I once watched an amateur 1500 meters race. It’s a race that is too long for a sprint but too short to pace yourself, so runners don’t hold back something for the end; they just go all out from start to finish [not that I’m claiming any personal experience of this]. As a runner came down the final stretch, one of his cheering fans yelled, “Run! Run faster!” He didn’t want to use too much of his precious remaining energy to respond, but the look he gave communicated perfectly “What the *#* do you think I’m doing??”
As I follow Jesus, I’m often like that cheering fan, yelling to myself, “try, try harder.” Being a goal-oriented person, I’ve taken to heart what Paul says in Philippians 3:12 about pressing on. I vividly remember hearing one sermon on that passage and vowing “Yes, I’m going press on this year. I’m really going to stay on track.” In other words, I’m going to try harder.
Boy, have I missed the point. I have skated over what Paul says a little earlier in verse 3: “We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort.” I keep forgetting that I’m saved by grace, not by works; that my attempts to be righteous are worthless [verse 7]. I keep trying harder to be righteous, even though that’s exactly what didn’t work before and why Jesus had to die for me.
It’s not that conduct doesn’t matter. Paul goes on in verse 19 to talk about some Christians who were getting off track, driven by their appetites, doing shameful things, wrapped up in this world and forgetting about heaven. Grace isn’t cheap.
Then in chapter 4, as Paul goes on, he mentions about some things Christians should do, and it makes an interesting list:
*stay true [like staying on grace and not going back to my attempts to be righteous]
*settle disagreements [funny how I usually don’t think of dealing with conflict as part of my attempts to be righteous]
*pray about everything
*fix my thoughts on praiseworthy things
*keep putting what I’ve learned into practice [and practice is a great way to think about it]
For the most part, these things come from a very different place than my ‘try harder’ place.
So how should I press on? Hebrews 12: 2 suggests by keeping my eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects my faith. And when I keep my eyes on Jesus I see someone who gave up his privileges, took a humble position and lived the life of a loving, obedient servant. I see someone who healed and proclaimed good news, who forgave, who was patient with disciples who didn’t get it, and then who went to the cross and suffered. [Philippians 2:2-8.]
And I also press on by remembering where the source of transformation comes from:
It is God who is working in me, and giving me the desire and power to do what pleases him. [Phillipians 2:13] Amen.