June 28, 1998
Christian faith begins when we realize that we are great sinners and that Christ is a great Savior. Once saved, we begin the lifelong process of sanctification—which can feel overwhelming if we view others as perfect. Sensitive to this, Paul assured his readers that he was still a work in progress. Maturing faith, teaches Alistair Begg, is grounded in the understanding that we are called by God, kept by Christ, and can persevere on the strength of Scripture’s promises.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Philippians 3:12. Paul says, “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. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward[s] what is ahead, I press on toward[s] the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward[s] in Christ Jesus.
“All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.”
Father, we pray that with our Bibles open before us, that in the mystery of your purposes, beyond the voice of a mere man we might hear your voice through your Word, the Bible, by your Holy Spirit’s power. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
One of the fascinating byproducts that will have accrued to the individuals who were involved in the vacation Bible school this week is that they have had a prolonged opportunity to listen to children talk. And listening to children talk is, more often than not, fascinating, and it is frequently rewarding—especially if they’re talking not knowing that they’re overheard. And there is probably nothing quite so fascinating as to listen to youngsters go into great flights of fancy and make unrealistic claims, either about their parents—you know, “My dad can do this,” or “My mom can do this”—or about themselves.
For example, two boys are standing at a swimming pool. One says to the other, “How far do you think it is from this side to that side?” The other wee boy hasn’t got a clue; he combines numbers and words, and he says, “I think it’s about 498 yards.” And the other kid goes, “I can jump that.” And you’re listening, you go, “That’s ridiculous.” The other kid’s going, “Well, that’s nothing. I can stand at the plate, take a pitch, hit a baseball, drop the bat, run out into the outfield, and catch the ball before it hits the ground.” His friend says, “No you can’t.” And then it just goes on and on from there.
And somehow or another, in the development of life, we understand that that is actually quite endearing. It’s playful, and it’s tolerable—but not if the people are nineteen and twenty, or twenty-five, or thirty. I mean, there’s a point at which you’re not supposed to talk like that anymore. There’s a point at which, if you’re found talking like that—making bizarre claims like that—somebody’s going to say to you, “Act your age, for goodness’ sake! You know that isn’t true.” And there is perhaps nothing quite as painful as being told that one is immature—you’re acting in a bizarre way for your years, you should be different from what you are.
Now, just in the same way as we understand that there are all kinds of indications in the physical and emotional and mental realm of what it means to be mature, so there are within the realm of spiritual living. And it is with this matter of spiritual maturity that Paul is concerned in the verses that we’ve just been reading. That’s why in verse 15 he actually uses the word “mature,” and he says, “It is all of us who are mature who should take such a view of things.” J. B. Phillips says, “All of us who are spiritually adult should set ourselves this sort of ambition.” So if I am a mature individual, there are certain characteristics and dimensions to my life, in my walk with God. And that to which he refers is, of course, the little paragraph immediately above verse 15, which comprises verses 12, 13, and 14.
Paul’s Christian beginnings in his experience take us to the Damascus Road. We noted last time that when, on that occasion, the truth dawned on him, it was that he was unworthy of God, that he was unfit for heaven, and that he was unable to rectify his situation. What made it so amazing was the fact that despite he knew that true of himself, he recognized that Jesus had sought him, Jesus had humbled him, and Jesus had saved him. And that is the experience of the genuine Christian. I think it’s [Newton] who says there are only two things that are necessary to be known for salvation: one is that I am a great sinner, unworthy of God, unfit for heaven, and unable to rectify my circumstances; the other is that Christ is a great Savior. He is the one who searches us out, he is the one who humbles us, and he is the one who saves us. And it is in this that we make the first baby steps along the journey of Christian living.
Now, by the time that Paul is writing to the church at Philippi, he has gone down that road some way. And as he affirms his commitment to Christ, he says in verses 10 and 11, “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, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” It’s a staggering statement. It is a quite amazing affirmation and aspiration. “I want to know Christ,” he says, “not only personally, but I want to know him progressively, and I want to know him with a passionate commitment.”
