The Cycle of the Christian Life
The Cycle of the Christian Life 7.19.20
As we continue on in this COVID-19 pandemic and as we continue having church in a limited capacity, I realize that we might have some new people who have never come to our church joining us via livestream. I’ve might not had the opportunity to meet you, though you’ve seen me on a number of occasions. Let me take this opportunity to introduce myself. My name is Chance Sumner, and I serve here as Senior Pastor. I serve alongside Pastor Jesse Sternke. We are thankful that you could join us this morning. We would love to hear from you, would love to have you reach out. If you have any question about our church, what we teach, or what I say here this morning, please e-mail me at email@example.com. You can also e-mail Pastor Jesse at as well. We would love to hear from you.
We have been going through the book of Philippians for some time in our church. I looked back at my previous sermons in Philippians and found out that we started this book on September 22, 2019. Wow! That’s a long time. We’re almost into August. I think our study of Philippians will go into next year, 2021. Pastor Jesse plans to preach in late October, early November. And also I plan on doing an Advent series when we get close to Christmas. So with those breaks from the book combined with the material we have left to cover in Philippians I think that means we will continue Philippians into the new year.
Let’s go ahead and open up our Bibles to Phil 3:10. This will be the only passage we cover this morning. Paul writes this,
Not that I have already obtained this or mam already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
With this verse, Paul is transitioning to a new section in the book of Philippians. If you look at verse 12 in your Bibles, you might have a new subheading above v. 12. In the ESV, the new subheading reads, “Straining Toward the Goal.” Now it is important to remember that these subheadings are not inspired by God. That is, they are there because the editors of the Bible thought they would help Christians understand their Bibles better. These subheadings are like chapters and verses. The Bible did not originally contain chapters and verses. This addition occurred in the 16th century. The breakdown of the Bible into chapters and verses is not inspired. However, breaking down the Bible with chapters and verses is very helpful for locating specific pats of Scripture. That how the subheadings are. They are not inspired but they are helpful for understanding the Bible better.
This ESV subheading, “Straining Toward the Goal,” helpful illumines what this next chunk of Philippians is about. It’s about perseverance. It’s about continuing to press on in the process of sanctification. We will be covering this theme a lot in the next coming weeks. The next subheading occurs in the ESV after 4:1. Do you see that? There again Paul will change his topic. From 3:12–4:1 we will be covering the topic of perseverance in sanctification.
This morning’s passage will deal with perseverance. In this passage, we will observe three different points of perseverance. Perseverance entails all of these points. In the Christian life, we all will experience each of these points at some time. What we’re going to see is that
perseverance, the Christian life is like a cycle. There are three points in this cycle. Let’s begin by looking at the first point of this cycle.
The first point this morning is this, “Failure.” What I mean by this point is that in the Christian life we are all going to fail. We are all going to sin, and we are all going to make mistakes. There is an inevitability to failure. Failure is going to happen to you in the Christian life. So long as you are in the flesh, you will both sin and mess up. That’s what this point is about.
Looking at the passage. Paul begins it by stating,
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect
With the first two words, “not that,” Paul indicates that he is offering a clarification regarding his previous teaching. Sometimes when we are discussing some issue with someone we might say to them, “Let me be clear what I am not saying,” and then we will proceed to offer clarification. Last week I did this when I discussed what Paul means by the resurrection from the dead in v. 12. I said that the resurrection from the dead DOES NOT MEAN that we are reincarnated, that we become angels, or that we will exist forever in heaven as disembodied spirits. I wanted to be clear about what I mean so I offered clarification regarding what the resurrection from the dead is not.
That’s what Paul is doing here with these two words at the beginning, “not that.” In v. 11, Paul discussed the resurrection from the dead. What Paul is saying in v. 12 is a clarification of what he said in v. 11. Paul offers in v. 12 a clarification of what he himself thinks of his own attaining of the resurrection. Specifically, what Paul is saying in v. 12 is that he has not attained this resurrection of the dead. He is not perfect. He is not a finished product. That’s what v. 12 is about.
Paul communicates this denial in two ways in v. 12. He first says, according to the ESV, “Not that I have already obtained this.” There is an ambiguity here in the English that is a faithful representation of the Greek. The ambiguity concerns the “this.” Paul says, “I have yet to obtain ‘this.” Well, what’s the “this?” Paul does not specify in v. 12.
