Sanctification, Part II: Not There Yet (Philippians 3:12-4:1)


Philippians 3:12 - 4:1; Key Verse: Phil 3:13

"I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do..."

Paul is a man of "one thing" (Php 3:13), "one goal" (Php 3:12), "one prize" (Php 3:14), and "one desire" (Php 3:10), for which he gives all of himself. He does not do so out of any righteousness, nobility or goodness in himself, but attributes all of his zeal and passion to the grace of Jesus (Php 3:9; Gal 2:20b). In this way, Paul shows us the one single driving force behind his sanctification and his Christian life.

We have been praying that 2012 may be the year of Sanctification. What is sanctification? Louis Berkhof (1873 – 1957), a renowned 20th century theologian, explains Sanctification: "Sanctification is a work of the triune God, but is ascribed more particularly to the Holy Spirit in Scripture, Rom 8:11; 15:16; 1 Pet 1:2. It is particularly important in our day, with its emphasis on the necessity of approaching the study of theology anthropologically and its one-sided call to service in the kingdom of God, to stress the fact that God, and not man, is the author of sanctification. Especially in view of the Activism that is such a characteristic feature of American religious life, and which glorifies the work of man rather than the grace of God, it is necessary to stress the fact over and over again that sanctification is the fruit of justification, that the former is simply impossible without the latter, and that both are the fruits of the grace of God in the redemption of sinners. Though man is privileged to cooperate with the Spirit of God, he can do this only in virtue of the strength which the Spirit imparts to him from day to day. The spiritual development of man is not a human achievement, but a work of divine grace. Man deserves no credit whatsoever for that which he contributes to it instrumentally."

In brief, sanctification is God's work, not man's work (even though man works in grace, following God's work in him). Last week, our sermon from Php 2:12-16 was titled "Sanctification, Part I: Change is Possible." This week, our sermon from Php 3:12-4:1 is titled "Sanctification, Part II: Not There Yet." It has 4 parts:

  1. Not There Yet.
  2. Pressing On with Zeal.
  3. Striving by Grace.
  4. Practical Application: 2 Exhortations: "Imitate me" and "Stand firm."
I. Not There Yet (Php 3:12a,13a)

A Christian, by definition, is always one whom God is working in, so that they will work it out in the practical details of their life (Php 2:12-13). Of course, they can rebel against God working in them and suffer the consequences (Gal 6:7). Even the "greatest" man of God, the Apostle Paul, wanted to be sanctified further so as to become more and more like Jesus (Php 2:10). Paul could be regarded as the greatest Christian, the greatest theologian, the greatest pastor, the greatest church planter, the greatest leader, teacher, mentor, discipler, who ever lived. But how did Paul regard his own spiritual condition or progress?

He said, "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal..." (Php 3:12a). Again, Paul said, "I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it" (Php 3:13a). Paul basically said, "I'm not there yet."

Paul is likely addressing a false teaching called "perfectionism," which suggests that a Christian can become perfect (or close to it) in this lifetime. He was likely referring to the Judaisers (Php 3:2-3), those Jewish Christians who wanted the Philippian Christians to believe Paul’s teaching about Jesus the Messiah but also wanted them to strive for holiness. How? By keeping the Law of Moses, especially the ceremonial law – the ritual law. They taught that the way to be complete, mature, perfect, was to not only believe in Jesus, but also to keep the laws of Moses.

Last week I saw an elderly patient who has been a minister and a preacher in his church for over 4 decades, ever since he was 18 y/o. He told me, "I am a holiness preacher. Therefore, I do not lie, cheat, smoke, drink alcohol, and I've had 1 wife all my life." I believe he is a sincere Christian. But he seems to be communicating perfectionism.

Perfectionism is not an uncommon sentiment among Christians today. A minister preached in church that he had achieved this state of perfection as a Christian. A man asked him after the sermon, "Does your wife agree that you have achieved this state of perfection." He answered, "She does not believe in that doctrine yet..." Isn't it quite obvious why she doesn't believe in that doctrine!?

Such teaching began with John Wesley who explained from Php 2:12, 15 that Christians should strive for perfection (true) and that some Christians could reach some degree of perfection in this life (not true). Wesley's motivation for saying this was good: He wanted to combat the dead formalism of the church in his day. He wanted to see real, vibrant holiness among Christians. But to say that perfection is possible in this lifetime is not supported by the Bible.