Now, if you think about that for a moment—imagine that you are in the company of this individual, making that kind of affirmation—there is a potential for discouragement that accrues from it. Now, you might be helped to figuring this by using an illustration. I’ve already mentioned baseball, so I’ll stay in the realm of baseball; as you know, it’s a subject about which I know a great deal. But actually, the fact that I know very little about it serves to my purpose, insofar as, let’s suppose that you invite me, somebody, to play on your baseball team. And you give me all the necessary finery, and you put me in your rotation. And in order to encourage me, you send me up behind your best hitter, who stands up and just smites the ball right out of the arena, and he has a grand slam. And then it’s me. And I’m not sure whether you hold the bat with the thick bit or the thin bit. I’m not sure whether you hold it up here or down here. I’m just not sure at all. And the fact that the fellow who went in front of me was so good and so effective actually made me feel like sneaking out, if I possibly could—because he was so good, and I knew that I was going to be so bad, that I would rather not be anything at all than be found out to be such a miserable person standing to try and hit a baseball.
It’s the spirit, incidentally, of Abrahams captured in Chariots of Fire, after the fictitious race with Eric Liddell—because Abrahams never raced Liddell in his life. But the Hollywood made a race just to dramatize it. And after he races Liddell—and they shot the scene in the rugby stadium down in Edinburgh—after he races Liddell and he loses, he sits, if you recall the film, up in the stands all by himself, sulking. And his lady friend appears into the stadium and works her way along the chairs and sits down beside him. He says nothing. Eventually, he breaks the silence and declares, “If I can’t win, I won’t run”—to which she replies, “If you don’t run, you can’t win.”
And in the race of the Christian life, it is possible for some of us who feel ourselves to be just on the starting blocks, just getting going, to be surrounded by the kind of individual who likes to make these dramatic statements about who they are, and what they’re going to do, and so on. Not that Paul is doing that. But the aspiring element in it is such that for the pilgrim—the early pilgrim—they might be tempted to say, “Well, if that’s what it’s really about, and if that’s how you really live for Christ, and if that’s what you’re supposed to know, I’m not even sure that I’m a Christian at all! Because I haven’t got any of those aspirations. At least, I can’t make those dramatic statements.”
Now that, you see, is why Paul follows verses 10 and 11 with verse 12. That’s why Paul says, “Now, listen…” And whether he wrote it or whether he dictated it, he probably paused at the end of what he’d written in 10 and 11 and said, “You know, I’d better just add something here, just in case any of these readers get the wrong idea—lest they think that what I’m saying is that I’m perfect; lest they think that what I’m saying is that heaven is already my present experience; lest they think that somehow or another that which is true of me clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, having been justified freely by his grace, has actually become my present-tense experience.” He says to his secretary, let’s imagine—he says, “Listen, let me give you another couple of verses here, just before we go any further. Write this down: tell them, ‘Not that I have already obtained all this, or [am] already … made perfect…’” In other words, as a wise pastor, Paul quickly adds this. He says, “I want you to know, dear ones in Philippi, that I’m a pilgrim. I want you to know that I’m still in process, still on the journey—that I still have plenty of ground to cover.”
Now, that’s a responsibility of Christian leadership. Because the danger in Christian leadership—the danger in being a pastor or a teacher—is that we can so set before people idealistic standards as to make them believe that we actually are living them, and then to make the disparity apparently so great between our listeners and ourselves, when in point of fact we may be deluding ourselves as well as deluding them.
This comes across, actually, very clearly in C. S. Lewis’s little book The Four Loves. As he writes in these four areas of love—affection, and friendship, and eros, and charity—he finally draws it all to a close. And in a wonderful statement of helpful honesty, he says this: “And with this, where a better book would begin, mine must end. I dare not proceed. God knows, not I, whether I have ever tasted this love.” He’s been describing this experience. He says, “I’m not sure that I’ve actually tasted what I’m writing to you about.” And then listen to this: “Those like myself whose imagination far exceeds their obedience are subject to a just penalty; we easily imagine conditions far higher than any we have really reached. If we describe what we have imagined we may make others, and make ourselves, believe that we have really been there.”
