Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12–14—NKJV)

It probably sounds strange to think that your call to “practical” sanctification is a call to run an uphill race. Contrary to what you may suppose, living sanctification is not instantly complete within you at your salvation. It is not slowly perfected in you by simply learning what biblical sanctification looks like. Nor is it something that is granted to you by virtue of your forgiveness and receiving “positional” sanctification when you were born again. Practical sanctification is a process that takes place through running the race of sanctification from day one of your salvation until your death and upward call from God.

Just to be clear: When a man is born again through faith in the innocent blood of Christ, shed for that man’s sin-guilt before a just God, a judicial action takes place in his standing before God. His sin is transferred to the perfect Son of God and the righteousness of the Son of God is placed upon his account. Theologically, this is called “positional sanctification.” His standing before God is changed from being an object of the wrath of God to being an object of the grace of God. He is set apart, eternally declared holy, and is seen by the Father through the precious blood of His Son.

Practical earthly sanctification is to be achieved and proved by striving to be more Christ-like with each passing day. It is an endurance race of life with new challenges at every turn and a coveted prize at the end! It has been said that if you run around in life with no goals, you will end the game with no score.

In Philippians 3, Paul has just detailed what he used to think were winning goals in verses 1–6. Then, in verses 7–11, he tells how he discarded the old, self-righteous pedigree of moral goodness and embraced a new, superior set of standards of real merit before God. Paul has new values (7–8), new righteousness (9), new identification (10), and a brand new goal (verse 11). His righteousness (positional) is derived “through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God on the basis of faith” (verse 9). It is achieved (practical) through knowing Christ, the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, and being conformed to His death (verse 10).

Notice how intentional, how intense, and with what intent Paul pursues this practical sanctification in verses 12–14. This same heartiness must be evident in all believers. (Verse 16 reads, “let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.”) Paul has a hearty motivation in the race of sanctification (verse 12) as he “presses on swiftly” (sprinting with aggressive energy) and strives to “seize” (make one’s own possession) being conformed to the image of Christ for which he was “seized” by God. Verse 13 declares his sole focus: forgetting the things behind (we would all do well to forsake the past self-righteous justifications, defeats, and distractions), he reaches forward to those things ahead (the list is in verses 7 through 11)—always moving forward, always stretching, always looking to the finish line. Verse 14 restates his unswerving determination and discipline as he presses toward the goal (literally “press down”—like a runner exerting the downward thrust of his legs as he pounds down the track). The distant goal is where the prize is awarded by the Supreme Lord of the Universe. It is at the “upward” call of God in Christ Jesus. Ever onward, ever forward, ever higher!

You are engaged in a personal race alongside all believers, side-by-side, striving to be more conformed to the image of Christ. Are you pursuing your calling in a life-race on an upward course with a heavenly prize? Will you hear “Well done, thou good and faithful servant”? Trust and obey.