by Will Dole
Press on. What kind of name is that for a column? As I thought more about this proposed name, I decided it fit well with the topic about which I most enjoy writing: the pursuit of holiness. This name was inspired by the words of the apostle Paul at Philippians 3:12, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”
Paul tells us he has not obtained his goal, in other words, he isn’t perfect, yet he keeps pressing toward his goal. This begs a few questions: What is his goal? What does he mean when he says Christ took hold of him for this purpose? And, what exactly does pressing on entail?
We find the answer to the first question in the previous verse where Paul talks about leaving the things of this world behind. In verses 3-11 of chapter 3, he is chasing after the righteousness of Christ – a righteousness that does not come from following the law, but through faith in Christ. Elsewhere, Paul states that righteousness comes by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8, 9).
Paul explains that this goal is the very purpose for which Christ took hold of him. The pervading sense in our current-day church culture is that Jesus died on the cross to save us from hell, but that’s not Paul’s focus in this passage. He says the very purpose for which Christ took hold of him was to mold him to righteousness. This is consistent with what we find elsewhere in the New Testament, most notably in Matthew 28:19a, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations.” Jesus calls us to discipleship. We often think of the Great Commission as a mandate to convert sinners, but it is also, in fact, a call to discipleship. Christ wants to draw us to Himself and call us His very own. We should not only claim Him as Savior, but worship Him as Lord, and be transformed by His power. Jesus’ work on the cross provides us with a lot more than a life preserver to keep us from hell. He provides, through faith, grace and strength to live our lives in a way that honors Him. (See also James 1:22, Phil. 2:12, 1 Peter 1:15-16 and Habakkuk 2:4).
So how do we press on toward this transformation that brings honor to Him? Paul sums it up quite nicely in the latter half of verse 13, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead…,” or as he also says, putting off the old man, and taking on a new self entirely (Ephesians 4:22-24). If our purpose is to be molded into righteousness, if our very salvation is for that purpose, then everything else ought to reflect this fact. We are called to focus upon God and His word, in order to prioritize our goals and purpose. We can’t live compartmentalized lives, putting God in a box that is pulled out when we find it convenient. On the contrary, God is to be the very center of our lives, and we must press on, waging war against our sin nature in order that we might serve Him alone (Ephesians 6:12).
Sounds great in theory, doesn’t it? But don’t assume that this is all rhetoric – nice Bible stuff that has no real-world application. The opposite it true – this is the ultimate real-world application. Here’s a fact: life sucks. We live in a broken, sinful, messed-up world. We’re all dealing with garbage – maybe relationship problems, stress at the workplace or in school, a loved one with cancer. Whatever it is, if we are trying to live through it without God – His love, peace and hand in our lives – we will become overwhelmed. I know, because it happens to me more than I care to admit.
Later in Philippians 4, Paul tells us not to be anxious, but to take it all to God (4:6). This is the key to pressing on in following Christ: He knows that we, in our own power, cannot live like Him. Our Savior understands – He has walked the same road we walk. Our pressing on is not an effort to somehow earn God’s pleasure or His love. He already poured out His love to us in a way that we could never measure, by giving His Son. No, we press on out of love.
Jesus Christ laid down His life and was separated from His heavenly Father so that we might walk in a Father/son relationship with God. Wow! No, we don’t need to earn anything. We press on in love and gratitude for this Savior who gave us His all. He calls us to be holy as we follow Him. He’s not doing this in an arbitrary way, but because He loves us and wants what is best of us. Isn’t that amazing?
In view of all this, press on is the least I can do.