the upward call of God
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The Upward Call of God

“Not that I have already obtained this—that is, I have not already been perfected—but I strive to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).

I started the year 2024 with new goals and plans. That was six months ago. The thing is, I also began the year bringing along everything from the past year. Same husband, same kids, same hairdo, same places I’d like to travel, same friends (I hope), same health struggles, same zucchini muffins from the market, same work, same church (often, even the same pew). I think you get the idea. My world, and I imagine yours too, consists largely of the same things.

Consistency is not a bad thing. What’s wrong with enjoying a life of sameness? Who wants life to look like someone keeps pushing the button on the blender? Not me! The thought of change generates two reactions in people. Either you want everything to remain as is or you wake up hoping that today will be different. As Bill Murray states in the movie Groundhog Day, “Different is good.”

Hopefully, you desire a bit of both. Certainly, God realizes most of life is repetitive. The question he poses to us becomes repetitive in what direction? Is your life moving you toward the higher calling of Christ or away from it?

So, let’s examine the passage above and what Paul had to say to the Philippians and to us. 

To begin with, we need to recognize that the “prize” is not our salvation. Paul is writing to the Philippians about 30 years after his salvation experience. (1) During those years, he experienced many various trials and had matured in his faith. Yet, he confesses he has not arrived or reached his goal of complete maturity in Christ. Knowing that Christ has more for him and for the Philippians, he encourages them to press on in their faith. 

Christ took hold of Paul’s life for a reason. He did the same for you and me. Now that we have received our salvation, we become like Paul with a desire to take hold of all that Christ has for us now. Our growth and increasing maturity continue as the process of our sanctification. Salvation marks the beginning, but greater things remain! One day, the “prize” may produce heavenly rewards. But Paul’s life focuses on the present, and so should ours.  

What else does Paul exhort us in? “Forgetting what lies behind.” What lies behind Paul? The same things that lie behind us, success, and failures.

Paul wasn’t one to brag about his successes. Though he had quite the resume of Christian service and ministry. Rather, he quotes scripture to us, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31b). Nor does he waste time brooding over his failures. Why? Because when we camp in either of those areas, we lose sight of our calling.

In Acts 7:58, Paul, then Saul, kept guard over the coats of those who stoned Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Then began to arrest and imprison every Christ follower he could find. Paul later realized his need to accept the forgiveness Christ offered. We can’t “press on toward the goal” if we stay stuck in our past sins and failures. What sins are you still keeping guard over? From where have you failed and can’t move on? What’s holding you back from pressing on? Dwelling on the past keeps us from living a new life of faith and obedience.

This Philippians passage speaks volumes about the diligent Christian life. It’s full of action phrases of what Paul must do to win the prize for which he has been called.

We may find the Christian life repetitive, but never is it idle!

“This testimony of the apostle reminded the saints at Philippi—and it serves to remind believers today—that there must never be a stalemate in their spiritual growth or a plateau beyond which they cannot climb.” (2)

I began this writing by expressing my excitement in starting the year with goals and plans. Some personal, some spiritual, but all I hope might bring more spiritual maturity to my life and glory to God’s. Perhaps you set your own targets you’re still aiming for in 2024. Yet, other things in life keep interrupting your pursuits. I once determined to read the Bible in a year, instead I finished three years later. If I focused on not keeping up with the reading and feeling like a failure, I would never have finished.

Keep pressing on towards the goals and plans God places in your life for his kingdom. It’s a lifelong upward call of God in Christ Jesus! 

Footnotes

  1. Robert P. Lightner, “Philippians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J.F. Walvoord and R.B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 661.
  2. Ibid, 661.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Nancy Mackensen grew up in southern California and remains a forever lover of sand and ocean. A born daydreamer who one day found herself ruined for Christ. Nancy relishes quiet moments exploring all she can know of God. His Word being the catalyst for her life and work.

Her broad service in Christian ministry includes writing, teaching, women’s ministries, various leadership roles, short-term missions, and evangelism. Nancy holds a Master of Biblical and Theological Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary.

Nancy writes to convince women and men to become obedient followers of Christ, living transformed lives that will transform the lives of others. She’s the author of one book, Your Story His Glory, an East African discipleship book.

Nancy enjoys freelance writing, speaking opportunities, working on the next book, or creating new blogs for her website, NancyMackensen.com. At day’s end, she’s eager to relax and enjoy time with her husband, Russ. They live in Dallas, have two married children, and four amazing grandkids.

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