Philippians 3:12-21 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. 13 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, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
Good morning Church,
If you’re just visiting us. We are preaching through Paul’s letter to the Philippians and we are nearing the end of the sermon series called Joyfully Following Jesus ‘til The End, which Pastor Mike has been so good in organizing and executing while Pastor Dave, our preaching pastor, is on a sabbatical. We only have a couple weeks left. We’ve learned many things so far about the Christian life, the value of knowing Christ and gaining him, rejoicing in suffering, working out our salvation, looking to our elders, partnering with God on his mission. Today we are going to look at the mind of a Christian. What does Paul want us to think and focus on?
I believe Paul’s main point in our passage this morning is…
Mature Christians know that the path to future perfection (glorification) is persevering on the narrow road of suffering which is our present perfecting (sanctification).
Remember the two paths? The wide easy road that leads to destruction and eternal damnation. And the narrow difficult path leads to glory, the prize, as Paul calls it. And that path is laden with trials and suffering, it’s unpopular so people don’t want to choose it. But being on this path produces a lasting joy in us that can’t be taken away and persevering on it makes us more like Christ, which is becoming more and more mature, being perfected as we move toward our eventual perfection. Choosing this path is how we glorify God, while choosing this path is walking away from God and is called sin.
In this passage, Paul is giving us warnings and assurances and the Christian believes them both, and that mindset, or belief, keeps them on the path to life.
Before we go through the whole text, I want us to jump to v. 15 to see where I’m getting this main idea of the Christian’s mindset.
“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. 13 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, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.”
I. The Call to Mature Thinking
Yes, there are commands in this passage, but we’ve covered those in previous chapters. Yes, he’s giving us assurance that our salvation is secure in Christ. But more than that, he’s confronting our earthly mindset.
He says, “Stop letting your senses determine your beliefs and actions! Mature Christians look to the prize! And if you think other than this, you are a child!”
So, I believe Paul’s main emphasis is not actions, but a certain mindset, that produces certain actions. He says, “Mature Christians think a certain way.”
Now, what you don’t see from most English translations is that the word perfect in verse 12 and the word mature in verse 15 are versions of the same root word (telos) that means goal. Both are translated perfect or mature depending on the context.
In v. 12, the first perfected or teleioō means “completed, perfected, accomplished, the goal is achieved, brought to an end.”
John 17:4 “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.”
Hebrews 5:9 “And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him”
And Paul is saying, I have achieved that final perfection yet.
In v. 15, the second perfect or teleios is an adjective that describes something as “perfect, or complete, or fully mature.”
1 John 4:18 “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear”
1 Corinthians 14:20 “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking… but in your thinking be mature.”
This is more of an ideological goal. The perfect or perfectly mature Christian thinks this way. We’re all on different levels, but this is Paul’s goal, complete maturity in thinking. That he would “present everyone mature in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28)
Becoming mature isn’t an event, like Christ accomplishing our salvation, but a cyclical process (James 1:4). Perseverance produces maturity or completeness. So we lack nothing. We persevere through trials and suffer like Christ, and that makes us increasingly more mature. And the more mature we become, the more we become like Christ and that cycle continues until the end. We are being perfected along the way.
And this is how we are to think. This is how Paul thinks. Sitting in chains is perfecting him, so he rejoices!
What makes him rejoice? Well, he’s not looking at his circumstances, that’s for sure. But he rejoices because his mind is focused on Christ and he’s continually abiding in him, it produces a Christ-like response.
II. Right thinking produces right actions
Mature thinking according to Paul is not just about head knowledge. As Kyle preached on last week. As if the more you know about God, the more mature you are. No. It’s about knowing and abiding in Christ intimately and your mindset changes into his mind and produces action and your actions reveal your beliefs.
Look what he says in v. 14.
“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way”
Again, your mindset produces action and your actions reveal your beliefs.
Picture yourself walking up to 20-foot high fence at the zoo. You know there’s something huge and dangerous inside because there are 2 inch thick cables surrounding the enclosure and when you get close you hear the humming of electricity surging through the cables. You look up and there is a skull-and-crossbones-sign that says, “DANGER HIGH VOLTAGE, KEEP OUT! Stand back 10ft!” How many of you would take a couple steps back in fear and trembling?
You probably wouldn’t touch it, because you believe it will kill you. If someone does touch it, it doesn’t reveal whether or not they had the free-will to touch it, but that they never believed in the deadliness of the fence in the first place.