So you think that because you taught it, you did it? You think that because you understand it, you’re living it? You think that because you can write it on your wall, or stick it in your wallet, or quote it in your car, or announce it to the people around you, that that is actually your experience, when in point of fact it may be nothing other than your imagination? Do you dream about golf, if you play golf? Can I ask you, do you ever dream shooting 112? I tell you, you don’t. You dream par and subpar rounds, I know. Your imagination is so fertile that you see your name on the leader board of the Western Open this afternoon. You’re actually there. But you’re not! It’s your imagination. You’re like the wee boy at the swimming pool: “498 yards? I can jump that!” No, you can’t. Why’re you saying that? Do you think that makes you a better Christian? Do you think that helps the people around you? No! It makes you crazy and discourages them. That’s why the issue is a call to resolute, obvious commitment to the basics.
Now, what an encouragement it must have been for verse 12 to bounce out in the first reading of this letter. Imagine a couple, Aaron and Sarah Levi, 247 Bridge Street, Philippi—very zealous for God, very interested in being passionate about things, and very open to anybody who can tell them how they can really go for it. Mr. Levi leaves Sarah his wife behind to go and attend a meeting which has been advertised as taking place in such-and-such a street, in certain person’s house who is known to be a very perfect person. He is, in the terms of Philippians, a Judaizer. And he is offering to people—indeed, he is demanding of people—the notion that if they truly love Christ then they will experience a dimension of living which actually introduces them in the present to that which the apostle is saying is a prospect along the journey and reaches its fulfillment in heaven. But these individuals in their meeting gather the crowd and tell them that if they will add to Christ—if they will add to what they know—all these other things, then they may actually be made perfect. So Mr. Levi goes, and he attends, and he comes back, and he tells his wife, and as he tells his wife they both sit and look at one another across the kitchen table and they say, “You know, it seems to me absolutely hopeless. I understand the zeal, I understand what the fellow’s on about, but I can’t possibly see that it can be done.” And they are discouraged and dispirited.
And so, within a matter of days they’re in the congregation of Philippi, and the letter comes from Paul. And it begins, “[This is from] Paul and Timothy, servants of [Jesus Christ], to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi.” And Mr. Levi and Mrs. Levi are sitting out there on the benches, and they are listening to it read. And as it proceeds—and it would have been read in one listening—as they get to Philippians 3:10–11—“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, and the passion, and the suffering,” and everything else—Mr. Levi nudges Mrs. Levi, his wife Sarah, and he says, “Here we go.” He gives her a knowing glance. “Here we go. It’s the same thing I heard down the street. We’re getting the same thing in here, now. This guy is telling us…” And Mrs. Levi says, “Shhh! Shhh! I’m trying to listen. Be quiet a minute, would you? Listen!” And he pins both his ears back as verse 12 comes, and as verse 12 comes, he slowly slides off his seat and lands on his bottom in the middle of the room. Because he hears that what Paul has written down is not only his aspiration to know Christ in this way—passionately and progressively—but he has immediately added, “Not that I have already obtained all this or am already made perfect. I’m not perfect,” he says.
“Oh!” says Mr. Levi, “fantastic! Because if Paul’s not perfect, then I don’t know what these jokers are on about down at that guy’s house, but I’m not going down there again.” Because if there was anybody who was going to be perfect, after all, it would be somebody who was a Hebrew of the Hebrews; it was somebody who had a background such as Paul’s; it was a somebody who was from the tribe of Benjamin, of the people of Israel, an eight-day as far as circumcision goes, a Pharisee in relationship to zeal, persecuting the church, and faultless in relationship to legalistic righteousness. And the same guy who had that mark his life says, “I have not already obtained all this, or am already perfect.” “Oh, wonderful!” he must have said. “Oh, this is great.” Why? So that he could adopt a spirit of complacency? No. So that he could say, “Well, that’s fine, I don’t have to do anything or worry about anything”? No, not at all! But so that the truth of God’s Word could dawn upon his soul in such a way as to make sense of the Christian message.
The man or woman of spiritual maturity is aware of what they are not—is aware of what they are not. Most of our society is constantly urging us to be aware of what we are, and what we have achieved, and what we have done, and so on. But maturity in Christian living has actually as its beginning an awareness of what I’m not. Christian maturity is not exemplified by high-sounding talk, but in a life of humble, steady consistency. It is a sign of immaturity to “think of [ourselves] more highly than [we] ought.” Maturity rejects exaggerated claims. Maturity is marked instead by a sane estimate of our spiritual progress.
