A Higher Calling, part 1 (Philippians 3:17)

In our discussion of Philippians 3, Paul has been speaking of his own pursuit of Christ.  Paul wanted to know Christ and to become like Him.  That should be our desire as well.

Sometimes when trying to comfort a child who is afraid, we as parents want to remind them that God is with them.  But far too often, our children want (and need) a “god with skin on.”  They want a real, flesh-and-blood person right there with them.

And that is why Jesus Christ became flesh.  He came so we could see what God was like and so imitate him.  He was Immanuel, “God with us.”  He came and dwelt among us to show us the glory of God.

The reality is, for us to grow in faith, we need other people.  We need their presence, their support, their encouragement, their prayers, and we need them to show us the way.

Unfortunately, in our digital age, we sometimes forget that the essence of discipleship goes beyond merely informing and instructing.  People need a model to imitate.  That is what made Dawson Trotman’s discipleship of men so powerful.  He invited men into his home to see how he lived, and how he and his wife Lila lived together.  He knew that discipleship is more caught than taught.

Paul says in Philippians 3:17-21

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

Then Paul mentions why they needed to imitate him…

18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.

Then he concludes by saying…

20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Notice that first verse, “imitate me.”  What seems like the height of arrogance is really one of the key factors of effective discipleship.  Before we can teach someone else how to walk with Christ, we must walk with Christ.

Imitation is an important part of Paul’s ministry to others.

The Apostle Paul hit this theme a number of times in his letters. For example:

1 Cor. 4:15-17: “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church.”

Phil 4:9: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

2 Thess. 3:7-9: “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate.

2 Tim. 3:10-11: “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra. . . .”

John Piper comments on two additional verses:

1 Cor. 11:1: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

Phil. 3:17: “Brothers, join in imitating me, and fix your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.”

Piper writes:

Notice the sequence:

  1. Jesus lives the perfect life for imitation.
  2. Paul imitates Jesus.
  3. Others “walk according to the example they have in us.”
  4. Finally, we fix our eyes on those who follow Paul’s example.

What makes this so remarkable is that Paul says it is spiritually wise to consider not just Jesus’ life, and not just the lives of those who follow him, but also the lives of those who follow those who follow him.

This seems to imply that the line of inspiration and imitation goes on and on.

Paul recognizes, first of all, that imitation is part of what it means to be human.  For our earliest years we learn by imitation.  We imitate parents, teachers, pastors, coaches, friends, and basically anyone that we spend much time around.  Paul is simply being open about a basic fact of human experience: we learn through imitation.

We all know that we learn by watching others.  Young Johann Sebastian Bach was a studied observer of the great organist and composer Dietrich Buxtehude.  Bach made repeated long trips on foot to Buxtehude’s church to observe and hear the master, even copying the composer’s scores by hand—all of which had a marked effect on Bach’s style and vitality and the shaping of his brilliance.  Bach, surpassing genius that he was, rode on the lesser genius and example of his mentor.

Whether through apprenticeships in trades or through coaching in athletics, we learn by watching others.  It’s part of human nature.

That’s why, in 1 Corinthians 4:16, Paul draws the explicit parallel between imitating him and imitating your parent.

In our culture which emphasizes individualism and “finding yourself,” it seems out of kilter to say that children should imitate their parents.  But it is just reflecting the reality of human nature.

You probably don’t need a fancy science experiment to see that kids imitate their parents. You probably notice it every day.

When you’re sweeping the floor, you might notice your little one pretending to sweep too. Or, you might hear your preschooler put her stuffed bear to bed the same way you tuck her in at night. Kids repeat what they hear, and they imitate what they see. For this reason, you need to be mindful of the things you’re inadvertently teaching your child.

Some of us are old enough to remember seeing Jaws when it first came out.  It was pretty scary.  But there was another scene from the movie which, for an adult, might have made a deeper impression.

There is a wonderful moment between Sheriff Brody and his son at the dinner table.

As his wife clears plates off of the table, Brody sits staring off into the distance, clearly deep in thought.  He doesn’t notice his young son watching his every move from a foot away.  When he takes a drink, his son takes a drink.  When he folds his hands, his son folds his hands.  Finally, he sees his son mirroring him.  He starts to playfully make movements and faces for his son to copy–ending with a kiss.  The most powerful role models for children sit across from them at the dinner table.  It’s you.

Recognize that and build upon it.

“Join in imitating me” is an invitation to a relationship in which through spending time together in personal relationship, in study, in ministry and in everyday life, Paul’s life and faith would be rubbing off on them.

Secondly, Paul is not calling them to focus only upon him.  Paul nowhere suggests that we should imitate him because he’s such an amazing person.  Instead, he sees himself as a signpost pointing toward a more important reality.  Thus, his appeal is not merely to “Follow my example,” but to do so because Paul also strives to “follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

Even when it sounds like Paul is highlighting his own accomplishments, his greater purpose to direct our attention to what God can do in and through us.  Thus, writing to Timothy he draws attention to “my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, 11 persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured” (2 Tim. 3:10).  

That sounds rather impressive.  And it could also be pretty self-centered. “Hey look at me.  Aren’t I awesome!  You should be just like me.”  But Paul quickly directs our attention away from himself, focusing instead on the Lord who rescued him from this persecution and who will similarly bless and protect all who strive to live godly lives in Christ (v. 11).

Thirdly, Paul doesn’t make imitation exclusive.  He is not encouraging them to imitate him alone, but any others who walk this same way.  In the rest of verse 17 Paul says…

and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

Paul wasn’t so proud to think that he was the only one who could be such an example. 

Doubtless he had in mind Timothy and Epaphroditus, as well as any others who pursued Christ like he did.  The Philippians had “us,” not just Paul, as an example to follow.

I know that if I’m the only person discipling someone, that he is not only going to imitate my good example, but he will also imitate my flaws.  That is why discipleship is best done from within the body of Christ, which has many spiritual leaders to imitate and learn from.

And that kind of imitational diversity is wise for at least a couple of reasons.  First, it protects us again from the very real possibility that even our “best” models will eventually blow it.  It will still be devastating when a cherished leader fails, but less so when your identity isn’t built entirely around him or her.  Second, life is complex and its challenges legion.  A variety of godly models stands a better chance of giving you something to imitate across a range of difficult circumstances than any single model possibly could.

Imitating me might be good. Imitating us will always be better.

Fourth, imitation is for everyone.  Throughout our lives we will imitate others, and someone will be imitating us.  It may only be our children, our family.  But if we are intentional about it, we will find models to imitate and we will intentionally engage in discipleship relationships so that others can imitate us.

So Paul calls for us to be intentional models for imitation.  He appeals to Timothy to be an example “in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12).  Oh, is that all?

And Titus gets a similarly broad appeal to be an example in “everything” (Tit. 2:7).

Imitation isn’t a one-way street.  It’s not just that I imitate others, but they also imitate me.  Relationships work like that.  Paul’s appeal, then, is to be mindful of our own modeling so that, like Paul, we can be signposts, pointing people toward the One who is so much more.

Donald Carson writes:

You who are older should be looking out for younger people and saying in effect, ‘Watch me.’

Come—I’ll show you how to have family devotions.

Come—I’ll show you how to do Bible study.

Come on—let me take you through some of the fundamentals of the faith.

Come—I’ll show you how to pray.

Let me show you how to be a Christian husband and father, or wife and mother.

At a certain point in life, that older mentor should be saying other things, such as: Let me show you how to die. Watch me.

Fifth, we shouldn’t imitate everyone.  That is what verses 18 and 19 are about.  Not everyone is worthy of imitation.  Unfortunately, we live in an age of celebrities who are not worthy of imitating.

Life is all about finding the right models to imitate.  Children don’t automatically know how to choose good models.  They are impressionable and molded by anyone.

Hopefully you are a strong enough role model in their lives so that they want to follow your example, but you are going to have to continue to help them discern whether popular classmates, pop stars, or movie stars are worthy of emulation.

One thing you can do is to consistently expose them to good role models.  Find contemporary or historical persons and encourage them to research about them.

Another thing you can do is to continually emphasize character.  Sure, a person may have charm and charisma or immense talents, but what is most important is character.  Continue to teach them about good character qualities in their own life so that they will discern whether their models have good character and are worthy of imitating.

Keep the dialogue focused on values; ask kids which values they look for in a role model, and why.  And remind kids that it’s OK to choose more than one role model and to change role models as they grow up and expand their interests.

If you are serious about discipling others, then you need to live a life worth imitating.  Here are a few questions you need to ask yourself:

1. Is my life worth imitating?  Why or Why not?

2. What areas of my life do I need to repent of and grow in?

3. What are ways in my life I can be more intentional in teaching my faith to my children?

4. When I look at my life, am I the person I want my children to be?

5. What are things in my life I need to ask forgiveness for from my children?

6. Am I reflecting Jesus to my family?

What is at stake for Paul in this command is that without a role model like him, we make ourselves vulnerable to becoming an enemy of the cross of Christ.  There are many people who sadly come to Paul’s mind as those who have forsaken his example and become enemies of Jesus.  They went a different route and it ended in destruction (Philippians 3:19).

Notice that Paul uses the same verb to describe them—they walk, too.  I highlight this to say that if we’re not walking in Paul’s example, then we are surely walking in someone’s.  Maybe we’re trying to blaze our own trail after the shadow of ego, or maybe we’re lining up behind a Pauline stranger, either way we are following and if it’s not in Paul’s example then it won’t turn out well.

A role model like Paul is not an optional add-on to our Firefox browser.  Following men and women like Paul is not like a scarf that accessorizes our Christian outfit.  This is life or death. Having a role model like Paul is indispensable to following Jesus.  As Paul imitates Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:1), so do we by following Paul’s example and keeping our eyes on those who walk like him.

So I want to encourage you, find someone who is a Christ-follower and ask if you can spend some time with them, asking them questions, asking them to show you how they follow Christ, and learn from them.

If you are a Christ-follower, then spend some time with younger Christians, showing them the way.

Someone has said that to successfully live the Christian life we need three relationships.  We need a Paul, to disciple us, a Timothy to disciple, and a Barnabas, to encourage us.  Go out and find your Paul, your Timothy and your Barnabas.