However, the context makes it clear. Looking above v. 12, there are a couple of options to chose from. We could conclude that what Paul has not obtained is the resurrection mentioned in v. 12. That works very nicely. Or, it could refer to obtaining a purer form of the knowledge of Christ that comes via the resurrection. In 3:8, just a couple verses above, Paul says,
I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
And then in v. 10 Paul mentions,
That I may know him
Paul could be alluding to an obtaining of a purer, greater knowledge of Christ which comes after death via the resurrection. I don’t think the specifics matter all that much. Whether it’s the resurrection or the amplified knowledge of Christ that comes because of the resurrection. It does matter. What is clear is that Paul is saying that he has not arrived yet. He is not resurrected and he is a work in progress.
Paul repeats that point again in v. 12 with the statement,
Or am already perfect
First Paul says, “not that I have already obtained this.” Then he says something that is very similar to this first statement. He says, “nor am I already perfect.” I want us to understand what Paul says here in relation to the resurrection from the dead mentioned in v. 11. What I believe Paul is saying is that when he is resurrected, he will be perfected—that is, God will complete, will finish the work of salvation in Paul’s life. The physical resurrection is the telos, the goal of the Christian life. When that happens, Paul will be “perfected.”
However, as we saw already in this verse, Paul has not been resurrected yet. So, therefore, he is not been perfected yet. Paul is reiterating the point once again that he is still a work in progress. He has a long way to go. He is a work in progress.
What Paul discusses in the beginning of v. 12 has some powerful application for us in our understanding of our own Christian lives. The inevitability of our own failings in the Christian life is an essential truth that we also must confirm and believe in our hearts. I imagine that all of us would affirm this truth on paper. We know what Rom 3:23 says, “For all have sin and fall short of the glory of God.” We all know that verse. We all believe that verse. We all believe that we all sin and make mistakes.
Some dear Christians, though, struggle believing this truth in their heart. Some of you likely have a perfectionist personality. Now my personality is not a perfectionist one, far from it. I’m very content to procrastinate and not be super organized. For some of you, though, you never procrastinate, and you are always striving for an ideal picture of yourself. And these tendencies blead into the Christian life. You approach your walk with Christ like you approach life, as a perfectionist. There are advantages to this, but problems arise when you fail in your walk with Christ. Let’s say you unintentionally hurt someone in your life. You sin against someone. You apologize, they forgive you, and that’s that. You can’t move on, though. Your flooded with thoughts of guilt and self-hatred. You think to yourself, “How could you do this? Why did you do this?” Is this you this morning, dear Christian? The problem with this is that your expectations of yourself are unrealistic. Dear friends, we are going to fail. We are going to sin and make mistakes. When we do so, this should not surprise us. Failure shouldn’t surprise us.
If this is you, remember this truth:
It’s OK to not be OK.
Holiness matters, amen. I one hundred percent affirm that. This side of eternity, though, our holiness will always be partial and incomplete. God’s purpose in this is not for you to wallow in self-loathing. Christ heart is for broken sinners. He wants you just the way you are—imperfect and broken. As he himself said, It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” We need to know and remember that we will fail. Expect that. Don’t disregard this truth.
Further, not only do we need to expect our own failings, we also need to remember that other people to fail. We need to believe this truth, not just for ourselves, but for others as well. In life, people who are close to you are going to fail. They will sin and they will make mistakes. When it happens, dear friend, we must extend to one another grace, mercy, and patience. For your spouse, for your friends, for your kids, for your brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, for your pastors, other people can and will fail. This is going to happen in the body of Christ. Be patient with the failings of others. And for some of you might need A LOT of patience with others.
Remember, dear friend, we are all a work in progress. Going back to the imagery of the Pilgrim’s Progress. All of us Christians are on a journey to the Celestial City. Along the way, we all stumble and fall. When you see your fellow Christian stumble and fall, be patient with them. Love them. Extend them grace upon grace, just like the Lord Jesus does for you. Jesus comes for weak and needy sinners. Be patient with the faults of others.
Now Paul doesn’t end there, does he? No, he doesn’t. There is more to the Christian life, to perseverance than just failure. Here we are transitioning to my second point. The second point is this, “Effort.” First point was “failure,” second point is “effort.” The Christian life involves failing yet trying to not fail.
Looking again at the passage. Paul says,
Not that I have already obtained this or mam already perfect [we just covered that], but I press on to make it my own
Paul is saying this to us. Yes, dear Philippians, I am a man of many faults, failings, and sins. That is true. So true, brothers and sisters. We must extend to ourselves and to others the expectation of failure. We must. Remember: it’s okay to not be okay.
