Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
In the verses we covered in the last section, Paul was telling us about giving up his past to follow Christ to salvation and eternal life, and you will recall that he called all of his past accomplishments “garbage” in comparison to what he would gain as a follower of Jesus. Now, in some of the most memorable verses in the whole New Testament, Paul tells us that he still has a way to go before he will reach his goal. Before we get into these verses, I would like to remind you that he is still speaking in the context of being “worthy of the gospel” which is a theme he began back in the first chapter.
Verse 12 is quite telling: Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. If we aren’t careful, we might misunderstand this verse. At first glance, it would seem to mean that Paul hasn’t yet arrived at Christ-like perfection, and that would be true. However, is that what Christ took hold of Paul for? Is that what He took hold of you for? Is that why Christ died on the cross? No, it clearly is not why Christ “took hold” of Paul or any of us, for in order for Christ to take hold, He first had to die, so we need to take the cross into account. As I see it, the key to understanding this lies back in verses 10-11: I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Why did Christ die on the cross? It was for forgiveness of sins, that we might receive the gift of eternal life (John 3:16). What was Paul’s goal in all of this, and what is he urging us to embrace? The same thing (Phil. 3:11). Paul has not yet attained the goal of eternal life; he is still alive in the body, so there is still work to on this earth.
Let’s be careful that we don’t stray too far from the path here; it isn’t that Paul is seeking to earn his salvation, for that is assured through grace by faith. Paul is still in this life concerned with his response to salvation, and that’s where being Christlike comes in. Paul’s goal is eternity, his journey to eternity is by imitating Christ and spreading the gospel, and by the way, that’s our journey as well.