An athlete running a race fixes his eyes straight ahead, keeps within his lane, and channels all his energy into crossing the finishing line. He maintains his focus throughout the course, avoiding even the slightest glance back, which could forfeit his chance of winning.
Our spiritual journey is like a marathon, but one that spans over a lifetime. It is a constant work in progress and there is only one way to advance: forward. The apostle Paul was familiar with the ancient sporting events that took place in Corinth and saw athletic terms as fitting metaphors to describe the Christian life.
In Philippians 3:13–14, he speaks of “reaching forth unto those things which are before,” and his goal to “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” He understood that as believers, we must reach forth in our race with a spirit of faith in God.
The success of our spiritual journey requires us to have not only a powerful but a biblical mindset to guide us from start to finish.
Paul’s challenge to the new believers to persevere in the faith in Philippians 3:12–16 gives us five principles we can apply to advance in our spiritual journey.
1. Be Humble
If we are to grow in our faith, we need to first realize that we have not yet arrived in spiritual maturity. Paul was a revered leader and a scholar in his own right, yet he realized that he had not yet attained spiritual perfection. He was still following after Christ and growing in his knowledge of his Saviour. Paul displayed a tender and compliant heart toward God in seeking to apprehend His purpose. We need to see ourselves as students learning at the feet of Christ. We can only receive God’s grace to learn and grow in our walk with Him when we admit that we cannot run this race in our own strength and wisdom. God resists the proud but will extend His help to those who humbly seek it.
2. Stay Focused
The lack of time may seem to be the reason why we are unable to get our work done but the truth is, we lack focus. Distractions in life are plenty and can easily derail us from our spiritual walk if we are not intentional about keeping our focus on Christ. Paul was clear about his focus in life; he had set his mind on a singular task: “this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before” (Philippians 3:13). His focus had two aspects: forgetting the past and reaching forth into the future.
Past failures are weights that will hinder us from advancing in our Christian race. We ought to learn from our mistakes but not dwell on them. God forgives us and remembers our sins no more and He wants us to put the past behind us and press forward in our journey. He can still use defeated people to do dominant things. We can choose to live a life of passive consumption or intentional pursuit of Christ. While we can have many pursuits in life, we need to make Christ our main pursuit. Like a runner stretching forward to the finishing line, we should press on toward the day when Christ will present us the crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8).
3. Set Goals
Paul had a goal in mind—the mark he was pressing toward was the mark of seeing Christ (Philippians 3:14). He had an earthly race to run but his goal was eternal. When we enter a new life in Christ, we no longer chase after the things of this world that fade with time, but we “seek those things which are above” (Colossians 3:1)—the things that have eternal value.
After Paul set his goal to know and serve Christ, he pursued it with passion. He saw Christ as worthy of his entire life and service and willingly surrendered himself to the Lord’s cause: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
When we truly know whom we serve, we will do it wholeheartedly. The God we serve is the one who spared no expense in giving Himself for us. Our goal should be to live for Him and we need to work toward this goal by praying, studying His Word, growing in Christlikeness, and laying up treasures in Heaven.
4. Let God Lead
Every believer is at a different stage of growth in his spiritual journey and we are not to judge one another in our progress in godliness but to let God convict and lead each individual. While every Christian should share the same goal of seeking Christ, there must be room for each Christian to grow in the church. When there are differences in beliefs and opinions among believers, God must be the one who instructs and guides those who err into the knowledge of truth (Philippians 4:15). True conviction only comes through the Holy Spirit.
5. Study God’s Word
To accomplish spiritual goals, we need to be following the same spiritual guide. We can only advance in our spiritual journey if we know God’s Word and apply it in our daily lives. In Philippians 3:16, Paul instructs us to “walk by the same rule.” The rule to abide by is the inspired, preserved Scriptures which reveal truths to guide us through life. God’s Word is given to instruct us in righteousness, “that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:17). We can experience victory by applying the principles of God’s Word into our lives. Make it a priority to read God’s Word and meditate on His truths. By aligning our lives to His Word, we remain on track in our Christian walk and progress in our spiritual journey.