Let Us Press toward the Goal of the Upward Call of God in Christ Jesus!
O Lord God, the world presses upon me with its distractions and tempts my soul to waver. Please be with me this day as I enter into Your presence once again. Send Your Spirit to guide me as I worship. Move me sincerely to repent of my sins, to rejoice in the message of Your forgiveness, to grow in my understanding of Your truths, and to express my gratitude for Your many blessings. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
God’s blessings are never limited to our past. Rather, the best is always yet to come, as the LORD Himself provides for His people and moves us to praise Him!
Jesus’ Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers was directed to the religious leaders of the Jewish people of His day. They were unfaithful stewards of God’s grace and would soon kill Him in their rage against Him. Jesus, however, is the “chief cornerstone” upon which our faith remains built!
Text: Philippians 3:8-14 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christand be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death,if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
In Christ Jesus, who is more important to us than any other person or thing, dear fellow redeemed:
“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness!” (Matthew 6:33) Those words, found on the front page of your bulletin this morning and taken from the Sermon on the Mount, are an evangelical admonition of our Savior. What do they mean practically speaking? Do they mean that we ought to be in church every Sunday, or that our church offerings should be the top priority in our personal or family budgeting? They could mean that, but I could do those two things and still miss Jesus’ point. Jesus was implying something far beyond mere externals. Jesus wants us, out of love for Him and in view of the precious gift of righteousness He bestows upon us by faith, to give our hearts and minds completely to God. Then all of our words and actions will reflect a genuine desire to seek God, to serve God, to thank God and ultimately to be with God!
Paul’s words in our text reflect that same goal. Paul had been converted to Christianity as an adult on the road to Damascus. He had spent nearly thirty years as an apostle to the Gentiles. He was now in prison in Rome. After all of this, Paul was more convinced than ever that there is nothing more important in life than Jesus Christ and His kingdom. From His prison cell in Rome, he wrote his fellow Christians encouraging them to join him in pursuing the goals of that kingdom. Today as we examine Paul’s words, I would encourage you:LET US PRESS TOWARD THE GOAL OF THE UPWARD CALL OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS! Let us do so that we might, first of all, gain Christ and be found in Him and, secondly, so that we might know Christ and the power of His resurrection!
Our theme today is taken from the final words of our text, in which Paul writes: “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus!” There was nothing more important to Paul than achieving that goal and receiving that prize for which he was called by God. He was willing, if necessary, to give up his life to that end! To understand fully why, let us go back to the opening words of our text: “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.”
Humanly speaking Paul had lost a lot! He was the son of a wealthy businessman. He had led a privileged life as a young person in his hometown of Tarsus, which was one of the leading cities in the Roman Empire. He attended the best of schools, both in Tarsus as a youngster and then in Jerusalem as a teenager. He was a prominent member of the religious party known as the Pharisees and had risen up through the ranks of leadership within that party very quickly. In fact, some have suggested that he had even been admitted into the Jewish Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish court and virtually the greatest privilege any Jew could enjoy! All of this Paul lost when he was converted to Christianity. He was disowned by his family and defamed by his peers. His promising career ended. He was finishing his fourth year in prison, and yet he said he was more than willing to give up all of these things—to count them as just so much garbage in comparison to the knowledge of Christ, if only he might gain Christ and be found in Him.
What does it mean to gain Christ? It means to possess Him by faith as your Savior from sin and your Source of eternal salvation. It means to know Him as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (cf. John 14:6) and to possess through Him a right relationship with your heavenly Father. It means to have Him as your Good Shepherd, one who can and does bestow upon you the gift of everlasting life and who holds you safely in the palm of His hand (cf. John 10:27-28). It means to rejoice in the fact that He is your “Advocate with the Father” (cf. 1 John 2:1), who intercedes with God on our behalf.