Run to Win, part 4 (Philippians 3:13c-16)

We have been focusing on this wonderful passage in Philippians 3 where Paul talks about how he pursues knowing and becoming like Jesus Christ.  Paul has talked about how strongly he desired it (v. 10), how he knew he hadn’t yet attained it (v. 12), how he devoted maximum effort to this goal (v. 12) and how he gave focused determination in doing this “one thing” by forgetting past failures and successes, so he could stay focused on Jesus Christ (v. 13).

Today we’re going to continue to look at how Paul speaks of his focused determination.  Not only did he forget what lies behind but he was

straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

He refused to look behind him so that he could strain forward.  This word strain, or stretch, forward is a compound word consisting of the verb ekteino, meaning to stretch a muscle to its limit.  Then there is a prepositions attached to the front, which serves to intensify the action even more, to the uttermost.

Adam Clarke says:

“The Greek word points out the strong exertions made in the race; every muscle and nerve is exerted, and he puts forth every particle of his strength in running.  He was running for life, and running for his life.”

Peter O’Brien observes that this is “a vivid word, drawn from the games, and it pictures a runner with his eyes fixed on the goal, his hand stretching out towards it, and his body bent forward as he enters the last and decisive stages of the race. Again, the present tense of the participle is appropriate, for with this verb it powerfully describes the runner’s intense desire and utmost effort to reach his goal.”

You get the picture of a runner nearing the finish line with head bent forward and arms back in that last burst of energy to try to cross the finish line first.

So Paul is encouraging us: “Don’t get tired; don’t give in.  Keep on going and give it your last ounce of energy right up until the finish.”

C[harles]. Simeon, of Cambridge, says in one of his last letters, alluding to his still abundant toils, “I am so near the goal that I cannot help running with all my might.”

Yes, the Christian journey is difficult.  It requires focused and determined energies to make it to the finish line.

The way to go hard after God is with all the discipline and self-denial of an athlete.  I doubt that there has ever been a Christian who reached heights of knowledge and joy and obedience without a plan and discipline and self-denial.  God does not promise his riches to aimless people. Paul did not run aimlessly or beat the air.  He lived with spiritual goals in view and controlled his passions for the sake of those goals.

Here’s an example of how Jonathan Edwards followed Paul’s example. Sereno Dwight writes,

He carefully observed the effects of different sorts of good, and selected those which best suited his constitution, and rendered him most fit for mental labor . . . In this respect he lived by rule, and constantly practiced great self-denial; as he did also with regard to the time passed in sleep.  He accustomed himself to arise at four or between four and five in the morning: and in winter spent several of those hours in study which are commonly wasted in slumber.  In the evening he usually allowed himself a season of relaxation in the midst of his family [and then retired back to his study.]

Whether you follow Jonathan Edwards or not, I urge you, on the basis of Paul’s example, to be like an athlete.  Set yourself a goal to know more of the Word of God, to grasp more of the will of God, to love more of the wonder of God; and then make a plan of prayer and study and worship and go for it with all your might.

Develop a holy dissatisfaction with your spiritual attainments, put out of your mind anything in the past which hinders your pursuit of God, strain forward like an athlete in 2020.

Spurgeon concludes:

That is how the Christian should be; always throwing himself forward after something more than he has yet reached, not satisfied with the rate at which he advances, his soul always going at twenty times the pace of the flesh.

Why did Paul pursue holiness with such concentrated purpose?  Because he felt God had called him to it. He aimed at the prize of his high calling.

With the final clause, the goal (the finish line) comes in view as Paul concludes, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (v. 14). “It is the vision of the end of the race that ever directs and speeds his hastening feet” (J. H. Michael).  In terms of the modern athlete, he sees the yellow stripe fifty yards ahead, and his adrenaline jolts for the final last-gasp kick.  He runs faster, his arms pumping, pushing off his toes.

What keeps Paul striving and moving forward is a goal, to know and become like Jesus Christ.

Even though the word “heaven” is mentioned in verse 14, heaven is not the goal.  Heaven is already a done deal through justification, we just haven’t experienced it yet.  But heaven wouldn’t be heaven without Jesus Christ.  Heaven is not the goal, Jesus is.

The goal, then, is to be like Christ.  The prize is when it actually happens.

At some point we will experience the “upward call” (which may be the rapture), that call to “step up” to the winner’s podium and hear a hearty “well done” and receive the rewards of a life that was lived in pursuit of Jesus Christ.

God has called every believer to salvation so he or she may obtain that prize. However, only those who run the race as Paul did, namely, to gain an ever-increasing experiential knowledge of Christ, will obtain it (1 Cor. 9:24).

The rewards are not the prize, but they are given because we’ve pursued and finally receive the real prize—eternal communion with our bridegroom and finally becoming completely like Him (except for His divinity).

As John says in 1 John 3:2, “we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

For Paul, the greatest reward was to know Christ fully and to experience perfect fellowship with him and to become like Him.

J. Sidlow Baxter notes:

“See how in this third chapter Christ is the believer’s goal in a threefold way: The goal of our faith — verse 9. The goal of our love —verse 10.  The goal of our hope — verses 11-14, etc. He is the goal of our faith for a heavenly righteousness.  He is the goal of our love for a heavenly fellowship. He is the goal of our hope for a heavenly blessedness.”

Notice also that Paul locates the power for pursuing this “prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  As with every part of our life—from our justification, to our sanctification, to our eventual glorification—it is all done “in Christ Jesus.”

The legalists could have claimed to pursue God’s “well done” and eternal rewards, but they were making that pursuit in their own strength, not “in Christ Jesus.”

We saints “work out our salvation” and “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” only because God is “is working in us” (through our union with Christ Jesus) “both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Paul didn’t depend upon his own willpower to keep him running, but rather God put the desire in him.

Paul didn’t depend upon his own efforts to keep him running, but rather God put the energy, the power, within him.

And God does the same for us!

A successful coach reported that he lived by a very simple creed he found one time.  Apparently it originates with Calvin Coolidge.

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.  Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.  Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.  Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.  Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.  The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

Of course, President Coolidge was only considering human willpower and determination, not divine desiring and doing like Paul meant.

Paul says, “Keep your eyes on the goal” and “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” 

A young black teenager, age 13, was growing up in Cleveland, in a home which he later describe as “materially poor but spiritually rich.”

One day his junior high school coach, Charles Riley, who happened to develop quite a lot of good runners for the US, brought to his school, Fairmount Junior High School in Cleveland, Ohio, a man who at that time was known as the “World’s Fastest Human Being,” Charles Paddock, the great United States sprinter famous for his leaping lunge at the finish of every race.

Afterward the coach asked him, “Well, what do you think about him?”  He said, “Well, gee, coach, I sure would like to be known as the ‘World’s Fastest Human Being’ some day.”  So, then, Charles Riley told him something he never forgot.

“Everybody should have a dream,” he said. “Every man must remember that dreams are high and that you must climb a ladder to reach them.  Each rung of that ladder has a meaning of its own as you climb.  The first rung of that ladder, of course, goes back to one important point — just how dedicated are you?  How much of what you have are you willing to give to the dream?  And the next rung of the ladder is your determination to train yourself to reach the dream at the top.  And the third rung of that ladder is the self-discipline that you must display in order to accomplish all this.  The fourth rung, which is one of the most important rungs in that ladder to your dream, is the kind of attitude you have in going about all this.  By this I mean, are you capable of giving every moment that you possibly can to making this dream come true and of throwing your whole heart and soul into the effort?”

The result of that challenge is that this young man went on to win four goal medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, much to the chagrin of Adolph Hitler.  He won the 100 meter dash and broke the Olympic and world records for the 200 meter.  His broad jump record lasted for 22 years.  His name?  Jessie Owens.

Athletes continue to amaze us by breaking records as they train hard for years and then perform to their utmost ability.

Here is another example:

The year was 1923, and the competing track teams of Scotland and France were neck and neck.  But among the events remaining was the 440.  As the runners, clad in traditional 1920s white, came to the first turn, they were bunched tight, shoulder to shoulder, when one of them was pushed to the ground and off the track.  For a second he was down — and then up again, running (though twenty meters behind), his knees high, his head back —flying.  And as the leaders sprinted to the finish line, he emerged ahead to win! It was a famous win, by Eric Liddell, immortalized in the movie Chariots of Fire.

What would most runners have done?  Most would have waved a fist, dusted themselves off, and watched the outcome.  Perhaps there would have been a few words exchanged after the race.  But the athlete in question was beyond the ordinary.  It was as if he had been reading this very passage — forgetting what is behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I focus all my energy on the race; and seeing the goal, I fly to the finish.

This is the way everyone who is in the grip of Christ’s grace must live. Listen to Paul’s explanation to the Corinthians: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

Apart from a failing mind or body, we are called to relentlessly press on toward the finish line for the full and complete gaining of Christ, the resurrection, and ultimate perfection.  Getting old and tired?  Put the pedal to the metal.  Young and full of boundless energy?  Be a man or woman of “one thing.”

Dr. Howard Hendricks used to tell about an elderly Christian woman he knew who would come into a social gathering, where everyone was chit-chatting about nothing significant, and say, “Tell me, Howie, what are the five best books you’ve read this past year?”

Even though she was up in years, she was still actively growing in the Lord.  When she died in her nineties, her daughter discovered on her desk that the night before she died in her sleep, she had written out her personal goals for the next five years!  Like Paul in prison, right up to the end she wanted to be growing!

I heard about a mountain climber whose epitaph was, “He died climbing.” That ought to be true of every Christian.

If you want grow as a Christian, make sure you’re in the race–that Christ has laid hold of your life and saved you from sin. Make sure you have the right attitude–that you haven’t arrived, but you’re in the lifelong process of moving ahead. And, give it the proper effort–focusing on the goal of being like Christ, and doing everything in light of that high calling.

Paul next turns to the mental framework that is necessary to pursue Christ:

15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

Now, back in 3:12 Paul said that he is not perfect, but in 3:15 he implies that he and some of his readers are perfect.  He isn’t contradicting himself within four verses.  Rather, in 3:12, he means that absolute perfection is not attainable in this life.  In 3:15, he uses the word in relative terms to mean “mature.”  We can become mature, and the mature Christian will share Paul’s view that he is setting forth here, that we haven’t arrived, but that we can and must keep growing.  Maybe a better way to say it is that we should always be “maturing.”

