“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me
heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
– Philippians 3:14
Some sixty years before Abraham Lincoln fought to abolish slavery in the United States, William Wilberforce was fighting to do the same in Great Britain. Wilberforce devoted fifty years of his life to the fight against slavery, and at times, he felt like giving up. At one point about ten years into his fight, he felt very discouraged. But his spirit was reinvigorated as he read a note in his Bible from John Wesley. Wesley wrote, “If God be for you [in the fight against slavery], who can be against you? Are all of them together stronger than God? Oh, be not weary of well-doing. Go on in the name of God, and in the power of His might.”
With a newfound passion, Wilberforce continued his fight. And it paid off. In 1807 the slave trade began to be dissolved, and over the next thirty years slavery was systematically eliminated throughout England. Wilberforce died on July 30, 1833—almost fifty years after he had begun his fight. And two days after his death—on August 1, 1833—British parliament voted to abolish slavery in Great Britain. William Wilberforce fought the good fight, and he finished the race. And so should we.
In Philippians 4:12-16, the Apostle Paul uses a wonderful sports analogy to describe his personal pursuit of Christlikeness. And along the way he makes it clear that it should be our pursuit as well. Just as an Olympic marathon runner musters every bit of his energy and grit as he strains toward the finish line, we as Christians should give our full effort to being conformed to the image of Christ. Remember that sanctification is the process of becoming more and more like Jesus. It’s the main reason that God saved us from our sins. Christlikeness is God’s goal for our lives. Therefore, it should be our personal goal as well.
And in Philippians 4:12-16 Paul lists six vital steps in our race toward Christlikeness. For the sake of space, here are three. #1: Pursue Christlikeness with maximum effort. Paul writes in verse 12: “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” Any successful pursuit of Christlikeness must begin with spiritual dissatisfaction. You and I can’t be content to stay where we are spiritually. If we think that our spiritual growth is “good enough,” we’ll never cross the finish line. But our dissatisfaction must grow legs. We must give the pursuit of Christlikeness our full effort. Just as a sprinter persistently presses on toward the finish line and the hunter doggedly pursues his prey, so too must we as Christians press on toward the goal of speaking, acting, loving and prioritizing like Christ.
#2: Pursue Christlikeness with focused concentration. Paul writes in verse 13: “Brothers, 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.” Pastor John MacArthur summarizes Paul’s teaching very well as he writes: “A maximum effort without focused concentration is useless…. Believers cannot live on past victories, nor should they be debilitated by the guilt of past sins.” Very well said! One of Satan’s schemes is to get you to dwell on the past in order to distract you from the growth God has in mind for you in the present. At times, Satan throws our past failures in our faces in the effort to drown us in guilt and fear. And at other times, he throws our past successes in our faces to get us to rest on our laurels and embrace complacency. But spiritual growth requires our focused concentration on the finish line ahead.
#3: Pursue Christlikeness without giving up. Paul writes in verse 16: “Only let us keep living up to what we have already attained.” Paul emphasizes that we should never let up on our efforts to become more and more like Jesus. Until our dying day we must keep striving to become like our sinless, selfless, God-honoring, life-transforming Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We must lock arms with other Christians and pursue this goal with everything we’ve got. The stakes are very high. And we have no time to spare. The world can’t afford for us to take a vacation from our holy pursuit.
At the base of one of the Swiss Alps, there’s a marker honoring a man who fell to his death attempting to ascend the mountain. The epitaph reads simply, “He died climbing.” If you ask me, this should be the epitaph of every Christian. On our ascent to the ultimate goal of Christlikeness, we died climbing.
Here on earth, will we ever become thoroughly Christlike? No, we won’t. Our character won’t be completely like Christ’s until he grants us that perfection on Judgment Day. But here on earth we can get very close to Christlikeness—just like Paul. So, our Lord Jesus Christ has made our mission clear: With Christlikeness as the finish line before us, we must keep running with maximum effort, keep focusing our eyes on the finish line and keep refusing to give up. Paul did it. William Wilberforce did it. And you and I can do it as well.
Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information,
visit www.fccvv.com and join us for worship Sundays at 10 am.