I have also sensed an implicit idea that Christians regard themselves as more holy, more godly, more spiritual and more mature the older they get. It is likely true that Christians "sin less"--quantitatively speaking--as they get older. But are older Christian less sinful? I painfully acknowledge that the main reason that I seemingly "sin less" is because I had a lot more strength to sin more when I was younger!

Such an idea that older Christians are holier and more godly and spiritually mature was not what Paul taught. Perfectionism promotes elitism, which is not healthy for any church or Christian community. Paul was not an elitist. He testified that he is the worst of sinners--not as a young Christian--but as a mature, seasoned, Christian (1 Tim 1:15). He regarded all his fellow Christians as co-servants (Php 1:1), partners (Php 1:5), brothers (Col 1:1), and not as his subordinates or "foot soldiers." How could Paul be so genuinely humble? He knows from his heart and core that he is not there yet, that he has not yet been perfected in Christ (Php 3:11).

II. Pressing On With Zeal (Php 3:12b,13b-16)

"The highest wisdom, even of him who has attained the greatest perfection, is to go forward, and endeavor in a calm and teachable spirit to make further progress." John Calvin (Institutes, Book 3, Chap 2, 4)
Paul is clear that Christians are not the fellowship of those who have arrived. Like Paul, we are not there yet; we've not gotten to our goal. As a result, we press on with all that we are toward that goal. Paul's language is active, passionate, and intense: I press on, I forget what is behind, I strain forward, I hold true to what I have attained (Php 2:12,13,14,16). Paul's singular desire is to be more and more like Jesus, and he never lets up.

We Christians like to motivated to "press on." When we hear this, we are inclined to press others to also "press on." We are likely to be upset or irritated with those whom we think are not doing so. But Paul was speaking in the 1st person: "I press on to take hold," "I do not consider," "one thing I do," "I press on toward the goal" (Php 3:12-14). Then he address those who are mature, for only the mature would have Paul's perspective of living up to what has already been attained (Php 3:15-16). So, what Paul says is primarily for us to "press on," and not for us to "press others to press on."

This message is also not for non-believers, for it is not about salvation and not about how we come to be saved, which is only by grace alone, by faith alone, and in Christ alone. The message of salvation is never by faith in Christ, plus you must "press on."

However, when a mature Christian hears "press on," he or she knows what this means: "I must never ever rest with where I am today with regards to godliness and holiness. I must always press on by cultivating a holy dissatisfaction about my present state of growth." Paul knows that he is saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone; and yet, he is utterly dissatisfied with staying with where he is in his present state of godliness. He wants to be more like Jesus.

III. Striving by Grace (Php 3:12c,14b)

How is Paul pressing on? Though Paul is pressing on with zeal, his inner motivation is not himself or his effort, but the grace of Jesus. Paul is clear that he is who he is only by the grace of God (1 Cor 15:10), not his own credit or goodness. Despite his intense effort in being more and more like Jesus, he knows that it is only because God first chose him and worked in him (Php 2:13), and that "Christ Jesus took hold of" him (Php 3:12b), and that "God has called (him) heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Php 3:14b).

IV. 2 Exhortations and 2 Reasons (Php 3:17-4:1)

Paul knows that the enemy of pressing on by zeal and by grace is the world. Paul's 4 points of practical application to fight against the seduction of the world are:

  1. Imitate me (Php 3:17).
  2. Worldliness kills (Php 3:18-19).
  3. Homesickness helps (Php 3:20-21).
  4. Stand firm (Php 4:1).
1. Imitate me; imitate godly examples (Php 3:17): "Join together in following my example...and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do" (Php 3:17). Paul is saying, "Act like me. Live like me. Follow my example. Do as I do. Watch me. See how I live. Copy me. Watch those who copy me, copy how they live." It's like one of our favorite catchphrases: Be like Mike. Our founder, Samuel Lee, often said, "Imitation precedes creativity." Perhaps, some might carry this too far, until it becomes like a law of tradition where younger leaders are expected to "do whatever they are told." But Paul is obviously not saying that he is perfect. He fully acknowledges that he is still sinful and not near Christ-likeness (Php 3:12-13). But he knows that only by the grace of God, Jesus has changed and transformed his heart. He is not arrogant, like the super-apostles in Corinth (2 Cor 11:5, 12:11). He is not ruled by the Law like the dogs--the Judaizers (Php 3:2-3). He considered others as better than he (Php 2:3), and of himself with sober judgment (Rom 12:3). Paul is truly a loving, gentle, humble, unimposing man in Christ. Look for such mature Christians and imitate their faith and life as a way to overcome worldliness.

