(Bible quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise stated)
New Year 2012
31th December 2011
It's new year, when we tend to make resolutions. These tend to be about worthy but minor ambitions like losing weight or giving up smoking, but why not make a life-changing decision right now? Why not resolve to run the race God has set before us with all the energy and passion we have. Why not resolve to put Jesus Christ first, as he should be?
For the Christian, everything but Christ is secondary at best. For Paul, everything he used to pride himself about was worse than useless - it was positively harmful, because it prevented him yielding himself up to the mercy of God in Christ. He was better off without it:
Paul considered his nationality, his religion, even his passion for doing the right thing, to have been positively harmful. He considered them rubbish (the NIV chooses a very polite translation of the Greek word here). Also, if I may suggest so, the NIV "compared to" would be better translated "for the sake of" (the Greek word is "dia"). Paul is saying that, in order to gain Christ, he consigns everything good about himself to the dustbin. It's not just our sin that hinders our relationship with God; as soon as we start to consider what's good about ourselves, we begin to become self-justifying, which disqualifies us from the gospel. We're all sinners, saved by grace. To gain Christ, we must come before Him as beggars, not as negotiators.
Paul was willing to throw away everything he had, including everything good about himself. His motivation was this:
Now THAT'S an ambition! THAT'S a resolution!
I want to know Christ
I'm a Christian. I've been one for many years. I have a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ. But I know in my heart that that relationship is not as good as it could be. I want to know Christ as well as I can know Him.
I want to know the power of His resurrection
Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I've been born again as a child of God. But I know that there's more power in the resurrection of Christ than I've experienced. This year, I've seen people born again, I've seen people physically healed, I've seen people grow in grace. But not many. Not a number that seems to me to accord with the power of his resurrection. I want to see much more.
I want to know the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings
When we suffer for Christ's sake, we're rewarded; As Jesus taught us in Matthew 5v10, "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven". But I think Paul is thinking here about Christ's sufferings at the cross. If we share in His death, we will share in His life. As Paul wrote to the Roman church:
There is no resurrection without death. Every Christian has died with Christ - united with Him in His death. And our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be done away with. And baptism is our burial service. I've known something of victory over sin, but I've known some defeats as well. I don't want to settle for the current state of my battle against sin - I want to fellowship in Christ's death to a greater degree, so that my new life may be purer and more glorifying to Him. In short:
I want to become like him in his death
It's not enough to be justified through faith; I want to life the new life that's mine in Jesus Christ. And, at the end of my life on earth:
I want to attain to the resurrection from the dead
Paul does not consider this a done deal. I believe in the perseverance of the saints, but I understand that we are required to work for it. This isn't a denial of the gospel of grace, it's an acknowledgement that God saved us through the merits of Jesus Christ, not our own goodness (as Paul was at pains to explain earlier in the chapter). He continues:
Paul makes it clear: he has not attained all that God has for him. Nor have I. And nor have you.
Paul resolves to press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. In a race, it's important not to dwell on what's happened so far, but to concentrate on the course in front of you. We may be discouraged by the failures of last year - by the sins we still haven't conquered, by the battles we lost, by seeing little fruit from our labours, or even by the knowledge that we really didn't labour very much. Or, more seriously, we may have become complacent, thinking we're pretty good Christians, really, and God should be impressed with us, looking at what we think we've achieved, and falling back into self-justification. Paul urges us to Forget what is behind and strain towards what is ahead, to press on towards the goal to win the prize.
Dear brother or sister, you are neither so perfect that you can relax and coast to the finish line, nor so far from perfection that you might as well give up. The prize is there for you but you need to run the race.
If you're a Christian, then you can say with Paul, God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.
On the cross, Jesus qualified you to enter the race. At Pentecost, God sent His Holy Spirit to empower you to run. All this is 100% grace. You didn't earn your place in the race, and you didn't earn the power to run the race. But we are all called to run it, and to win the prize that God has for us!
Now THAT'S an ambition! THAT'S a resolution!