God's Word Faithfully Preached from the Pulpit

The Believers’ Heavenly Ambition (Psalm 73:25-26 and Philippians 3:12-21)

Lahat po tayo familiar dun sa tanong na, “In the next 5-10 years, what do you want to be?” or “How do you see yourself in the next 20-30 years?” And it talks about our ambition—our great desire in life.

And the question for us is, “What should be our ultimate desire and goal in life?”

Our sermon today is entitled, “The Believers’ Heavenly Ambition.” And we’ll be looking at Philippians 3:12-21.

Now, hindi ko po alam kung meron pa po sa inyo nakaka-alala nung aking first sermon dito August last year. It’s from Philippians 3:1-11. And for context of the passage we’ll be looking at, Paul in chapter 3 is warning the Philippians believers to watch out for the Judaizers. These Judaizers were insisting that Gentiles should be circumcized in the flesh as necessary for their righteousness.

But Paul, by his example, explains to them that the true people and worshippers of God are those who worship by the Spirit who indwells them—through faith, rather than through the works of the flesh. They put no trust and confidence in themselves or any righteousness of their own.  Instead, they put their trust only in Christ and his righteousness.

But at the same, they do not only believe in Christ and his righteousness, leading to justification. They also have these new desire and ambitions. True believers desire to be like Christ and will suffer anything for his sake.

Paul said in verse 7: 

“But whatever gain I had (i.e., those external righteousness he mentioned that he once thought to gain something for salvation), 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.”

Seeing the surpassing value and greatness of the free offer of salvation in Jesus Christ, Paul was willing to abandon everything else just to gain Christ… just to be counted as righteous in God’s sight because of Christ’s righteousness… and to experience the power of Christ’s resurrection from the dead (as he mentioned in verse 10-11).

So there’s that change in his desire: Whereas in the past, he was holding on and focusing on his own righteousness—now, he was holding on to Christ and desiring to experience Christ and his saving benefits, even in the face of suffering.

Now, in verse 12 onwards, Paul continues to demonstrate his new desires and ambition as a believer—and that is, striving for perfection. 

A. Believers are Imperfect yet Progressing in Sanctification

Yung sinasabi po ni Paul in verse 11 na “attaining the resurrection from the dead,” hindi niya po tinutukoy yung mismong pagkabuhay muli ng katawan mula sa patay. What he has in mind is the state or reality beyond this mortal life. And what does characterize the resurrected state of believers? Glory, perfection, complete fullness.

  • [v. 12] — That’s why in verse 12, he says, “Not that I have already obtained this (i.e., the complete experience of Christ’s saving benefits) or am already perfect…” 

Paul is making a clarification here. One possible response kasi nung readers niya is, “Well Paul, you have gained Christ through faith, then you are already righteous. You already have new life as a result of Christ’s resurrection. Okay ka na.”

But Paul is clarifying, “No, I am not yet perfect. I am already righteous because of Christ, but still I am not yet complete. It is not yet in fullest measure” 

  • [v. 12] “… but I press on to make it my own (i.e., that perfection), because Christ jesus has made me his own.”

Another way to translate it is, “I press on to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me.” Meaning, I want to possess that perfection for which Christ possessed me. And that tells us that Christ purchased us with his death and sacrifice for the goal of our perfection. Later on, we’ll elaborate on that.

  • [v. 13] Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own [again, Paul is making it clear, I have not yet achieved that perfection]. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on…”

Paul is focused no longer in the past. Whatever is past is past. His mind is fixed on the future, on what’s ahead… he’s focused on the goal. 

So Paul is saying, “I’m not yet perfect. That’s true. But I press on to reach that goal.”

  • [v. 14] “… I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
  • [v. 15] “Let those of us who are mature think this way…”

Paul may be referring here to either those who are truly mature or those who think they are already “perfect” or “complete”. Same kasi yung root word nung “mature” dito sa “perfect” in verse 12. Like the Judaizers who are proud and confident in themselves, there may be those who think they are already “perfect” or “mature.” And Paul is saying, “If you are truly mature, you will understand and admit that you are far from being perfect. And you will be striving for that goal.”

  • [v. 15] “… if you think otherwise [i.e., if that’s not how you view it], God will reveal that also to you [i.e., Paul being imperfect himself is being gracious here].

And whether he’s talking to those who presume to be mature or those who are truly mature, he’s telling them, “Let us hold on to the progress that we have attained.”

  • [v. 16] Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

Whatever progress we make, let us take it and live by it.

In all of this, we learn the following principle: Believers are imperfect yet progressing in sanctification.

Although Paul is already righteous by faith in Christ, he says that he is still not perfect. And this is where we distinguish between justification and sanctification.

Yes, when we believe in Jesus Christ, God imputes Christ’s perfect righteousness to us and justifies us as righteous rather than guilty sinners. We become forgiven and God looks at us as if we have never sinned, as if we are perfect—all because of the perfect righteousness of Christ.

