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.
Our identity–who we are–is the motivating force behind all we do. Who we think we are can give us the confidence we need to try new things or make us afraid to let go of what we know.
God reminds us throughout the Bible that we are not our own–we were bought with a price–and we are children of God. And as God’s children, we are to walk in the identity Christ purchased for us. We are not to walk in our own righteousness; we are to walk in His.
Go ahead and re-read that first verse.
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.
First of all, the “this” refers to the previous verses, in which Paul is talking about righteousness. He points out that he doesn’t want righteousness through the law; he wants it through faith in Jesus. Even more, he wants to strive to know God, God’s power, and the fellowship of suffering. Paul longs to be exactly the man God intended him to be.
Which leads into the verse we just read. So what is it saying? First of all, none of us is perfect. None of us has reached the finish line. None of us will be perfect or finish until Jesus returns to take us home. Paul never claimed nor expected perfection. And He often reminds us the only perfect one is Jesus. But being imperfect should never stop us from striving to be righteous.
Second, the point of pressing on is not to reach perfection. Striving for absolute perfection on earth is a recipe for disaster, for if we press on with the belief we can be perfect, we will continually fail, become discouraged, and eventually quit trying altogether. The point of pressing on is to identify with what Jesus has already done for us. Jesus died on the cross for our sins. We don’t have to try to obtain perfection because the Perfect One already achieved that for us. But we are to try to make it our own. We are to try to live a life set apart and holy because that’s what Christ bought for us. We could never achieve salvation on our own, but since Jesus bought it for us, we are called to press on in identifying with it. No amount of good works could ever do for us what Jesus did for us, but we sure can press on in making the salvation He bought for all the salvation He specifically designed for us.
How do we do this? Well, one way is to keep stretching. Keep reaching forward. Keep being willing to try new things.
If we want to become more flexible physically, we must start stretching, and stretching regularly. We must commit to work at it. The first time we stretch, we may not be able to stretch much; we may feel like becoming flexible is an impossible task. Yet if each time we stretch, we try to go a tad bit farther, and if we don’t stop working at it, after some time, we’ll find what was once difficult now easy. We will become flexible.
Now apply this to our walk with God. If we want to go deeper in our relationship with God, and if we want to become more bold in our faith, then we need to be willing to stretch. We need to be willing to take steps forward, even if those steps are scary. We need to be willing to step outside our comfort zones, no matter how awkward it may feel at first. It may not be easy. Our first step, and maybe all of our steps, may be tiny. They may be filled with trepidation. But any step is better than no step, and we will never move forward standing still. Yet if we keep taking those little steps–if we keep inching forward–slow and steady–we will one day look back and be amazed with how far we have come.
Let me give you an example. I used to greatly fear praying aloud in front of people. I would avoid it like the plague. I was the one who, when the leader asked for volunteers, would look everywhere but in the direction of the leader. And oh, please don’t make me get in a prayer circle or partner me up with someone! That was horrific for me. I just couldn’t get over the fear of praying in front of others.
Until God stepped in and not only encouraged me to step out, but He also showed me the first steps to take. For me, the root of my fear of praying aloud is I am a writer, not a speaker. I can convey my thoughts well when given the chance to express them on paper, for paper allows me to read, reread, and edit as needed. Speaking, however, is a different story; it’s a one time event. I may be able to verbally correct a mistake I make while speaking, but I cannot erase it. Words spoken cannot be taken back. And did I mention that my mind often runs faster than my mouth, so often things can come out jumbled up and awkward? Nevertheless, in exhorting me to step out, God also gave me a way to do it: His Word. Each time I had to pray out loud, I’d ask Him for a verse to pray. I’d then pray that verse. And since I was praying His words, not mine, I was more confident.
Now I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that my growth in praying aloud was not instantaneous. It came with sweaty palms, increased heart rates, and the “please don’t let them ask me” silent prayer whispered many times. But little by little every day, I took baby steps. And today, I enjoy praying out loud. Sure, I still get that tinge of fear sometimes, and I still jumble up my words sometimes, but knowing how far I’ve come motivates me to keep pressing on. And I have learned that prayer is not about perfect words but about the attitude of the heart. God doesn’t ask for a well spoken presentation; He seeks genuine, heartfelt surrender.
Paul’s encouragement to keep pressing on in the things of God is meant to stretch us. It’s God’s reminder through Paul to keep moving forward, little by little, step by step. And if we slip, then we must get up, dust ourselves off, and keep pressing on. Most importantly, we are not to go back; to the degree we obtain, we should maintain. It’s easy to go from flexible to stiff; just stop stretching. It’s easy to go from an active, intimate relationship with the Lord to an ineffective, distant one; just stop seeking. Stop reading His Word, stop praying, and stop stepping out into what He calls you to do and you’ll soon find yourself spiritually stiff.
So I encourage you today in two ways. First, stretch. And keep stretching. God cannot fit into a box. And as His followers, we must not put Him or ourselves in one. We must commit to keep pressing on in the things of God. We must run the race set before us with diligent determination. We must seek to be the person God saw when He redeemed us on the cross. Second, know that striving after the things of God isn’t easy, success is rarely instantaneous, and you’ll never be completely perfect here on Earth. But oh what a glorious day it will be when Jesus returns to find you pressing on in Him–when He returns to find you faithfully striving to be what He called you to be. Oh what a glorious day it will be to one day hear our Lord and Savior say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).
Little by Little
(Not sure the original songwriter)
Little by little every day
Little by little in every way
My Jesus is changing me
Since I’ve made a turn about face
I’ve been growing in His grace
My Jesus is changing me
He’s changing me, my precious Jesus
I’m not the same person that I used to be
Some times it’s slow going
but there’s a knowing
That one day perfect I will be.
Who you are is who you are in Christ. So walk in this truth today, friend. And keep walking. Keep pressing on. Keep moving forward. For one day, perfect you will be.