For the wages which sin pays is death, but the [bountiful] free gift of God is eternal life through (in union with) Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 6:23 AMP).
There is nothing we can do to earn this gift. It is freely given by God even though we do not deserve it. For,
all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23 NKJV).
Through Christ’s atoning sacrifice, He paid the price of God’s wrath against our sin and bought our way to eternal life. This, of course, is basic Christian doctrine; it is the heart of the gospel message.
My question in this blog is this: If the free gift of God is eternal life, then what is the “prize” that Paul speaks of in Philippians?
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 (Phil. 3:12-14 NKJV).
The Greek word translated “upward” can also be translated “high.” Besides a free gift of God, we can see from this passage that a prize can be attained or won. Paul said at this point in his life, he had not yet attained assurance of having won this prize of the “high calling.” Most Christians could not answer the question of what the prize is.
Fortunately for us, Paul tells us what that prize is in the verse before the passage I quoted above. Here is what he says,
Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Phil. 3:8-11 NKJV).
We see in verse 11 that what he is trying to “attain” or win is “the resurrection from the dead.” The free gift of eternal life cost him nothing; but this “prize” has already cost him everything, and he has still not attained it!
This is confusing because most of us have assumed the free gift of eternal life included resurrection from the dead. What is this all about? Are you telling me, Paul, that the free gift of eternal life does not include resurrection from the dead? How can that be? Most of us didn’t even know there was a difference! Oh, yes, my brothers and sisters, there is a great difference, which is why I am writing this blog.
I think that if the book of Revelation had not been written, we may not be able to explain this mystery. Thank God it was written and does help us to explain it. It says concerning the resurrection:
And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years (Rev. 20:4-6 NKJV).
We see from this passage that there are two resurrections and that those who do not make the first resurrection have to wait a thousand years for the second one. The first resurrection is the prize of which Paul spoke. Jesus said this resurrection must be attained; that is, it is not a free gift:
“The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection” (Luke 20:34-36).
He also called this resurrection the resurrection of the “righteous” or “just,”
“Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you” (Luke 14:14 NLT).
Those who do not make the first resurrection will have to wait in heaven for a thousand years before being resurrected and coming back to the earth. Those who do make the first resurrection will have the glorious privilege of coming back with resurrected bodies and ruling and reigning with Christ in the millennial age for a thousand years. This is the prize for which Paul lost all things trying to attain and no doubt did attain; for he says to Timothy,
As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing (2 Tim. 4:6-8 NLT).
Notice Paul says his life was being poured out as an offering for God. God has given into each one of us the price that the high prize costs. It is just that few want to pay the price. What is the price? It is the offering or dying of our soul. Jesus mentioned this in every Gospel. Following is the one from Mark:
When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (8:34-38 NKJV).
Note: The word for “life” in the above passage is the Greek word for “soul,” and the Greek word for “lose” can mean “destroy.”
All true Christians will get eternal life, for that is a free gift; but not all will win the prize of the high calling. The high calling of the prize will include coming back to earth in resurrected bodies in the millennium and also having access to heaven and much greater rewards for eternity than those who do not attain this. I don’t know all that this includes; but Paul quoting from Isaiah said,
But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9 NKJV).
Some things are free in the kingdom of God; some cost a great price. What has seeking after the prize cost you so far?