Pressing Toward the Mark

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. —Philippians 3:13-14

     It is an undeniable fact that the reason God’s saints make such little progress in the ways of God is simply because they put forth very little effort to progress in God’s ways. I know, as all saints do, that spiritual growth, maturity, and progress are the products of grace, the results of God’s work within us; however, I also know that, if we lean back in our chairs, fold our arms across our chests, and do nothing by way of practical effort to attain to higher levels of devotion and godliness, we will be nothing and go nowhere in the kingdom of God. And before we know it, twenty years have passed since our new birth, and we are still in spiritual diapers, still crawling about on all fours, and still drinking milk from a religious sippy cup. No child of God should be content with such retarded religious growth and such anemic spiritual progress. Every believer ought to strive and labor, as Paul did, to attain unto the full maturity of spiritual adulthood. Brethren, let us resolve this day to press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. This is our calling, and this our responsibility.    
     In the verse leading into our text, in verse 12, Paul says, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.” This great apostle to the Gentiles, even after nearly thirty years of glorious growth and progression in the kingdom of God, frankly acknowledges that he was still terribly deficient in spirituality. He had not attained, nor was he perfect and full grown as a Christian in any department of true religion, but his deficiency did not hinder him from following after perfection and striving to attain it. He earnestly desired to fullness of growth and maximum maturity in the divine life. He fervently craved and passionately sought perfect conformity to the image of Jesus Christ—to know Christ fully, to love Christ completely, to trust Christ supremely, to follow Christ wholeheartedly, and to live for Christ totally. This is why Christ apprehended Paul—that he might be perfect in every area of spirituality, lacking nothing—and this perfection is the very thing that Paul himself strived to apprehend. For Paul, to live was Christ!  
     Paul says in our text, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended.” But did that keep him from laboring to apprehend perfection? No, in no wise, for he goes on to say, “But this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Oh, brethren, make this your one and only ambition—progress. Not many things, not three things, and not two things, but “this one thing I do,” Paul says. He had one godly resolve, one holy determination, one overarching Christ-centered ambition that dwarfed and overshadowed all else. This one thing he constantly attended to and earnestly pursued. It engrossed all his thoughts, desires, affections, time, energy, and efforts. Paul must not look back, and he must not sit still. He must move forward. He must follow on to know the Lord, serve the Lord, grow in the Lord, and become like his Lord in all things.  
     Brethren, like Paul, we must forget the past, those things which are behind. If we live in the past, we will be of no use in the present, and we will have no reason to believe that we will be useful in the future. Forget the past—it’s water under the bridge, as they say. Forget all past works of righteousness, all former labors, attainments, services, and fruitfulness, and simply focus on what lies ahead: new endeavors, new growth, new victories, new doors of opportunity, and new fields of service. Having put your hand to the plow, don’t look back. The only way to successfully plow a straight row is to keep your eyes ahead of you. What’s plowed is plowed; it’s behind you, so don’t look back.
     Forget the past, brethren, and as an Olympic runner who is crossing the finish line, stretch yourself out to the uttermost with every fiber of your being, and reach forth unto those things that are before. No athlete ever won a race without real effort and real strain on his muscles. Likewise, in the race of faith you must actually exert yourself. How else can you obtain the prize? Do you think it will somehow magically fall into your lap? That’s not grace; that’s laziness and presumption.
