"Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:12-14)Paul views our Christian walk, not as a dichotomy between perfect and imperfect, but as a race where we are running from where we used to be to where God wants is to be. Our call "to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48) is not a judgment against us as to where we are or not perfect, but an invitation to a life where we move from imperfection to perfection as we labor with the spirit of God who indwells us. The idea here is not so much "be perfect" as it is to "become perfect". The goal is perfection, just as God is perfect, and the process is this life we live with God, allowing Him to teach us, guide us, and empower us to become perfect, just as He is perfect.
Paul admits that he had not already been made perfect and that there were still things God was working into his life, as well as things God was working out of his life. However, this realization that he was not already perfect did not discourage him or cause him to give up, rather, it motivated him to remain committed to God's process of sanctification in his life. His realization that he has not already arrived motivated him to continue in the process of growing in Christ and in the race towards perfection.
Paul understood that there was a reason and a purpose for which God had reached out to him, and all mankind, to invite them into reconciliation with Himself, a reconciliation that was provided for us by Christ. God had laid hold of Paul for a reason and it was now for Paul to lay hold of that very purpose for which God had laid hold of him. And what was that purpose? Paul writes, "For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren." (Romans 8:29) We have been laid hold of by God that, through the work of His Spirit in our life, we might be conformed into the image and likeness of His Son. None of us are there yet, but it is to this end that we ought to press forward in our walk with God.
One of the keys to pressing forward to apprehend those things for which Christ has saved us for is to learn to forget those things that are behind us. There are two important categories of those things behind us that we ought to forget and leave behind. First is our former identity. Some people struggle in their walk with God because they are ashamed of their past or see themselves limited by who they used to be. We must realize that our former sins do not define us for all our sins have been forgiven and covered in Christ. Furthermore, who we were before we came to Christ has no bearing on who we may become in Christ. Our future destiny is not determined by our past identity. Paul reminds us that often God uses those who seem insignificant in their former identity to confound the world by their redefined destiny in Christ. "For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God." (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)
Secondly, we must learn a new way of living and that means that some of our old thought patterns and behaviors need to be replaced with new ways of thinking and new patterns of living. Peter reminds us that, "the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries." (1 Peter 4:3) Such a process requires a retraining of our mind to apprehend and approve new thinking and new acting. It was for this very reason that the grace of God has appeared to us. "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age." (Titus 2:11-12) God's grace has come to us to instruct us in a new way of thinking and a new way of living.
This goal that Christ has called us to cannot be obtained on our own. It will require strength, instruction, and grace that only God can provide, but if we yield to His Sprit in our lives, we will steadily and gracefully move ever closer to that perfection that is God's and ours in Him.