Pressing On Toward the Goal

Study Guide – December 31, 2017

Pastor Clay Olsen

So here we are on the cusp of a New Year. I’ve always liked that word ‘cusp’. I thought it just meant like ‘on the edge’. But it’s even more sophisticated than that. It means: ‘An event marking a unique or important historical change of course or one on which important developments depend’. All of that comes from just that little word? Yup! So what this means is that on this New Year’s Eve we are about to experience a unique and important historical change of course on which important developments depend.

As we look around this world of ours, not only are there important developments going on, but there are some really bizarre developments going on as well. Like for instance: Did you here that a humanoid robot was the first robot to be granted citizenship in the country of Saudi Arabia? Yes, this robot even gave a presentation to the Saudi Assembly. And when asked whether robots can be self-aware, conscious and know that they are robots, this robot named ‘Sophia’ said: “Well, let me ask you this back; how do you know you are human?” But then one of the designers said that he believed robotics will be bigger than the Internet. He said that every industry will be redefined. These ‘robots’ will learn, they will read, and they will make decisions. The question next is: “Will artificial intelligence be enabled to think independently from humans?”

Add that to this next bizarre development in which a former executive at Google recently filled paperwork with the IRS to establish an official religion of technology. It will be the church of AI; the Church of Artificial Intelligence. This religion does not just worship scientific progress, but worships artificial intelligence itself, with the goal, they said, of creating ‘a god-head’.

So now, think about these developments as you hear these words from the Apostle John concerning the End Times: Rev 13:14-18- “And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life. And it was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast would even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed. And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.” NASU

Whatever developments there will be in artificial intelligence and robotics and such, and however much they do and will benefit mankind in various ways, know this: the culmination of it all will be with this development of the works of the Anti-Christ, along with the False Prophet and this Image of the Beast that is given humanoid type powers. And these will all be under the influence of Satan in order to force world worship, not of technology, but of the Anti-Christ himself. And these will be the conditions on Earth right before Christ returns to restore world order under the Lordship of Christ. The last counterfeit god-head will be Satan, the Anti-Christ, and the False Prophet. But again, this False Prophet is going to enlist and then animate an Artificial Intelligence to help with the cause of world control under the rule of the Anti-Christ.

So just know, that’s how it plays out. And certainly, many benefits have come to our world through all these breakthroughs in technology. We have all benefited in lots of helpful ways. But we need to understand that the sin nature of mankind and the sinister entity of Satan always takes even good things in the world and turns them into really bad things for the world. The point: Be on guard about everything!

Which brings us back to the point that every day we are setting a course of important developments into motion. And, when you factor in that each day for a Christian is an opportunity to live out God’s will for our lives, then yes, important developments in the course of this world and eternity are being impacted by our prayers, our works, our worship, our witness, our faithfulness, and so on. So now how significant do you feel?

What if we put it all in the context of this: Phil 3:12-14- “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.” NASU

And now let’s read it again in the ESV:I don’t mean that I am exactly what God wants me to be. I have not yet reached that goal. But I continue trying to reach it and make it mine. That’s what Christ Jesus wants me to do. It is the reason He made me His. Brothers and sisters, I know that I still have a long way to go. But there is one thing I do: I forget what is in the past and try as hard as I can to reach the goal before me. I keep running hard toward the finish line to get the prize that is mine because God has called me through Christ Jesus to life up there in heaven.”

So what is the goal? I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” “I don’t mean that I am exactly what God wants me to be. I have not yet reached that goal.” Note clearly that the Apostle Paul was not talking about his ‘Salvation’ here…no, he was talking about his ‘Sanctification’. Plus, he was revealing to us all that our sanctification, or our growth in discipleship, includes not only the deeds that God had planned for us to do, but it also includes the character that God planned for us to develop. You and I came to Earth with a pre-designed plan of who God had in mind for us to be as well as what God planned for us to do. Essentially, it’s broken down into one word: Christ-likeness.

Earlier Paul put that like this: Rom 8:29- “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son…” NASU And now once more in the Amplified Version: “For those whom He foreknew [of whom He was aware and loved beforehand], He also destined from the beginning [foreordaining them] to be molded into the image of His Son [and share inwardly His likeness]…”

Here’s a question: Why is it that God is so concerned about the development of our character, especially in becoming more and more conformed to the image of Christ, or in becoming more and more Christ-like? It’s because the measure of your Christ-likeness in your character is the measure of your real love for Christ. You see, deeds for Christ can be motivated by duty, but imitation of Christ is motivated by adoration. Remember something about us ‘humans’: We tend to become like that which we love. And that, our love, is also the first thing that God wants from us anyway, remember? “You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and soul, and strength, and mind.”

So while we look to a New Year with the usual thoughts about what we will be ‘doing’ or should be ‘doing’, that’s good, but attach it to an even greater goal; the goal of ‘becoming’ more and more like Christ, and then doing more and more of what Christ has called you to do for Him.

What are we talking about here? Well, let’s go back to what Paul said: “…there is one thing I do: I forget what is in the past and try as hard as I can to reach the goal before me.” What we are talking about is ‘finishing well’. We are talking about the critical need of deciding now, of planning now, of determining now, not only that you are going to try as hard as you can to finish well, but we are also talking about figuring out just how you plan to do that. Because if you do not plan it out; if you do not figure it out now just how you are going to finish your Christian life well…then there is a very good chance that you won’t. And why do we say that?

