12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.
13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,
14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
I read a really wonderful article yesterday about defining yourself. It was nothing I hadn’t heard before, but the way the author put it was very potent. The gist of the article was that we should not find our identity in our names or occupations, not in our nationalities nor our personalities, not even in our families or friends. The identity that really matters is our association with Christ Jesus our Lord. We are no longer who we were BEFORE Christ, we are who we have become WITH Christ: co-heirs with Him of the glory of God.
In today’s passage, Paul – who has already suffered so much for the gospel – tells us he doesn’t feel he has attained to the “resurrection of the dead.” (v.11) But Paul says that he presses on, leaving behind those things which are part of his past and instead reaching forward to those things which are yet to come. What lies ahead? The “prize of the upward call of God” – i.e. eternal life with our loving Father God through Christ Jesus His Son.
Paul knows who he has been – a Jew, a Roman, a “Pharisee of Pharisees,” a legalistic teacher, a persecutor of Christ, and a man who watched as saints were stoned to death. All those things are still part of Paul, but the greatest part, the one that truly matters, is his heart that is given to Christ. All the good AND bad things of the past mean nothing when compared with knowing Jesus Christ. Paul is no longer defined by who he was but by who he is becoming in Christ Jesus. Paul holds fast to the hope of the glory of God, knowing that even while he struggles upward to be the man whom Christ wishes him to be, that same Savior is pulling him upward toward God.
Brothers and sisters, we all have our checkered pasts – and some a checkered present – but we need not be defined by those things. We should instead be defined by Christ, whose righteousness is ours through faith. Lay hold of that faith, grasp that hope, and never lose sight of the person you are becoming. We have been given an “upward call.” Let us respond to that call and leave our past behind for a glorious future with Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior.
Gracious Father, why are we so surprised that You love us so much? Help us to not dwell upon who we have been. Instead, teach us, guide us, conform us to the image of Your Son, that we may live lives of fruitful faith. Define my life, Lord God, through You. Amen.