Straining forward toward the goal

By Mike Ratliff

3 I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, 4 and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.
6 Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; 7 but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory;  (1 Corinthians 2:3-7 NASB)

When we observe those “Christian Leaders” espousing the social activism of new evangelicalism, which is rooted in Semi-Pelagianism and Humanism, it should make us wonder at what motivates them. Why would these people seek to create a new version of Christianity? I suppose it is that they see that what they are seeking to replace has “failed” because so many young people want nothing to do with it. Therefore, they desire to create a new Christianity that uses the marketing techniques of the world and entertainment to entice people to be part of a church that is new and exciting. Gone is any call to repent of sins. Sin is hardly, if ever, mentioned. Instead of calling on God for mercy and seeking the Son for salvation from the Father’s coming judgment, they are told to come to Jesus and let Him into their lives so He can make their life better.

What are the leaders of this movement missing? What is wrong with what they are doing? It is not wrong to want to reach the lost with the Gospel. No, we should be doing that, but it is very wrong to make every Sunday morning into a show that only appeals to the flesh. Instead of worshipping our Lord God in referential fear, they have a rock concert. The leaders of this movement may indeed create large churches and international ministries by doing what they do, but is it right?

The call we read in the Bible is to know God and become Christlike. Knowing God is more than simply knowing about Him. Knowing God Biblically is to know Him intimately. When we see a mature Christian, like the Apostle Paul, we see a man who was totally wrapped up in knowing His Lord. His heart’s desire was to know Him with all His being and for those he taught to know Him that way as well. Paul’s ministry was never to present Christianity in a way that was appealing to the flesh nor was it ever geared to making it palatable to the lost so that they could accept Jesus, but remain in their sins. No, Paul always preached Jesus crucified as the propitiation for the sins of men because without that no one is saved. He never taught that people could know God and remain in their sins. Instead, to know God is to be changed and forever maturing. He also never taught that people could work their way to God.

1 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.
2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; 3 for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, 4 although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more:5 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.
7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:1-11 NASB)

Jesus told us to be as wise as serpents, but as gentle as doves. (Matthew 10:16) We must be alert as we rejoice in the Lord. We must be careful around those who would subject us to a “works based theology.” No, we are saved by grace through faith, not works. God saves His people; we don’t work our way into His favor. The mature Christian is one who recognizes the works of men as a substitute for faith and knowing God as rubbish. It is valueless. We must not cling to those things thinking they please God. No, the righteousness that allows us to know God is Christ’s righteousness, which is imputed to our account at salvation. Remember, we get this righteousness outside of works so our faith is not a work; therefore, it is a gift from God. So, we must view our salvation in this light. We must yearn to know Him in the power of our Lord’s resurrection, as well as sharing in His sufferings. We must die to self, take up our crosses and follow Him. That is not seeking a religion that allows us to party and be fleshly in our “worship.” No, it is a dying to self and as the Lord develops our heart’s desire to simply know Him and be with Him with our entire being.

12 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; 16 however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.
17 Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. 18 For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. 20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. (Philippians 3:12-21 NASB)

No one in this life reaches perfect Christlikeness. If Paul couldn’t do it, then I doubt if anyone else could either. However, instead of being discouraged by our lack of perfect spirituality, we must press on to make it our own. How? First we must never believe that we have arrived. We are all full of evil desires whether we are willing to admit it publicly or not. So we must come to terms with our innate sinfulness. Yes we are sinners, but no, we don’t have to remain enslaved to our flesh. Once we understand that, we are primed and ready to move forward with our Lord, yoked up with Him, pulling the load in His power.

Second, we must put what is past to death. We have all sinned. We have all done stupid things, maybe even horrible things, but Paul, a former persecutor of the Church, tells us to forget what lies behind. Third, we must strain forward to what lies ahead. We must press on towards the goal for the prize. What is the prize? It is the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. What’s that? In this life we will never be perfect. We want it, but it is unattainable here. However, the time is coming when God will call all of His people to Himself. There, at the Resurrection, we will all come to be with Him forever where there will no longer be a sin problem for us.