This is kinda how the warning passages in the Bible work. God says things like, “If you do this, then you’ll go to hell, if you don’t, you won’t.” Those passages aren’t teaching that I have free will over our salvation or not. The warnings in Scripture do just what they are, they warn. Those who heed the warning reveal that their eyes have been opened to see the truth and believe, and those who don’t heed the warning reveal that they don’t believe.
Those who believe the warning, won’t touch the fence.
When our knowledge of God penetrates our hearts (which is an act of God), it turns into love for him, then our desires and our will produce actions that align with our beliefs, and the more that happens the more mature we become. (repeat)
III. The Mindset of a Mature Christian
So, put on the mindset of a mature Christian.
In his letters, Paul frequently calls believers to be of one mind, to have the mind of Christ, to focus on the upward call. So, let’s look at five major beliefs Paul is calling us to adopt in our thinking.
1) Mature Christians focus on the heavenly goal and prize
Paul is excited about something. He’s excited about winning the race and getting the trophy. So, what’s the big deal? He wants to sit in the clouds with a harp singing kumbaya forever? Not quite.
12 “Not that I have attained it [the prize] [nor am I] already perfect [the goal, being fully matured, developed, completed, transformed, being like Christ], but I press on to make it my own.”
For Paul the goal is crossing that finish line, it’s completing the race. And the prize is the reward of finishing well, the upward call of exaltation and gaining Christ.
By looking back to verses 10-11 you’ll notice the process by which he attains his goal. The race that he is running.
Philippians 3:10-11 “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible [Smashing my phone, cutting of my arm, plucking out my eyes, finding new friends.] I may attain [the goal] the resurrection from the dead.”
Paul’s goal is to know Christ more, take up his cross, and suffer and die well here on earth, and then attain the resurrection. This is sanctification, a process that Paul refers to as “living Christ.” To live is Christ, and to die is gain, 1:21. To live as Christ is to become more like him, depending on him completely for our holiness and righteousness. And even now, he’s looking forward to the results, the prize.
So what’s his prize? What is it referring to in verse 12?
Looking back at verse 8-9,
Philippians 3:8-9 “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 9 and be found in him”
Paul’s prize is gaining Christ and being found in him. Paul must be found in Christ at the resurrection if he is to achieve his goal and win the prize.
After the resurrection, Paul will be made completely perfect in holiness and righteousness. And be given a new glorified body. In verse 21 Paul says our bodies will be literally, physically transformed to be perfect like Christ. This is so that we can dwell with God and know him more fully and enjoy him forever. Without pain or disease or suffering or sin or guilt or shame. Only eternal bliss, purity, holiness, perfection, glory, and pleasure forevermore.
So, for Paul the prize and goal are many things all wrapped up into one idea—the perfection of all things. Something he says he has not attained yet in verse 12. It’s a complete consummation of all things being made perfect in Christ; beginning with the resurrection (which is the upward call of God); gaining Christ; being made perfect in our inner and outer man: our righteousness, our bodies, our knowledge, our relationships, our joy, our pleasures, all made perfect; dwelling in the new heavenly kingdom with the King, and the new perfect re-created earth; knowing God more and more for all eternity, worshipping him forever. That is glorification, and that’s all Paul can see. It’s what is driving him.
So, Paul makes attaining that infinitely glorious prize his life goal. That’s what he has posted on his vision board or his refrigerator, a Polaroid of Christ. He looks to it and says, “I want that!”
That’s future-thinking. He is keeping his focus on the prize and becoming like Christ in his mindset. What you behold you become, and he’s calling us to behold perfection.
2) Mature Christians know they haven’t attained perfection yet.
v. 12 “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect”
It’s clear throughout Philippians that Paul’s number one goal is to be mature in Christ now and perfected in Christ later. He tells them, “Perfection in Christ is what I strive for, to lay hold of, to possess, to make my own. But, I haven’t achieved this yet. I’m not perfect in my righteousness, nor my body now, here on earth.”
That seems obvious to us, since we are so not perfect. But there’s a little history behind that statement.
Paul is specifically attacking a group of Christians called Judaizers that taught in order to be saved a Christian must still keep the whole Jewish law including circumcision. It’s Jesus plus the Law. Paul frequently rebukes this way of thinking. And in v. 12 he’s refuting the heretical message that by keeping the law a person could attain perfection in this life.
If Christianity was just a bunch of rules to be kept, if you kept them, by definition you would be perfect. “Hey, I didn’t do any work on the Sabbath! I just sat in my underwear on the couch all day drinking beer and watching the Price is Right. I didn’t even change the channel! No sin! I’m perfect.” Paul condemns that idea by showing them that he’s accomplished everything the law could offer, and it’s all rubbish! If it made you righteous, Paul was righteous many times over, a Jew of Jews! But remember, Paul must be found in Christ at the resurrection. And that’s having Christ’s righteousness through faith, not by our own works of the Law because that’s not a saving righteousness.