In the old fable of “The Tortoise and the Hare,” you will remember, the hare goes flying off. The tortoise is just… well, you know what they’re like, those things—their funny-looking little heads sticking out the front like that, and those things. And the hare’s a goner. In fact, the hare is so convinced that he’s got this race won that he decides he’ll sit down and rest and relax and fall asleep. And as the fellow with the dramatic start falls asleep, the wee guy comes—same pace, slowly, slowly, slowly—till eventually the tortoise is the winner and the hare is nowhere to be found.
Speaking as a tortoise: Do you know what a pain in the neck it is to be surrounded by spiritual hares? Always leaping and bounding about, always making great aspirations, always saying where they’re going, what they’re doing, what they’re achieving, how well they’re doing, quoting all the various verses they learned, letting everybody know how well it’s all going and how they’re on their journey. And how dispiriting it is as you just try and keep along the Christian life. You find yourself saying, “I don’t even know if I’m in this Christian life. I don’t even know if I want to wear this uniform. I don’t know if I want to stand up to the plate.”
But the wonderful wisdom of the apostle Paul! He says, “Now listen, guys, let me just tell you here—let me tell you the things that are fundamental to me.” And I want to summarize it for you in this way: “called,” “kept,” “pressing on.” I’m just going to say a word or two on each. But if you get these three statements, you have the whole deal: “called,” “kept,” and “pressing on.”
Where does the “call” come from? Well, it comes from God. Look at what he says: “I press on toward[s] the goal to win the prize for which God has called me”—“God has called me.” Paul is referring to the summons of God, which produces its desired effect—unlike some of our calls, which is “Would you get up?” and nothing happens, “Would you come for your meal?” and nothing happens. But this call of God is an authoritative call. It is a life-engendering call. It is the call of Christ outside the tomb of Lazarus: “Lazarus, come out!” And out he comes! “He speaks, and, listening to His voice, new life the dead receive.”[AM5] It’s Romans 8:28: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:30: whom God “predestined,” those “he also called.” Galatians 1:6: “I am [very surprised],” he said, “that you are so quickly deserting the one who [has] called you.” First Thessalonians 2: “[I urge] you,” he says, “to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.” Second Timothy 1:9: “[Timothy, let us bless God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,] who has saved us and called us to a holy life.”
And the call of God came to Saul—stirrings of it, probably, as we said last time—as he stood there, and the people put their jackets down at his feet, and as Stephen gave his sermon, and as Stephen knelt and looked up to heaven with the face of an angel, and as the stones finally entombed him and took his life from him. Were there inklings there? Certainly the voice was clear on the Damascus Road. Paul reiterates this truth many times as he gives his testimony; he says, “And I heard a voice… And I heard a voice from heaven saying…”
You see, you never begin the Christian journey until you hear God’s voice. Do you understand that? You say, “You mean audibly, you’re asking me?” No, not audibly. Well then, how is God’s voice heard if it is no longer heard audibly? It is heard when the Word of God is brought home to our hearts by the Spirit of God. The hymn writer says,
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Come unto me and rest;
Lay down, [thou] weary one, lay down
Your head upon my breast.”
[And] I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary and worn and sad;
[And] I found in him a resting place,
And he has made me glad.
The hymn writer is describing his experience of conversion. He presumably had heard sermons many times, the way you have heard many sermons. He had known about Christ from before, the way many of you had. He had been able to sit and absorb it all. And then one day he heard the voice of God, he heard the call of God. And it reached into his soul, and it was an irresistible call. There was nothing he could do except say yes, except follow, except embrace it. Have you heard God’s call in that way? Has God called out to you? Oh yes, he has! “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”
Called heavenward in Christ Jesus—called upward, called on.