But Paul recognizes that some will not share his attitude because they are not mature.  To those who disagree with him, Paul says, “Stay teachable and God will show you where you need to grow” (see 3:15). 

A teachable heart is humble and submissive.

Paul knew that some would think they were already “perfect” and didn’t need to put any more effort into pursuing Christ.  That is dangerous and Paul will talk more about them in verse 17-21.

Paul doesn’t want them to lose ground, but to keep on running, pursuing the prize of knowing and becoming like Jesus Christ.

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Am I pursuing the prize with all my energies, removing distractions, open to challenges and disciplining my life?
  2. What is one area that I need to grow in?
  3. Where is it in your life that you most need to forget something from your past?
  4. Where is it in your life that you want your future to be different?

Run to Win, part 3 (Philippians 3:13)

So, the last two weeks we’ve been looking at Paul’s pursuit of knowing Christ, his life’s ambition, his magnificent obsession.  First, he talked about desiring it strongly, so strongly that he had been willing to give up everything else.  That was in vv. 4-10.  “I want to know Christ” Paul cried.

Then, he points out that we must have a perpetual dissatisfaction with where we are in our pursuit of knowing Christ.  We aren’t dissatisfied with Christ, or the spiritual blessings we have in union with Him, but we are dissatisfied with the progress we’ve made in coming to know Christ Jesus as Lord.

A. W. Tozer has said: “to have found God and still to pursue him is the soul’s paradox of love.”

Or as St. Bernard sang it:

We taste Thee, O Thou Living Bread,

And long to feast upon Thee still:

We drink of Thee, the Fountainhead

And thirst our souls from Thee to fill.

Matthew Henry is right: “Wherever there is true grace there is a desire for more grace.”

Saving faith is an ongoing preference for Christ over all other values.  The pursuit of Christ is the evidence of genuine faith in Christ as our treasure. 

Third, we must devote maximum effort in pursuing this prize.  Paul said he “pressed on,” which speaks of chasing after and not giving up.  There is no half-hearted attempt if we want to have a deep, personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  We must be all out.

Today we want to talk about Paul’s focused determination in reaching his goal of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord.

Paul expresses this in verses 13-14 of Philippians 3:

13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

The writers of Scripture, and especially Paul, used the imagery of athletics to communicate the essence of Christian growth.

For example, in 1 Corinthians 9 Paul says…

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?  So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

Also in 2 Timothy 2 Paul challenges Timothy:

5 An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.

And the writer of Hebrews picks up this imagery in Hebrews 12:

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Runners know that they cannot afford to pay attention to the scenery or the crowds or even the other runners if they expect to win.  Their concentration must remain focused.

Paul begins verse 13 by reiterating, “I do not consider that I have made it my own.”  By this repletion of the same message in verse 12 Paul is seeking to drive home the reality that this is a race that continues on.  In our microwave mentality we too often perceive the race to be a quick sprint when in fact it is a marathon.

“I haven’t made it to the finish line yet, so I keep on running.”

Paul had been converted for at least 30 years when he wrote Philippians.  There is no question that he is one of the outstanding believers of all times. Yet over and over he reveals his mind-set, that he was still in the process.  God was not finished with him yet.

This was not the subjective confession of an oversensitive, overwrought soul who is blinded to his own progress.  Rather, it was grounded in facts that are verifiable.  He had not yet attained to the perfection of the resurrection of the dead.

In other words, while I have life and breathe left in me, as long as I am left on this earth in this body, I keep running.

You may have been a Christian for 40 or 50 years, but you can’t start thinking, “I don’t need to grow any more” and stop running.  But the Christian life is not a sprint, but a long-distance race.

If we believe that the Christian life is a sprint, we will look for quick fixes that will only leave us disappointed.

Understanding that the Christian life is a marathon helps us to be patient with our progress.  We may not be totally satisfied with where we are—Paul wasn’t—but we can be patient with ourselves.

We can also be patient with others.  Because we know that the Christian life is a marathon, we can be more patient with the progress, or lack thereof, that others have made.

You expect babies to dirty their diapers and to burp in your face and to cry in the middle of the night.  Now, if your teenager is still dirtying his diapers and burping in your face and waking you up with his crying in the night, you’ve got a problem!  If a brother or sister is growing, we need to be patient and gracious, realizing that it is a lifelong process. 

The most important thing we need to be asking, first about our own growth progress and then with the growth progress of others is: “What can I do to keep growing?” or “How can I help you keep growing?”

You see this for Paul even in his final days, when he was in the dungeon in Rome, and he wrote to Timothy asking him to bring his coat, and then he adds, “and the books, especially the parchments” (2 Tim. 4:13).  Here he was facing execution, but he wanted his books so he could keep growing!

Paul never stopped, and neither should we.  No matter how old we are, or where we are in life, we can and should keep growing.

We can see Paul’s laser focus when he says, “But this one thing I do…”  Since the race is not over, he keeps focused on “one thing.”

In the 1991 film “City Slickers,” there’s an exchange between the resident cowboy, Curly (Jack Palance), and vacationing urban greenhorn Mitch (Billy Crystal).  Curly asks Mitch, “Do you know what the secret to life is?”  Then he holds up one finger, looks at it, and says, “This.” Mitch responds, “Your finger?” Curly shakes his head, then replies, “One thing.  Just one thing.  You stick to that and the rest don’t mean (anything).”

Giving Curly his full attention, Mitch asks, “That’s great, but what is the ‘one thing’?”  Then Curly smiles and answers, “That’s what you have to find out.”

While Curly doesn’t tell Mitch what the one thing is, he does point out the importance of being totally focused on what is important.

On a more serious note, Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, wrote a book with the title Purity of Heart is to Will One thing and in it he had a prayer that went like this:

“So may Thou give to the intellect wisdom to comprehend that one thing.  To the heart, sincerity to receive this understanding.  To the will, purity that wills one thing.  In prosperity, may Thou grant perseverance to will one thing.  Amid distractions, collectedness to will one thing.  In suffering, patience to will one thing.”

In that prayer Kierkegaard reveals several of the chief culprits which sabotage most of our attempts at spiritual growth—prosperity, distractions and suffering.  In other words, there are so many things in life, both good and bad, that can steal away our attention for Christ.

In order to be single-minded, i.e., “this one thing I do, not these many things I dabble in,” the Christian must do two things: (1) forget what lies behind, and (2) strain forward to what lies ahead.

“Forgetting what lies behind” means first of all that we keep our focus on what lies ahead.  A runner cannot afford to be looking back, or looking around, or he or she will be passed by the other runners.

On August 7, 1954, during the British Empire Games in Vancouver, Canada, the greatest mile-run matchup ever took place.  It was touted as the “miracle mile” because Britisher Roger Bannister and Australian John Landy were the only two sub-four-minute milers in the world.  Bannister had been the first man ever to run a four-minute mile.  Both runners were in peak condition.

Roger Bannister, M.D., who became Sir Roger Bannister and master of an Oxford college, strategized that he would relax during the third lap and save everything for his finishing drive.  But as they began that third lap, the Australian poured it on, stretching his already substantial lead.  Immediately Bannister adjusted his strategy, increasing his pace and gaining on Landy.

The lead was quickly cut in half, and at the bell for the final lap they were even.  Landy began running even faster, and Bannister followed suit.  Both men were flying.  Bannister felt he was going to lose if Landy did not slow down.

Then came the famous moment (replayed thousands of times in print and flickering black and white celluloid) as at the last stride before the home stretch the crowds roared.  Landy could not hear Bannister’s footfall and looked back, a fatal lapse of concentration.  Bannister launched his attack and won the Empire Games that day by five yards.

John Landy’s lapse was as old as antiquity.  The sports-knowledgeable Apostle Paul would have seen Landy’s mistake in a flash because he knew that to be successful a runner must not look back over his shoulder — he must “forget what lies behind” — because when a runner turns even slightly to glance back, there is a momentary loss of focus and rhythm, incurring the critical loss of a fraction of a second or even seconds.

There are several negative illustrations of looking back in the Scriptures:

Lot’s wife looked back to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and turned into a pillar of salt (Gen. 19:26; Luke 17:32).

The children of Israel looked back to Egypt in the wilderness wanderings, wishing they had the leeks and onions, thinking those were the “good ol’ days.” (Numbers)

Jesus also talked about the dangers of disciples looking back in Luke 9:62.

Paul had experienced Demas turning back to the world (2 Timothy 4:10)

Much of the book of Hebrews, and even Galatians, is about the danger of turning back to Judaism.

There are two things we cannot afford to be occupied with if we are to pursue a deeper knowledge of Jesus Christ and a greater likeness to Christ.

That are past failures and past successes.

For most of us it is the bad things that we have done or have happened to us in the past that trip us up and leave us lying on the ground, wallowing in self-condemnation or self-pity instead of getting back up and running.

When we make mistakes, we incriminate ourselves, failing to believe that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

Two of our hymns have these words:

My sin not in part but the whole, is nailed to His cross and I bear it no more.

When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within- upward I look and see Him there who made an end of all my sin.

Also, when we have been wounded by others, we replay those wounds over and over in our minds rather than deciding to forgive that person for what they did to us.

I know that some have been wounded deeply, and you have experienced unfathomable trauma.  But your freedom comes in being willing to forgive.

A. W. Tozer has written:

“It is one of the devil’s oldest tricks to discourage Christian believers by causing them to look back at what they once were.  It is indeed the enemy of our souls who makes us forget that we are never at the end of God’s love.  No one will make progress with God until the eyes are lifted to the faithfulness of God and we stop looking at ourselves!  Our instructions in the New Testament all add up to the necessity of looking forward in faith and not spending our time looking back or just looking within.  Brethren, our Lord is more than able to take care of our past.  He pardons instantly and forgives completely, and his blood makes us worthy!  The goodness of God is infinitely more wonderful than we will ever be able to comprehend. “

In this context, it is probably not the negative things, the past sins and wounds, that Paul means us to “leave behind,” but rather the past successes—the victories, the things we are proud of.

It has been said that “success is the great enemy of future success.”

Remember that Paul had started out listing his accolades and achievements in relation to his commitment to Judaism.  All of those things were good things, things to be proud of, BUT they kept him from pursuing Christ.

If he kept those past successes, he would be proud of who he was, and would not have much impetus to pursue Christ.