So Paul says, “Renounce that way of thinking!” We haven’t arrived, and we won’t until the resurrection. Even so, we press on toward maturity.
3) Mature Christians know Christ has securely saved them.
“12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own (katalambanō) [to lay hold of the resurrection, to possess it, to securely seize it], because Christ Jesus has made me his own (katalambanō ) [he has laid hold of me, he has seized me permanently, he has possessed me, he bought me with his blood and he owns me. I am adopted by the King].
This little clause contains massive implications for Paul.
“Christ has made me his own.”
He’s re-giving us the assurance from 1:6 that the God who began a good work in eternity past is going to complete it. He sent Jesus to secure the salvation of those whom he chose. And gives us the Holy Spirit’s power to live out our salvation, ensuring that we will indeed endure.
Look at Paul’s life. He was lost in sin. He was an enemy of God! Literally killing Christians. And yet, God in his mercy reached down from heaven and violently blinded him. God transformed his heart and then opened his eyes. And once he could see clearly, he was never going back! Paul was not seeking God. And God did not respect Paul’s free will. God invaded Paul’s life and saved him.
And this Paul, who had a face-to-face with Jesus, told the Ephesians, God “chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world… [and] predestined us for adoption… according to the purpose of his will.” (Ephesians 1:4-5) God the Father has indeed chosen his people so that his plan of election will stand (Romans 9), to dwell with him and worship in eternity for his glory and good pleasure.
The big problem is that before Christ, we are all like Paul, enemies of God. Living by the flesh. Loving the pleasures of the world. We don’t love God or desire to be with him. We rebel against him. We are under a death sentence awaiting the judgment of God’s wrath.
So, in order to accomplish his plan, God sent Jesus, a perfect and holy redeemer, to sacrifice himself on behalf of the elect and purchase with his own blood those whom God predestined, thereby securing them for eternity.
Hebrews 10:14 “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”
Jesus paid our fine and wiped away our debt. You can’t undo that. That’s a work of God. Furthermore, he clothed us in his righteousness. This is a once-and-for-all-time deal, meaning those whom he has called are not able to add or subtract to their salvation by extra work or sinning. Because Jesus did the work and he paid for the sins. Believers do not just put on Christ’s righteousness one day and then lose it and then put it back on whenever we need it like a shower robe. It is a permanent work and lasting work.
This is vital to understanding the assurance we have in Christ.
Paul told the Romans that those whom God “predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:30)
The God that called you will justify you by his Son, and he will glorify you. Paul had this in mind when he told the Philippians that Christ will complete the work he began in them.
John 6 is my personal favorite when it comes to trusting in Jesus’ finished work for my salvation. Look at what Jesus said,
v. 44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”
You love John 3:16? Anyone who believes in Jesus will be saved?
v. 29 “This is the work of God, that you believe in [me].”
It is a God-given gift to believe in Jesus. It’s a work of God, that you didn’t do.
v. 37 “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”
Everyone who is drawn will come to Jesus. Not because God forces them, but because he has unveiled their eyes to see the truth (as Paul puts it). They’ve seen the prize and it’s glorious! Why would they turn back?
And then Jesus says,
v. 39-40 “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day… [that] everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
That is powerful assurance. If you had simply laid hold of Christ, you could let go when times got hard. And you would. But believer, praise God, Christ has laid hold of you, he has seized you, and Jesus promised that he will not lose anyone whom he’s made his own.
The spiritually mature mind believes that mystery, and rests in Christ’s finished work completely and securely.
4) Mature Christians press on because they are saved, not to be saved.
Be careful here! Paul does not want us to confuse the order. He strives, he presses on BECAUSE Christ has made him his own. Not to become owned or adopted. Christ did the decisive work on the cross! Jesus said that you didn’t choose him, but he chose you, that you should go and bear fruit. He saved us, so we serve him joyfully for that reason.
It reminds of the movie The Count of Monte Cristo. Edmond, the protagonist, washes up on a beach after escaping from an undeserved prison sentence. When he wakes, a band of pirates force him to fight Jacopo, one of their rebellious crew members, to the death. They take a couple swings at each other, but Edmond immediately pins Jacopo to the ground, knife to the throat, and has the opportunity to take his life. But instead, he looks up and pleads with the captain to let Jacopo live. The captain is persuaded by his speech and allows him to live. Jacopo grabs Edmond by the collar and whispers, “I am your man. Forever.” He swears life-long allegiance to Edmond because he spared his life.