Secondly, “kept.” That’s the emphasis on this phraseology about “taking hold” of things, you will notice: “I press on,” he says in verse 12, “to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” To be a Christian is to be taken hold of by Christ. That’s the real kind of question we need to be asking. Not “Am I enjoying religious pursuits?” Plenty of people do. Not “Am I attending religious observances and functions?” Many people do. But “Have I responded to God’s call, and am I kept by Christ?” I mean, can I only explain my life this morning in relationship to “called” and “kept”? Then I know that what I’m experiencing is genuine Christian faith. Because the Christian faith that goes on to maturity is grounded in the call and in the keeping power of Christ. Jesus says in John chapter 10, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” How do you know you’re a Christian? You listen to his voice, and you follow him. So you don’t listen to his voice, and you don’t follow him? You’re probably not a Christian. I mean, why would you think you’re in the flock if, when the shepherd comes by and says, “Come on now, sheep, come on now, baa, baa, baa, baa, let’s all go now,” when they all go, you’re over here going, “I don’t know who that guy is, but I’m not with them.”
When Peter describes the experience of being born again in 1 Peter chapter 1, he describes it in the exact same terminology; he says we’ve been born again to “a living hope [by] the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance” that is imperishable and undefiled, “kept in heaven for you”—notice, verse 5—“who through faith are shielded by God’s power.” “Kept.”
In Scotland we used to sing a hymn like went like this:
When I fear my faith will fail,
Christ can hold me fast;
When the tempter would prevail,
He can hold me fast.
I could never keep my hold,
He must hold me fast;
For my love is often cold,
He will hold me fast.
I am precious in his sight,
He will hold me fast;
Those he saves are his delight,
He will hold me fast.
The assurance of Scripture about going on to maturity is this: that we will persevere to the end of the race because he it is who keeps us going. Philippians 1:6: “I am confident that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
Now, is that not a great encouragement to us this morning? It ought to be. So prone to wander. So easy to stumble. So neglectful of the things of grace. So dull. So ineffectual. So cold. So hard-hearted. So poor about sharing my faith. How in the world am I ever still here? Don’t you ever say that to yourself, as you drag your sorry tail into worship? You say, “You may have a sorry tail. I don’t.” Well, sorry. I’m sorry I even mentioned it. As you come along to worship, do you ever say to yourself, “I wonder how it is that I’m still here?” I do all the time. And the only explanation I have for it is that he called me heavenward in Christ Jesus, and because he called me heavenward in Christ Jesus, he keeps me. And that’s amazing, that he keeps me. ’Cause if you knew what I was really like, you wouldn’t even listen to me preach. And if I knew what you were really like, I wouldn’t even waste my time on you. So don’t let’s kid each other. The great mystery is this: that he calls sinners to himself and that he keeps us. “Kept”!
When you think of the psalmist, on so many occasions—for example, Psalm 121—as he makes his way to Jerusalem, presumably… roads that in later years—for example, in the story of the good Samaritan—were dangerous roads. Remember, “[The] man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and [he] fell among thieves.” And you have the traveler making his journey, and as he makes his journey, presumably he’s fearful of bandits and beasts and all kinds of things. And as he looks up at the hills around him and as he walks, he says, “I lift … my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from?” And then he says, “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”
“Called,” “kept,” and “pressing on.” “I’m not yet perfect,” says Paul, “but I am pressing on.” One of the marks of maturity is in learning to look forward rather than constantly look back.
When we ran in our first school sports day, the one thing our mothers told us was, “Now look, I will be standing at the end of the thing. At the end of the hundred yards there’ll be a piece of string. When the guy says go, just run like crazy, and just don’t take your eyes off me, and I’ll be there at the end.” And our mothers and our fathers stood at the end and watched as we looked here, and we looked there, and we looked back, and we looked everywhere, and we finally stumbled into oblivion at the end of the race. And nevertheless, they said, “Hey, nice job,” you know, “nice job.” You’re going, “Nice job? I stunk.” And God stands at the end of the tape, as it were, as our Father, and he says, “Now, come on, come on. Come on. I know you’re not perfect, I know you haven’t run the whole way, but just keep your eyes on me and keep coming, would you?”