2. Worldliness kills (Php 3:18-19): The Puritans understood the crippling temptation/seduction of worldliness. They said: "Love God, but use the world." Otherwise you will love the world, and use God to get the world. They also said: "Love the world and gold is your God. Love God, and God is your gold."

John Newton understood the grip of worldliness in this less known hymn:

“Fading is the world’s pleasure,
All his boasted pomp and show.
Solid joys and lasting treasure,
None but Zion’s children know.”

Worldliness is perhaps one of the greatest problems for Christians. It is not the problem that we Christians critique "out there." Worldliness is our home address. We ourselves are steeped in it. 85% of best sellers of CBD, of the top 100 Christian books are about using God to get what you want, to get the world. 85% of Christian TV is also about using God to get the world. But this is never Paul's message, Jesus' message, the Bible's message or Christianity's message.

Worldliness means a person has come to be at home in this world, to find their place of belonging in this world, to think like this world, to act like this world, to desire the things that this world desires. Paul is warning that even people who are religious, even people who are spiritual, even people who claim to be Christians can become captivated by that kind of worldliness, and, he says, it will kill them. It is soul destroying.

We think of worldliness as hedonism, materialism, partying, drugs, drunkenness, gluttony, immorality, etc. It is. But the worldliness Paul is addressing are people who claim to love God and yet they are so worldly that he characterizes them as "enemies of the cross" (Php 3:18)! He says of them, "Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things" (Php 3:19). What is Paul saying? They’re all wrapped up in this life. They want their praise here. They want their affirmation here. This is where they belong. This is where their reward is. They claim to be believers, but what they want most in life is here. Worldliness is a matter of the heart. It is what my heart desires. It takes control of my mind, my will, my decisions, my life, my affections. Then we become captive to a lesser joy than the real and true joy of Jesus and his kingdom. Even putting my hope in my own church is a deceptive form of worldliness that blinds me from the kingdom of God.

3. Homesickness helps (Php 3:20-21): Paul says, "But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body" (Php 3:20-21). Paul is saying that if we’re not heavenly-minded, if we’re not homesick for our home, if we’re not longing for something that this world can’t give us, we’re utterly vulnerable to worldliness. Because until that point we are vulnerable to believing that this world can actually give us something that can last.

4. Stand firm (Php 4:1): Paul's 2nd exhortation is "Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!" (Php 4:1) Paul says this because no one overcomes worldliness just by wishing that their worldly longings will just suddenly disappear overnight; it requires resolve. Just as the devil tempted Eve, the devil constantly tempts us today, saying, "God is not enough. You need something else." May God help us resolve not to be deceived by the devil's lie to seduce us with the world, which includes many good things, such as our family, our children, or even our church.

Are you there yet? Paul was clear that he was not. So, his life was an intense pressing on toward the goal to win the prize (Acts 20:24). But his inner motivation was not his ambition, passion or zeal, but the grace of Jesus that is greater than all the delights of the world. May God bless 2012 to be a year of sanctification.


  1. What is Paul's confession of his own progress in Christ (12a, 13a; 1 Ti 1:15)? What does "perfect" (12) and "mature" (15) mean? (They are translated from the same Greek word "teleios.")
  2. What is "one thing" (13), "the prize" (14) and the "goal" (12,15)? Why did Christ take hold of him (12c; Rom 8:29)? What does "press on" (12b, 14a), "forgetting" and "straining" (13b) teach about sanctification (1 Cor 9:24-27; 1 Ti 6:12; Heb 12:1)? How should mature Christians hold true to what they have attained (16; 2:12-13)?
  3. What is Paul's exhortation to Christians (17; 4:9; 1 Cor 4:16; 11:1; 1 Th 1:6; 2 Th 3:7-9; 1 Ti 4:12,15-16; 2 Ti 3:10-11; 1 Pe 5:3)? Why (Heb 3:13)?
  4. What is Paul's tearful warning (18)? Who are these "enemies of the cross" (2)? Are they non-Christians and pagans? What is their destiny, their god, their glory, and their mind set on (19)? What is the problem with worldliness (1 Jn 2:15-17)?
  5. What is the goal of sanctification (20)? How is this accomplished (21)? Are you homesick? Do you have a resolve (4:1)?


  1. Pressing On Toward The Goal (Php 3:12-16). Ligon Duncan.
  2. Two Ways To Live (Php 3:17-4:1). Ligon Duncan.
  3. The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians. William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible, 1975, 2003.
  4. Sanctification by Louis Berkhof.

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