Scripture: Philippians 3:12-21
Key verse: (12) “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”
Reflection: “When were you saved?” That was the question my friend asked. We were in college together. He’s a wonderful human being and a committed man of faith. Out of love for me he posed that question, concerned for my salvation. “When were you saved?” he asked. “2,000 years ago,” I answered. My response reflected my Reformed theology of salvation, as we believe we are saved by what God accomplished in Christ, not by our own belief in that truth. “And by the grace of God, I might be saved today,” I added.
This understanding of salvation is informed by Paul. At the heart of Paul’s theology is the concept of “the already, but not yet.” One of the ways he employs this theology is through the grammar of his verbs. Paul often uses the “perfect tense” when speaking of salvation. The perfect tense is used to communicate an action that has been completed in the past yet has results occurring in the present. Paul often employs the perfect tense in combination with the future tense when speaking of the goals of faith: justification, sanctification, knowing Christ, becoming like him in his death, knowing his resurrection, and ultimately salvation. He’s been talking about these things earlier in chapter 3, and today’s passage moves to the ethic born of this perspective of faith.
The story is told of a prisoner of war camp in Germany in World War II that illustrates this truth. American and British soldiers were both held captive in this prison, but they were not permitted to speak with one another. The only people who could talk to each other were the Chaplains. They both happened to be Irish, and they both spoke Gaelic. While many Germans could understand English, they could not comprehend Gaelic. It just so happened that the British had a radio over which they were receiving news of the war. As news came in, the British Chaplain would communicate it to the American in Gaelic. So as news of D-Day, and the Battle of the Bulge, and the progress of the allies toward Germany came in, the news would spread throughout the camp through the Chaplains. They knew the war was won, though there were still battles to fight. Victory was already attained, but it had not yet come to them. This changed the way they lived. Their will to live improved. The burden of their work lightened. Their hope for liberation in the future eased the despair of the present conditions they endured. Then one morning, they woke up and their captors were gone. Later that day, allied troops arrived to set them free.
The life of faith is lived within the already, but the not-yet. This Lenten Season, as we make our way toward the cross, and ultimately to the joy of resurrection, may we press on to obtain what has already been won, but not yet fully achieved.
Prayer: Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth, as it is even now in heaven. Amen.
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].