Just before the Christmas break our Men’s Life Group finished a series on ‘The Invisible War’, a Bible study series led by Chip Ingram. And one of the themes of the study was that this spiritual battle we face is a relentless battle that we have to count on having to fight day by day. But the surprising point of it was to realize that the intensity of this battle often increases right at the finish of your battle. What we mean is that one of Satan’s strategies, of which we are supposed to be aware, is that the closer a believer gets to the finish line, the more Satan will try to undo whatever good a believer has done. In other words, one of Satan’s most devious schemes is to try to topple whatever a Christian man or woman has built up over their lifetimes…especially their reputation.

And as soon as I said that, you probably started thinking of examples, right? And many of these examples were of highly influential Christians with far reaching ministries. And their fall was often related to deep moral sins. And yes, while Satan certainly is trying to undo all the good of highly influential and highly public Christians, what you and I are to clearly understand is that Satan’s strategy is actually the very same for you and for me.

We are to understand that his sinister plan is to undo whatever good we have done in our discipleship by having us finish badly as disciples. And why is that? Because remember, just as we earlier pointed out: Every day that we live out God’s will for our lives important developments in the course of this world and eternity are being impacted by our prayers, our works, our worship, our witness, our faithfulness, and so on. But if Satan can interrupt that, if he can divert that, or if he can especially damage that by tearing down your testimony and your works, then not only does he diminish your usefulness to God, but he also interferes with God’s plan for your life and others. Remember, once Satan loses you to the Kingdom of God, his plan is then to ruin you for use in the Kingdom of God; ruin your influence, ruin your service…just simply ruin your usefulness in doing the will of God.

What that means in connection with another year ahead of us is this: the older we get the more on guard we have to be against Satan’s plan to ruin us. The closer we get to the finish line the more of a target we are to Satan and his evil forces. And since God’s highest goal for us is godliness” or ‘Christ-likeness’, that means that Satan’s highest goal for us is ‘ungodliness’, or trying to keep us from becoming more like Christ. Rather than us being filled with God’s Spirit, Satan simply wants to keep us ‘full of us, full of ourselves’! His goal is to simply keep us becoming more like…well, let’s put it this way: John the Baptist’s Christ-centered motto was this: “He must increase, and I must decrease.” So what then is Satan’s motto that he is trying to imbed or to deeply ingrain in the hearts and minds of believers, maybe not directly, but just by subconscious habit? It’s simply this: “I must increase…period.”

Remember that old saying: “Jesus saves you just as you are…but He doesn’t intend for you to stay that way!”? We are to be putting off the ‘old self’ for the rest of our lives, because it’s the only way we can be putting on the ‘new self’ for rest of our lives. And we are to be especially more conscious of this as we near the finish line of our lives. We are to realize that one of the enemy’s strategies is keep our ‘natural self’ at the center of thoughts and plans. He wants to keep us in charge of our own lives, not Christ in charge. If he can keep us from adopting John’s motto of ‘Christ must increase and I must decrease’ then he knows that our imbedded sin-nature will simply be enough, even by itself, to ruin our development as disciples of Christ. If he can keep us from setting the same goal that the Apostle Paul set to press on toward the goal of becoming everything that God intended for him and for us to be, then he knows that he has pretty much neutralized our usefulness to God. Without each of us personally setting this goal for our lives then Satan has achieved his goal for our lives.

Remember, Satan has lost us from his world of darkness. But if he can keep you from pressing on to ‘lay hold of that for which you were also laid hold of by Christ Jesus’, if he can keep you from the goal of making whatever changes are needed in order to see the character of Christ increase in you and your old natural self decrease in you, then, although he has lost you from his world of darkness, he will have kept you from doing all you would have done for God’s world of light. And why would any of us want to give Satan any satisfaction over that? The only way you can insure that you are not giving Satan any satisfaction in your life is by seeking to please Jesus in everything in your life! If you are not seeking to please Jesus, then who are you pleasing? It’s always one or the other.

Also remember, Satan’s plan for us to concentrate on doing our will and ignoring God’s will. For if we do that, then we will have also done his will. His plan is for us to focus on having our way in our life instead of trying to let God have His way in our life. For if we do that, then we will have also let him have his way with us. And his plan for us is for us to let up in our pursuit of being more like Christ the older we get instead of pressing on toward the goal of becoming more and more Christ-like, especially as we near the finish line. For if we do that, if we do let up…know that Satan never lets up…especially as you and I near the finish line. For if he can keep us from finishing well, he may very well tear down much of whatever it was we tried to build up over the course of our Christian life and work.

So don’t let Satan win in anything in your life. Remember: there is no win in sin. There is only loss in sin and in sinfulness. But there is always gain with God and in godliness. Whatever other goal you may be setting for this New Year, be sure that this one is at the top of your list: “I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” Be diligent to become ‘who’ Christ is trying to make you be, as well as be committed to doing whatever Christ has created you to do. That’s how you will insure that this coming New Year will be a great year for you and for God.

Press on, my friend!

(Information on Robotics and the Church of AI gleaned from Midnight Call Magazine, January 2018, p.26)