But although we are already justified before God’s holiness, while we are still in this fallen human flesh, we still do not experience the fullness of Christ’s saving benefits to us. As believers, Christ’s complete work of redemption is applied to us by the Spirit. And it is real. But there’s still a fullness of those saving benefits that we await in the consummated state.

We are now freed from the curse and dominion of sin (no more condemnation), but we still struggle with the weaknesses of our sinful flesh. Paul himself expressed it in Romans 7:24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

So even as believers, we remain imperfect. And this makes us humble before God and others. This makes us always dependent on God’s grace.

Nevertheless, as Paul said, though we are imperfect, true believers “press on” towards that goal of perfection. Although we are not perfect and will never be perfect—it is our goal. We strive to possess that perfection for which Christ possessed us.

In many portions of the New Testament, Scriptures affirm that God redeemed and called us not to “remain” in ungodliness and worldliness, but he God us unto “sanctification.” God redeemed us so we will become more and more like Christ.

Let’s read 1 Thessalonians 4:1:

Finally then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please god, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.

So sanctification is not an option for believers. It’s impossible for true believers to say, “Pwede ba mag-tiwala kay Christ pero I’ll keep my lifestyle?” No. Holiness is an inevitable result of Christ’s work. Those who are justified in Christ will also be sanctified.

Hindi rin po natin pwedeng isipin na, “Well, I won’t be perfect in this life anyway, so chill-chill na lang.” Alam niyo po yung pilosopong argument, “Practice makes perfect. But nobody’s perfect, so why practice?”

It doesn’t apply to us believers. Being imperfect in this life keeps us humble, but not complacent. 

Paul says, “I have not yet attained it. But one thing I do…” There’s the doing. Sanctification is active. What is this one thing believers do according to Paul?

“Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead…”

Paul’s past is filled with both bad things and good ones. Sa isang banda, nandun yung mga sin, regret, and disappointments, being a persecutor of the church before. Sa kabilang banda, nandun yung mga achievements, including the good things he did for God. Likewise, we also have those things in the past: both the negative and the positive.

Pero talaga bang kakalimutan na lang natin anuman yung nasa past? As in dapat wala na tayong memory of the past?

  • Not necessarily. One saying goes, “Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.” Being aware of our sins, errors, and disappointments in the past can serve as our protection. They help make us wiser today and in the future. But dwelling in our sins and errors in the past will only make us weak and depressed. Hence, we ought to repent and believe in Christ and take hold of God’s forgiveness.
  • How about the positive things? Achievements are lessons that God is indeed faithful. But dwelling in them will only make us complacent and self-confident/proud. If we’re satisfied already with the past, we won’t desire to grow. Yet God’s Word testifies to us that there’s more and greater things ahead of us.

So in either way—positive past or negative past—we are not to focus on it, but we are to focus on what lies ahead, the goal of the upward or heavenly call of God. We’ll take up that “heavenly goal” in our next sermon point.

But let me end this first sermon point with this. The Christian life is a life of sanctification. And it is ultimately not about perfection per se but direction. 

So let us examine our lives. What is its direction? Are we progressing or regressing? Dalawa lang po yun eh. There’s no middle ground. When we are not actively mortifying sin, we are being overcome by sin. When we are not desiring to know God, our minds are being influenced by other things.

As believers, the Holy Spirit gives us new desires and ambitions. And because Christ has redeemed us, not for condemnation and destruction, but for glory and perfection—let us strive for it.

Now, how are we to strive for sanctification and perfection? Kung hindi tayo dapat mag-focus sa past, saan dapat tayo naka-focus? Paul already mentions it in verses 13-14, but we read more of it verses 17-21. And here we learn our second sermon point: That the believers’ minds are set on heaven, not earthly things.

B. The Believers’ Minds are Set on Heaven, not Earthly Things

Let us consider the passage starting with verse 17:

  • [v. 17] — “… keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.”

It sounds ironic that Paul says, “I’m imperfect, but still imitate me.” Definitely, Paul is not encouraging people to imitate him in his flaws and sins. But rather, his example of progressing in the faith, his example of becoming more like Christ.

Paul said this to the Corinthian believers in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Imitate me as I imitate Christ. So it is not man-centered. Sadly, marami po kasing mga churches ngayon, people are encouraged to look up to their pastor or cell leader and be like them, rather than Jesus Christ. Nangyayari, yung tao na yung standard, hindi si Cristo.

But Paul is saying here, “imitate us in our godliness… in our walk and growth in sanctification.” Why?

  • [v. 18] — “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.”

The example of faithful believers keeps the Philippian believers from falling into the same state of these “enemies” of Christ. Like Hebrews 12:1, which states that the cloud of witnesses—the examples of those who were faithful until the end—encourages us to be faithful as well. Likewise, here, the examples of godliness in fellow believers helps encourage us towards godliness as well.