We’ve lost this concept in our culture, unwavering loyalty until death. Serving a king. Serving a master. But it’s a code that Paul lived by. Christ spared his life and so Paul swears life-long allegiance to his Savior. If someone saved our life today, the most they might get is a thank you card and maybe a barbeque.
This is the idea that Paul is driving at when he says, “I strain toward the goal because Christ has made me his own.” He swears a life-long allegiance to his King. And the mature Christian will think in those same terms.
5) Mature Christians hold fast to what they have already attained
16 “Only let us hold true to what we have attained”
So, this perfection, this maturity, is something Paul believes the Philippians are making progress in.
Whatever progress you’ve made on this journey, in this race, let’s not turn back or fall away, but persevere.
But perseverance in the faith is not magic, but it is a mystery. God is sovereignly completing his work in us and yet we have a part to play. That’s why Paul tells us to hold on to what we’ve attained.
Christians don’t just sign a salvation card and get on the escalator and ride it up to the clouds.
Our salvation is something we are continually working out, maintaining, and maturing in. When we think about whether or not we are saved. We don’t look back to a time we went to the altar or signed that salvation card. Although there was a decisive time in history when God saved us, instead we look to what our faith is in right now. We don’t just sin one day and loose all our progress we’ve gained up to this point.
When I think about losing ground or sinning, I tend to think in terms of the incident counter on the wall at my brother-in-law’s machine shop. You know the one that says, 258 days without an incident. You get super far and then someone saws off their finger and the counter gets reset. All progress is lost. So when I sin, I’m tempted to believe that all my progress is lost. I’m a loser. I failed. But we must reject that mindset. Spiritual growth is not a counter that gets reset to zero. It’s like a tree growing, it starts out small. It may seem like some years it stays the same size the whole year, but over time it continually grows, getting bigger and bigger.
So, don’t be discouraged Christian, Paul says, you’re progress doesn’t reset to zero! It’s a process we are growing in, like a tree, not an event.
So, Paul gives us five practical ways to maintain our progress in maturity.
Five Practical Ways We Maintain Our Progress
1. Forgetting the past and looking to the future
v. 13 “…one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead”
This, I know, is easier said than done. I know people have terrible, broken, pasts. Abuse, lies, hurt, pain, mistakes, and lots and lots of sin. But we must pray to God and abide in Christ in order to renew our minds. We may never lose the scars, but Christ will heal us and cleanse our minds.
Paul isn’t saying that we need to forget everything, as in erase our memories. Men-in-Black-style. He’s saying let’s move on. Don’t replay the past. There is no more condemnation for those who are in Christ. Your sins are gone. Paul was a murder, imagine the pain he caused people. And he’s telling us, what’s done is done. I can’t change it.
Are you dwelling on something from the past? That consumes your mind? Distracts you? God wants to heal you, he will heal you. He wants you to be free from that bondage, and that burden. Lay it down at the cross. In the power of Jesus, you can get passed it. We can’t change the past. But we can look to the one who will change our future. Everything will be made perfect.
I know, easier said than done. But that’s our goal. That’s what God wants for you. And straining forward is a sign of spiritual maturity.
2. Imitating those who are more mature
v. 17 “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.”
We talk a lot about elders at this church, so here’s a different angle on it.
In our culture, we have what cultural anthropologists call Low Power Distance. That is the distance between the authority and the subject, the teacher and the student, etc.
Basically, when it comes to authority, Westerns see ourselves as increasingly equal to our leaders. For example, we will frequently hear a professor say to his students, “I’m just learning with you.” Or a preacher say, “I’m preaching to myself here.” Supervisors are peers who help you succeed in your job. When we’re sick, we google our symptoms and think we know more than our doctor. Our Western culture has very little respect for authority. The gap between the leader and follower is very small or non-existent.
In developing nations, they still have a High Power Distance. In the classroom, teachers tell you the answers. In the church, the pastor is to be honored. Bosses tell their employees what to do. The authority expects complete obedience and respect simply because of their rank or title.
Paul’s culture was similar. If a Roman soldier told you to jump, you jumped. Rabbis and philosophers were highly respected because of their positions.
Paul is telling the Philippians, imitate those who are more mature than you. Copy them. We aren’t all on the same level of Christ-likeness. Don’t think that you’ve arrived. Respect your elders, obey your elders, submit to you your elders.
We would do well, Grace Church, to adopt a little power distance. To follow them, submit to them, and imitate them. Seek out people who are more mature than you and infiltrate their life. Ask them questions and learn from their mistakes and successes.
