God’s word tells us, “Where there is no vision the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18, KJV). Put another way, “When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild” (New Living Translation). God makes it clear that it’s essential to keep our eyes on the goal He’s set before us. When we don’t, we can become distracted, disappointed, divided and even ultimately depart from His precious calling.
As Bible-reading Christians, we are acquainted with that vision that comes from above, but our eyes and our hearts can drift and be pulled down here by the distractions of self, Satan and the increasingly secular, non-moral society surrounding us. As people of faith, we know God promises that He won’t be late, but as you know, too often our human nature arrives early and therein lies the predicament, even for people of faith.
The apostle Paul speaks to that vision from above as well as our earthly challenges, and offers a critical concept to consider. He states: “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things, which are behind, and reaching forward to those things, which are ahead. I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12).
Paul fully embraced an incredible concept: that Christ had personally laid hold of him as one going down the stream of life. And now in turn he had a responsibility to grab hold of that which was revealed. The Greek root word katalambanoexpresses the concept of “laying a hold (apprehend) so as to possess as one’s own, but towards the benefit of the one seized upon” (Vine’s Commentary).
It’s important not only to have a vision, but also be anchored in unmovable aspects of a vision that bears fruit before God and one another. Thus allow me to share some pivotal concepts that encompass the vision that God sets before us to press forward towards the prize of the upward calling. Some of the concepts are individual in nature while others bear collective responsibility.
1. God is calling us to grab hold of the concept proclaimed in Leviticus 11:44 and 1 Peter 1:15-16—“You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” This means much more than having biblical knowledge roll off our tongues or our names on a local church membership roster. We are being called by God the Father to be permeated more every day, moving towards full saturation of being just like Him. The apostle Paul put it this way: “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children” (Ephesians 5:1). That is, practice being like God!
Consider for a moment: When Moses approached the burning bush on Mt. Sinai, he was told, “The ground is holy, take your shoes off” (Exodus 3:5). Likewise the ultimate perfect holiness of God that we are graced to experience requires more than displacing outward apparel. It entails discarding our past, present and future life apart from God and handing them over to Him with the expectation that He direct our steps. That’s the deal! When we figuratively strip ourselves bare (much more than Moses’ shoes) and present ourselves to God in a surrendered state, God promises He will clothe us with garments of salvation and a robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10).
Let’s appreciate that at times we might have settled for information and occasional inspiration from a meaningful article or rousing sermon. But all along, God is demanding transformation.
This demands more than turning ourselves inside-out like a sock, but becoming a new pair of socks in order to follow in Christ’s footsteps. You see, Christ didn’t come to earth to simply make good men better, but to take dead-men-walking and make them live! When we grasp that concept, then Paul’s words become crystal clear in regards to holiness via transformation: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).
2. Let’s grab hold of the promise that what God starts He finishes. The apostle Paul often uses the analogy of our calling being like a spiritual race (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). God determines for each of us whether it is sprint or a marathon, but whatever the length of our days, run! As we do, let’s remember that we do not run alone. Let’s press forward with the encouragement provided by Paul: “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Let’s pace ourselves specifically with the promise set forth by the One who has already finished the race. “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day” (John 6:37-40). Thus, as we press forward to the upward calling; let’s take personal responsibility for sharing and rehearsing such promises of God with one another to motivate one another over the hurdles of this life.
3. Let’s grab hold of the incredible purpose that Christ grabbed hold of us to learn to love others as God loves us. Yes, loving like God loves is the goal, and anything else falls short. Now that’s an upward call if ever there is one, because humanly it’s impossible to achieve without His Spirit. But that’s what we press towards.
Let us endeavor to mirror Christ’s own defining statement that identifies His followers: “By this will all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love [agape] for one another” (John 13:35). That’s why members of the Body of Christ come together to express and experience such godly love with one another. The author of Hebrews captures God’s hold on us this way: “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25). Christianity is a contact event with others, be they family, coworkers, neighbors or fellow Church members. We simply cannot express or experience it by sheltering ourselves in self-imposed isolation or going through scriptural recipes on our own. Let’s be prepared to love the unlovable, to help the helpless and comfort the hopeless.
That’s why God calls us together on the Sabbath to not only receive a message from a pulpit, but to personally share Christ living in us with others by thought, word and deed. Personal actions that reveal you have been loved, and thus you seek out, share yourself, and love in return.
4. God has grabbed hold of us to realize we have been called to more than simply personal salvation alone. We’re a part of something much greater than ourselves and broader in reach. We’re members of a spiritual fabric called the Body of Christ—God’s new creation designed of spirit, not of dust. A new creation that encompasses being citizens (plural) of God’s Kingdom, members (plural) of His family and essential building blocks (plural) “built together” of a living holy Temple designed for God in which to dwell (Ephesians 2:19-22). Scripture declares that Christ is the head of the Church, which is His Body (Ephesians 1:23). Thus if Christ is the Head and we are the Body, we therefore become His eyes to see the needs of others, His arms to reach out to accomplish His works, and feet to run His errands.
We are truly a part of something so much grander than our self-interests. Together, as disciples spread around the world, yet united in Spirit, we have a collective opportunity to “spread the net” as “fishers of men” in responding to the upward call to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God, make disciples in all nations and care for those disciples.
That’s why the vision statement of the United Church of God reflects God’s desire for a people to be “joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:16).
Let’s keep the vision and maintain the desire to press forward toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Jesus Christ. Never limit God, and never limit what God can do through you for others—starting now!