“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Phil 3:14
So how are you doing on the list of all the good that you are supposed to do? Have you been zealous in your devotion to the Church? Have you followed all of the commands of God, even those little ones that you always seem to forget? You are not alone. Every Christian is incapable of following all of the commands of God. Yet this is where Paul begins in our text. Paul had been an exemplary Jew. He had followed all of the traditions. He had been circumcised, he had been a Pharisee, he had been a zealous persecutor of what he perceived to be a false religion and most of all he had been living in complete accordance with the Law of the Lord. If there is anyone who deserved the good grace of God by his actions it was Paul. Despite all this, in his own words Paul says, “whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Phil 3:7-8) So all of those good things Paul had done pale in comparison to the worth of Christ.
The same is true of our accomplishments today. We may not have Jewish traditions that we follow, but there is an expectation we try to meet. We are to be in Church every Sunday, we are to live in prayer constantly, and we read the Bible daily. We may even join a Lutheran fraternity as a way of keeping our spiritual discipline. These, like the accomplishments of Paul, merit us nothing. The funny thing about our own righteousness that comes from the law is that it is never good enough. We can never practice our Christianity perfectly and we can never attain complete righteousness.
Thanks be to God that our righteousness is not found in ourselves. Our righteousness is “that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil 3:9) Righteousness, being right before God, does not come from our own actions. It is a gift from the Father on account of Christ that is sustained by the Holy Spirit. Christ’s own resurrection declares us to be righteous despite our blatant unrighteousness. His victory becomes our victory. His death to sin is our death to sin. His resurrection to life everlasting is our resurrection to life everlasting. This is made sure in each of our baptism. In our baptism we are made one with Christ and are given all of these gifts. We are marked by them and they become a vital part of our Christian life.
If Christ then has done all this for us is there any point to all of the hard work we put into being Christian? Christ has done all that was needed to make us righteous and anything we bring as an attempt is bound to be inferior. Yet, practicing righteousness is beneficial. Despite our inability to be righteous we are still commended to do one thing, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (Phil 3:13). What lies ahead is the perfection that we now are wanting. We know it to be ours in the promise of Christ despite not having that perfect practice of righteousness now. So all of the Bible Study, prayers we offer, Church services we attend, even being part of a Beta Sigma Psi serve to draw us closer to the one who will fulfill the perfect righteousness.
And so we “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:14) We live a Christian life not because by acting as a Christian we are closer to God than others, but because by living a Christian life we are reassured of the promises of Christ and are strengthened in our own faith. And that is just it. The greatest action we can do while on this earth is believe in the faith that has been given to us. This great gift is an assurance that the entirety God has promised he will bring to completeness, including the making of us to be perfectly righteous. This was accomplished By Jesus Christ on the cross and affirmed in his resurrection and made ours by His good grace.
Heavenly Father, you create and sustain us in this world which seeks to remove us from your sure promises. By your grace strengthen our faith and help us to lead righteous lives as we await the coming of the perfect righteousness that is ours in Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit now and forever. Amen.