In the movie, Forrest Gump, Forrest was a character known for many things, but one thing certainly stands out—he liked to run.
The apostle Paul uses running as a metaphor to describe what the Christian life is like. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it” (1 Corinthians 9:24).
In Philippians 3:12-16, Paul expands the metaphor in order to help us see what our approach to spiritual growth should look like. We see in these verses 5 features that should characterize our approach to spiritual growth.
1. Pursue Christ with an Accurate View of Yourself
In verse 12, Paul confesses his own shortcomings. One thing Paul knows about himself is that he is in progress.
Paul acknowledges that he does not yet fully know Christ. “Not that I have already obtained this…” (Philippians 3:12, ESV). This refers to what he said previously in verse 8-11, namely to know Christ fully. This would be obtained at the resurrection of the dead (v. 11).
Paul also acknowledges that he is not yet fully sanctified. “Not that I…am already perfect” (Philippians 3:12). He does not want us to think we can be perfect in this lifetime. Like Paul, we must recognize we have not arrived, but that we are people in progress.
2. Pursue Christ with All Your Might
Paul continues in verse 12, “I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12). Paul’s response to not knowing Christ fully or being perfect is to pursue Christ with all his energy and strength. From the world of sports, Paul uses aggressive and violent language to describe his pursuit of Christ. Press on means to pursue with earnestness and diligence in order to obtain. Make it my own means to obtain the prize with the idea of eager and strenuous exertion.
This is nitty-gritty, blood and sweat language. Paul wants Christ and he won’t stop until he gets him.
Was the reason for his pursuit to earn favor with God? To merit or deserve salvation? No! Paul’s eager and strenuous pursuit of Christ is because of Jesus’ eager and strenuous pursuit of him. Christ sought after Paul and made Paul his own. Christ arrested his heart and made him a child of God. This whole, passionate, nitty-gritty, blood and sweat pursuit began when Christ seized him on the Damascus road.
Do you often think about God’s pursuit of you? If you are a follower of Christ; if you have put your faith in Jesus; then you were first sought after and pursued by Him (John 15:16). Like Paul, we are to pursue Christ with all our might.
Would you say you are? What do you do with your thoughts or wants? Do you subject them to rigorous testing? Do you cut those sinful thoughts and desires down at the knees? When you think of being in progress, does that discourage you? Or, does it motivate you to respond like Paul and eagerly press on?
3. Pursue Christ with Focus
Paul develops his spiritual workout routine further in verse 13. “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13). Paul has a singular focus. Straining forward to Christ is Paul’s singular pursuit. Runners in a race must fix their eyes ahead of them; those who watch the crowd or their own feet are likely to trip and fall.
Paul’s pursuit is marked by intentional amnesia: “…forgetting what lies behind…(Philippians 3:13). Paul is not saying that we somehow seek to wash our minds of any previous memory. His point is that we must concentrate on the present with a look to the future.
Paul made a break with everything in his past, both good and bad. Spiritual achievements, virtuous deeds, great successes in ministry, as well as sins, missed opportunities, and catastrophes must all be forgotten. We must not dwell on them or in any way think our past determines who we are. Our past does not control the present or the future. We cannot live on past victories, nor should we be debilitated by the guilt of past sins. God is interested in what we do now and in the future. Like runners we must be aware of how dangerous it is to turn our heads and look back.
Paul’s pursuit is also marked by intentional aim: “…strain forward to what lies ahead… (Philippians 3:13). Like the runner who has the finish line in sight, Paul describes the runner with his body stretched out in intense passion for the goal. Our pursuit of Christ is singular in focus, marked by intentional amnesia and aim. Our eyes must be fixed on what lies ahead, never satisfied until we get it.
While we are overjoyed to be in the race, we are not satisfied with where we are in the race.
Kent Hughes, in his commentary says, “Humble dissatisfaction…opens us to the blessing of God—and to a sublime cycle of dissatisfaction and satisfaction and dissatisfaction and satisfaction….It brings on a life that knows more and more of Christ and then desperately wants to know more and indeed does know more and more and more and more. Spiritual dissatisfaction is a blessed state. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).
Do you long to know Christ better? Part of the race is that the more we progress and grow in Christ the more we recognize our own need to grow. Let us press on!
4. Pursue Christ with the Right Motivation
Next, Paul explains, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). The word for toward means that Paul is bearing down on his goal. Paul was bearing down toward the goal of rising above sin, knowing Christ more, and making him known throughout the world. Everything about Paul’s disposition and pursuit is heavenly. His call is from heaven and toward heaven.
At the end of the race there is the long anticipated prize. This prize is not for those who have accomplished anything except put their faith in Christ and persevered in doing so to the end, marked by a life not of incredible achievements, but by a relentless pursuit of Christ. We want the resurrection from the dead. We want to see Christ face to face. We want to be found in him.
5. Pursue Christ with Tenacity
Paul completes his race analogy with these words: “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you” (Philippians 3:15). When you think you are in progress and that you must relentlessly pursue Christ you are thinking maturely. You know you are perfectly justified in Christ and that you no longer live under God’s wrath. But, you know you are incomplete in your knowledge of Christ and in being like Christ.
Paul trusted that as God’s people assess themselves accurately, pursue Christ vigorously, with concentrated focus, with the right motivation, and with persistent tenacity, God would continue to guide them into all truth and grow their knowledge. He will finish what he started (Philippians 1:6).
In Philippians 3:16, Paul adds, “Only let us hold true to what we have attained.” Hold true means to walk in step with. With tenacity, we are to continually walk in obedience to what we already know. And, as we grow we will walk in obedience to what now know. And so on and so on. This kind of steadfastness will produce a Christlikeness.
What Paul teaches us in Philippians 3, reminds us of these words from Hebrews 12:1-2. “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”
Like Forrest Gump, let us be found running.
Join the Conversation
Which of these 5 approaches to spiritual growth most resonate with you?
Note: This blog is from a sermon preached at College Park Church, Indianapolis, Indiana. Click here for the sermon.
 Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).