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Toward the Prize

Toward the Prize
By Dave Hunt

Paul was a man of fervent prayer, with a seemingly endless list of dear ones on his heart. To the believers in Rome, even before he had been there, Paul wrote, “without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers” (Rom 1:9). Likewise, to those at Ephesus whom he knew well, “I…cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers” (Eph 1:16). The number of believers he mentioned by name in his epistles and for whom he daily prayed supported his statement: “Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not?” (2 Cor 11:28-29).

Of course, Paul’s prayers expressed much that he desired God to provide for various believers. First and foremost in his heart, however, was one passion he had for all believers everywhere and in every time of history–and that would include us today. He expressed it in various ways in his epistles. Here it is in his prayer for the Ephesians:

“That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him [to] know what is the hope of his calling [and] the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead….” (Eph 1:17-20)

Paul wanted believers everywhere to know and understand God’s ultimate eternal purpose for them. His prayer was not that this purpose would be accomplished one day in eternity. There was no question about that, nor could Paul’s prayer play any part in its ultimate realization. God had already determined to accomplish this goal for every Christian without fail, and He would do it by the very power with which Christ was raised from the dead. That it will be realized for every true Christian is as certain as our salvation. What was it, then, for which Paul prayed? That we would here and now in this present life know and understand “the hope of his [God’s] calling.”

What is this hope? And if it unfailingly will be realized for eternity in glory, no matter what we may do or not do, why is it so important that we understand it ahead of time? Herein lies one of the key elements in a victorious life of fruitfulness to the glory of God and fullness of Christ’s joy and ours.

The Apostles understood this hope well. Paul declared that we “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom 5:2). This passage and many others make it clear that “the glory of God” is not only something that will surround us in heaven but it will be revealed in us: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27). He calls it a “mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints” (Col 1:26). The fact that this promised “glory” is future and as yet unseen is likewise clear: “What a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it” (Rom 8:24-25).

Paul referred to “the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” as “that blessed hope” (Titus 2:13). How does that relate to “the hope of our calling?” Why would the hope of Christ’s appearing at last to His own, in glory, be specially blessed?

We don’t look to our own reasoning and speculation in seeking to understand the Christian’s ultimate hope. We search the Scriptures, and the more deeply we understand, the more clearly we see that the Bible is indeed the Word of the true and living God, one integrated love letter to mankind from Genesis to Revelation.

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth….” On the sixth day, “God created man in his own image” (Gen 1:1-27). That statement has nothing to do with man’s physical body, male or female, for “God is a Spirit” (Jn 4:24). We can only conclude that man was made in the spiritual image of God to manifest to the universe the beauties of God’s holy character: His selfless love, compassion, grace, gentleness, patience, holiness, and moral purity–as well as the power of choice. The latter, of course, was essential if man was to love God and his fellows–but that power, necessarily, opened the door for man to choose for himself rather than for his Creator!

In Adam’s irrational and unthinkable rebellion against the God to whom he owed his very existence, Self (the autonomous self as “god”) had its awful birth and, in partnership with Satan, has been trying to take over mankind’s destiny ever since. Battles rage within and without as each individual Self competes not only with God but with every other Self for supremacy: conflict between husbands and wives, children and their siblings, parents and children, in a cacophony of “I, My, Me, Mine.”

The moment man rebelled, the Spirit of God departed from man’s spirit, and the image of God in which man had been created was shattered. Self was left to the unhappy loneliness of its insane pride. Imagine worms boasting of their power and glory and one gets a picture of the pitiful creature called man, mired deeply in sin, parading his positive self-image and self-esteem before the throne of God!

Jesus declared that the only hope for any man was to “deny himself [that wicked Self born in Eden], and take up his [individual] cross, and follow me” (Mat 16:24-26; Mk 8:31-34; Lk 9:23). In defiance of our Lord’s command, Christian psychology (which is trustingly looked to for guidance by almost the entire evangelical church) declares that man’s great need is, instead, to nourish and cherish the Self. Rejecting Christ’s command, the evangelical church now follows Christian psychologists, who have become the new infallible priesthood. They have brought into the evangelical church the foolish wisdom of the world (1 Cor 1:20) with the excuse that “all truth is God’s truth.” That mantra confuses mere facts of logic or science with “the truth” found only in “the word of truth” (Ps 119:43; 2 Cor 6:7; Eph 1:13; Col 1:5; 2 Tim 2:15; Jas 1:18), which alone “shall make you free” (Jn 8:32).

Rather than denying self, “Christian psychology,” thinking it can improve God’s infallible and all-sufficient Word with the theories of atheistic anti-Christians, coddles rebellious Self with the offer of “self-esteem, self-love, self-acceptance, self-image, self-improvement, self-assertion,” and all the other selfisms, ad nauseam. Bruce Narramore admits that these theories are not found in “the word of truth,” but Christian psychologists have borrowed them from Christ-defying humanists:

Under the influence of humanistic psychologists like Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, many of us Christians have begun to see our need for self-love and self-esteem. It is a good and necessary focus.

James Dobson’s ministry is built upon this same humanist foundation. We have quoted him saying that Christian psychology is a good career for any young Christian to aspire to, “provided their faith is strong enough to withstand the humanism to which they will be exposed.” So the evangelical church, under the influence of Christian psychologists, has been reduced to reliance upon humanists for instruction in how to provide essential moral and spiritual counsel, which the Holy Spirit somehow failed to include in the Word of Truth, even though it claims to give us “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Pt 1:3).

