These small group studies of Philippians contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications.  Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

Philippians 3:12-21 Inductive Bible Study


  1. Pressing toward the goal of Christlikeness (12-16)

  2. Watch out for the enemies of Christ who set their mind on earthly things (17-19)

  3. Our citizenship is in heaven (20-21)


12. What does “it” refer to in verse 12?

What is Paul pressing on to lay hold of? Based on the context, why did Christ choose Paul?

Can we become perfect in this world? If it’s not possible, what was Paul shooting for?


Romans 8:28-30 – Those whom He calls, He justifies/sanctifies.

2 Thessalonians 2:13-15 – Pursuing sanctification.

1 Peter 1:13-16 – Be holy as I am holy.

Key Points

A. Paul realizes he hasn’t achieved sanctification yet. He, like all believers is on the way.

B. God chose Paul for the purpose of sanctifying him. This is why God chose all of us.

C. Although we may never achieve perfection in this world, it should still be our goal. Aim high. Miss high.

D. This is an athletic illustration. Like athletes, we are to press on for the finish line.

E. We are not to be complacent believers. We are to push forward onward and upward.

13. Did Paul achieve his goal yet at the time of writing this?


He mentions “pressing on” or “reaching forward” three times in these verses. What does this mean?is What is involved in pressing on to become sanctified? What kind of actions might someone take who is pressing on for holiness?

How can you press on for this in your own life? Do you think to this point you have been giving all your strength to this like Paul is talking about here? What changes can you make?

Why is it important to forget what is behind? How could not forgetting the past hinder future service to God?


Proverbs 24:16 – A righteous man falls seven times and rises again.

1 John 1:9 – Confess your sins…

1 John 1:7 –

Hebrews 8:12 – I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more.

Psalms 102:12 – He will remove our sins as far as the east is from the west.

Of course, forgetting the past is not an easy process.  It is very difficult for some people to break away from horrible memories, failures, disappointments, hurt, defeats and so on. But all those things has happened somewhere sometime in the past. Because we keep them  (consciously or unconsciously) in our hearts and minds, they are still have power to dominate our progress, to destroy our peace and fill our life with fear and guilt.

Remember – God is a God of new things. A new life, new beginning, new covenant, new hearts, and new way of doing things. Because he is a God of new things there is always hope and future. There is joy and peace. However, for the new things begin the old has to go away.

Dear saint, God is doing a new thing right now. But he wants you to get rid off the old so that the new has begun. It is your choice to show effort so that you can enjoy the wonderful blessings of God each day and every moment. Each day, each moment is a miracle. Moving forward is not easy but it is not impossible too. No matter what you have been through the past it should not be your residence; because you always have a choice. You have a choice to live a life that is purposeful and peaceful. But you have to dare to close the door to the past and move on. Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, an Irish poet once said, “every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” That is absolutely true.

To be able to live out of the past is to be able to live out of a prison. Both make us hopeless and helpless. Both have such a controlling power that makes us powerless, worthless, and paralyzed our dignity and humanness. Prison, as the Webster Dictionary defines it is “a state of confinement or captivity.” No matter how you define it is the last place you experience powerlessness, distress, pain and shame. It is a place where your normal routines and relationships that make life worth living are cut off. It is a place where you are subjected to somebody who is on the position of authority. Like a prison when our past has a negative influence on our present and future it makes us miserable, depressed, and hopeless. It puts us in such a cold and dark corner of life and takes our joy and peace of mind.

No matter what happened in the past we need to close the door and open a new chapter. We need to learn to live in the present and hope a better future.

Things we need to forget:    

  • Your sins. Why? Isn’t it spiritual to keep reminding ourselves and others of our sins?

May be you been living so badly in the past and messed up here and there. You did such terrible things to people and yourself. Ok , you made some mistakes and blown some chances and the enemy has said to you that you are beyond repair. Because of that you may feel dirty, guilty and ashamed. Because you messed up so bad you are wondering how God can forgive some one like you.

Let me tell you this. I’ve been bad most of my life. I have been neck-deep in sin. I have made a lot of stupid mistakes that I wished I hadn’t done. I have been blamed myself and felt trapped on my own sins. I was ashamed of people’s accusations and I was good for nothing for most of them. But God showed me one day the way out and restored my life and He uses those time in my life to show me more of Himself. You know what? I am not who I was. He accepted me as I was and took me with joy  into his embrace and said “son, I forgive you.” From that day on my life changed. My case dismissed.

Sin is a serious matter. Sin always has consequences.  Sin is  not only makes us feel guilty, but it also cuts us off from God (and from others). But God will forgive you no matter how bad your sins looks. You know why? You have not done anything so bad that God cannot forgive it. The scripture says in 1 John 1:9 NIV If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. You see? God is faithful and the blood of  His son, Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin(1 John 1:7). When God forgives us He removes our sins as far as the east is from the west Psalm 103:12. Spurgeon said of this verse: “….it (our sin) is moved so far that the distance is incalculable… If sin can be removed so far then we can be sure that the scent, the trace, the very memory of it must be entirely gone.”

And God said in Hebrews 8:12 also, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”  You are a new creature. You are a free person. Don’t listen to the devil’s lie. Don’t believe him. He is a clever schemer and full of perversion. The word of God in Romans 8:1 says “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

  • Your accomplishments. Why? Should we be proud of our accomplishments?

