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Take a minute to think about what your top priority is, your #1 goal in life. If there is one thing that you could do, one wish that could be granted, what would it be? Do you have it? Maybe some of you thought of good health, or world peace. Maybe some of you thought of a new house, or remodeling your house, a new car, finishing some project at work, having the house clean, going fishing, going on a dream vacation. (Luke, maybe it’s something to do with basketball?) Any of these can be priorities, or goals in our lives. It’s important to have goals, because if we don’t, we kind of live our lives aimlessly, we become like ships without rudders. But, as I’m sure you have guessed already, our #1 goal, no matter what else is important in our lives, our #1 goal needs to be to reach heaven. As Jesus put it, What good is it if a man gains the whole world yet losses his own soul.
This morning we are encouraged by Paul to remember that heaven is our home. Our #1 goal is to live with Jesus in heaven forever. Paul points out some things that get in the way of reaching that goal, and some things that help us remember that reaching heaven is our most important goal, a goal to be pursued with all our strength.
First, let talk about the fact that heaven is our home. Paul says: I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus also took hold of me. And then he makes sure we understand what it is that Jesus has taken hold of us for– Our citizenship is in heaven.
The whole reason that Jesus left his throne in heaven and came down to earth was to live and die in our place. He came so that he could take hold of us, redeem us, win us back from sin and Satan and an eternity in hell. He came so that our names could be written in the book of life, on the roster listing the eternal citizens of heaven. By birth we are citizens of this earth, but through baptism and rebirth we have been made citizens of heaven.
What a gracious gift of God! No human being is born a citizen of heaven. No one can buy citizenship in heaven, no matter how much money they have. No one can travel there on their own, because without Jesus no one can find the way. But, just as he did Paul, Jesus has taken hold of us. He has called us to faith, he has shown us the way, and he has given us a certificate of citizenship, a title deed to a mansion in heaven so that we can enter through the gates of pearl and live in God’s presence forever. He did all this solely on the basis of his love, not because we earned or deserve it.
The problem is that we don’t always appreciate what God has done for us. We tend to forget how valuable our citizenship in heaven is. We have a tendency to treat it like a life insurance policy, we tend to put it somewhere for safe keeping and then forget about it.
One of the biggest things that keeps us from remembering that heaven is our home is complacency, taking God’s gift for granted. Paul encourages us not to do this. He says: 12Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus also took hold of me. 13Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it yet, but there is one thing I do: Forgetting the things that are behind and straining toward the things that are ahead, 14I press on toward the goal, for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Paul didn’t just sit back after Jesus called him to faith on the road to Damascus and say, “Ok, I’m saved now. I’ll just go one home and go about my life as I always have.” No. He pressed on, he pursued, he strained, he worked hard to make sure he didn’t lose the gift that God had so graciously given him. He didn’t consider himself a perfect, complete Christian. He knew that no one, no matter how religious, is perfect. We are reminded today that Confirmation isn’t an end, it’s a beginning. It’s a basis, a foundation on which to continue to build. Like Paul, we all need to keep working, to keep digging into the word of God, to keep worshiping and praying– growing and maturing in our faith each day. If we are not growing, we are backsliding. Paul says: Let us walk in line with what we have already attained. Don’t go backwards in your faith by taking it for granted, treating your citizenship in heaven like an insurance policy.
Paul often presents the Christian life in terms of a race. In order to win the prize, the athlete must train hard. He says, Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore, I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Athletes train for hours each day, always keeping the goal in mind. Then, on the day of the race they must strain with all their might never taking their eyes off the finish line. That’s the way it needs to be with us. Train daily in the word. Constantly look for ways to apply what you learned from the word to everything that happens in your life. Keep your eyes firmly fixed on the crown of life that Jesus has waiting for you in heaven. Train hard, run the race God has marked out for you with all your strength. Pursue the goal making sure that nothing and no one is able to distract you so that you lose your crown.
Pursuing the goal often brings you trouble, rejection from those around you in the world. It brought Paul persecution. He often had people trying to kill him. He was beaten, stoned, and put in jail. But he remained focused on goal. He remembered that his true citizenship was in heaven. Trouble and rejection are crushed when we remember that Jesus was rejected, but God exalted him to the highest place so that we could be exalted with him.
Think about the example of the people of Ukraine. Why have they been able to stand against what seemed to be overwhelming odds? They don’t want to lose their citizenship. That’s the kind of determination we need when we think about holding on to our citizenship in heaven.
Paul says that he forgets what is behind. He forgets the good and the bad. He doesn’t rest on his laurels. He doesn’t want us to think, “Ok, I’m a confirmed member of a church. I’m set for life.” Since good works, or church membership don’t save us we forget what is behind. We know that the good things we might have done in the past don’t contribute to our salvation.
We also want to forget the bad. Our past sins are a great tool of the devil. He loves to keep adding them up and throwing them in our face and telling us that we are fools if we really believe that God has forgiven us for all those sins. Paul never forgot that he persecuted Christians, and we may never be able to forget some of our sins. But forgetting what is behind means that we do not allow Satan to use or past sins against us. We forget the guilt because God has removed it from us and given it to Jesus in our place.
Dwelling on the past, either the good we do or the bad, can cause us to forget that heaven is our home. Another great temptation that Paul mentioned, with which we are very familiar, is materialism. He says: To be sure, many walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. I told you about them often, and now I am saying it while weeping. 19Their end is destruction, their god is their appetite, and their glory is in their shame. They are thinking only about earthly things.
How easy it is for us today to forget we are citizens of heaven because we are so busy and involved in being citizens of earth. We don’t have time for God or his word because we have to put food on the table. We have to have some time to relax and watch TV. We have to have some time for rest and vacations. How easy it is for us to have our minds focused on earthly things, things that satisfy our sinful nature’s greed and selfishness. How easy it is for us to glory in our accomplishments and to let successes go to our head and forget to give glory to God who gave us the ability and the opportunity to have success!
When Peter didn’t want to accept that Jesus would have to suffer and die and rise again, Jesus told him it was because his mind was on earthly things, he had in mind the things of man instead of the things of God. It happens far too often that we have our mind on heavenly things only on Sunday for an hour or less and on earthly things the rest of the week.
To battle this kind of temptation Paul said: whatever things were a profit for me, these things I have come to consider a loss because of Christ. 8But even more than that, I consider everything to be a loss because of what is worth far more: knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord. For his sake, I have lost all things and consider them rubbish, so that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, which comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God by faith.
Things that help us remember that heaven is our home are these: This world is coming to an end, and we are eagerly awaiting a Savior from heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ. Our earthly citizenship will come to an end. Our citizenship in heaven will never end.
When Jesus comes again, we have his promise that he will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. Paul says that it will help us if we pay attention those who are walking, living, according to the pattern he gave us, and that we are to follow his example of keeping our sinful nature in control and keeping our thoughts on heavenly things. He says in the next chapter that we are focus our thoughts on whatever is noble, whatever is right , whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable– if anything is excellent or praiseworthy– we are to think about such things.
We all have busy lives. Because of this it is often very difficult to remember that earth is not our permanent home. We are just visitors here. Heaven is our home. If we are going to remember this important fact and have it affect our lives, we will need to work at it, reminding ourselves each day of what God has done for us and what he has promised us. Make sure your #1 goal each day is that you and your family keep the gift of eternal life God has given you. Pursue that goal with all the strength God gives you.