     Diligently apply yourself to progress as Christians, brethren, laboring day by day to advance toward the goal. Reach out, saints. Stretch out your souls, and grasp for perfection. Do not be content with a mere entry into the kingdom of God. Oh, no! God forbid! Reach forth unto those things that are before—perfect knowledge, perfect devotion, perfect self-denial, perfect commitment to Christ, perfect praise, perfect worship, perfect witnessing, perfect courage, perfect obedience, and perfect conformity to the Son. I assure you, there is plenty of room for improvement and growth in every area of your life as a believer. Where are you not lacking? You have not yet attained unto perfection, but you should be striving to every single day. You cannot do more, but you dare not do less.
     Press toward the mark, brethren. Press through the noise, through the confusion, through the distractions, through the world, through the disinclinations of the flesh, through the temptations of the enemy, through every earthly hindrance, and through every difficulty. This matter of pressing forward is so important, and yet, very few Christians make it their daily ambition. Obviously, we need grace that only God can give to press forward with success; yet, without actual effort on our part we can’t possibly press forward—our dependence of God’s grace for success notwithstanding. Empty wishes and vain chatter will not cut it; we must actually press forward, putting one foot in front of the other, looking to Christ for strength to do so.
     Oh, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that doth so easily beset us, and let us patiently run with all our strength the race that God has set before us. Eliminate everything in your life that bogs you down, ties you up, trips you up, and slows your pace. Bad habits, carnal tendencies, little foxes, worldly indulgences, every vice, and all that offends the Lord must be cast off as the dead weights that they are; otherwise, substantial spiritual progress is out of the question.
     If you are not making progress and advancing forward in true religion, so that you are sincerely increasing more and more in devotion, commitment, understanding, love, faithfulness, and usefulness, something is terribly wrong with you. I am not suggesting that you should be a spiritual giant by now—maybe you should be and maybe you shouldn’t be. What I am saying is that whether you are a seasoned veteran in the faith or a new convert, you should be progressing in the divine life and daily pressing toward the mark for the glorious prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus your Lord.
     Do not allow your soul to deteriorate into mere skin and bones; your religion should consist of more than a mere skeleton of devotion or shadow of commitment to Christ. There should be obvious and substantial spiritual fruit and growth present in your heart and life. If the spirituality you possess is nothing more than a stagnant pool of lethargic unconcerned praise to God, icy infrequent prayers, disinterested and detached hearing of sermons, thoughtless giving, halfhearted sacrifice, disinterested fellowship with the saints, listless worship, passive religious ceremonialism, and careless do-nothing formality, your soul must be sick, and you are in a dreadful state of spiritual declension. If you are not following hard after the Lord with all your soul, you are in danger of falling away altogether. “Be zealous therefore, and repent.”
     Brethren, God has not called us to be spectators or bystanders at a sporting event. God has not called us to sit idly by and watch everyone else press forward, work, labor, and strive to obtain the prize. God has called each and every one of us, and called us quite emphatically, to run with all our might that we might attain unto perfection. Remember, to whom much is given much is required. God calls us to sin not, to daily seek his kingdom before all else, to touch not the unclean thing, to be holy, and to be perfect. You are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself, and so am I. Have you attained? Are you even trying to attain to this perfection? Perhaps you justify your coldhearted laziness and excuse your sorry unbelief, saying, “Christ is all, and that’s good enough. I don’t have to try—I’m saved by grace.” You hear God’s word and read God’s requirements, but you draw back, saying, “What, assemble with the saints how often? Every day? I’m too busy. I have other things that require my attention. I just can’t. I’m not the preacher. It’s too hard. That’s too much. I don’t want to take things too far.” May God help you to see, before it’s too late, that the only reason you have been standing in the same spot in the kingdom of God for so long is because you refuse to follow Paul’s example and move forward. For this you have no one to thank but yourself.

