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. (Philippians 3:12-14)
What does St Paul do with this new orientation toward knowing Christ as his highest ambition? He presses on! As much as Paul has given up gains and suffered losses for the sake of being closely connected to Jesus, he recognizes he has more to go before he reaches anything approaching the perfection to which our Savior calls each one of us.
One of the dangers that plagues Christians is making a permanent home at rest stops along the way. Roman and Orthodox brethren and sisteren often make simply “being Catholic/Orthodox” the way station they set up shop. This is where you get such arrogant statements as, “We’re the one true Church,” and the like. Protestants aren’t immune to this, however; they have other way stations along the way. One’s status as “having gotten saved” among Baptists and other free church traditions, “having gotten sanctified” among Wesley-influenced churches, or “having been baptized in the Holy Spirit” among Pentecostal/charismatic churches are popular stopping places where Christians take root instead of pressing on. Others are even more parochial, “Have you taken Alpha? Have you been to Cursillo? Have you gone to such-and-such camp? Have you been to this conference?”
As you see, your spiritual parking spot as you journey the pilgrim way of Jesus gets confused for the ultimate goal—knowing him. And to justify set up camp instead of continuing the journey, a kind of pride sets in. The experience Christians have camped out on becomes the new norm such campers (homesteaders?) require of other faithful to prove their faith is genuine. How prideful! How snobbish to think every Christian experiences the same spiritual high points as others to demand it as some “proof” they are really followers of Jesus! Outside of baptism and faith as markers of the start of the pilgrim path with Christ, the Bible does not require particular experiences as “proof.” Certainly, certain characteristics and activities are common among the faithful. But ultimately, we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ...not having some cookie cutter experience as other Christians. Our Lord’s perfection is counted ours in justification and is made ours step by step in sanctification until we reach the perfection Paul describes he’s striving for in our passage today when the Lord returns.
That means sometimes we need to cultivate holy forgetfulness and the “work” of strenuous faith. Paul earlier lays aside those things that were to his spiritual benefit for the greater goal of knowing Christ. As good as it is to belong to a particular church, had a particular spiritual experience, or have gone to a particular event, none of these things is the end all to be all. Our goal is to know Christ as deeply as we can every single day. This is part of holy forgetfulness.
Another part of holy forgetfulness is letting past failures alone. Quit rehashing them mentally. Stop allowing times you’ve messed up define who you are now. Yes, you may be suffering consequences of past sins. But those consequences do not need to include beating yourself up over things you can’t change now. Acknowledge your failing, confess it to God, seek his forgiveness, and make amends as you are able. But don’t let it define who you are today, even if was a consistent habit of yours in the past. Each day is a new chance to start over, and we live one day (one hour, one minute, one second) at a time.
In addition to holy forgetfulness is strenuous faith. Now some will balk that this sounds like “works righteousness.” However, this is no different that when Jesus said the work we need to do is to believe in him, the One whom the Father sent (John 6:29). Our faith is not just a one time thing where we trust Jesus as Lord and Savior and then go with life on our own. Faith is the constant reliance of the soul on Jesus Christ for all aspects of life. That means sometimes, faith is hard work! Paul talks about “straining forward to what lies ahead.” But this straining isn’t mere human effort (or at least it shouldn’t be). Paul reminds us elsewhere in his letter to the Philippians that God himself is at work in us both to want to do the right thing God desires, as well as to actually carry it out. That’s the very reason why we have the Holy Spirit, to fill us with divine strength to accomplish what our sinful human trying never could. We aren’t alone, and if we trust that God is enabling us to live more and more into the goodness he desires of us, then we should be confident in our attempts—even if (when) we fail. It’s a process and the Spirit of Christ is guiding us each step of the way.
What spiritual high points are common sidetracks among Christians you know? Are they/you moving on from them to pursue Jesus more fully or are they/you stuck there? What kinds of holy forgetfulness do you need to practice? How have you tried to practice strenuous faith? How can the Spirit help you pursue Jesus better?
Father of every good work and expression of faith, help me not to build a home on the mountaintops of life, but to continue walking with my Savior through the power of the Spirit. For the sake of his glory, Amen.