THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM
Philippians 3:13,14 says, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” The subject suggested by this passage is, The Impossible Dream.” That may sound like a strange subject, and I will let you be the judge of the appropriateness of this subject title.
The first matter which commands our attention in this text is Paul's confession of imperfection and incompleteness. There is a beautiful, touching and instructive humility in the language of these verses. “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended.” Paul had taken stock of his life, made a careful estimate and had come to a conclusion. He felt incomplete and imperfect as a Christian. He was nearing the end of his life, yet his character was not what it should be or could be. Had Paul been satisfied with his attainments, he would never have sought more. Most men cry, “Stop” when they think they have done enough, but Paul paints a picture of himself as a frail and struggling apostle. We should have a deep-seated discontent with present attainments, or there will never be a striving after the things which are yet beyond. There is something greatly disturbing about Paul's attitude concerning his character and development. He calls upon us to follow his example in all that is stated in this text. He was so far ahead of us in his development it is disturbing to think how much improvement we need to make, just to catch up with him. Then, if we approach to his attainments, we still must be dissatisfied and keep striving for more. It goes without saying that the man who, in our text, tells us that he had not apprehended, was a Christian vastly superior to any of us. Among them that are born of women there has never lived a greater in the Church of Christ. Where shall we find his match for character? He had a character splendidly balanced, as nearly approximating to that of Christ as we may well expect to see in mortal men or women. When we look at his almost superhuman career he seems so far removed from ordinary life that to imitate him seems out of the question. He consecrated himself to an almost perpetual exile and gave up the endearments of domestic life forever. For him there was no place called home in this world. There is something almost awful in the thought of a man who was so thoroughly in the next world that he needed not the consolations and comforts of this world. Yet, after having duly considered the matter, this great apostle said, “I count not myself to have apprehended.” How much more should you and I be willing to make this same statement. It is of no use mincing the matter, we must fight if we are to win. Our sins will have to be contended with till our dying day, and on our death—bed we can all say, “I count not myself to have apprehended.”
Secondly, the text sets forth, most emphatically, the primary object or aim of human existence. The supreme objective of every Person's life is perfection. Although he confessed to imperfection, Paul went on to say, “But this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul's object in life is expressed in the words, “I press toward the mark..” In the verse before he said, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect, but I press toward the mark.” Perfection was his unreached mark. He had not attained perfection; but he was pressing towards it as a runner is pressing toward the finish line in a race. He had found a purpose to which he gave the undivided energy of his soul. “This one thing I do; I press toward the mark.” The aim of the Christian is to be perfect; if he seeks to be anything less than perfect, he aims at an object lower than that which God has placed before him. God has placed Himself before us as the model to follow. In Matthew 5:48 Jesus said, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” That waS the mark towards which Paul was pressing. But someone says, “God is invisible and how can we pattern our lives after God whom we cannot see? The Bible reveals that Jesus Christ, when on earth, was the express image of His person so that he who has seen Jesus has seen the Father (Hebrews 1:3). When the second person of the Godhead became Jesus in the flesh, God gave the world a human model of perfection. Christ is our mark, the perfect standard of God in Christ. To master every sin and to have and possess and exhibit every virtue, this is the Christian's ambition. Christlikeness was the “mark” towards~which Paul was pressing. A thoughtful person might reply, “Preacher, do you realize that by your definition you have made perfection an impossible dream and an unattainable goal? I am aware of this fact. Sin is an unbeatable foe so far as the attainment of sinlessness is concerned. But that doesn't mean I can't fight sin with all the strength in me. The Bible commands us to press toward perfection, the completeness of Christian character as revealed in the life of Jesus. He who would be a great artist must not follow low models. He who would be a great athlete must not take for a model a man of average ability. One who would live in such a way as to win heaven must take Jesus alone as his model. But why should we strive to attain an impossible ideal? The answer is important and note it well. Somewhere between redemption from our past sins and Christian perfection is a quality of life called “holiness” The Bible says “Without holiness no one shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). We must attain holiness in order to go to heaven, and holiness is located somewhere between baptism and perfection. How holy must one be? I cannot answer that question, for the Bible does not say. We know that there are degrees of holiness. Some are more holy than others. Paul was more holy than any of us, but he had not attained to perfection. Not knowing how holy we must be, it is urgent that we press on toward perfection. There is no room for self—complacency, self—satisfaction, or spiritual laziness. We are all subject to two dangers about striving after perfection. One is to throw up our hands and quit trying because we reason it is impossible to attain. The second is to think it can be attained and quit striving because we think we have a good enough character to be saved. Perfection is our mark, but at our dying hour it will be but this, “I count not myself to have apprehended.” Only eternity will reveal the degree of holiness each person has attained.