How can so many Christians turn from the clear teaching of Scripture to Satan’s lies? There is widespread ignorance of God’s Word in the evangelical church. Even worse is the eagerness to follow the world in contemptuous disregard of what the Bible unmistakably teaches. Much of the blame must be placed upon Christian psychologists, who have led the way in this rebellion. The effect is everywhere. Robert Schuller (who for years has had the largest TV audience each Sunday morning), in a book with an introduction by his mentor, arch heretic Norman Vincent Peale, boldly defies God:

Self-love is a crowning sense of self-worth. It is an ennobling emotion of self-respect…an abiding faith in yourself. It is sincere belief in yourself.

It comes through self-discovery, self-discipline, self-forgiveness and self-acceptance. It produces self-reliance, self-confidence and an inner security, calm as the night.

Self has taken the place of God. Sadly, the specious belief that humanists can teach us how to counsel from the Bible through psychological techniques is widely accepted among evangelicals today. Church leaders are taking their flocks into one false teaching after another (from the avid pursuit of “signs and wonders” to numerical growth at the expense of sound doctrine). Many such errors have been exposed in these pages. Here again Self, inflated by Christian psychology, is the culprit. Jesus said, “If any man will [i.e., wills to] do his [the Father’s] will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (Jn 7:17). Scripture will not be understood nor sound doctrine valued and defended as long as Self has not been denied in surrender to the will of God.

In our lives, we need God. We need the Holy Spirit. We need Christ as our very life itself, allowing Him to restore in and express through us the image of God in which we were created. We have forgotten heaven and become enamored of this world, living our lives as though the only plans God has for us pertain to earth. Yes, some of our works seem good and spiritual: preaching the gospel and giving out tracts, writing Christian books and making Christian films, building missionary organizations, larger churches, and Christian universities, doing charitable deeds-and on and on it goes, keeping us so busy serving the Lord that we can scarcely find time to love and worship Him.

Believing the lie that one can become so “heavenly minded” as to be of “no earthly good” (surely Christ was the most heavenly minded man who ever lived, yet He was also the most earthly good!), we have lost sight of “the hope of his calling.” I do not minimize the lust, self-indulgence, entrapment in sin, failure to pray, neglect of Bible study, the forsaking of Christian fellowship, and the carnality that is rampant today among those who claim to be born-again evangelicals. These failings, however, are easily recognized by anyone who knows the Lord and has a modicum of conscience.

It is a deadly error, however, to imagine that victory over these sins comes through getting “busy for God.” No matter in what we are falling “short of the glory of God,” the problem is the same: we have lost sight of (or perhaps never understood) what Paul says is “the hope of our calling.”

Perhaps no one served Christ as wholeheartedly as Paul. At the same time, no one loved Him more. Consider carefully Paul’s explanation of the secret of his life: “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” (Philippians 3:13-14). Paul then exhorts, “Be followers together of me…” (Philippians 3:17). What is this prize that we should all be pressing toward, as Paul did?

Clearly, it is not an individual award given to a “winner” in competition for excelling others. The prize is “the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” itself that Paul desired for all Christians to understand and press toward. This “high calling” is why Christ died and rose again for us! Peter explains that “the God of all grace…has called us unto his eternal glory” (1 Pt 5:10). Falling short of that glory is the biblical definition of sin (Rom 3:23). The restoration of that glory is fully assured in eternity for every true disciple of Christ, yet we are to pursue it even now. Laying everything else aside for this goal was the secret of Paul’s remarkable life!

Of Christ it is written, “Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2). That joy was twofold: knowing that He had faithfully accomplished what the Father had given Him to do; and “bringing many sons unto glory” (Heb 2:10) in His very image. The “hope of his calling” is the joy set before us: the joy of at last fully becoming all that the Father’s heart of love desires for us so that Christ will “see of the travail of his soul [and] be satisfied” (Isa 53:11). The “hope of his calling” is beautifully expressed in this old hymn (excerpted here) written by John Nelson Darby, one of the founders in the early 1830s of the so-called “Plymouth Brethren”:

And is it so? I shall be like thy Son? Is this the grace which He for me has won?

Father of Glory (thought beyond all thought), In glory to His own blest likeness brought!
O Jesus, Lord…myself the prize and travail of Thy soul! Yet it must be!
Thy love had not its rest were thy redeemed not with Thee, fully bless’d.
That love that gives not as the world but shares all it possesses with its loved co-heirs.
Nor I alone: Thy loved ones all, complete, in glory round Thee there with joy shall meet;
All…for Thy glory like Thee, Lord: object supreme of all, by all adored….
The heart is satisfied, can ask no more: all thought of self is now, forever, o’er.
Christ, its unmingled Object, fills the heart: in bless’d adoring love its endless part.
Father of Glory, in Thy presence bright all this shall be unfolded in the light!

The angel Gabriel told Daniel, “They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever” (Dan 12:3). John explained when and how this transformation would occur: “When he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn 3:2).

Though that transformation will not be fully realized until we see Him face to face, yet even now, though “we see through a glass, darkly” (1 Cor 13:12), we are, as we keep our eyes upon Him, being “changed into the same image from glory to glory…as by the Spirit of the Lord.” Let us lay all else aside to press on toward the prize “of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus!” TBC

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