What does it mean to be found in Him? Paul explains when he speaks of giving up his own righteousness of the law and receiving by faith the righteousness of Christ. That all by itself made the knowledge of Christ excellent. Prior to his conversion Paul had trusted in his own merit as a zealous Pharisee, keeping all of the laws they espoused and assuming that he would through his own efforts merit the acceptance and salvation of God. But Paul now knew that such thinking was a lie, for it failed to understand both the sinful human condition and the absolute demands of perfection contained in the law. Man is utterly corrupt by nature and without the presence of the Holy Spirit even his best efforts at keeping the law are flawed and cannot impress God. It is impossible for any man to meet the perfect standard that God’s law demands, which means that any man trusting in his own good works is deluded and destined to be disappointed and damned when he stands before the judgment seat of God some day. But when we receive the righteousness of Christ by faith, we receive everything we need to stand before God and be assured of our eternal salvation. Paul tells us elsewhere: “You are complete in Him (Christ)” (cf. Colossians 2:10). Isaiah proclaims: “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (61:10). Paul knew that with Christ in his heart and Christ’s righteousness covering his soul, he was standing on solid ground and not sinking sand! He was ready to press forward, even if it meant at that time simply continuing his prison ministry. LET US likewise PRESS TOWARD THE GOAL OF THE UPWARD CALL OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS! Let us do so that we might also gain Christ and be found in Him!
Let us do so, secondly, that we might know Christ and the power of His resurrection! Paul writes: “I also count all things loss…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” As mentioned earlier, Paul was in prison in Rome. What lay ahead for him was a trial before the Roman Emperor and the possible sentence of death by execution. While Paul remained confident of his acquittal (cf. Philippians 1:25-26), a confidence that proved justified for he was ultimately released to continue his service in God’s kingdom, how could he maintain such confidence in the face of possible death? He revealed the reason later in this epistle when he wrote those famous words: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). He had come to know Christ and the power of His resurrection! There is no greater foe to face in this life than death, yet Christ had overcome death through His resurrection. Jesus had removed death’s “sting” (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:55), for the sting of death is its seeming finality. Yet, Jesus had arisen after being dead three days. Death could not contain Him, and because we are His brothers and sisters by faith, death will not be able to contain us!
That is the power of Christ’s resurrection! Our death has been “conformed to His death,” which means that it is but a temporary condition. Yes, if Christ does not come first, we will all face death and endure the pangs of death, but we can do so knowing that we too will be raised from the dead. Consequently, while we live in this sin-filled world, we will endure sufferings. This too, however, we can endure from the perspective of Christ’s resurrection. We share in “the fellowship of His sufferings.” Just as Jesus endured His sufferings with the ultimate goal of our good in mind, so we can endure our sufferings confident that God will indeed work good out of them.
One of the last conversations I had with my sister Ruth before her death due to cancer this past December will remain etched in my mind for the rest of my life. She commented to me that she wanted me to know how much of a blessing her cancer had been for her. It created a host of opportunities for her to share her faith and communicate the love of Jesus for everyone. It heightened her appreciation for God’s many gifts, particularly the love of her family and friends, but also the simple gifts of life which we so often take for granted. It gave her greater insight into what was most important in life and allowed her to see that the things in which we so often invest our greatest amounts of time and effort really are not that important, for in the end you leave them all behind.
My dear friends, to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, allows us to approach our lives, wherever they may lead us and under whatever circumstances we find ourselves, with courage and confidence. God has called us into His kingdom and given us each a purpose. It is an “upward calling”—a calling not confined to the mundane matters of this life, but to the greater issues that will impact our futures. It is a calling that keeps God’s goal of heaven ever in mind.
Consider our callings as parents. Children are gifts of God entrusted to parents for such a short time, and yet the impact that good parenting can have upon children has eternal consequences. That being the case, we want to realize that while we are to provide for the physical welfare of our children, their greater welfare will move us to care for their souls and see to their spiritual upbringing. If our children have the very best shoes and clothing, the latest in toys and technologies, the certainty of a college education…but do not know Christ, then we will have failed.
Ours is an upward calling, the goal of which has been set by God—the salvation of our immortal souls! Like Paul, none of us has already attained God’s goal or been perfected in our efforts to achieve His ultimate end. But with Paul we are to strive to “lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of (us).” Our lives are like a marathon race that must be run well. Such a race takes time and careful preparation. It takes endurance and perseverance. Christ wants us to be reunited in love with our Creator both now and at the end of this earthly race throughout eternity! That is why He came, so that we might be reconciled to God, then walk with Him through this life accomplishing each and every goal He has for us, before He decides to take us home—we having completed the race He has set! Let us, therefore, forget all of the failures and sorrows of the past, and strive to look forward. Yes, LET US PRESS TOWARD THE GOAL OF THE UPWARD CALL OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting
Soli Gloria Deo!