But here Paul brings in another element of truth for us. Paul knows he will fail. Yes. But he is not satisfied with that. Look what he says. He says,
But I press on to make it my own
Paul acknowledges his failures, but he also acknowledges that he is not OK with not being OK. He is not content with the sin and failings in his life. Yes, he is a work in progress, but that is not an excuse for sin. Paul is dead set here, dead set on progressing in the Christian life.
This dead-setness and discontentment with sins and failings is seen in three different ways in this little portion of Scripture. First, notice the “but” at the beginning of this clause. Paul does not say,
Not that I have already obtained this or mam already perfect, and I press on to make it my own.
Paul does not use “and” here. He uses “but.” “But” and “and” are different, they communicate different ideas. “But” is contrastive. With “but,” Paul is making a contrast between what he says at the beginning of the verse and what he says later. Paul is saying, “Yes, it’s true that I fail and am not who I need to be, but that’s not the whole truth.” Yes, I do sin, but that doesn’t mean that that’s OK or acceptable to God.
The second indication we get from the text that Paul is not OK with failure and sin in his life comes from the word “press on.” This verb can be defined in several different ways. All of these different ways emphasize toil and striving. Listen to all of the different definitions.
to move rapidly and decisively toward an objective; to harass or persecute someone; to drive away or drive out; and to follow in haste to find something.
I want you to see that all of these different meanings of this word all suggest a fervency and passion. Paul is saying, “While I’m not perfect, I am pressing on, straining on, striving after in this Christian walk.”
What is he striving after? He is striving to grasp future glorification. Paul says,
But [we covered that] I press on [we covered that] to make it my own.
The “it” that he wants to “make his own” is final glorification. Paul is striving after completing the work that Christ gave him. This “make my own” verb. It means this,
to make something one’s own, to win, to attain.
You can’t make something “one own” and “win” and “attain” without effort. This verb assumes effort and exertion. Paul strives to attain the future glorification.
Bringing all of these small points together, what I am saying? I am saying this. Paul confesses he is a work in process. He affirms that. We covered that in our previous point. That confession, however, does not mean that Paul is content with spiritual failure and laziness. Paul is and will remain imperfect, but he does not use that as an excuse to not try. On the contrary, Paul speaks with very forceful words that so long as he is in this life, so long as he has breath in his lungs, he will strive with all his might to have his life shaped and gripped by the grace of God.
In other words, the inevitability of sin is not an excuse to sin. Even considering our failure, God calls us to press on. You will fail in this life, dear friend, but you have to fight with all your might not to. Yes, it is OK to not be OK. Jesus takes us as we are. However, it is not OK to be OK with not being OK. Never, ever be content with sin and failings. You will fail but don’t ever settle for failure.
Paul point here teaches us an important truth in the Christian life. Sometimes the greatest indicator of one’s spiritual health is not the degree of victory or success they have in their fight
against sin, but rather in the degree of desire that they have to fight for victory and success. Let me say that again. Sometimes, the greatest indicator of one’s spiritual health is not the degree of victory or success they have in their fight against sin, but rather in the degree of desire that they have to fight for victory and success.
That’s what we see here with Paul. Paul acknowledges his failure, shortcoming, and sin. He acknowledges that he’s still a work in progress. But is still presses, still strains, still strive.
In Christianity, we have to have this “never give up” attitude. We got to have this. We have to say, deep down in our hearts, that we’re going to keep striving after Christ. How’s your desire for this this morning, dear friend? What’s your level of desire regarding this issue?
This type of drive is antithetical to complacency in the Christian faith. We have to turn from this tendency of complacency. Complacency says, “I’m OK not being OK.” Dear friend, that’s the wrong way. That’s not the attitude that we see modeled with Christ. Are you OK not being OK? If you are, you need to some repenting. You need to ask the Lord to deliver you from that type of tendency.
The last point this morning, here we finish up this sermon with one last point. It’s this: “Grace.” With this point, we want to answer the question, “What is the basis of Paul’s striving? How is it that Paul could strive with all his might to persevere, in light of his difficulties and failings? How is it he could do that? The answer, dear friend, is grace.