We become what we behold. It is a way God has designed us to maintain and grow in our maturity.
3. Focusing on the cross, and not earthly circumstances
v. 18-19 “For many… walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.”
We’ve seen some positive motivation from Paul, but now he switches to negative examples to warn people of the consequences of not believing the gospel that he delivered to them. Do not imitate these people! Don’t take the easy path that leads to destruction.
Paul has already seen some Philippians leaving the faith, even some that once worked with Paul. They aren’t holding fast to what they’ve been taught. They are revealing they never believed in the electric fence and can’t see the prize of glory.
Paul pleads, “If you truly love God, do not follow your earthly senses, your eyes, your stomach, your fleshly desires. Do not set your minds on worldly pleasures or circumstances. Those lead to destruction.”
See the focus? Paul explicitly says that their minds are set on earthly things. When we look to our earthly situations or fleshly desires, when we start to love the world’s ways, our spiritual eyes grow dim, and we stop focusing on heavenly realities and we focus on earthly ones.
Paul says here, don’t walk away from the cross! Run to it! The only path to glory is through the cross. Suffering like Christ and becoming like him in his death. Good or bad, no matter our situation, our joy must be grounded in Christ and future glory, so that whether we are living in chains, or a castle, we are content. Because all we see is the prize.
4. Remembering they are citizens of the heavenly kingdom, not this world
v. 20 “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ”
Remember in chapter 2 how Paul told the Philippians they were lights in a dark and twisted world. He’s reminding them now, “Believer, you are an alien.” The world will hate you when you bring the light because they think you are evil. But, don’t be confused! Remember, you aren’t a member of their community. You aren’t a citizen of Philippi, or Rome, or America. So, return their wickedness with love, kindness, patience, and blessings.
You are a citizen of the eternal Kingdom of Light. You are a child of the King. Remember Philippians? Remember Grace church? One day that King, Jesus, is coming on the clouds to exalt you. Then, finally, you will be home. Resting in eternal peace and joy with your heavenly Father.
Mature Christians, make that the focus of your heart and mind, and oh, how your life will change.
So, in conclusion, Paul’s mind is set on the heavenly prize which is the perfecting of all things, including us. But in the meantime, believers are called to spiritual maturity in our thinking. That is part of sanctification, our present perfecting, which is becoming more and more like Christ. We will never attain it completely, but we strive for it as a life-long goal. And Christians that grow in that mature mindset will increasingly think a certain way.
Thinking this way is part of becoming as perfect (spiritually mature, and Christ-like) as we can be in this life. Because positively, Christ has made us his own, and one day all things, including us, will be made completely and totally perfect. And negatively, Paul is warning us that if we don’t think this way, we walk as enemies of God our end is destruction and were never born-again.
Thankfully, we are not left to ourselves to accomplish all this. The secret to growing spiritually is found in a song I used to sing as a child.
“Read your Bible, Pray every day, and you’ll grow, grow, grow…”
Of course, the focus must be on Christ. Because the mature mind is continually renewed by abiding in our Savior. Through prayer and the Word, the Christian’s mind and desires are shaped to discern the will of God, things he loves and things he hates. Loving what he loves and hating what he hates is having the mind of Christ.
So Christian, abide in him. Renew your mind in the word. Put on this mindset that Paul calls us to. Focus on the prize of the upward call and let it motivate you to press on because Christ has made you his own!
If you’re not a Christian yet. If you haven’t trusted in Christ or seen the beauty of the gospel. You are on the road to destruction. You are one of the enemies of the cross that Paul talked about. We plead with you through tears. The Bible says today is the day of salvation. Look to the Saviour. Believe in him, trust in him, run to cross, turn from the darkness to the light, and follow Christ.
Lord God of Heaven and Earth. We ask for the faith you gave Abraham. We ask for the heart and affections you gave David. We ask for the wisdom you gave Solomon. We ask for the mindset and maturity you gave Paul. May we be a people that are so focused on the prize and glory and gaining Christ that our lives are marked by unexplainable joy. That we would be so filled with Christ that we overflow with love in worship to God and love for people, both believers and those walking as enemies of the cross.
Strengthen us by your Spirit to focus on the prize of ultimate perfection in all things and may your glorious grace shine brighter than any temporary shiny thing this world has to offer.
Heal our minds of past sin, to us or by us. Purify our minds of sinful desires. Gird up our minds with the power of the Holy Spirit that our thinking would be spiritually mature and produce good fruit.
We ask this all in the mighty name of your Son Jesus, for your glory and good pleasure.