by Ken Cooper
There is a word that I remember preachers using in sermons when I was growing up. It’s a word
that always rubbed me the wrong way. Several times in sermons I heard preachers talking about striving
to become like Christ in this life and then almost always they qualified it by saying something like, “Of
course, Jesus was perfect and we will never be perfect in this life, but we keep striving, we keep trying
to be more and more like Him.”
I know that this is a personal prejudice and that the word “strive” is a perfectly good word. But it
was presented in what I perceived to be a context of hopelessness– that we are not able to be like
Christ in this life. In my mind it still carries a sense of futility. It is like saying we should try to become
something that we can never be. I still don’t like that word.
The apostle Paul talks about this in Philippians 3:10-14. However, I don’t see any sense of futility
in what He says. Look at how he says it.
First, in verse 10, he states his life purpose, “I want to know Christ and the power of his
resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” NIV.
For Paul, this doesn’t seem to be an unreachable goal. It is something toward which he continually
makes every effort.
Then in verse 12 and the first part of verse 13 he points out that he hasn’t made it yet, “Not that
I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of
that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have
taken hold of it.” NIV. He hasn’t arrived yet, God is still making him into the person he was called to be.
And in the last of verse 13 and in verse 14 he points out his goal, “But one thing I do:
Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to
win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” NIV. He stated it earlier in
verse 11 like this, “and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” NIV.
Instead of striving, Paul says he strains toward what is ahead, he presses on toward the goal. I
like this way of saying it much better. The old preachers were right, we will never be fully like Christ in
this life, but we strain toward what is ahead, we press on toward the goal. It’s not something we can
accomplish through our own effort, it is a journey of faithfulness. We rely on Christ, not on ourselves. It
is God who is making us perfect (verse 12) it’s not something we can achieve through our own efforts.
The writer of Hebrews 12:1-3 puts it this way, “…let us run with perseverance the race
marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for
the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of
the throne of God.” NIV. To win the prize we need to keep our eyes on the object of our faith, Jesus,
and be faithful.
So we’re not talking about our own efforts, we’re talking about keeping our eye on the prize–
fixing our eyes on Jesus and being faithful to him. We don’t have to concern ourselves with becoming
perfect, that’s not our goal in life. We just need to faithfully follow Jesus day by day and God will work in
us to bring us closer and closer to perfection. It’s all about faithfulness in allowing God to work in our
lives and not trying to do it on our own.
Now, doesn’t faithfulness sound much more hopeful than striving?