THE PULL OF HEAVEN
10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,
11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:10-14 ESV)
Philippi, where Paul founded the church on his second missionary journey, was a Roman colony. When Paul wrote to the church at Philippi and underscored the meaning of church membership, he had at hand an illustration his readers could easily understand. “Our citizenship,” he wrote, “is in heaven.” James Moffatt translates the statement even more strikingly: “We are a colony of heaven.” ( Christian Theology in Plain Language, B. Shelly, p. 193.)
Paul was in prison and if you did not read all of Paul, you would see this passage as sort of a pep talk to those who are weary. But it is more than a pep talk. It is a reminder we are a colony of heaven. It is easy in the midst of our suffering and difficulties to forget that we are more than mere worshipers of God. We are His children! We are part of the family. Furthermore, we forget that we are away from home. We are but aliens here, strangers looking for that place that we call home.
Paul was a Roman citizen. But no, in reality he was a citizen of heaven! He used his Roman citizenship to his advantage when needed, but his heart was in heaven. We worked, not for the betterment of Rome, but to enlarge the kingdom of God. He was not trying to be a good citizen of Rome, but a good citizen of heaven. He was not trying to express Roman Character, but Godly character, the kind that belongs to the citizens of heaven!
Therefore like Paul, we forget what lies behind us, all of it, and we reach forward to what lies a head. Paul uses an athletic metaphor, he describes a runner who sees the goal, the tape at the finish line and he lunges forward, with all his strength he leans out as far as he can and reaches for the goal. He does so because he has become consumed with winning the prize. Like Paul, we press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus because we have become consumed with Christ. The secret is to let go of the past. We become burdened down with things, emotions, feelings and troubles from our past. We think we can’t do without them. But, the fact is we can’t live with them. Our past burdens have no present claims on us.
The writer of Hebrews said,
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1-2 ESV)
Our past doesn’t own us. Our failures, our sins, our troubles, our aspirations and goals, our hopes and our dreams have no claim on us. Only Christ can claim us. If we stumble and fall, we can get up and go on, even press on because God Himself has set us free.
We no longer belong to this world. Paul says our citizenship is in heaven. He weeps and laments for those refuse to follow Christ. Their end is destruction because they are citizens of this world. This world is doomed to destruction. It has no future. But those, who are in Christ, belong to a world that will never end.
Key to this point of view is found in verse “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Phi 3:12 ESV) It was not because Paul was a great man or his tenacious spirit, or his bullheaded attitude. The reason that Paul ran so hard and left everything behind is because Christ first made Paul his very own. Jesus comes in pursuit of us. He comes after us and seeks to make us his very own.
What would you do if the richest, most power person saved you from some epic disaster and then lavished you with such wealth that you are over whelmed? And then he promises you that whatever he has is yours and all of it is your inheritance? We would pursue such a person. We would seek to please him. We would do everything to be like him. This is what God has done for us. He has redeemed us. He made us his children. He made us citizens of heaven and all that he has, he has promised to us as an inheritance. In Paul’s mind, pursuing the upward call is nothing more than claiming the prize, claiming our promised inheritance.
Paul is no different from us. We have the same promises, why do we not pursue the promises of God with the same enthusiasm? Often we waste our time on meaninglessly small things. We should run after the things of God. And as we do, we will see that our souls are becoming more like Christ. We become bearers of light, bringers of good news and our desires are for the weight of glory that will be poured out on us.
Sometimes as we run toward Christ, we become so aware of our own sinfulness that we fell burdened down by our sin that we think we are getting nowhere. In fact, the opposite is true. The longer we run, the more sensitive we become to the things that weigh us down. We are making real progress when we understand the the weight of sin and those things that trip us up. We become mature enough to lay aside those weights and burdens all because the grace of God draws us to see what we are and what we are to become. We begin as unredeemed sinners. By the calling of Christ, we run toward the goal of being glorified in the presence of Christ forever.
When we run toward the prize, we realize that the pull of heaven is acting on us and drawing us ever forward. God’s pull on us energizes us to run! That is why we can’t stop.
We are Americans. But we have a higher citizenship. We, the church, are a colony of Heaven. We have the rights and privileges of citizenship of heaven in this present life. And we bear witness to the way citizens of Heaven live and behave. But we are not in heaven yet. We still live in the cruel world of sickness and sin and terror and destruction. As citizens of heaven living as a colony behind enemy lines, how are we to live? As those who do not give up, but who press on toward the prize and the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Paul wrote: Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2Co 4:16-18 NAS)
Don’t you feel the pull of heaven? Don’t you yearn to see the face of God and to be loved by him? Don’t you want to stand with all the saints singing praises to our Savior? I know that we think it will be all about our loving and praising God. But as Lewis said, God did not make us so much so that we might love him, but that he might love us. In heaven, I suspect that we will never be able to out love God!
Until that day, we feel the pull. We run the race, we start to breathe the air of heaven, we hear that great cloud of witnesses urging us on, and we start to look like heavenly creatures as God changes our character. So we throw off the things of the world and we run the race. We run is such a way that we pursue the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.