Some one once said, “stopping every now and then to smell the roses is perfectly fine. But don’t get stuck in there.”  It is a great thing to enjoy and celebrate your success and most importantly your hard work achievements. Don’t fall in the trap of minimizing your accomplishment.  But after your celebration you need to start work on towards your next achievement. You need to keep on press on. God has more for you than your yesterday’s achievement. Susan Polis Schultz once said, “if you have a goal in life that takes a lot of energy, that requires a lot of work, that incurs a great deal of interest and that is a challenge to you, you will always look forward to waking up to see what the new day brings.” Our achievements though they are good, can also hinder our ability to continue in a road of success. Use your achievements as reference and source for your next accomplishment. We need to go beyond the “bottle neck mentality” and start to excel in everything. To excel is to go beyond and to surpass in quality. Here is the spiritual principle, if you keep looking back on your failures or achievements, you can’t make progress. Don’t stuck in your past but press on forward.

  • Your hurt and shame. Why?

Shame as the Modern dictionary defines is, “a painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, etc., done by oneself or another.” You may be hurt somewhere in the past and you may still feel the pain and the shame. You are a victim. You suffered. But it’s unfair to you to keep on carrying the shame and the pain any more. You need to stop the pain so that you can move on your life. The healing process must starts from you. You cannot change the past, but you can change your present and future. You need to learn how to forgive yourself and those who hurt you. To forgive is to let go of pain, resentment and regret from our past experience. Lewis Smedes says, “When you forgive you set a prisoner free. And then you discover that the prisoner was you.”

Don’t be a victim of your past. To be a victim is to hold onto hurt. It will eat up your soul. It doesn’t matter what you do, or how hard you try — you are never going to have a better past. But you have a choice to have a better present and future. You have to start closing the door to the past and start to move on. A fresh start and a new beginning are the results of forgiveness. As Dr. Martin Luther King similarly said that “… Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning…”

The past is our obstacle that keeps us from true freedom and peace that God provides us through Jesus Christ. When we are preoccupied with our shame, guilt, hurt and accomplishments we forgot to experience the love and peace that God granted us. Forget the past! Learn to live! We all have things in our past we wish they were different, but the reality is not. The past is over and there is nothing we can do about it. But there is something we can do today about the future. It is forgetting those things, which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things, which are before. Remember this- you cannot look ahead and behind at the same time. Can you? No you can’t. So, it is up to you, it is your choice, it is your call to forget the past whatever that is and move on in your life with God’s favor and grace each moment and each day. Each day, each moment is a miracle. Moving forward is not easy but it is not impossible too. (From

14. What are the similarities between what Paul is talking about here and an athlete?

What is the prize Paul can get if he achieves his goal? What prize/reward are you striving for? What does it take for an athlete to win at the world-class level like in the Olympics? Does God want similar commitment and dedication from us? Which “race” is more important?


Hebrews 12:1-2 – Run the race.

Matthew 25:23 – Well done, good and faithful servant.

1 Cor 9:24-27 – Disciplining your body to achieve the prize.

1 Tim 6:12 – Fight the good fight. Take hold of eternal life.

Teaching Points

A. This is a double edged proposition. Forgetting and pressing. Forget the past. Push on to the future.

B. Like athletes discipline themselves and push themselves to the limit for the prize, we should completely commit ourselves, our strength, and our energy to pursuing holiness. Anything less and the battle is already lost.

C. The prize I think is simply the satisfaction and joy of firstly knowing we are growing, secondly finally reaching heaven and having the final process of our sanctification culminated, and thirdly knowing that Christ is pleased with us. This is not a race against the clock or against actual competitors where only one person wins. EVERY believer can win this race by claiming the resources God has given to us. We can all win the prize. How do you feel after finishing a job well (ie. Finally completing a tough exam, fixing something that was broken, achieving a goal, deep cleaning your house, etc.)? It feels good. It is satisfying to do a job and do it well. This is similar to the feeling we have when we please the Lord and follow Him faithfully.

15-16. Who are the perfect ones referred to here? What might be an example of the “different attitude” referred to here? What would happen to them? How might God show them that their attitude is wrong?

17. Why would Paul set himself up as their example? Isn’t Christ our only example? (He is the ultimate example, but not the only one and He didn’t show us how to deal with imperfection by His own actions since He was perfect.)

Why is it beneficial to observe others who follow this pattern? Are you a good enough example that you could encourage others to follow your example, perhaps at least in some ways? If not, what should you do?

1 Cor 11:1 – Follow me as I follow Christ.

18. Who are the enemies of the cross of Christ? Do you remember what the Judaizers taught? How about the liberal believers?

19. Why is their end destruction? What does it mean that their god is their appetite? What might appetite refer to besides actual physical hunger for food? Do you set your mind on earthly things?

James 4:4, 1 John 2:15 – Loving the world.

Colossians 3:2 – Set your mind on things above not on thing on the earth.

20. Do you consider you are a Chinese citizen or a citizen of heaven first? What does it mean to you that our citizenship is in heaven? Knowing this, how should we act while we are on earth? If you were to leave China and live in another country, would you think about your home in China? What might you miss? Now, do you think about heaven? Do you long for anything there? Or are you focused on worldly troubles? Do you remember what it meant that some seed fell on the thorn filled soil?

2 Cor 5:20 – We are ambassadors of Christ.

Romans 12:1-2. – Do not be comformed…

21. When will this take place?

Study Philippians 4:1-9


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