By Roy Ciampa, Ph.D.
Armstrong Chair of Religion, Samford University
Set Apart for the Journey
God has called us to a lifelong journey of growing into Christlikeness, striving to model the life that we will only perfectly reflect on the day of our final resurrection.
Sanctification is a continual journey toward Christlikeness. (12–14)
The great Apostle Paul himself was clear about the fact that he had never attained his ultimate goal, which was “to know [Christ] and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death,” with a view to attaining the resurrection from the dead (vv. 10–11). He had not reached this goal, but rather he made “every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus.”
The goal of perfect Christlikeness is a call that is ultimately realized only in the resurrection of the dead, but Paul pursued Christ and Christlikeness throughout his life, knowing it is a continuous journey.
Spiritual maturity comes as we follow the example of mature believers. (15–19)
Paul urges us to follow his model of mature thinking in Christ, which is forward-looking rather than backward-looking.
We must “live up to whatever truth we have attained,” which Howard Hendricks, former professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, used to paraphrase by saying, “May God keep us from trafficking in unlived truth.” What a great prayer.
What good is it to listen to thousands of sermons if the truths we are learning are not reflected in our daily lives? Paul urges us to find and follow the examples of godly people. There are too many others who reject Christ and follow any of the many idols that lead to destruction rather than the life offered to us in Christ.
Spiritual growth is not complete until our glorious transformation in heaven. (20–21)
Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior, and we are waiting for our King to come and deliver us from the evils of this present world by our resurrection and the establishment of His Kingdom when He will vanquish all His enemies. Whatever other citizenship we might have is of no eternal importance.
The fact that our citizenship is in heaven has often been misunderstood to mean our destiny is a heavenly one in contrast to an earthly or bodily one. In Paul’s world many were Roman citizens, but that didn’t mean they would ever go to Rome. It meant they were expected — and legally authorized — to live life the Roman way wherever they lived within that empire.
Our citizenship is in heaven, and we await not our departure to there, but “we eagerly wait for a Savior from there.” Christ will come back to transform our bodies to be like His own, to give us resurrected bodies fit for a new heaven and a new earth where everyone and everything will be subjected to Christ.
One significance of a resurrected body is to remind us that God created us as physical and spiritual creatures within a physical and spiritual creation, and His redemptive plan is for us to be physically and spiritually glorified in a world where sin has no place and where the glory of God is perfectly manifested and reflected in all of creation.
We will only know perfect Christlikeness in our resurrected bodies but must follow Paul’s example of seeking it out and anticipating it in our daily lives here and now.