Pleading the Promises

Remember the word unto thy servant, upon which thou hast caused me to hope. —Psalm 119:49

     Oh, child of God, when you pray plead the promises of your God as one who truly expects the fulfillment of every jot and tittle of God’s word. Is this not what the psalmist does in our text? He does not ask God to remember his works, his decisions, his promises, or his resolutions. Rather, he calls God to remember his own precious promises, saying, “Do as thou hast said.” This is how we prevail with God. This is how faith overcomes. This is how the poor and needy triumph in all things and over all things. Pleading God’s own word and God’s own promises, we cannot fail because we cannot be turned away from God empty-handed. God’s glory is at stake in this thing, and we know that he cannot deny himself.
     Whatever your case and circumstances may by, child of God, there is a promise, if not many promises, given in the Book to suit your need. Make it your business, your daily business, to search the scriptures for those treasures of divine faithfulness, and then go to the throne of grace with promise in hand that you may obtain mercy and find grace to help you in your time of need. You have not simply because you ask not. Ask, and you will receive. Seek, and you shall find. Knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Knock at Mercy’s door with all your heart, and wait for the door to swing open. With the promised mercy clinched in your fist, knock, and wait for God to answer. He assures us that he will give us as many loaves as we need.
     Child of weakness, are you downcast and depressed, distraught and wore out, plagued and troubled, struggling and sorrowful? Do you need some help, some consolation, some comfort? Do not be content to go on your way wearied and sad. Go at once to the mercy seat, and plead Isaiah 66:13. God promises, “As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you.” Oh, my, what a promise! Not only will God comfort you, he will comfort you with the best of all comforts—with the comfort that a loving and affectionate mother has for her sick, weak, and wounded child. With all the tenderness of a mother, our great God listens for our cries, just as a mother listens intently for the slightest whimper of her darling child. He will come to us. He will pick us up. He will press us to his bosom and whisper to us, “It’s alright. Hush now. Father is here, you poor thing. Tell me where it hurts.” And just as a mother will do everything humanly possible to comfort her child, so God almighty, our heavenly Father, will do everything divinely possible and within the reach of his omnipotent arm of grace to ease our pain, sooth our hearts, and succor our souls. Plead the promise, little one. Plead the promise of comfort that your loving and faithful Father made just for you, and wait for the promised comfort to come. “Though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.”
     Perhaps the longing of your soul is not so much for comfort, but for Christ-likeness and communion with Christ. If you find within you an insatiable yearning for Christ, go immediately to your Father, and plead Matthew 5:6. The Lord Jesus himself says, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” Oh, what a blessed promise of satisfaction! “Oh, Lord, remember the word unto thy servant, upon which thou hast caused me to hope. I know him, but still I hunger for him. I am in him by faith, but still I thirst to be nearer to him. Do as thou hast said, Lord, and conform me more fully to the perfect image of Jesus Christ the righteous.” Pray just that way, and you will be filled, for this is the promise of him who cannot lie.
     Are you weary and faint? Are you almost ready to give up on the race? Are you ready to die for lack of strength because of the difficulty of the way? There is hope for you, fainting child of God. God makes a special promise to you in Isaiah 40:29, saying, “He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.” Oh, plead, plead, plead this promise, and the very strength of God will enter into your soul. He will give you the power to endure, the power to bear up, the power to persevere through the burning flames of adversity. Your spirit may be pressed down to the earth because all your might is gone, but God will increase your strength by his own Spirit of free grace. The gift of power from on high is promised to those who faint, and the gift of divine strength is promised to those who have no might. Oh, my God, do as thou hast said, for I am weak and fainting.
     Perhaps the conflict of faith has become too much for you. Perhaps your warfare with Satan, the world, and the powers of darkness is taking its toll on you, and you believe that you are liable to be overcome by the enemy at any moment. What shall you do? Sit down in despair, throw in the towel, and wave the white flag of surrender? God forbid, for this is the promise of God: “Through God we shall do valiantly: for he it is that shall tread down our enemies.” Not only shall you defeat every enemy, you will do so valiantly in the name of Jesus Christ, so press onward in the fight of faith, pleading the promise of triumph to the Faithful Promiser who reigns above. Through him every Christian soldier will obtain the victory and enter into heaven in a blaze of glory, crying, “Grace grace unto it!” Do not fear them, “for the LORD your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.”
     Maybe you have grievously transgressed against your God and offended him terribly, and because of your iniquity you are near despair, pressed down, and almost gone. Is there no promise for you? Is there nothing in God’s great Book to encourage you to hope? Read the promise of Isaiah 1:18, rejoice, and take it at once to the mercy seat. “Come now, let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” And if that promise was not enough, God says in Isaiah 43:25, “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.” Oh, the glory of such precious words!
     Put your God in remembrance, guilty sinner. Humble yourself before him, and believingly plead his own promise, saying, “Lord, I have sinned a great sin. I have fallen, and I have no one to blame but myself. Forgive me, not because you owe me, but because you are faithful. You said that, though my sins be as scarlet, you would wash them white as snow. Oh, God, do as thou hast said. I apply to you who are true. Wash me, oh, Lord, and I shall be whiter than snow. Do not, I pray thee, oh, Lord—do not remember my sins, for Christ’s sake I pray.” How can God turn away such an one as this? He will not dare dishonor himself or the Crucified One by turning a guilty petitioner away. Faithful is he that promised, brethren. He will not, yea, he cannot, deny himself.

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