So we not only have to leave behind the negative experiences, but also our positive experiences.

Some people have experienced some great experience with the Holy Spirit, which can be very dangerous if we point back to that and depend upon it, but do not run forward in pursuit of Christ.

Paul is saying, don’t let either your weaknesses and failures, or your victories and successes, keep you from pressing on to know Christ.

Now, let me just make something clear before we move on.  When Paul says “forgetting what lies behind” he means to not pay attention to anything which hinders your pursuit of God you should put out of your mind.

Don’t take this to mean that memory has no place in our spiritual artillery.  It does.  Some battles are won by remembered mercies (Psalm 77:11; Hebrews 11).  The point is not: never look back.  The point is: only look back for the sake of pressing forward.

Memories of successes can make you smug and self-satisfied.  Memories of failure can make you hopeless and paralyzed in your pursuit of God.  Never look back like that.  Give humble thanks for successes; make humble confessions for failure; then turn to the future and go hard after God.

In almost every sport, to be successful, you have to focus your attention.  Runners have to keep their eyes looking ahead to the finish line.  Ball players have to “keep your eye on the ball.”

A Christian must keep his eye on the goal — fully surrender to and fellowship with Jesus Christ.  If our eyes slip to the temporal world, we lose focus on the spiritual world and lose our bearings.  Forget what lies behind.  Keep your eye on the goal!

As Paul ran, he shifted into the high gear of forgetfulness — forgetting his achievements and his failures. Paul ran in the liberating freedom of his “one thing” (v. 13).  He was flying in his forgetfulness.

There is instruction for everyone here across the spectrum of age and experience.  For those who have some miles on them and are battle-worn and perhaps have some striking accomplishments, God calls you to selective amnesia so that you will not be lulled from your stride.  For all, young and old, do not look back.  Lift up your eyes.  Look straight ahead.  Focus on Jesus Christ, for He is worthy of all of our attention and all our affection.

Run to Win, part 2 (Philippians 3:12)

As far as sanctification, the process of becoming more and more like Jesus Christ, Paul started with this statement:

10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

Paul had an ardent desire, a deep hunger and thirst, to know Christ, and in knowing Him to become like Him.

But Paul, even after thirty years of intense and passionate pursuit, says in verse 12: “I’m still not what I ought to be.”  I’ll be coming up on 53 years this coming Summer, and I’m still not what I ought to be.

F. B. Meyer points out that: “Self-dissatisfaction lies at the root of our noblest achievements.”  And that is especially true in the spiritual realm.

A. W. Tozer remarked:

Get thoroughly dissatisfied with yourself.  Complacency is the deadly enemy of spiritual progress. . . . When speaking of earthly goods Paul could say, “I have learned to be content,” but when referring to his spiritual life he testified, “I press toward the mark.”  So stir up the gift of God that is in you.

One of our greatest dangers as a Christian is to grow complacent and self-satisfied.  It is described as lukewarmness in the letter to the Laodicean church.  In 1 Corinthians 10:12 Paul warned:

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

When you are content, you become smug, and then you find yourself insensitive to sin in your life and you defend your godless choices when you ought to be admitting your weakness and sins and determined to pursue Jesus Christ and his righteousness.

So Paul begins Philippians 3:12 with the strong “not that…”, an instant disclaimer to correct any erroneous assumptions that may have come up when he spoke of his position in Christ in vv. 8-9 and said, “found in him…with a righteousness.”

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

The repetition of the word “already” indicates that what would eventually be true—perfect spiritual maturity, complete likeness to Christ—is not yet a reality in his life.

And this ought to encourage us, for if Paul still felt like he wasn’t there yet after 30 years of striving for it, we don’t have to be discouraged that we haven’t reached spiritual perfection yet.

People could have said to Paul:

“Paul, you have the righteousness of Christ.”  And Paul would have responded, “Yes, but I still need to ‘perfect holiness in the fear of God’ (2 Cor. 7:1) and ‘pursue righteousness’ (2 Tim. 2:22).

“But Paul, you’ve already come to know Christ.”  And he would have returned, “Yes, but right now I ‘know in part… then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.’ (1 Cor. 13:12).

“But Paul, don’t you have the resurrection power?”  And Paul would say, “Yes, but I also have weakness in which God shows his strength’ (2 Cor. 12:8-10).

“Don’t you have fellowship with Christ, Paul?” “Yes, but there are times that I don’t know how to pray as I ought and the Holy Spirit has to make intercession for me” (Romans 8:26-27).

“But Paul, what about the resurrection?”  And he would say, “That won’t be consummated until I receive my glorious body” (Phil. 3:20).

I mean, one of the things that makes perfectionist teaching so attractive is that it does take seriously the complete victory and dynamic resources we have at our disposal in Christ already.  We should be able to walk in holiness.

But it fails to recognize the equal reality that we still struggle against the sin principle within us (cf. Romans 7).

Charles Haddon Spurgeon preached:

So far as his acceptance with God is concerned a Christian is complete in Christ as soon as he believes. Those who have trusted themselves in the hands of the Lord Jesus are saved: and they may enjoy holy confidence upon the matter, for they have a divine warrant for so doing. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” To this salvation the apostle had attained. But while the work of Christ for us is perfect, and it were presumption to think of adding to it, the work of the Holy Spirit in us is not perfect, it is continually carried on from day to day, and will need to be continued throughout the whole of our lives. We are being “conformed to the image of Christ,” and that process is in operation, as we advance towards glory.

Paul is saying, I cannot be smug and satisfied with where I am, when there is so much of Christ to experience.

When we feel that way, we are in a dangerous position, pointed out by Spurgeon.  He wrote:

Shame, then, on any of us poor dwarfs if we are so vain as to count that we have apprehended! Shame upon the indecent self-conceit of any man who congratulates himself upon his own spiritual condition, when Paul himself said, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect.” The injury which self-content will do a man it would be hard to measure, it is the readiest way to stunt him, and the surest method to keep him weak. I should be sorry indeed if I should be addressing one who imagines that he has apprehended, for his progress in grace is barred from this time forth. The moment a man says, “I have it,” he will no longer try to obtain it; the moment he cries, “It is enough,” he will not labour after more.

Again, he says…

I meet, I say, sometimes with brethren who feel contented with their spiritual condition. They do not ascribe their satisfactory character to themselves, but to the grace of God; but for all that, they do feel that they are what they ought to be, and what others ought to be but are not. They see in themselves a great deal that is good, very much that is commendable, and a large amount of excellence, which they can hold up for the admiration of others. They have reached the “higher life,” and are wonderfully fond of telling us so, and explaining the phenomena of their self-satisfied condition. Though Paul was compelled to say, “In me, that is, in my flesh, there dwelleth no good thing,” their flesh appears to be of a better quality: whereas he had spiritual conflicts, and found that without were fightings, and within were fears, these very superior persons have already trodden Satan under their feet, and reached a state in which they have little else to do but to divide the spoil.

God wants you to be dissatisfied with your current spiritual condition.  You cannot improve upon your position in Christ, but you must improve upon your condition, your pursuit of knowing and experiencing Christ.

When Spain led the world (in the 15th century), her coins reflected her national arrogance and were inscribed Ne Plus Ultra which meant “Nothing Further” – meaning that Spain was the ultimate in all the world. After the discovery of the New World, she realized that she was not the end of the world, so Spain changed the inscription on her coinage to Plus Ultra meaning “More Beyond.” In the same pattern, some Christian lives say, “Nothing Further” and others say “More Beyond.” (David Guzik)

And that leads us to Paul’s third point.  Not only must we desire it strongly (“I want to know Christ) and not only must we be dissatisfied with where we are (“have not obtained, become perfect”), we must also devote maximum effort in pursuing this prize.

When Paul expresses this in verse 12 and 14 he uses the word dioko.  It was a term used for the military pursuit of an enemy and of the predator’s pursuit after its prey.  It is the same word Paul used back in verse 6 when he says he was a “persecutor” of the church.

When used in the athletic context, as Paul is here, it refers to the sprinter who exerts maximum effort and energy, running with all their might, or as football players say today, “leaving it all on the field.”

It is giving a 110% effort with the aim of winning.

And that’s what it takes.  You cannot win if you give a lazy effort.  You will not win if you’re only half-hearted about the training or the race itself.

John Haggai writes about John Wesley (I’ll use him as a positive example now):

“John Wesley traveled on horseback the equivalent of ten times around the earth’s equator.  He preached as often as 15 times a week for fifty years.  He authored more publications than any writer in the English language until contemporary science fiction writer Isaac Asimov.  He read books while making his horseback journeys.  When he was past eighty, he complained that he could not read and work more than fifteen hours a day.”

There was a man who gave maximum effort.  He gave it all he had.

The present tense of this verb describes an ongoing, grasping, strenuous pursuit.  It is a gritty, “I will not be denied,” rough-and-tumble pursuit — a sublime violence — which Christ approved and approves of.

He said, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12).  This is how it was with John the Baptist when he burst from the wilderness clad in his leathers, fiercely heralding the kingdom.

So it was with the paralytic’s friends when they tore through the roof in Capernaum to get him to Jesus (cf. Mark 2:4).

At the end of verse 12 we have the first clue as to what Paul was pursuing.  He says, “I’m after that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.”  In other words, “I’m pursuing the very things for which Christ pursued me.”

When Paul said, “That I may lay hold,” he used strong language.  “The word ‘apprehend’ is from the same Greek word translated ‘attained,’ but with a preposition prefixed which means in its local force ‘down.’  He wants to catch hold of it and pull it down, like a football player who not only wants to catch his man, but wants to pull him down and make him his own.” (Wuest) so that the tackle is awarded to him.

I want you to notice two things about this last clause. 

First, it signals that my spiritual pursuit of Christ and Christlikeness was preceded by and initiated by Christ’s pursuit of me, with the aim that I become like Him.

Christ pursued me.  He grabbed me.  And thankfully He never lets go.

He is the “hound of heaven,” pursuing us not only for salvation, but for sanctification and ultimate glory.

Paul’s “language comes from the world of war and athletics” (Thielman).  In fact, in a battle report the ancient historian Herodotus used the same words Paul used to describe an army’s pursuit and seizure of the retreating columns of the enemy.

That’s significant on two levels.

