Read Philippians 3:12-15
Theological excursion: The Perfectionist Heresy
Paul is going to combat a heresy that was probably evident in the church in Philippi and is one that is fairly common today among some branches of evangelicalism. It is the perfectionist heresy that says that we can achieve a state of sinless perfection here on earth and actually cease from sinning. There might have been some in Philippi who thought that they could somehow attain this super knowledge of Christ and attain this sinless perfection and thus be in a state of sinlessness. Paul knocks that heresy right out of the water.
In verse 12, Paul uses the word “perfect” which basically “means mature or full grown”. It is in the “Perfect” tense which is very important. It literally means I have not reached a level of completed maturity or absolute perfection. I’m still in the process of growth.
While my position is perfect through justification and I am adopted into God’s family, there’s still so much more growth I need to experience to be Christ like. And even so, I still haven’t been experienced the completion of my salvation, which is my glorified and resurrected body.
In essence, Paul is saying it this way,
- I have been saved—it is a past tense reality that happened not only on the cross but the moment I placed my faith in Jesus, I was justified or declared not guilty forever.
- I will be saved—there is still an aspect of my salvation that hasn’t occurred yet which will complete or bring to culmination my redemption—a new glorified body in the presence of Christ in eternity. This is a future reality.
Yet, how do I live in the present? Do I idly sit by and wait to be raptured? Do I do nothing and just let go and let God? Am I passively just waiting on God to do everything in the Christian life? Do I collect my fire insurance and coast knowing that I get to avoid hell?
Reread Philippians 2:12-13 and see how Paul has already shed light on this question.
Paul says “I press on” which means that he continually, as an ongoing process pursues, chases, runs after…
Paul is a sports fan. This is very evident from his epistles. He loves athletics and we see this analogy of a runner in the Olympic games. This word for press on was used of a sprinter who exerts aggressive energy to win the race
This is where the translation gets murky. The ESV says “to make it my own”—the King James says “apprehended”; the New American Standard says “lay hold of”; the NIV says, “take hold of”. The word in Greek means all of these—to seize, grasp, take possession, grip firmly and even to tackle. All words that denote aggressive, energetic activity of the believer.
To what does Paul grab so tightly? We have to ask the question in reverse because Paul tells us in a roundabout way. For what PURPOSE did Jesus tackle, seize, lay hold or even make us His own? Why did Christ hunt us down and save us by His grace? Why did Jesus stoop so low to lay hold of us as sinners?
Why was Paul blinded on that Damascus road and changed forever?
In other words, why in the world does God save sinners? To make us better-behaved people? To enhance our life and self-esteem? To give us our every heart’s desire?
Read Romans 8:29.
God saved us to conform us to the image of His Son. In other words, we are saved to live a life of worship where day by day we are becoming more Christ-like.
If that is why Christ laid hold of us—to makes us like Him—then that is Paul’s burning desire as well—to tackle, seize, or apprehend this desire to become Christ-like. To actively live out the purpose for why he was saved.
Spend some time praising Jesus for “tackling” you and making you His own through saving grace!
Thank you so much for “tackling” me in Your grace. I was lost and you grabbed a hold of me in salvation to make me look more like You! I would never in a million years ever save myself! I was desperately lost until You rescued me in Your sovereign grace. I know that I will never be perfect in this life, but I press on toward knowing You more deeply. I wait with anticipation the day I step foot in heaven and will experience ultimate perfection in Your presence.
For Your Glory,