Read Philippians 3:12-21
12Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
15All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
17Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. 18For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. 20But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (NIV)
Paul puts forth two powerful images in this short section. The first deals with perfection. The Greek word for perfection used here is “telios.” “Telios” means a kind of completeness. One use of the word was to describe the difference between an apprentice who was learning a trade and a craftsman who had accomplish the learning. But Paul takes this idea of completeness a bit further.
John Wesley spoke about three phases of grace in our lives. There is God’s prevenient grace. This is the grace of God surrounding our lives from the moment we are born. It is grace that calls us to Christ. Then there is justifying grace. This is the grace that allows us to say yes to Christ’s offer of salvation. And from that moment of justifying grace, we move to sanctifying grace. This is the grace of God that moves us to perfection. It is the grace where Christ goes from working in us to working with us.
This perfection is to know God’s love completely. For Paul, he says he has not obtained that perfection, yet. This was true of Wesley. He was asked over and over if he was perfect and his reply was always, still working on it. Now Wesley and I believe Paul too believed that perfection could be obtained in this lifetime. This was a grace available to God. But they also saw that the typical response was to move toward perfection as we grow in grace.
I like what someone said about verse 14. It is as though Paul is saying, “I am trying to grasp what God has grasped me for.” I think that is a beautiful images of what it means to grow in grace.
The second idea is that there is an example to follow on earth and there are people who are trying to give us a false example to follow. Paul doesn’t just say, “do as I say,” he says “do as I do.” It takes a mature believer to be able to make this statement. And he follows this up with a message that breaks his heart. He talks about those in the church that he calls, “enemies of the cross of Christ.” Paul is not talking about outsiders, but that there are people in the church who cheapen God’s grace. They were living lives that went against God’s ways and teaching. And they used grace as an excuse for living this way.
Paul concludes this second point by saying there are basically two kinds of people. There are citizens of the earth and citizens of heaven. We are live as citizens of heaven, setting aside earthly desires. This points back to the first point in that in the process of becoming perfect, we shed those earthly desires.
Do you see yourself moving to perfection? Toward being a complete Christian? Are you growing in God’s grace and can see a change in how you live over the years? I think it is good to take stock of our progress every now and then to see how well we are growing.
Blessings and Peace