For example, those who believe that they were the ones who sought out Christ and finally found Him, often feel like they are doing him a favor when they sacrifice their time and energies to pursue Christ.

He took the initiative.  He chased and caught me.  Now, Paul says, “I am pursuing Him.”

But those who know they were “grabbed,” “chased after and caught,” sometimes forcibly (like Paul was), know that they had nothing to do with it and it is all of grace, and they are then willing to devote their lives to the one who cared enough to come running after them.

Paul’s whole pursuit of Christ was Christ-originated, Christ-motivated, and Christ-propelled.

Paul has already expressed this once, back in chapter 2

work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

We merely work out what God is working in us, giving us both the desire and the power to pursue His good pleasure, His glory.

Brothers and sisters, if you have been seized by Christ and are in the grip of his grace, you must press on in your own hot, grasping pursuit of an ever-deeper knowledge of him. The gospel allows no room for a bland, middle-class ethic that strives to be neither hot nor cold (cf. Revelation 3:14-16). 

It is also significant in that once Christ grabs hold of us, He never lets go.

Jesus expressed this about Himself and the Father in John 10:27-30 when he said:

27 “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

The Son and the Father have grabbed hold of us and “no one is able to snatch” us out of their all-powerful hands!  This communicates that we are completely secure in our salvation,  No one can snatch out of their hands and we cannot fall out or jump out.  He has us, forever!

We are not kept for salvation by our own holding onto Christ, but by His indefatigable holding on to us.  As Matthew Henry said: “Not our keeping hold of Christ, but his keeping hold of us, is our safety.”

But notice again that Paul is not content with merely Christ pursuing and holding onto him, but now, like any lover, he reciprocates by laying hold of Christ.

Also, as we look at this clause we need to start asking, “What does Christ want from me?”  “Why did He pursue me?”  “Why has he laid hold of me?”

David Guzik identifies these six reasons:

· Jesus laid hold of Paul to make him a new man (Romans 6:4) – so Paul would lay hold of that and wanted to see the converting work of Jesus completely carried out in himself.

· Jesus laid hold of Paul to conform him into the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29) – so Paul would lay hold of that and wanted to see the nature of Jesus within himself.

· Jesus laid hold of Paul to make him a witness (Acts 9:15) – so Paul would lay hold of both the experience of Jesus and to testify of that experience.

· Jesus laid hold of Paul to make him an instrument in the conversion of others (Acts 9:15) – so Paul would lay hold of the work of bringing others to Jesus.

· Jesus laid hold of Paul to bring him into suffering (Acts 9:16) – so Paul would lay hold of even that work of God in his life, wanting to know Jesus in the fellowship of His sufferings.

· Jesus laid hold of Paul that so that the Apostle might attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:11) – so Paul would lay hold of that heavenly hope.

Jesus wants us to know Him, but also to become like Him.  The more time we spend in His presence the more we will become like Him.  In fact, the way we can know that we really know Him is precisely that we are in the process of becoming like Him.

When His desires become our desires, when His will becomes our will, when His ways become our ways, that is what shows that we really know Him.

We might claim to know Him, to be laid hold of by Him, but the truth of it lies in whether it lights a fire in us to pursue Him and devote ourselves to becoming like Him.

Run to Win, part 1 (Philippians 3:10, 12)

Benjamin Franklin was the quintessential self-made man.  His autobiography is his account of “the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection.”  Franklin started this project after trying out religion and finding it not to his taste.  He made a list of twelve virtues that he thought desirable, then added a thirteenth—humility—when a friend kindly informed him that he had left something important off his list.

Knowing he would be unable to attain them all at once, he set out to master one after the other, setting up a chart with the days of the week so he could mark his progress.  He would ask himself every morning: “What good shall I do this day?”  And every night he would again ask himself, “What good have a done this day?”  At one point, he dryly noted, “I was surprised to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined.”

He found that pride was, indeed, his biggest fault.  He wrote in his autobiography, “I cannot boast of much success in acquiring the reality of this virtue, but I had a good deal with regard to the appearance of it.”

Like Franklin, we more often don’t really want to be perfect, just appear so.

Franklin went on to say about pride:

“There is perhaps no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride; disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive and will ever now and then peep out and show itself.”

He even acknowledged:

“You will see it perhaps often in this history.  For even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I would probably be proud of my humility.”

We all struggle with faults, even sins, and intuitively we know that we are not perfect.  But there are those who promote this very idea within Christianity.

John Wesley, a contemporary of Franklin and founder of Methodism, taught that perfection could be pursued and attained in this life.  “Perfect love” is Wesley’s favorite term and he believed it could be attained this side of heaven.

Wesley, who was a prolific preacher, found that quite of a few of his converts reverted back to their pre-conversion sins.  It befuddled him.  Ultimately he came up with a second work of grace (actually the second baptism that is so prominent in Charismatic and Pentecostal teachings) that promised purity in the life of a believer.

In their view, there are two classes of Christians, some on the higher plane experiencing victory in Jesus and another class wallowing below.

I make reference to perfectionism because in our passage before us today, Philippians 3:12, Paul admits,

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect…

We see here that Paul denies perfection.

Now, we must be clear.  There is a sense in which we are “complete in Christ” and possess the righteousness of Christ so that when God looks at me He sees me clothed in Christ and His righteousness.  That is what is called positional sanctification, because it is mine only on the basis of being united with Christ.  It is also called definitive sanctification because once it occurs it cannot be undone.

But there is also progressive sanctification.  This is the ordinary, day to day practice of spiritual disciplines and responding to Christ in both the ups and downs of life.  This is “becoming conformed to the image of his son” (Rom. 8:29) as we move “from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18).

Then, ultimate sanctification happens at that moment we see Christ, whether in death or at the rapture, because when we see Him we will become like Him (1 John 3:2).

It seems to me that, like Paul, we need to be honest about ourselves—that we have not achieved perfection in this life, but continue to strive for it.

The portion of Scripture we will be looking at over the next several weeks is Philippians 3:12-21.  After expressing his intense passion and obsession in v. 10

10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

This passionate declaration meant that every day witnessed the apostle’s relentless pursuit of an ever-deepening, ever-widening personal knowledge of the Christ whom he had already known intimately for over thirty years. 

Had Paul attained it?

Paul says…

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. 17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

This text has two main paragraphs, verses 12-16 and verses 17-21.

In general terms, verses 12-16 explain Paul’s perspective on the past, the present, and the future. The Christian does not live in the past, but with an eye to the future.

Verses 17-21 contrast Paul’s perspective on the past, the present, and the future with that of the enemies of the cross.  They pride themselves in their past accomplishments and live for the present, ignoring the future.  Paul does not take the saints who erred in verse 15 nearly as seriously as he does these unbelievers in verses 18-19.

Together, these two paragraphs sharpen our focus on the goal toward which every Christian should be striving.  Let us carefully listen and learn from these divinely inspired words, which are as applicable to us today as they were to the Philippians centuries ago.

In verses 12-16 Paul uses athletic imagery, something he was very fond of because he knew that people around the Mediterranean had experience with the races and fighting bouts connected with these early athletic competitions.

He advocates in this passage, as well as in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 and 2 Timothy 2:5 that we should run to win.  When it comes to life in general, we get more out of it the more we put in.  That applies to business, to relationships, and also to our spiritual lives.

We can’t be lazy, just sit around or distract ourselves with life, and expect to win the prize in the spiritual race.  And we shouldn’t have the attitude that because we got our ticket punched to go to heaven, that that is all there is to it.

Paul tells us that we need to passionately pursue the prize, that we need to run the race with purpose, focus and persistence.

Now, in Philippians 3 Paul has been sharing his personal testimony about how he came to value Jesus Christ above all the religious pedigree and performances that made him such a shining example of goodness under Judaism.

He was a really good guy!  Every mother would want their daughter to marry him.

But he doesn’t stop with that experience in which he threw all those accolades and accomplishments in the trash for the sake of knowing Christ Jesus as His Lord.  He wants to really know Christ personally and for the last 30 years he has been doing that, diligently.

Some might assume that after 30 years of fellowship with Christ and living out the righteousness of Christ within him, that he would be reaching that place where he could claim perfection

Possibly Paul is intentionally countering the Judaizer’s claims that adding circumcision and Sabbaths and religious works to Jesus Christ would make them perfect; or the Gnostics who believed that reaching a mystic knowledge would make one perfect.

So if we want to pursue the prize and gain it, what do we have to do?

Well, the first thing we have to do, which we have talked about in the past two weeks, is that we must desire it passionately, being willing to lose everything else for the sake of gaining it.

That is what we found in vv. 4-11.  Paul was totally sold out for Jesus Christ.  Everything that was once important to him was thrown in the trash.  Why? Because Jesus Christ is worth it.

We are aware that Olympic athletes put themselves through tremendous deprivations and agonizing disciplines for several years because they want to win the prize.

The farthest thing from Paul’s mind was retirement, just resting on his laurels.

He did NOT have the attitude of the ditty that says:

I wake up each morning and dust off my wits,

I take up the paper and read the obits,

If my name is missing, then I know I’m not dead,

So I eat a good breakfast and go back to bed.

The reason Paul did not have a retirement attitude or go on vacation is because he valued Jesus Christ, and His relationship with Christ, far too much.  He was willing to sacrifice everything because he had found a treasure worth sacrificing everything for.

Wilbur Rees once wrote the following describing the average man’s view of God:

“I would like to buy $3 worth of God please, not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough of him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3 dollars worth of God please.”

But Paul wasn’t the average man, and we don’t have to be the average person either.  We can optimally value and passionately pursue Jesus Christ as well.

So, first we must desire it passionately, being willing to lose everything else for the sake of gaining Christ.

Second, we must be consistently dissatisfied with our present condition.

We are not dissatisfied with Christ or the spiritual blessings we possess in him.  Rather, we are dissatisfied with our current enjoyment of Christ and those blessings.  We come to recognize that although we valued Christ enough to be saved, since then we have been looking to other things to satisfy our desires.

In fact, far too many Christians today are satisfied with themselves and dissatisfied with Christ.  They imagine that Christ is not enough, that the world has better things to offer, and they imagine that they are good enough to merit God’s favor even though they are doing nothing to deserve it.

