“Not that I have already obtained it [this goal of being Christlike] or have already been made perfect, but I actively press on [e]so that I may take hold of that [perfection] for which Christ Jesus took hold of me and made me His own” (Philippians 3:12)
I am sure you have seen the phrase: “Be patient with me, God is not finished with me yet”. Very true indeed.
In my quiet time with the Lord this morning, I read that well-known passage in Philippians 3 (Paul writing to Timothy) which says:
“12 I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it,[d] but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”
Apart from the overall message of this passage, which illustrates the importance of finishing the race rather than necessarily winning the race, never entertaining the possibility of slacking off because of infirmity or old age and committing oneself to finishing strong with whatever strength and abilities one has – until our final breath or when we are caught up to meet the Lord in the air and we get our first sight of the Lord Jesus …, there were some other very encouraging and helpful thoughts I gleaned from this passage. Let me share them with you now.
Is it possible for anyone to be perfect in this imperfect world we live in?
The thought of being “perfect” can be troubling and challenging when we think of all our imperfections as Christians. We are still a work in progress, after all…
The word “perfected” or “perfect” as used in the Bible to describe various people, does NOT mean “sinless perfection”. Only Jesus is perfect and sinless! In the Old Testament, we read about various Bible characters that were described as “perfect”, “blameless” or “loyal” – they were by no means sinless. For example – Noah, Asa, Hezekiah, Job and David (see footnote below for Bible references to these people). It is important to be aware that several Greek and Hebrew words are translated as “perfect”, but the thought behind them is either “completeness in all details” or “to reach a goal or achieve a purpose”
I discovered that there are three stages of perfection (as set out in the Scofield Reference Bible):
- Positional Perfection
This is something we have as soon as we put our faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour. Take a quick look at this verse in Hebrews 10:14:
“For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy.” (NLT)
“For by the one offering He has perfected forever and completely cleansed those who are being sanctified [bringing each believer to spiritual completion and maturity].” (Amplified Bible)
- Relative Perfection
This refers to spiritual maturity “I press on toward the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should embrace this point of view. And if you think differently about some issue, God will reveal this to you as well. Nevertheless, we must live up to what we have already attained.…” (Philippians 3:15)
Spiritual maturity is particularly important in relation to …
The will of God “Epaphras … prays earnestly for you, asking God to make you strong and perfect, fully confident that you are following the whole will of God” (Colossians 4:12)
Love “And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect….” (1 John 4:17)
Holiness “Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1)
Patience “And let endurance [patience/perseverance/endurance] have itsperfect work, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing”. (James 1:4)
Every good work “Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with every good thing to do His will. And may He accomplish in us what is pleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21)Maturity does not come overnight, but is progressive as we saw in 2 Corinthians 7:1 above. Ephesians 4:12 summarizes this process so beautifully … “And it was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for works of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, as we mature to the full measure of the stature of Christ.…”. Hence one can see the importance of regular Bible study and Bible reading as well as attending a Bible-believing and Bible-preaching church (regrettably many, many churches are no longer Bible believers and are following and teaching a post-modern, emergent church, liberal Gospel … that is, preaching another Jesus, not the Jesus in the Bible).
- Ultimate Perfection
In other words, perfection of soul, spirit, and body. This will only be realized at the time of resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3) or if the Rapture of the Church occurs prior to our dying” (1 Thessalonians 4:17) “… For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!” “we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.”
As the footnote in the Schofield Bible states: “For the Christian nothing short of the moral perfection of God is always the absolute standard of conduct, BUT … Scripture recognizes that Christians do not attain to sinless perfection in this life.”
So be encouraged as you meditate on these verses. We are a work in progress. Let us strive to draw ever closer to our Saviour and reflect His beauty in all we do, say and think!
Genesis 6:9, 1 Kings 15:14, 2 Kings 20:3, 1 Chronicles 12:38, Job1:1&8, Psalm 37:37)