Nearly three years ago, I had a profound encounter with the Holy Spirit in the Bible verse Philippians 3:16: ‘Only let us live up to what we have already attained.’ (NIV)
As I wrote in Three Sixteen back in February 2011, this verse speaks to me about the staggering miracle of our salvation: we don’t need to achieve it, we only need to receive it. If you’ve said ‘yes’ to Jesus, you’ve attained it. As He said on the cross, ‘It is finished.’ Thanks to the work Jesus did at Calvary, God already sees you as holy and blameless, so go and live like it’s true, because from God’s perspective (and who are we to argue), it is!
That revelation was a game changer for me. It prompted me to write the declaration, ‘I still sin, but sinner’s not my name!’ in my very first worship song All the More, just a few weeks after I wrote Three Sixteen. It also framed my thinking when I pontificated on the word ‘saint’ in the second half of Sprechen sie Englisch? Part 2: Lost in Translation a few months later.
So it’s fair to say that Philippians 3:16 had a pretty profound impact on me. Quite a lot to infer from a mere dozen words, in Hindsight.
I’m aware that it can be a bit dicey to fixate on a Bible verse all by itself, so I’ve tried to look at the passage’s broader context now and then. But in my usual Bible translation of choice (NIV), the verse doesn’t seem to have much to do with its neighbours, so I mostly looked at 3:16 in isolation and held it up as an iconic and transcendent piece of Scripture that stood on its own.
Then, a few weeks ago, I felt nudged to go back and take another look, with fresh, more objective and – dare I say, more mature – goggles on, at the whole chapter in a few different translations. What I found was maybe a little less exhilarating than my original reading, but on the whole, a great deal more helpful.
You see, ‘let us live up to what we’ve already attained’ makes the journey toward holiness and wholeness sound pretty effortless – that as we study the Word and make more Godly decisions, things will feel so good, so right, that we’ll wonder why we used to see in all those unGodly activities. We’ll realize that the ‘real me’ isn’t actually interested in ___________ anyway, so by abstaining from that activity, I’m not even missing out on anything.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t been my experience. The old temptations I’ve chosen not to give into are still pretty tempting. So as the tough stuff fails to get easier all by itself, the notion of ‘living up to what I’ve already attained’ feels a little hollow and I’m tempted to revert to my pre-Salvation default in many areas of life.
That might be why God nudged me to take another look. And thank Him that He did!
Philippians 3:12-16 in The New Living Translation, The Message and The Voice all seem to urge us to stay on course, to keep running the race, and not let a lack of spiritual maturity or squabbles with other Christians break our stride:
- ‘For now, let’s hold on to what we have been shown and keep in step with these teachings.’ – Philippians 3:16 (The Voice)
- ‘Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it.’ – Philippians 3:16 (The Message)
- ‘But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.’ – Philippians 3:16 (NLT)
The RGP Version might translate Philippians 3:16 thusly: No backsliding, Baldy!
Now, this is a teaching with practical applications. Like a splash of cold water, the following mini-epiphany hits me: In the same way that, according to the Hippocratic Oath, a doctor’s first responsibility is to do no harm, not regressing is an essential part of what it looks like to ‘live up to what we have already attained’!
Seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it? But it actually took me quite a while to get here.
Now, does the simple, practical advice contained in the NLT version of Philippians 3:16 make me want to rethink the Goosebumply way I read it in the NIV for three years? Not at all. If anything, my enthusiasm for the NIV interpretation is renewed by the NLT’s take on it. The two translations are entirely complementary, the way I look at it:
- How do I go about living up to what I’ve already attained? Start by holding on to the progress you’ve already made.
- Why is it so important that I hold on to the progress I’ve already made? Because that’s the first step in living up to what you’ve already attained.
Two different Bible versions, using decidedly different methodologies in different decades, arrive at significantly different translations of this verse, and it’s only by looking at them together that the passage becomes three-dimensional for me. What a crazy coincidence!
It’s almost like God planned it that way.
Peace be with you.