Let me make clear, obedience does not merit God’s love or forgiveness, but obedience does win God’s favor.  And to enjoy God’s favor we have to continue to pursue Christ, reaching with all our might to the finish line to win the prize.

Also, when I say “dissatisfied with our present condition” I don’t mean we should be dissatisfied with our position in Christ.  Our position in Christ is complete and perfect.  Being in Christ we are completely accepted.  Positionally we are complete and mature and righteous in Christ.  Nothing could be better.

But we are called to pursue Christlikeness and deepen our relationship with Christ.  Warren Wiersbe states:

“A divine dissatisfaction is essential for spiritual progress.”

Our position is perfect, but our condition needs progress.

George Muller put it like this:

“Just as a little child is a perfect human being, but still is far from perfect in all his development as man, so the true child of God is also perfect in all parts, although not yet perfect in all the stages of his development in faith.”

And Charles Spurgeon pointed out the value of reading biographies of the great saints of the past:

“Brethren, it is a very healthy thing for us who are ministers to read a biography like that of M’Cheyne.  Read that through, if you are a minister, and it will burst many of your windbags.  You will find yourselves collapse most terribly.  Take the life of Brainerd amongst the Indians, or of Baxter in our own land.  Think of the holiness of George Herbert, the devoutness of Fletcher, or the zeal of Whitfield.  Where do you find yourself after reading their lives?  Might you not peep about to find a hiding-place for your insignificance?”

That pursuit starts with the dissatisfaction of an honest confession contained in that first line of verse 12: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect…”

His language here is arresting because he literally said, “Not that I have already received” (without referencing the object), so that the sense is much the same as in English when we say, “Not that I have arrived,” stressing the incompleteness of his spiritual journey.

Paul had not “received,” and neither was he “perfect.”  This was conscious reality for the apostle.  Paul was under no illusions about his attainments and would not promote fictions about his having become “perfect.”  So we immediately observe that Paul’s magnificent quest to know Christ fully was matched by a magnificent humility.

Paul’s enemies claimed to have reached a state of perfection that made them possessors of all the blessings of salvation, in effect the arrival of Heaven itself.  Heavenly perfection was theirs now, they argued. If we imagine that “we have Heaven now” is a far-fetched notion, we must understand that certain groups today claim the same thing — namely, that “mature” Christians will stay healthy and enjoy material prosperity and wholly overcome sin.  TV preacher Kenneth Copeland, who preaches freedom from sickness and poverty, proclaims, “The world’s shortages have no effect on someone who has already gone to heaven.  Therefore, they should have no effect on us here who have made Jesus Lord of our lives.”

But Paul’s confession allowed no such thinking, then or now.  Here the Apostle Paul, the most spectacular Christian who ever lived, confessed that he had not arrived or become “perfect.”  Paul admitted his own need to grow into maturity.

His confession stands as a warning against a super-spiritual kind of Christianity that imagines that the blessings of the age to come can be had now before the resurrection.

The reality is, the more we come to know Christ, the more we will come to sense our need to grow.  And when we imagine that we have arrived, stagnation sets in.

We must understand that Paul’s prayer — “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” — is a prayer of humble dissatisfaction that opens us to the blessing of God — and to a sublime cycle of dissatisfaction and satisfaction and dissatisfaction and satisfaction. . . . It brings on a life that knows more and more of Christ and then desperately wants to know more and indeed does know more and more and more and more.  Spiritual dissatisfaction is a blessed state.  When we are hungry we know we need to eat, when we are thirsty we know we need to drink.  We should experience spiritual dissatisfaction so that it moves us to pursue Christ.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6). 

A Life that Counts, part 6 (Philippians 3:10-11)

Last week we began looking at one of the great benefits that comes from having a personal relationship with Christ through faith, and that is that we get “know Him.”  That knowledge, patterned after the Old Testament “Adam knew his wife Eve” indicates that this knowledge is much more than mere information about a person, much deeper than mere acquaintance, but rather a deep, interactive, interpersonal relationship that comes from time spent together.

We noted that in order to know Christ we have to first admit how little we do know of him, then ask God to help us want to know him, then spend time in His presence.  But a fourth way of knowing Christ intimately comes through experiencing difficulties and struggles.  That is picked up in the remainder of Philippians 3:10-11:

10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

In pursuing a deep, personal relationship with Jesus, Paul was willing to experience both the power and the pain—the power of his resurrection and the pain of his sufferings.

Kent Hughes writes:

Two thousand years ago on the first day of the week, Christ’s cold body lay on chilled stone in the arms of death.  His heart was stilled in the icy grip of the grave, whatever blood remained was congealed in his veins, his eyes were fixed and dilated, and his body was bound tightly with spices and graveclothes.  Then, before dawn, his vacant eyes blinked open and coursed with light, focused and glittering life.  And with the ease of omnipotence, his body left the wrappings like an empty cocoon.

That is the power of the resurrection.  It is able to overcome death.  Death could not hold Jesus Christ.  In Acts 2:24 Peter preached:

24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

That power that raised Christ from the dead is ours by virtue of our union with Christ.

Paul was not content to know Christ merely as a historical footnote, but wanted to know Him personally as the resurrected ever-living Lord!  That power ushers us into a new life.

Thus, t takes his resurrecting power to make us alive when we were dead in our sins.  In Ephesians 2 Paul says…

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (vv. 4-6).

It takes nothing less than God’s creational power to effect such a change in us.

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’ [when he created the world], has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). 

But God’s resurrection power is also available to us for our sanctification.

Paul prayed for the Ephesian believers that they would come to realize this power that was available to them through Christ:

16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:16-21)

This is more powerful than multiple atomic bombs, more powerful than a hurricane or lightning strikes.  It is the power that raised Jesus from the dead and know Paul wants them to know the “immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might…”

Indeed, this is the way Paul lived — with resurrection power.

Squeezed but not squashed;

bewildered but not befuddled;

pursued but not abandoned;

knocked down but not knocked out.

2 CORINTHIANS 4:8, 9, PARAPHRASED BY MERRILL TENNEY

Again, this was resurrection power, as Paul immediately explains: “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.  For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:10, 11).

Gordon Fee writes:

Paul knows nothing of the rather gloomy stoicism that is so often exhibited in historic Christianity, where the lot of the believer is basically that of “slugging it out in the trenches,” with little or no sense of Christ’s presence and power.  On the contrary, the power of Christ’s resurrection was the greater reality for him.  So certain was Paul that it had happened — after all, he had been accosted and claimed by the Risen Lord on the Damascus Road — and that Christ’s resurrection guaranteed his own, that he could throw himself into the present with a kind of holy abandon, full of rejoicing and thanksgiving.

I believe that one way we enter into the power of the resurrection is that we count ourselves “dead to sin and alive to God” in Romans 6.  Paul had said in Romans 5:21, “where sin increases grace super abounds.”  Naturally, someone mistook that to mean, “Let’s go out and keep on sinning so we can get more grace.”

Here is Paul’s response in Romans 6:1-7

1 What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin.

Paul doesn’t say we should stop sinning because we might lose our salvation, or because we might be punished.  He says that we stop sinning because we are new creatures.  We died to sin and are alive to God.  You cannot tempt a dead person. 

As long as we reckon ourselves dead to sin we have the power to say “No!” to temptation.  And as long as we reckon ourselves alive in God we have the power to say “Yes” to greater joy in Jesus Christ.

Where do we get the power to be kind, to love the unlovely, to forgive the unforgivable?  You get that power through the resurrection power that is activated in our lives through union with Jesus Christ.

Now, it’s no question that most of us want to experience that power, to know the power of Christ’s resurrection and to conquer sin in our lives.

But do we truly want to “share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death”?

Sure, we want to have fellowship with Jesus, but why does it have to be in his sufferings?

And why does Paul reverse the order of these?  Shouldn’t death come before resurrection?

We love power and avoid pain.  Nobody is going to say, “That church suffers with Christ, let’s join!”  No, we’ve swallowed the shallow gospel that knowing Christ really means life on easy street, with no pain or suffering or sickness or poverty.  We believe that God owes us “health and wealth.”  It’s our birthright.

The spiritual reality is this: suffering is the lot of every true believer, a fact that Paul referenced frequently. Luke tells us that he and Paul returned to the churches of Asia Minor, “encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

Paul told the Thessalonians, “For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know” (1 Thessalonians 3:3, 4).

Paul also informed the Romans that suffering is a prerequisite to being glorified with Christ: . . . and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17).

Most significantly, the apostle told the Philippians explicitly in 1:29, “For it has been granted [literally, graced] to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.”

Suffering for Christ then is a divine gift.  It is a sign of sacred intimacy with Christ.

Karl Barth explained of this text, “The grace of being permitted to believe in Christ is surpassed by the grace of being permitted to suffer for him, of being permitted to walk the way of Christ with Christ himself to the perfection of fellowship with him” (Epistle to the Philippians , trans. James W. Leitch (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), p. 49).

The fellowship of Christ’s sufferings moves the believer beyond the role of beneficiary of Christ’s death to a sharer in his sufferings (cf. Colossians 1:24).  The suffering that comes to a Christian (as a Christian) is not a sign of God’s neglect but rather proof that grace is at work in his or her life — sacred intimacy.

Suffering had been a part of Paul’s lot from the very beginning.  When Ananias balked at helping Paul, God said to him…

15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:15-16)

There is breathtaking beauty here — namely, that the more a believer becomes like Christ, the more he or she will suffer.  Simply put, the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings is the fellowship of elevated souls who are growing in their knowledge of Christ.  It is a fellowship of continual resurrection and the display of God’s power.  It is a fellowship of ascent.

Because we love the power over the pain we are unlikely to go this far with Christ and our relationship with Him will remain shallow.  Again, we must pray that God will give us a hunger and a thirst for fellowship with Christ that will encourage us to move into suffering instead of away from it.

Many have testified how their dependence upon, and trust in, and indeed their knowledge of Christ grew during times of testing and trouble.  Pain causes us to turn to Christ, and that is probably why we feel like we know Him better after sufferings than after successes.

The last phrase in this verse modifies the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings.  Complete dedication to the will of God, which resulted in Jesus’ sufferings and which will result in the believer’s suffering, means “death” ultimately.  First, it means death of own’s one agenda, and it can mean physical martyrdom as well.  That was certainly true of the apostles.