Looking with me at the text. Reading the whole verse, Paul says,
Not that I have already obtained this or mam already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
We’re going to focus on the last statement Paul makes in this verse for our third point: “because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” The way the ESV takes this last statement is it provides the basis for why Paul strives after godliness. Why does he do this? “Because,” the ESV reads, “Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Now other versions do not have this “because.” They might have something like what the NIV has. The newest addition of the NIV reads,
but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
The ESV has “because”; the NIV has “that for which.” Which one is right? I’m not sure. But I contend that theologically it doesn’t matter that much. What Paul is teaching (however it is he does that) here what he teaches throughout his letters. The basis of the Christian’s striving after godliness, the reason why Christians do that, the reason why he strives to lay hold of the future resurrection of the dead, is because Christ has laid hold of this first and foremost. In other words, our laying hold of Christ is based upon Christ laying hold of us. We pursue Christ because he first pursued us.
Some commentators point our that what Paul is referring to is his Damascus Road experience. In other words, when did Christ Jesus make Paul his own? On the Damascus Road. Paul’s whole
life is a reliving of that moment. At that moment, the Son of God gripped Paul. Christ laid hold of Paul and wouldn’t let him go. Christ arrested Paul. He said to Paul, “You are mine, Paul. You are my chosen vessel to take the gospel to the Gentiles.” What Paul is saying is his lifelong pursuit, the drive of his life is to live out what Christ did for him on that Damascus Road.
Paul laid hold of what Christ has already laid hold of. Paul strives, yes. That’s clear. But he labors because of grace. He labors because Christ has labored for him. He seeks to lay hold of what Christ has already done. Paul’s response, his efforts, are based in grace.
At the end of the day, dear friend, the ultimate reality of the Christian life is grace. And that grace is given to us in the person and work of Christ. It’s all about Jesus. Yes, Paul models perseverance here, and I am trying to encourage and teach that myself. Effort matters in the Christian life. If you claim the name of Christ but you show little to no effort in living that faith out, you are not in a good situation. However, even in your striving, you’re going to fail. You’re going to fail in your striving. Your holiness is always partial in this life. Even your best efforts for Christ fail to meet his standard. Victory in this life is partial. Holiness is partial. Yes it matters but at the end of the day we await final victory, final redemption in the next life. We are not as we ought to be. In this life, we struggle and fail. Even on our best days of striving we don’t measure up. What this leaves us with is that we are back to our very first point. At the end of the day, dear friend, we are broken and needy sinners.
This point has been made very clear to me recently. This week has brought some pastorally difficulty situations. Dealing with my owns sins, my own failings as a Christian, husband, father, friend, and pastor. The process of sanctification is difficult, amen? We are all sinners. It’s difficult to see your own failings and shortcomings. Our community has been gripped with the tragic death of a young man. Such a difficult situation. I also heard this week of an 8-year-old boy, who is the son of a missionary, pass away while the family was on the mission field. Pain, misery, and death. Life can smack you right in the face sometimes, you know. That’s how I’ve felt.
This week I listened to this podcast this week about a book that I highly recommend. It’s called Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers. I have the book right here. I highly recommend it. Buy it, read it, share it. During the podcast, the author of the books talks about Christ’s heart. This is what the author says,
The audience of the book is for any Christian who feels defeated in life, or who’s Christian discipleship feels like running up a descending escalator. It’s for all of us. We are all sinners and we are all sufferers. We are all moving through life in pain. In different ways, in different levels of intensity. What I want to show through this book is that Jesus is attracted, not repelled, by our brokenness, sin, and pain. He actually moves into your space of sin and brokenness and towards your sin and brokenness.
Dear friends, that the type of Savior we have. He knows our feeble state. He knows our neediness. He knows of our pain and brokenness. He knows of our guilt and our shame. His heart is to not run from us when we are like us but to come to us with mercy and grace when we are like this.
In perseverance, in the Christian life, we never graduate from this basic truth. We start from a position of weakness and sin, we strive with all our might to flee from our weakness and sin, and we come back to Christ again and again as broken, weak, sinful people. And he welcomes us, arms open wide. And it is in his embrace where we find the love, grace, and acceptance that we so desperately long for.
Bringing this all to a conclusion. The Christian life is a cycle of failure, effort, and grace. The ultimate reality of it all is Jesus. I want to conclude this morning by ending with his heart for you. He loves you, dear friend. We’re sinners, we strive for holiness, but are in constant need of our Lord and Savior. He has laid hold of you, Christian, and will never let go. Come to him for healing and refreshment.