How Do You Press On to Make It Your Own?
Further Reflections from the Funeral Sermon for My Father
The funeral sermon I preached at my father’s funeral was built around his own sermon, titled “Saved, Safe, Satisfied,” from his book A Good Time and How to Have It. Safe refers to the security of every true believer in Christ. Those whom God saves, God keeps. Satisfied refers to our contentment in Christ himself, not first his gifts.
I made a link between “safe” and “satisfied.” The latter confirms the former. I based this on Philippians 3:12: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” In other words, the heart of the true Christian does not coast in a state of contented worldliness after conversion, as though the world were more precious to him than Christ is. The true Christian is safe, but his safety is confirmed in his pressing on to make his final inheritance his own.
Our safety is seen in the words “because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” In other words, our security is not based finally on our grip on Christ, but his grip on us. The crucial thing to see is that the firmness of Christ’s grip on us produces our pursuit of him.“I press on . . . because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Our security does not produce drifting or worldly indifference or spiritual disinterest. So the key practical question is: In what is Paul pressing on?
Just at this point the Christian life shatters or shines. If we answer this wrongly (say, in some legalistic way), we shatter. What does Paul refer to when he says he “presses on,” or more literally, “he pursues”? One answer would be “the resurrection” (3:11). Another answer would be that he pursues “being found in Christ not having a righteousness of his own, but the righteousness from God” (3:9). Another answer would be “the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (3:14). And finally the answer might be simply Christ, since he speaks of longing to gain Christ (3:8). These would all be true. Paul is pursuing these things.
But none of those answers by themselves gives clear practical guidance for what we do here and now in this “pursuit.” Paul says he is pursuing something. That means that in his life he was doing something specific. What was he doing in this pursuit? What does the eternally secure saint do that confirms he is a secure saint and not a deluded hypocrite?
The most practical answer is given in verses 7-8, which speak of the practical way Paul was pursuing Christ. It says, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Three times he says he “counts” (hēgeomai) worldly gain as loss. He gives three reasons for doing this:
- “for the sake of Christ” (v. 7).
- “because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (v. 8a).
- “in order that I may gain Christ” (v. 8b).
So my conclusion is that what Paul is pursuing in Philippians 3:12 is ultimately Christ himself. And the most essential practical strategy of this pursuit is to count Christ himself as supremely valuable (“because of the surpassing worth”) and to count everything but Christ as worthless by comparison.
This means that the way we confirm our eternal security is by daily pursuing more satisfaction in Christ. This is the link between “safe” and “satisfied.” We take steps to increase our treasuring of Christ’s superior worth. This is the most crucial evidence that we are eternally secure—that “Christ Jesus has made me his own.”
And what is the main practical strategy that Paul mentions in this pursuit? His answer is: Count all else as rubbish in comparison to Christ. This word count is a mental act that involves resolving, deciding, purposing, judging. (See its use in Philippians 2:3, 6, 25). So we look upon our money, our homes, our jobs, our families and friends, our plans for retirement or vacations, our health, and our lives, and we declare, “These things are as rubbish compared to the value of knowing Christ.”
Then we act on that “counting Christ superior.” 1) We take steps to know him as well as he can be known, since the knowledge of him is more precious than anything. 2) We regret our weak affections for him, and we confess this to him as sin. 3) We abhor the wandering tendency of our hearts, and we resolve after seasons of failure to pursue again the superior treasure of Christ. 4) We pray for God to incline our hearts toward the value of Christ and away from the (innocent) treasures of the world (Psalm 119:36; 90:14). 5) We treat other treasures as less valuable than Christ. That is, we make decisions about lifestyle and the use of time and money and energy in a way that speaks of Christ’s superior value.
One of the great blessings of seeing the Christian life this way is that it protects us against licentiousness and legalism. It opposes licentiousness because all our energy is aiming at holy delights, not worldly ones. And it opposes legalism because the efforts we are making to confirm our security (“I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own”) are not efforts that draw attention to our worth or our merit, but are efforts that draw attention to Christ’s worth.
Test yourself. The question is not whether you are perfect. Paul said, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect” (3:12). Neither he nor we will be perfect in this life. The question is: Are you pressing on to make Christ your own? That is, are you resolving day by day to count Christ as your supreme treasure and count everything else as rubbish by comparison?
Treasuring Christ with you,