I was a runner for many years. I ran in innumerable races from 1 mile to 10 miles in length. I even ran some 440-yard races in school when I ran track. Running the race is what moves you from the starting line to the finish line. You can’t reach the finish line unless you run the race. Also, no one can run the race successfully if they do not do it within their abilities. I have seen many drop out of races because they tried to take on more than they were able. I have also seen people jog along not really caring if they did well or not. The ones who claimed the prize at the finish line were those who ran smart and fully. They strained forward for the prize, not looking around or back. Instead, they ran with their eyes fixed on the goal. That means that 8 miles into a 10-mile race their bodies were screaming at them to stop, but they pressed on and denied themselves so they could finish well. That is how we must run this race God has set before us. We must keep our eyes on Christ, our prize.

Maturing Christians are not necessarily the ones who do the most works. They are not more religious than others. Instead, they cling to Jesus. They do not try to work their way into His affections. They simply know their Lord intimately, obey Him, and depend upon Him for their all. They seek His glory through them and that comes from their obedience, often in the fires of tribulation.

On the other hand, professing Christians whose god is really their belly surround us on all sides. They are after glory here in the temporal thinking that the more they do here will bring them ultimate glory with God in Heaven. They lead multitudes of others away into their sin. We must be careful not to be deceived by these workers of iniquity. They may appear to be Christians, but they are worldly and use the tools of the flesh to grow their ministries. They do this for their own glory, but God is not fooled.

Possessing the Treasure is to possess Christ. The byproducts of that are a godly treasury of goodness in our hearts as well as the prize of eternal life in Heaven. However, our main treasure, the object of our affections, is our Lord Jesus Christ. We know when we possess the treasure now when we desire to depart this life and be with Him more than to experience the best this life has to offer. It is then we know that our heart’s desire is to be with Him forever and that means that we are in the race and are truly straining forward toward the goal.

Soli Deo Gloria!

6 thoughts on “Straining forward toward the goal

  1. I’m with you, mostly. I think there are various ways that Christians display maturity. Many people mature in their trust in Jesus through hard times. Others mature by resisting sin. Others display maturity through obedience in good works.

    Thanks for your post. It got me thinking a little more critically about Christian maturity.

    Like

  2. Scott, yes, but no matter which of those ways people mature it will be as they are trusting the Lord as He takes them through something they would not be able to do or handle in and of themselves. And, of course, the qualifier for all of that is it will be for the Lord’s glory alone.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “Many people mature in their trust in Jesus through hard times. Others mature by resisting sin. Others display maturity through obedience in good works.”

    Well, it’s hard to be human and not have hard times. We come to Jesus for salvation and He gives us the power we need to overcome sin. We are then in His strength to mature through sanctification by the Holy Spirit, glory going to Him alone. We are not saved by works. But as we mature we exhibit the fruit of good works, obedience, avoiding sin, and of course we continue to trust in the Lord in all times. We will all have hard times since it says all who wish to live godly in Christ will have tribulation. So it’s hard to picture a believer not experiencing all of these things.

    As for these churches, it’s a shameful thing.
    They have stripped the ‘church’ of all it’s function, removed the true sin convicting and flesh crucifying gospel, taken away the worship with lyrics that glorify God and simple musical sounds in the background, ignored the calls to prayer and spiritual devotions, and in place of a God honoring assembly, they have erected a golden calf full of worldly enticements that appeal to the flesh. In essence, the church that honors God in Spirit and Truth is gone, (at least from among them) and in it’s place is a worldly entertainment spectacle. They haven’t replaced something that has failed with something that works, they have replaced something that is true with something that is false, but works for them. The true church hasn’t failed. They have failed the true church.

    Good article!

    Like

Comments are closed.