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Asbury Bible Commentary – 2. Pressing toward final (resurrection) perfection (3:12–4:1)
2. Pressing toward final (resurrection) perfection (3:12–4:1)
2. Pressing toward final (resurrection) perfection (3:12-4:1)

V. 12 in the context of pressing to perfection by the way of the Cross may be the crux of the issue between Paul and his opponents (cf. 3:2, 18-19 and comments). Some groups (e.g., Gnostics) so spiritualized resurrection as to deny a future (bodily) resurrection or the need for daily discipline. Hence Paul's urgency, “I press on.” He had not yet taken hold of or reached perfection. Again, note the need for final perseverance. It is obvious from Paul's emphasis that he did not believe either that salvation could never be lost or that full perfection is possible in this life.

This element of paradox in “perfection” is evident in the context overall, especially in v. 15 where the Greek teleioi, rendered “mature” by NIV, is used. Paul disclaims final perfection either spiritual or bodily (v. 12), but he does teach a proper present Christian “perfection” in this world (v. 15). Here the meaning is fitness. Christian perfection is wholeheartedness in process toward the final goal. Wesley distinguishes between the two kinds of perfection in that v. 15 means fitness for the race, while v. 12 means receiving the prize (v. 14).

The reference to the enemies of the cross of Christ (v. 18) is significant and may refer to certain “gnosticizing Christians” (Martin, 144). They imagined they had already attained a spiritual perfection that made ethical/bodily discipline unnecessary. How they lived in the body was irrelevant to spiritual perfection. Therefore they denied the costly self-denial and discipline that is the way of the Cross. They were advocates of easy religiosity and “cheap grace.” Paul says their destiny is destruction (v. 19). They will not attain the resurrection unto life.

By contrast, true believers live in faith and discipline as they eagerly await their heavenly Savior (v. 20). Only then will they realize full perfection through the power of the resurrection transforming their present lowly bodies (v. 21). Resurrection is not resuscitation; it is a transforming re-creation, the defeat of death, the capstone of God's saving work, the way to eternal life. Of this hope Christ's own resurrection is both the pledge and pattern.