Kaya malaking blessing po satin when we gather every Lord’s Day and we learn more of God’s sanctifying work in the lives of our fellow believers (despite imperfections). Kasi kahit po online, kung ang fina-follow po natin ay mga worldly people—what will we expect? It will influence us towards worldliness.

It’s not explicit kung sino tinutukoy ni Paul dito na “enemies of the cross of Christ.” It could be the Judaizers, who insist on external righteousness but inwardly live in self-gratification. Or it could be the worldly people in general. In either case, Paul speaks of their condition.

  • [v. 19] — “Their end is destruction (i.e., judgment), their god is their belly (i.e., self-gratification, pleasures), and they glory in their shame (i.e., shameful things, like immorality), with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven…” 

In context po, Philippi is strategic military and economic colony of the Roman empire. Somehow we get the idea in Acts 16 that it is a wealthy city. And like any other city in the Roman empire, their citizens must be looking up to Rome constantly and putting their hope in it. Hence, the people are drawn to all earthly gain, wealth, and passions that Rome offers to them, and the believers are tempted to it.

But Paul reminds them that their true citizenship is in heaven. While they are citizens of Rome, their ultimate allegiance and hope is in heaven, not Rome. They should look to Christ, not Caesar.

If we look at church history, this has always been the lesson for Christians. Whether there’s persecution, progress in society leading to worldliness, or the collapse of societies—all these prove that we cannot fix our minds on earthly things or live for earthly things.

Let’s keep this in mind: Worldly aspirations and ambitions lead to worldly lifestyle. But as believers, we are mere pilgrims in this world. Our goal is not to be settled and secured here on earth.

And what do we look forward to in heaven?

This doesn’t mean we should no longer be concerned about our needs here in life. It doesn’t also mean that getting rich is necessarily evil. But sadly, for example, today’s culture says that the best ambition in life is to get rich while young. As believers, whatever God calls us to in this life, our ambition is to glorify him and enjoy him forever. Our mindset is not limited to this temporary life, but in the life to come. Our true desire is not the pleasures of this life, but the pleasures of heaven.

  • [v. 20-21] — But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself (i.e., his power gives the assurance of our resurrection to glory).

Christ will transform our lowly bodies into glory. And this is in contrast with those who are the enemies of Christ. As they set their minds in earthly thing and misuse their bodies for self-gratification, they remain in sin and are headed towards destruction. But those whose citizenship and focus is in heaven, glory awaits them.

And from this let me exhort everyone, that if your mind is still set on the things and pleasures of this world, you are as enemies of the cross of Christ. You may think you gain pleasure, but it is all temporal and corrupt. And the end of it all is destruction. But the cross of Christ declares forgiveness and salvation, and those who put their faith in Christ will not live to the end of this life in vain and condemnation. Rather, those who are in Christ will live with him in glory in the last days. So repent and believe in him, and set your mind no longer in this passing world, but in the far greater things—the things of God.

And for those of us who believe in Christ, but continue to struggle in this life—being tempted by the cares and pleasures of this world—let this be both a reminder and encouragement for us. Our end is sure. Christ already secured our glorious resurrection by his own resurrection, and we will not be waiting for that day in vain. And as John said in 1 John 3:3, “Everyone who has this hope… purifies himself as he is pure.” 

Let us hear Paul’s similar exhortation in Colossians 3:1:

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now [now that you are in Christ, now that your hope is heaven] you must put them all away:..”

Why love the passing and corrupt pleasures of this world, when there is eternal glory and greatest pleasures in heaven for those who are in Christ?

This also encourages us that despite all our trials and afflictions in this life, our end is a reward of glory. We remain steadfast because we know that at the end of all this, we shall be resurrected and be made perfect. We shall see Christ our Savior and be with him in perfect comfort forever.

So is that our ultimate ambition? Is that our ultimate desire while living in this life? Are we striving to experience all the pleasures and benefits of this world? Or are we striving to behold and experience the fullness of God in heaven?

Indeed, the Christian life is a marathon. There will be times when we get tired, fall or sidetracked. But why do we still continue in our faith and worship? Because the Spirit helps us persevere and we know our future is sure. We fix our eyes on that goal of the future glory with Christ that is worth our perseverance. We long for the fullness of experiencing God’s saving work, which is sure according to the promise of our faithful God.

To end, God through the Spirit produces in us the new desires in our heart and the strength to persevere in our sanctification. And he also gives us a blessed hope, a reason why we should continue persevering and holding on to our faith. And that is Christ himself and the fullness of his redemptive work in us.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the end of our race is a glorious reward. And our cry, “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.” May God through his Spirit continue to help us lay aside any weight or sin that clings to us, and let us press on and run the race until the end.

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