Thirdly, Paul revealed a great principle of human conduct which helped him “press toward the mark” of perfection, even though it was unattainable. It is impossible to become as good and holy as Christ, but we must press toward that goal. It takes special motivation to attempt the impossible. Paul tells us how to pursue this glorious quest, “forgetting those things which are before, I press toward the mark”(v. 13). This was the secret of his striving, pressing, and onward progress. The wisdom of a divine life lies hid in this principle: forget the past and look to the future. If you hope to make a continuous improvement in your life and charactcr, you must forget the things of the past. The reference is to things in the past that hinder our present living. In the first place it is wise to forget the days of your youth. Up to a certain period of life it is the tendency of man to look forwards. The young can't wait till they get older. For so many, youth is a time to throw away their happiness, to squander and waste time. To a man of middle age, existence is no longer a dream but a reality. He has not much more new to look forward to, for the character of his life is generally fixed by that time. He is midway between the cradle and the grave, and this makes him look back with sadness and marvel that he let the days of youth go by so half—enjoyed. The coming of gray hair causes many to look back at happier times in youth, but this is a mistake. Don't look back! We have an inheritance incorruptible that fades not away. There is nothing in the past for us. When we were children we thought as children, but now manhood lies before us, then old age, the grave, and then home. Manhood is better than boyhood because it is a riper thing, and old age ought to be a brighter, calmer, and more serene thing than manhood. There is a second youth for man and woman, better and holier than the first, if they will look on and not back, keeping their eyes on Christ.
Again, it is wise to forget your past mistakes and sins. Same people live with a self—accusing attitude, always looking back and microscopically observing how that which was done might have been done better. Something of this we ought to have; a Christian ought to feel he has partially failed, but that ought not to be the only feeling. We must be willing to try again and do better the next time. This self—accusing, self—condemning attitude and an unwillingness to accept God's forgiveness for past failures is a great hindrance to growth and improvement. Bad as the results have been in the world of making light of sin, those of brooding over it too much have been worse. Remorse is a feeling of sorrow and distress fcr past sin without the forgiveness of God. That put Judas Iscariot in his grave. Past guilt, when forgiven, lies behind us. Forget mistakes; organize victory out of your mistakes. Don't throw away your tomorrow becaus of the sins of yesterday. Forget your guilt and wait to see what eternity has to say about it. You have other work to do now. In addition it is important that you forget your past accomplishments. You may have made much progress in Christ, but don't congraulate yourself on your personal character. Drums make much noise, but we know by observation that it is not their fulness which makes the sound. Self—complacency, self—satisfaction and self—righteousness stunt spiritual growth. 11 we dream that we are at the goal already we shall stop short of the prize.
In conclusion our text reminds us that the Christian life is a high calling. Hear the text one more time: “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Forgetting the past Paul looked to the future and the prize. The prize is eternal life, everlasting happiness, and unending blessedness. It is a very lofty thing to be a Christian, for a Christian is a person who is restoring Godlikeness to his character. High as heaven is the calling wherewith we are called. Let each person put this question to himself: “Dare I look on?” Christians are, “looking forth to those things which are before.” The future belongs to Christians. It is well for Christians to look on. Dare you look on? Remember out of Christ, it is not wisdom but madness to look on. Hope for the future is a fantasy, a delusion, a dream without Christ. People in the world, without Christ, have no hope. For them it will be winter soon——old age with its disappointments, and there is no second spring for them resurrection morning of blesedness to dawn on the darkness of their grave. God has only one method of salvation and that is in Christ, his death, and his gospel. The cross of Christ means death to evil and wrongdoing, and life to good and right living.
It is impossible to attain unto the holiness required to be saved unless one is a member of the New Testament church. The New Testament offers no indication of a separation between salvation and church membership. The church which Jesus purchased with his blood includes all saved people. That church is fully described in your New Testament. When one comes to faith in Christ through acceptance of the testimony of Christ (Romans 10:17) and genuinely turns away from of all past wrongs (Luke 13:3), he is prepared to publicly confess this new faith (Romans 10:9,10) and to be united with Christ in immersion for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). At this time, a close study of Acts 2 will reveal that God adds the saved person to the church and claims him as a part of His spiritual family. Salvation and church membership occur simultaneously. Determine today to know Christ in full obedience and forgiveness. Search your New Testament for the church which is so fully revealed there. That is the church which you need to be a member of. Then look through your community for such a group and assume among them your place which God has created by saving you.