A few years ago, during an extremely stressful time in my life and ministry, I came across some old files in which I had written down topics for a series of future sermons. I must have done some research into Jonathan Edwards because my notes included a list of resolutions he had written as a teenager. (If you do not know Jonathan Edwards you can Google him.) My notes read as follows:
From 1722 to 1723, (ages 19 to 20) Jonathan Edwards wrote down seventy resolutions which he read every week for the rest of his life. The preface and the first of Edwards’ resolutions reveal him to be a very serious man from his youth:
“Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly ask Him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to His will, for Christ’s sake.”
“Resolved, that I will do whatever I think to be best for God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my lifetime, without any consideration of the time, . . . .
- Resolved that I will do whatever I think to be my duty and best for the good and advantage of mankind in general.
- Resolved that I will do this, whatever difficulties I meet with no matter how many and how great.”
Immediately after reading this, and given my circumstances at the time, I resolved to compose my own list of resolutions. While my list is not as extensive as Edwards, it is the fruit of time spent in prayer, Bible reading and deep contemplation of the nature and character of God. Using the preface borrowed from Jonathan Edwards, I wrote down the following five resolutions:
“Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly ask him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.”
- I resolve to live wisely (Proverbs 3.5-6; Philippians 3.12-16)
- I resolve to live humbly (Romans 12.1-2; Philippians 2.3, 7-11)
- I resolve to live repentantly (Philippians 2.1-16; 4-9)
- I resolve to live faithfully (Matthew 6.25-34; Philippians 2.19-29)
- I resolve to live fearlessly (Proverbs 1.7; 29.25; Philippians 1.27-28)
The inspiration for these resolutions comes from Paul’s words in Philippians 3, specifically verse 14, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
You don’t need seventy resolutions to follow Jesus. You don’t even need five. According to Paul, you just need one: press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Living wisely starts with knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection.
We all have a past. The more closely we follow Jesus, the more we get to know Him, the better we are able to deal wisely with our past. People who live wisely put no confidence in who they are, where they came from, what they’ve accomplished, or what they’ve earned. In other words, people who live wisely find their identity in Jesus Christ and not in their past. They put their confidence in Jesus Christ, the Son of God who humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even the death of a cross (Philippians 2.8).
Paul had a past. And while his past did much to shape him, Paul refused to let his past to define him. His identity is defined by three things:
- Knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection
- Gaining Christ by being found righteous through faith Christ
- Sharing in the sufferings of Christ becoming like Him in His death
Rather than boast about his solid gold religious resume; or put any confidence in his outstanding Curriculum Vitae as a religious Jew, Paul says, “I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” [NB: Rubbish is a polite translation. The Greek word Paul uses is skubala meaning useless or undesirable material that is subject to disposal. Skubala is the stuff you scrape off the bottom of your shoe after you’ve stepped in it.]
Compared to knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection everything else is skubala. The power of Christ’s resurrection is the power that comes to us through faith in Him. To know Christ and the power of His resurrection is to receive the power to follow Jesus wherever He leads us.
- It’s the power to suffer the loss of all things; the power to consider them skubala compared to knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection.
- It’s the power to walk away from your past by trusting Jesus for your future.
- It’s the power to go wherever Jesus leads you and to do whatever Jesus commands you.
- It’s the power to press on and persevere.
- It’s the power to face the worst life can throw at you and follow Jesus nevertheless.
- It’s the power to say, “Not my will but Your will be done.”
- It’s the power to live wisely in the midst of a culture that lives foolishly.
Living wisely means knowing you have promises to keep and miles to go before you sleep.
Having declared his goal is to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, Paul is honest and humble enough to confess not even he has obtained it or has already become perfect. He has promises to keep and miles to go before he sleeps. Thus he makes it his aim to press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Despite his status as an apostle, despite all he has experienced and accomplished since his conversion, Paul has not yet obtained the full knowledge of Jesus and the power of His the resurrection. That happens on the other side of the veil. Having been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, Paul presses on to know as much as he can about Jesus and the power of His resurrection in this life.
The only way Paul could obtain this knowledge, the only way he was going to know Jesus and the power of His resurrection was to experience suffering for the sake of Christ. That’s the bad news.
Here is the good news. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ transformed suffering by making it a redemptive experience. Most cultures, including our own (especially our own), try to avoid suffering at all costs. However, the Bible teaches us to regard suffering as an opportunity for deepening our faith. The biblical view of suffering is to see it as the means by which God the Father conforms us into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ, God the Son, under the caring supervision of God the Holy Spirit. That. Is. Radical.
But do not worry if you’re not there yet. You are in good company.
Living wisely means keeping your eyes fixed firmly on Christ and practicing a long obedience in the same direction.
There is such a thing as wise forgetting—the ability to forget what lies behind. Wise forgetting refuses to let our past define us. Wise forgetting is the fruit of finding our identity in Jesus Christ. Wise forgetting trusts in the promise of future grace. It forgets what lies behind and strains forward to what lies ahead. People who practice wise forgetting press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Paul is straining forward like a runner leaning forward and stretching out to break the tape at the finish line. His goal is to run as much as it is to run in order to receive the prize. When Paul says, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” he means “I press on toward the thing I prize most in life. I press on toward the thing that has the most value to me – to know Jesus Christ and the power of His resurrection.”
- Paul does not press on out of a sense of guilt.
- Paul does not press on out of the sense of regret.
- Paul does not press on out of a sense of remorse.
Paul presses on because of the joy he has in knowing that Christ has taken hold of his life. His life’s passion to make this knowledge His own because that is why Jesus Christ made Him His own. He is driven by the desire to know Jesus. He forgets ignores any distraction so that he can follow Christ so that he can press on to know Jesus
Paul presses on for the same reason Jesus pressed on and endured the cross scorning its shame: for the joy that was set before Him. For the joy of hearing the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. For the complete, overwhelming, soul-captivating, heart-motivating, breath-taking moment when God looks at us and says, “Well done you good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of Your Master.”
There is as much virtue in running the race as there is in winning the prize.
The prize of the upward call of God is an eternity spent knowing Jesus Christ and the power of His resurrection. People who live wisely trust God when He says, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” The future belongs to those who press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
It’s been said that golf is a game of recovery. The honest golfer who hits a bad shot cannot improve his lie. He accepts that he hit a bad shot and plays the ball where it lies. He tries to recover. By the grace of God, life can also be a game of recovery. We can neither change nor undo the events that make up our past. But we can resolve to play the ball where it lies. We can recover by resolving to live wisely. Let us resolve to forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead. Let us resolve to press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
You think about that.