In the Epistle reading this morning, the Apostle Paul says this: 13 “I do not count myself as having laid hold of it [i.e., the prize]; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
In Jesus Name. Amen.
Paul is trying to form in us a perspective on life. “Forgetting the things which are behind.” “Reaching forward to the things which are ahead.” “Forward looking,” we could say. “Never defeated.”
Paul teaches that this perspective is rooted in who Jesus is for us and the redemption we have in Him. It is rooted in how Christ is our righteousness before God. Our saving righteousness is not the righteousness from our obedience to the law, Paul says, but the righteousness that is from God through faith in Christ, given as gift to faith (Phil. 3:9).
This is the language of justification by grace through faith. Justification means that God accepts us as righteous when we believe that God forgives our sin because of Christ such that we will inherit eternal life on account of Christ. Justification is rooted in Christ laying hold of us as He took our sins upon Himself in His death on a Roman cross. It is rooted in Christ laying hold of us and carrying us through death to life as He rose in victorious life over death on the third day (Phil. 3:10-12 NKJV). This justification is all by grace, as gift, not based on our own merit or worthiness, but being justified in Christ Jesus as gift. As gift, it can never be taken away by any other power. We could reject it, but why would we want to do that? So, being laid hold of by Christ for our justification before God, we are people who always have a future, who are never defeated.
Can we dare to believe that assertion, to make that assertion, in the face of our experience, in the face of death? Paul says yes, we dare. We dare because Christ has laid hold of us and has won it all for us. Because our justification is a gift to us from God for Christ’s sake, it becomes possible to forget what lies behind, to let go the regret, the pain.
Because Christ won our justification in His resurrection, we are empowered to believe that death itself is not defeat, but that He will cause our life to arise out of death. “To know the power of Christ’s resurrection,” Paul says (Phil. 3:10).
Thus, it is possible to reach forward to what is coming. It is possible to be forward looking people; to press on toward the prize; to be people always with a future, a people who are never defeated. This is the promise for anyone who stakes their claim in Christ, the promise Christ makes real.
This perspective from Paul came into interesting focus for me a couple of summers ago when I helped coach a little league baseball team. It was a team of 8 and 9-year olds. Aside from the fundamentals of how to play baseball, I thought an important thing I could do was to teach the youngsters perspective.
The perspective I had in mind comes up when something goes wrong. In baseball, it comes up when errors are made in the field; when the pitching does not go so well during a half inning; when one strikes out with runners in scoring position.
On one occasion, one of our players made an error in the field that allowed the other team to score a couple of runs and take the lead. Let’s call him Tommy.
We finally got through the half inning. Tommy came to the dug out distraught. He was overcome by the fear of having done something wrong and of having let down his team. He was feeling acutely the pain of the loss of how his error allowed the other team to score a couple of runs and take the lead.
Tears were streaming down the face. He was panic stricken.
Having played baseball myself from the time I was seven, having made costly errors myself as a youngster, I knew these things first hand. Who doesn’t who has played baseball?
In this way, baseball and life have some things in common.
Tommy, I said. Where is that play that just happened.
He didn’t catch my meaning at first, so I had to explain. Is it in the past, present, or future?, I said.
It is in the past, he said.
Okay, I said. Is there anything that can be done about it now.
No, he said.
Okay. So, let’s leave it in the past, what do you say? Let us now look forward to the task at hand and the future. You have an at-bat coming up. There are also more innings to play.
It is incredibly difficult in baseball to be able to focus on the task at hand and what lies ahead and press on to the prize of winning the game if one is stuck in the pain, the guilt, the loss, and the fear of the errors that have been made. Being stuck in these things also makes it incredibly difficult to live life.
This is not to take the errors nonchalantly, as if they don’t matter. This is not to avoid responsibility. That was not the issue, with Tommy, as was evident from how distraught he was. It is impossible to hide on a baseball field.
It is a matter of having a basis to leave it in the past, and to more forward so as to be able to press on to the prize that lies ahead. Otherwise, it becomes nearly impossible to play the game going forward. And then, being able to leave it in the past also makes it possible to learn from the past.
Paul is doing for us with his words what I was trying to do for Tommy with my words: to release the guilt; to heal the remorse; to dispel the fear; to settle in the midst of the panic; to give hope where there is failure and loss.
This is the perspective of being forward looking. This perspective makes it possible to take the field again, to make the good play; to do the good.
I think Tommy saw the perspective. The tears and panic stopped. He settled. He played well the rest of the game.
Friends. it is evident that life is much more serious than baseball—except possibly for nine-year olds. Nevertheless, Christ has redeemed us from the curse of law through His death. We are justified by faith in Him. If it were not so, how could the burden of our sins and failures of the past be released before God if we had to be justified by not failing, but not sinning, by not making mistakes? Once we have made mistakes, once we have sinned, it is fixed. We cannot undo it. As our justification is rooted in the redemption Christ has accomplished for us, however, there is the power of release to overcome regret. There is the power to steady us in the midst of the fear and to comfort in the midst of the pain. Christ brings the power of forward looking into our souls and gives us perspective. As such, He steadies us and anchors us in the face of the trials, failures, and difficulties of today, of the present. There is an answer to the fixed mistakes of the past.
In Christ, we are released from the past to walk again, live again, try again, to walk and live and try again in hope. In Christ we dare to believe that we are never defeated. Because Christ has laid hold of us, He turns our gaze around toward the future, forward looking, leaving it in the past and moving forward. We press on to the prize, the prize He has won and, therefore, makes certain for us. Because of the redemption by which Christ Jesus has laid hold of us, we always have a future and the future in Christ is glorious.
May Christ strengthen you with this promise and with His peace.