We say, “Well, wait a minute. I… wait, wait, wait… I’ll be… hang… don’t go… let me just, uh, let me go over here, and, uh, deal with this here.” We go over to the garbage can of sins in the past that the Evil One drags before us, and we go root around in them again. We get them out, we reexamine them, we put them back. God doesn’t intend for us to do that. We go back over here to some of our shrines and our altars: “Those were the great days when I was good and strong and brave, and I did this, and I did that,” and that gives us a fat head and makes us totally useless in the present. Some of us are so trapped, we cannot let bygones be bygones, we foul up our marriages because we’re sulking, we’re angry, we’re regretful, and we’re guilty of the worst kinds of recriminations. And in our spiritual pilgrimage, the Evil One is pleased when we live looking over our shoulders—when we live in the glory days, or the gloomy days. Paul says, “That’s not it. Don’t allow your regrets to be debilitating. Don’t allow your achievements to drag your neck down.” What is it that he forgets? Not the mercies of God to him, clearly. Not God’s provision for him in the past. He says, “I put that behind me. My goal is clear.”
He’s a goal setter, Paul. I like him. He’s a man with a plan. I like a man with a plan. He states his goals all the time throughout his letters. For example, in 1 Corinthians 9 he says, “It’s my goal to win as many as possible.” In Colossians 1 he says, “It’s my goal to present everyone perfect in Christ.” In Philippians 3:10 he says, “It’s my goal to know Christ.” And in Philippians 3:14 he says, “It is my goal to win the prize.” And God gives to us, in him, the power of example. That’s why he says in verse 17, “Join with others in following my example.” If anybody followed your example, where would they end up? Somebody follows my example, where are they going to end up? You say, “Well, we’re not supposed to do that. We’re supposed to say, ‘Follow Christ.’” The principle is this: As I follow Christ, you follow me. That’s the challenge of spiritual leadership, and that’s exactly the call that he issues.
He is, in many ways, the New Testament counterpart of the one of the great heroes of the Old Testament, and with this character I conclude: Caleb, described in the book of Joshua in this dramatic fashion. As he recounts the events of God, he says in Joshua 14:7, “I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh Barnea to explore the land. And I brought him back a report according to my convictions.” I like that: “according to my convictions.” In a sea of consensus, he has convictions, he stands out immediately.
You remember, the twelve spies are sent up to spy out the land of Canaan to see what it’s like, and all twelve come back, and ten say, “You know, it’s a nice place and everything, but they’re giants, and we shouldn’t go up there.” And two fellows, one Joshua and the other Caleb, said, “Let’s go up, because in God’s strength we can certainly do it.” He says, “My brothers who went up with me made the hearts of the people [sink]”—“made the hearts of the people [sink].” “I, however, followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly.” Do you know how easy it is to make the hearts of people sink? How easy it is to go with the ten that dispirit and discourage and disable? But not Caleb.
Now, he was forty years old at that point, the age that some of you are—midpoint in his life. And he could’ve, after that tremendous success, simply, presumably, have settled down. But he didn’t, because he was called, and he was kept, and he was pressing on. And here he says, “Now then, just as the Lord [has] promised, [he’s] kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses …. So here I am today”—get this—“here I am today, eighty-five years old! [I’m] still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out.”
Doesn’t that sound like your grandfather? “Come on. Come on, put ’em up. Let me get you. I’ll get you, come on.”
And you’re going, “Grandpa, don’t do that. Don’t… don’t, please. You’re gonna fall over, Grandpa. Don’t, please. Here, don’t do—”
“Ah, come on, I can take you, I’ll get you.”
So you’re going, “Oh, man.” You go and you tell your mother, “Grandpa’s really losing it. He thinks he can fight me, and, aw… Grandpa, that’s hyperbole. I learned that in English. I can’t spell it, but I know that you’re not really quite as strong as you think you are, Grandpa.”
“Ah, but inside I’m strong. In fact, at the core of my being, I feel the way I felt when I was forty, and I’m now eighty-five. I’m just as strong, I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle. Now give me the hill country.”
How do you get like that? That’s what I want to know! That’s what I want to know! I’m forty-six, over the hill, on the slide, on the downside, the final four hundred—that’s where I am. If you live seventy years, that’s it. So how do you get to be like that at eighty-five? I need to know that. Well, the answer is, the decisions that you make when you’re forty, and thirty, and twenty. It’s a continuum.
Do you know that in the fifteen years that I’ve been here, when I think back to the early days when we were there on Fairmount Boulevard, and then we said, “Well, we’re too big for Fairmount Boulevard, what are we going to do?” one guy says, “We’ll just get out of here!”