Death is a grim prospect, but Paul did not have a morbid, unhealthy fascination with suffering and death for its own sake.  He so loved Jesus Christ that he wished to share all aspects of His life, to know Him as intimately as he could. He even was willing to follow Him into the valley of the shadow of death.

The bottom line is, Paul wanted to take up his cross and follow Christ; he wanted God to conform him to Christ’s death. Jesus was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3), and Paul understood that taking up his cross like this is part of knowing the Master.

Paul concluded his desire to know Christ by expressing enigmatically, “that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (v. 11).

Was Paul uncertain about his participation in the resurrection?  Not at all.  The resurrection was certain, but the intervening events were uncertain as to timing and circumstances.

Would he die and later rise from the dead?  Or would he remain alive and undergo transformation to his new resurrection body?

Probably Paul meant that he hoped he would live to experience the Rapture, the “out-resurrection from among the dead,” before he died.  He did share the expectation that the rapture could happen in his lifetime (1 Thess. 4:16-17).  That would be when he received his new, resurrection body.

What he did know emphatically is that he would experience resurrection “out from among the dead” (literal translation).  And what would be his great prize?  Certainly a new body and certainly everlasting life.  But that is not the prize that he so coveted.  The prize he wanted was Christ himself.

That is what Paul gave up everything for, gladly, to know Jesus Christ.

Kent Henry concludes:

“That I may know him” (v. 10) describes Paul’s day-in, day-out, unremitting, relentless, defining pursuit.  Paul set his brilliant mind to learning everything about Jesus that he could, seeking him in all the Old Testament Scriptures.  Before he came to Christ, Paul was already an expert in the Torah and the sacred writings.  Likely he had them in his head!  Thus during his early years in Arabia he sought Christ in all the Scriptures, as we see so deftly illustrated in his epistles.

Paul also learned all he could from the apostolic band about Christ. Certainly he and Luke talked incessantly about Christ on the long days and nights of their travels.  But it was never knowledge about Christ that he sought as an end in itself.

All the apostle’s powers were concentrated on knowing Christ personally.  The power of the resurrection had dazzled him on the road to Damascus, and he never got over it.  Every day was his personal resurrection day, an affirmation that he had been raised with Christ.  So, Paul kept seeking the power of the resurrection as an avenue for knowing Christ more deeply.

This in turn enabled Paul to share in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings and further increase his intimacy and knowledge of him. Indeed, Paul passionately sought the fellowship of his sufferings as a grace for his soul. Therefore, the apostle was continually being conformed to Christ’s death by God himself.  His life was stamped with the divine imprint of the cross and a growing knowledge of Christ.  This meant that Paul looked with confidence to the indeterminate day of the great resurrection when the full knowledge of Christ would fill his horizon for all eternity.

There is no doubt that if any of us knew today to be the final day of our lives, we would wish that we had made Christ the passion of our existence.  But as it is, there is time right now to pray, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

Will you pray that prayer with me?

A Life that Counts, part 5 (Philippians 3:10)

So far in Philippians 3 Paul has expressed what happened to him when he was converted on the road to Damascus, the thought process that led him to conversion.  He took all his accolades and accomplishments from his stellar life in Judaism, and chunked it all into the garbage can because he came to realize the surpassing value of what he would receive in Christ.

In verse 8 he expresses the surpassing value of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as his Lord.  In verse 9 he talks about his union with Christ, being “found in him,” which forms the backbone of Paul’s teaching about salvation and the Christian life, and then also in verse 9 he speaks of the benefit of being justified by faith.

Now, in verses 10-11 Paul circles back to that initial benefit—fellowship with Jesus Christ, the risen, living Savior, the God-man.  So let’s read verse 8-11 again:

We are going to focus this morning on v. 10.

8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

These verses reinforce that coming to faith in Christ and enjoying a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is not the end of Paul’s experience with Christ.  It was just the beginning!  This relationship would continue throughout the rest of Paul’s life.

That personal relationship is initiated at the moment of faith in Christ, and the continuation of it in vv. 10-11 is what we call sanctification.  It is the lifelong process of relating to Christ through faith and becoming like him in practice.  This is where the righteousness of Christ that was deposited into our account by God when we put our trust in Christ starts being expressed through our behavior and life.

When it comes to the process of sanctification, the focus is not upon us or our disciplines, but on Jesus Christ.  That is why Paul starts with the statement, “I want to know Christ.”

In Genesis 4:1, we read that Adam “knew” his wife Eve.  The Hebrew expression used is “yada.”  Even in the Old Testament it was a word for knowing intimately.  Here the New Testament term is ginoskein and it almost always speaks of a personal knowledge.  This is not an intellectual knowledge but a personal experience of another person.  It actually speaks of a most intimate knowledge of another.

That should be the ambition of our hearts, our first cry every morning: “I want to know Christ.”

Too often our focus gets on ourselves in sanctification.  We are more or less successful in practicing spiritual disciplines.  We are more or less happy about our Christian experience.  We long for the times when we experienced more ecstasy.  All in all, our focus is upon ourselves.

But that is a dead end road.

We only make progress in our Christian lives when our focus is upon Christ.

Think about your daily devotions.  What is your goal or purpose in doing them?  Is it to gain mastery over Scripture?  Is it to get more from God?  Is it to improve our relationships, get a better handle on our finances or overcome some temptation?

Our daily devotions should be about Jesus Christ.  Our time in the Word and in prayer should be focused on growing in our knowledge of Jesus and enjoying Him.

Scottish pastor Robert Murray McCheyne (1813–1843) left us with one quote that has become quite famous, and for good reason. It goes like this: “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.” The quote is short, sticky, and it helps to both keep our focus on Christ and protect us from the trap of over-introspection with our own sins.

The line is taken from a letter published in Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne [(Edinburgh, 1894), 293]. Here’s a little more of the context:

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jer. 17:9. Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief! Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in his beams. Feel his all-seeing eye settled on you in love, and repose in his almighty arms. . . . Let your soul be filled with a heart-ravishing sense of the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in Him. Let the Holy Spirit fill every chamber of your heart; and so there will be no room for folly, or the world, or Satan, or the flesh.”

Here is the punchline to the entire thought.  The excellency of Christ is both the brilliant contrast to the sin in our hearts, and the remedy to the sin we find there. McCheyne was well aware that we battle indwelling sin by filling our hearts with “the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in Him.”  Communion with Christ is the key to sanctification.  This is the expulsive power of a new affection.  This is to be changed from one degree of glory to another by beholding the brilliance of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).

If we focus our attention and affection on Jesus Christ, all the other matters having to do with our Christian experience will be shaped by it.  Not only will our temptations and sins be expelled, but our relationships will take on a new sweetness and our experiences will be laced with expressions of His love.

Interestingly, in this statement, “I want to know Christ,” Paul uses the aorist tense instead of what we might expect, the present tense.  While the present tense would express a continuous desire, the aorist tense likely just summarizes a lifetime desire.

Paul’s encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus began a special intimacy with Christ that was on-going throughout Paul’s life.

This should be the great, the primary, longing of every Christian—“I want to know Christ.”  Is it yours?

Is it not amazing that Paul, some thirty years after his conversion experience, and having accomplished some pretty phenomenal ministry results, would still find the primary beat of his heart to be knowing Christ?  If Paul thought he needed to, and wanted to know Christ better, how much more should we?

This was Paul’s all-consuming passion, his magnificent obsession.

The more we know Him, the more we will love and trust Him.  The more we know Him, the less this world will distract us and the less temptations will seduce us.

So I need to ask myself, “Why don’t I want to know Christ more…like Paul did?”

Well, first it might be because we have confused facts about Christ with an intimate relationship with Christ and that gets dull and boring after a while.

John Piper says:

In life, true education precedes true exultation.  Learning truth precedes loving truth.  Right reflection on God precedes right affection for God.  Seeing the glory of Christ precedes savoring the glory of Christ.  Good theology is the foundation of great doxology.  That’s the order of life.

Knowledge is utterly crucial.  But it is not an end in itself.  It serves faith and love.  And if it doesn’t, it only puffs up, as Paul says in 1 Cor. 8:1

Where education does not produce heartfelt exultation in God, it degenerates into proud intellectualism.  And where exultation is not sustained and shared by solid Biblical education, it degenerates into proud emotionalism.  God means to be known and loved.  Seen and savored.  Pondered and praised.

So we need to learn more about Christ, but we don’t stop there.  We want to use that knowledge to help us worship Him more fully.

The American writer Joan Didion took her six-year-old daughter around an exhibition of paintings by Georgia O’Keefe.  The little girl stared at those vast colorful paintings of flowers, and after a while she said to her mother, “Mommy, I want to meet her.”

That should be our desire—the more we learn about Christ the more we should want to get to know Him personally through fellowship.

In the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris you can see the tattered remains of a document that was discovered at the time of the death of one of the world’s great intellects, sewn into the lining of his coat.

Blaise Pascal, founder of projective geometry, devisor of the first calculating machine, discoverer of atmospheric physics, inventor of the barometer and the hydraulic press, became a man desperate for God and for His truth.  He turned to the Bible, and during the night of November 23, 1654, God came very near to him, and he wrote down on a piece of paper his impression of those hours:

In the year of Grace 1654

On Monday, 23rd of November

From about half past ten in the evening until about half past twelve: FIRE

God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and scholars

Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace.

My God…

Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except God.

He is to be found only by the ways taught in the Gospel…

Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy…

Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ.

I have fallen away.  I have fled from Him…

We keep hold of Him only by the ways taught in the Gospel…

Total submission to Jesus Christ…

Eternally in joy…

I will not forget Your word. Amen.

Those are the famous words Pascal wrote down.  How limited words are to express our experience.  They reflect Pascal’s stream of consciousness looking back over those hours and trying to recapture a profound Christian experience.

I’m not trying to say that our experience will be, or needs to be, similar to Pascal’s, only that knowing Christ is more than just knowing about Him.  It is a personal experience with Him.

More than likely, another reason we don’t pursue knowing Christ is that we get distracted from that by the busyness of life and ministry.

This is a particular hazard for those in ministry—mistaking ministry effectiveness for a real, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.  It is quite possible to have spent years in ministry and not really know Christ, or not growing in the knowledge and love for Christ.

