Pressing On In 2021

People don’t agree on much but the global sentiment is "Good Riddance" to 2020 and "Hello 2021."


We're tired. Tired of COVID. The lockdowns. Karens. Parties. Politics. Not seeing people's faces. Loss of community. No school.


As fed up as we are, we're also kind of getting used to it. If we're not careful, temporary changes are in danger of becoming lifelong habits.


Granted some of the things we are doing are for the better, home with family, reading the Bible, exercising, more babies, less traffic, but some of the changes are not healthy spiritually or in any way.  

It's the new year. But we don't trust in 2021 to change a thing, nor do we think it'll be a piece of cake or that a vaccine is going to return everything back to the old world of 2019. Yet we trust Jesus Christ.


He is our Savior and Lord. He's the One who died for us and gives us new life with God, and He is who rules over a sin plagued world.


So as hard as 2020 was hard, it doesn't define us. Jesus does. We need Him to heal us and lead us in the New Year and to bring us through whatever He allows in 2021.


When the apostle Paul was in prison, so talk about a bad year, he wrote to the Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul spoke of the life changing privilege we have of knowing Christ,


Philippians 3:8 … I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord… and count them mere rubbish, so that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 if somehow I may attain to the resurrection [Greek: exanastasis, which is different from the word resurrection and means "a better resurrection"] from the dead.


This is a great passage to understand; I'll come back to it. But then he tells us,


Philippians 3:12 Not that I have already grasped it all [I.e., Paul says, I don't know all there is to know about Jesus; and I keep finding myself in sin; I don't always live by the power of His resurrection] or have already become perfect, but I press on if I may also take hold of that for which I was even taken hold of by Christ Jesus.


"Not that I have already become perfect." I'm glad he wrote this for us. Jesus Himself said "Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect," but Paul never reached that. Yet he says, "I am in no way perfect but that's okay!" And same for you!


It's not your ability to be a supermom during a global shutdown that gives you worth or value. However holy or healthy or loving you've held up during the pandemic doesn't define you either. Jesus does. He and He alone, if you can accept that. Jesus alone justifies you before God.


But it's not always easy to accept this.


We care too much about what others think. And we think pretty highly of ourselves in comparison to others.


We also have quite high expectations for ourselves, and for others. We expect to be better than we are—holier, more mature, better able to defeat sin, better able to love. We expect to be great parents. And we expect our spouse and children and friends to all be better people, too. And not even a global pandemic and brutal government clampdowns on lives and lifestyles are an excuse.


But life and work and ministry are already stressful and then you add COVID and the clampdowns and it's even more stressful. Yet the straw that breaks the camel's back is when we or others expect to be perfect, or expect YOU to "be perfect" through it all.


Paul lived an amazing life in Christ yet he NEVER pretended to be perfect. He never acted as if he didn't struggle with sin (Romans 7) or with weakness (2 Cor 12). We see the same with Moses, David, and Peter.


Whether Paul or Abraham or Moses, not one of the saints of old ever "arrived." None of them were perfect. Yet they did not lament this and they didn't ignore it ether, nor give up on Jesus or discipleship.


Philippians 3:12 Not that I have already grasped it all or have already become perfect,  but I press on if I may also take hold of that for which I was even taken hold of by Christ Jesus.


"Hey, you think your freedom is restricted, well it is, but I'm in prison and this doesn't stop me from serving Christ. I press on." And he encourages us to press on with him. Let's press deep into our relationship with God in 2021.


The New Year may not be much easier, but God is going to bring us through.


We are fatigued. We may need rest. But 2021 will not give you rest. Jesus will. Draw on Him. If you need to rest, rest! but don't rest passively thinking one month of rest is will change anything. Press on in the grace of God, in your relationship with Christ. Press on in community. Press deeper in His love.


Philippians 3:13 Brothers and sisters,  I do not regard myself as having taken hold of it yet; but one thing I do : forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the 'upward call' of God in Christ Jesus.


I.e., the bar is high. Christlikeness! Sin no more! Love one another as I have loved you! Love your enemies. Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect.


Paul says I haven't reach that yet.


And if we're honest, we're all far from perfect. We aren't even that good. So it might be tempting to say "the bar is too high." "The Christian life is too hard." "2020 has beaten us down too far." And take a break from following Jesus, partnering in His church.


It's good to admit it, maybe you won't find us fully mature and perfect in 2021, God will bring us through as we press on in Christ. In 2021 we need a new path and we'll talk about that next week. But hear God's Word,


Philippians 3:13 Brothers and sisters, I do not regard myself as having taken hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on [same as verse 12] toward the goal for the prize [AKA the reward] of the 'upward call' of God in Christ Jesus.


Despite the virus. Even though if you're anything like me you're not even close to perfect. Let's push forward in our faith. Press on in the word. Pursue Christian community. Press on in His love. Press on to love others.


That's the one thing Paul does. He presses on "toward the goal," so he has a goal, and it's "the prize," it's the same word for eternal rewards. He cheers us  to keep pressing on for the eternal reward of the "upward call of God in Christ." The "upward call of God" is what? the resurrection mentioned in V11.


But isn't the resurrection a free gift of God's grace to every believer regardless of how faithful or unfaithful we are? Then how is the resurrection a reward?


Paul has in mind the goal of the reward, the judgment seat of Christ, the bema, the reward ceremony of the saints.


Philippians 3:10 [Remember Paul is in prison but he presses on to] that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 if somehow I may attain to the resurrection [not anastasis, but exanastasis, "a better resurrection"] from the dead.


Paul was fully assured that he had eternal life. So why did he have to suffer and die to himself in order to "somehow attain to the resurrection?" Because eternal life is guaranteed every single believer but eternal rewards are not.


That's why he chose the word exanastasis, "a better resurrection."


Hebrews 11:35 Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release [they wouldn't deny Christ just to be set free], so that they might obtain a better resurrection.


God wants us to soar in our relationship with Jesus no matter we face. You want this too.


He exhorts us to press on in Christ, to know Jesus and the power of His resurrection and even the fellowship of His sufferings for our own health and for the mission of the church. But also for the future rewards that Christ wants to lavish upon each of us at the end of the age. Rewards aren't for perfect Christians but Christians who press on and by faith honor and abide in Christ.


Philippians 3:13 Brothers and sisters, I do not regard myself as having taken hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind [hey 2020 and the weariness and fatigue of 2020 are in the rearview, our screws ups and missteps are in the past; forgetting what lies behind] and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize [the future reward] of the 'upward call' of God in Christ Jesus.


What is it that lies ahead? Christ's glorious return, the fulfillment of every Kingdom promise, making all things new. Being with Jesus, not on clouds but with purpose, fulfillment, it's our destiny.


And the better resurrection, the judgment seat of Christ, being rewarded and outfitted to rule with Christ in the kingdom. The joy of reigning with Christ, carrying out global goodness, justice, real peace in the world. The eternal rewards that Jesus wants to bless you with, along with His personal, "Well done, good and faithful servant," this is a huge deal. It's our destiny. And Paul says it's important enough to keep in mind when the world around us is on fire.


Philippians 3:15 Therefore, all who are mature, let’s have this attitude [this frame of mind]; and if in anything you have a different attitude, [pray about it, press onto God's Word] God will reveal that to you as well; 16 however, [regardless of what unfolds in 2021, church] let’s keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.


As we bid adieu to 2020, do not put our faith in 2021 but in Christ.


Let's press into the heart of God, press deeper into the truth and grace of Jesus. Let's press on to maturity as a church together.