is how one theologian puts its:
From this we gather that we can hope in our future salvation because it has happened ALREADY, but we still must remember that the future judgment has NOT YET come. Therein lies the “Already/Not Yet” tension is talked about in my sermon.
Later on when the same author talks about living the Christian life he says this:
What Ladd is saying is that there exist a tension between our Christian living and our salvation. Those who are saved will persevere until the end. They will finish the race, but unless they finish the race, they are not crowned with the victors crown. Now, true Christians will finish the race and will not fall away from the faith because eternal life is a free gift of God. As well as God will work in those who are His to cause them to finish. Nevertheless the race must be finished in order to receive the prize. So then, in order to finish the race we must not run aimlessly. We must keep our focus on Christ and Christ alone.
Now, of course, what is causing us to keep our focus on Christ is the power of God. So there again lies that tension between our works and God’s works. In short, we can say that we work because God works in us. We persevere because God works in us to cause us to persevere. We run the race because God works in us to run the race. We will finish the race because God will work in us to finish the race. In that we can hope. In that we can be confident. But we must not allow our hope and confidence to make us morally passive or apathetic. A runner still has to run the race to be considered a runner. If he does not run, he is just a mere spectator, who does not cross the finish line and who does not receive the crown.
To wrap it up, the point I am trying to make is that: Yes, we can hope and be confident in our future salvation because of the promises of God and because we experience that salvation right now. But we also will face a judgment in the future. Those who have not finished the race as Christians will not do so hot in the judgment. They will not gain the prize. They will not gain eternal life. They will not be considered righteous in Christ. Simple because they are not Christians to begin with.
You see, a true Christian runs the race. A true Christian perseveres until the end. A true Christian is not morally passive or apathetic. And so, while Paul hopes in Christ, he also knows that he has a race to run. So he better get busy running that race, so that he will receive his crown at the finish line. As well as he tells other Christians that they better get busy running the race so they too will receive the prize at the finish line. And so, we press on. We don’t look back at our past accomplishments. We strive forward toward the finish line. Never stopping along the way to observe the flowers or the crowd, we keep moving, so that we will make it to the end. Even in saying all that, we must not forget that those who are true Christians will make it to the end, they will persevere. This will occur simple because Christ has made us His own, and in that we can hope, but in that we still must run.
Hopefully, all that makes sense. Thanks again for pressing me on this concept. It has been helpful to think through it. And who knows, I could be mistaken in what I am putting forth here. I pray that if I am, the Lord will show me the truth.
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