“Well, what’ll we do?”
“We’ll sell it!”
“We will?” (Coming from Scotland, you don’t sell things in Scotland. I mean, you don’t give anything away. You keep it forever!)
“We’ll sell it!”
“And what will we do?”
Do you know who some of the prime movers were? Do you know where they are? Let me have them stand up. They’re not here! They knew they were never going to be here. But their vision was not related to their experience of it. Their vision was not related to their enjoyment of it. Their commitment was directly related to the cause of Jesus Christ, knowing that they would never, ever share in it. Many of them are in glory. Most of them have moved. But they had the spirit of Caleb. I love that! I still get notes from one of them. Same illegible handwriting. Same spirit of expectancy: “I’s swimming again today, as I did yesterday, and as I will do tomorrow—still on track, still going, Alistair. Hope you’re still going, son.” Yes, I am! Thanks for writing! Thanks for keeping going!
If you’d come in this morning and I said to you, “Now, here’s my message; I have a message for you, I want to give it to you in one phrase: press on,” it’d be a chronicle of despair for many of you, wouldn’t it? ’Cause you had a lousy week. And the last thing in the world you want is some joker in here going, “Press on. Come on, now!”—pumping you up, like the old cheerleaders I mentioned before: “You can do it, you can do it! You can, you can! You can do it”—you know, that stuff? Totally bogus. Groundless exhortation. “Come on, now! Come on! Press on, church! Let’s go for it, church!” And the people are going, “On the basis of what? Because I feel miserable, I don’t know which way to hold the bat, I haven’t had a good week, I haven’t done particularly well.”
Hey, do you know why I know so much about that? ’Cause I haven’t had a particularly good week myself. I haven’t had a particularly striking twenty-four hours leading up to this hour. And I don’t need somebody to come and tell me to press on. I need someone to come and remind me, “You’re called. You’re kept. Now press on.” Because it is his calling from all of eternity and his keeping though all of time that provides the basis for the encouragement to run another hundred yards.
And I’ve told you many times before, when I go out running, I can only run to telegraph poles, and only the next telegraph pole. If you tell me, “You have only eighty-five more telegraph poles to run past before you finish,” I say, “Oh, I’m gonna throw myself down right now!” But you tell me, “Can you make it to one more telegraph pole?” I think I can.
How I long for you, with an earnest longing, that you will hear God’s call, that you will know yourself to be kept by Christ, and that together we will press on.
Let us pray:
O God, look upon us, we pray. Thank you for providing in your Son the perfect example of all of this, as he walks the streets and says, “I delight to do your will, O Lord”; as he walks into the garden of Gethsemane and declares, “Nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” So, ultimately, we look not to Paul, nor to Caleb, but to Christ, “the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured” the scorn and the abuse. May we hear your call, may we know your keeping, and may we press on. For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.
 See Acts 9:1–9.
 John Newton, attributed in Jonathan Aitken, John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007), 347.
 C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (1960; repr. San Diego: Harcourt, 1971), 140.
 Lewis, Four Loves, 140.
 Philippians 1:1 (NIV 1984).
 Philippians 3:5–6 (paraphrased).
 Romans 12:3 (NIV 1984).
 John 11:43 (NIV 1984).
 Charles Wesley, “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” (1739).
 1 Thessalonians 2:12 (NIV 1984).
 See Acts 6:15–7:60.
 Horatius Bonar, “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” (1846).
 Hebrews 3:15 (NIV 1984).
 John 10:27 (NIV 1984).
 1 Peter 1:4–5 (NIV 1984).
 Ada Ruth Habershon, “When I Fear My Faith Will Fail.” Paraphrased.
 Philippians 1:6 (paraphrased).
 Luke 10:30 (KJV).
 Psalm 121:1–2 (NIV 1984).
 1 Corinthians 9:19 (paraphrased).
 Colossians 1:22 (paraphrased).
 See Numbers 13:1–30.
 Joshua 14:8–9 (NIV 1984).
 Joshua 14:10–11 (NIV 1984).
 Joshua 14:11–12 (paraphrased).
 Psalm 40:8 (paraphrased).
 Luke 22:42 (KJV).
 Hebrews 12:2 (KJV).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.