Jesus dealt with this with Mary and Martha.  Martha was so busy getting a meal ready, and quite peeved at her sister for not helping, but Jesus told her that Mary was doing the most important thing—sitting at his feet listening to Him teach.

Thirdly, we often confuse religious experiences with knowing Christ.  We think we’re going deeper in our relationship with Jesus because we can speak in tongues, or because we are able to do great things in ministry.

Jesus pointed out the danger of this misdirection in the Sermon on the Mount when he said:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? ‘23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

These people were doing, and experiencing, amazing miracles!  They were the celebrity pastors of the day.  They would certainly have had their own television program, touting their ministries.  And they had good hearts, everything was being done, “in your name,” to glorify Christ.

Here’s the problem:  Jesus says, “I never knew you.”  They had never established a personal relationship with Jesus by trusting in Him.

So these are some of the common obstacles to really knowing Christ—being satisfied with mere facts about him, being distracted by life, and being confused by ministry results or fantastic experiences.

So how do we come to know Him?

Well, first we have to admit to ourselves how little we do know of him.  We have to repent of being satisfied with mere facts about him, being distracted by life, or substituting ministry results for genuine relationship.

Second, we must want to know Him.  That is what Paul says, “I want to know Christ.”  It was for him a consuming passion.  If it does not become our passion, our highest desire, it will merely be a passing fancy.

David was a man who pursued God.

In Psalm 42 David cries out:

1 As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When shall I come and appear before God?

David was longing to go to God’s house and experience God’s presence and beauty.  He expresses it again in Psalm 63:1-2…

1 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. 2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.

And again, in Psalm 27:4

4 One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.

We need to pray, like these men of old, “Lord, put within my heart a deep hunger and thirst for you.”

Tozer says

Hunger is a pain.  It is God’s merciful provision, a divinely sent stimulus to propel us in the direction of food.  If food-hunger is a pain, thirst, which is water-hunger, is a hundredfold worse, and the more critical the need becomes within the living organism the more acute the pain.  It is nature’s last drastic effort to rouse the imperiled life to seek to renew itself.  A dead body feels no hunger and the dead soul knows not the pangs of holy desire. 

So ask God to make you hungry and thirsty for Him.

Third, in order to know Him relationally and experientially, we must spend time in His presence.  Just like we get to know a person by spending time with them, listening to them and talking with them, so we get to know God by spending time, listening to His Word and communicating with Him through prayer.

It takes time, so you have to intentionally allot time to make this happen.

Fourth, coming to know Christ deeply will involve going through struggles and difficulties, and that is the subject of the rest of verse 10, which we will tackle next week.

A Life that Counts, part 4 (Philippians 3:8b-9)

Paul has been using accounting language in the early verses of Philippians 3 to express what happened when he was saved.  It involved jettisoning all that he had formerly depended upon to make him worthy before God—his good deeds, his religiosity, his scruples and moral values, his circumcision (which would be similar to us thinking we have to be baptized to be saved), his top-notch religious pedigree, his all-out commitment level, his superior behavior—all of that Paul gave up to know, in an intimate way, Jesus Christ.

That is the first thing we noted that Paul had gained—knowing Jesus Christ, which is the essence of eternal life.

That is revealed in Philippians 3:7-8

7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ

This personal relationship built on interactive knowledge is expressed at the end of verse 8 as “that I may gain Christ.”  Everything he once depended on is now in the “loss column,” but Christ is in the “asset column.”

To “gain Christ” expresses how deep this knowledge is.  It speaks of being intertwined in a bond of intimate love and knowledge so that you are joined to Christ: you are in Him and He is in you.

Paul loves that concept.  Paul uses the words “in Him” and “in Christ” and like terms 164 times throughout his epistles.

Union with Christ is the second exceedingly valuable experience that Paul had gained with Christ.

We are in Christ, placed into Christ by the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Now we are united to Him in everything and every way (except that we are not divine gods).  Paul says in Galatians 2:20…

20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

In Christ we died to sin.  In Christ we rose to newness of life with an appetite now for righteousness.  Christ, who is our righteousness, now lives in me.  When I put my trust in Him fully and solely, He lives His righteous life through me so that I become righteous in practice.

That is why our righteousness now is not self-produced.  It is produced by trusting Jesus Christ to live His righteous life through my life.  It doesn’t come from myself; it comes from Christ.

Paul would likely say, “I don’t actually know where I end and Christ begins.  We are so inextricably intertwined—that’s how deep and personal this relationship is.”

So, for Christ I have suffered the loss of all things.  And I count them as “dung,” “manure,” “garbage” in order that I may gain Christ.  “I’ve suffered the loss of all things,” Paul says.  “And I don’t mind one bit.  It’s all skubalon to me.  That’s the Greek word for “dung,” “excrement.”  Paul says, “I’ve flushed that down the toilet.  It means nothing to me now.”

So the first benefit of this exchange is that when we make it we enter into a deep, personal, growing knowledge and love of Christ.  And vice versa, He knows me in that deep, personal way and loves me.  That grows out of the second benefit, being united with Christ.

The third benefit we see in this passage involves the righteousness of Christ.  Paul says in verse 9…

9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—

Paul is talking here about justification.

You know what Paul had spent his whole life doing?  Whole adult life?  Doing what he says in the first half of the verse, “trying to gain a righteousness of his own that comes from the law,” or “law-keeping.”

That’s what he had spent his whole life doing.  That was the essence of Judaism.  That is why he became a Pharisee.  He was one of the elite 6,000 Pharisees, who believed that they could attain salvation by perfect adherence to the law of God.

What kind of righteousness is Paul talking about?  It’s a righteousness of good works, it’s self-righteousness.  It is righteousness produced by self effort, in one’s own strength (and generally) for one’s own glory.

Righteousness is doing right.  It’s doing the best you can.  Like the Army commercial says, “Be the best you can be.”

But “the best we can be” is never, ever, good enough.

Paul had tried it.  And he wasn’t alone.  In Romans 10 Paul’s own heart breaks for Israel.  Why?  Because they didn’t understand God’s righteousness and they sought to establish their own.  That’s their whole problem—life-long effort to establish their own righteousness through good works, traditions, sincerity, ceremony, ritual, etc.  Even having a deep, passionate love for God (or Christ) is not enough.

As Philip Melanchthon said:

“If somebody believes that he obtains the forgiveness of sins because he loves, he insults Christ and in God’s judgment he will discover that this trust in his own righteousness was wicked and empty” (Apologia)

Well, from God’s viewpoint all of those things put together is not good enough.  Remember Isaiah 64:6?  “All our righteousnesses are like filthy rags?”

You see, Romans 3:20 says, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight,” not a single one.  By the works of the law, by doing the law, does not justify a person, doesn’t make them right in God’s eyes.

As Spurgeon once put it so well, good morals can keep a person out of jail, but only Jesus Christ can keep a person out of hell.

Paul had spent his whole life trying to achieve his own righteousness, but like Martin Luther, it suddenly dawned on Paul that righteousness was not a goal to be achieved, but a gift to be received.

Paul now wanted and gloried in this new righteousness, this “alien righteousness,” which comes not from ourselves, but from God through faith.  When Martin Luther was reading Romans 1:16-17 which says

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

R. C. Sproul explains…

He says, “Here in it,” in the gospel, “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘the just shall live by faith.’”  A verse taken from the book of Habakkuk in the Old Testament that is cited three times in the New Testament.  And Luther would stop short and say, “What does this mean, that there’s this righteousness that is by faith, and from faith to faith?  What does it mean that the righteous shall live by faith?”

And he began to understand that what Paul was speaking of here was a righteousness that God in His grace was making available to those who would receive it passively, not those who would achieve it actively, but that would receive it by faith, and by which a person could be reconciled to a holy and righteous God.

Now there was a linguistic issue that was going on here too.  And it was this, that the Latin word for justification that was used at this time in church history was—and it’s the word from which we get the English word justification—the Latin word justificare.  And it came from the Roman judicial system.  And the term justificare is made up of the word justus, which is justice or righteousness, and the verb, the infinitive facare, which means to make.  And so, the Latin fathers understood the doctrine of justification is what happens when God, through the sacraments of the church and elsewhere, make unrighteous people righteous.

But Luther was looking now at the Greek word that was in the New Testament, not the Latin word.  The word dikaiosdikaiosune, which didn’t mean to make righteous, but rather to regard as righteous, to count as righteous, to declare as righteous.  And this was the moment of awakening for Luther. He said, “You mean, here Paul is not talking about the righteousness by which God Himself is righteous, but a righteousness that God gives freely by His grace to people who don’t have righteousness of their own.”

And so Luther said, “Woah, you mean the righteousness by which I will be saved, is not mine?”  It’s what he called a justitia alienum, an alien righteousness; a righteousness that belongs properly to somebody else.  It’s a righteousness that is extra nos, outside of us.  Namely, the righteousness of Christ.  And Luther said, “When I discovered that, I was born again of the Holy Ghost.  And the doors of paradise swung open, and I walked through.”

So the righteousness that justifies doesn’t come from ourselves, but from God; and it doesn’t come by the works of the law but by faith.

Now, let’s talk about this word “faith” for a moment.  The Greek is literally “through the faith of Christ” and some have taken this to speak of Christ’s faith, or rather faithfulness.  His obedience to God is the store of righteousness that is credited to our account.

But I think the “faith about Christ” or “faith in Christ” fits the context better as the counterpart to the works of the law.  It is our faith in Christ that receives the righteousness of Christ and we are justified before God.

Now, what is faith?  Faith is much more than mere intellectual knowledge, or even emotional agreement.  It is built upon those things, but ultimately faith is the decision to place my whole trust in Jesus Christ alone for my justification.

Faith is not a ladder I must climb, but a lifeline extended towards me.  We don’t have to climb a ladder or ascend a wall, simply walk through a narrow door.

I love the story of Charles Blondin to illustrate the nature of faith and the importance of making a decision to totally rely on someone else.

Charles Blondin was a tightrope walker who stretched a tightrope across Niagara Falls in the mid-19th century.

He walked 160 feet above the falls several times back and forth between Canada and the United States as huge crowds on both sides looked on with shock and awe.   Once he crossed in a sack, once on stilts, once blindfolded, another time on a bicycle, and once he even carried a stove and cooked an omelet!

On July 15, Blondin walked backward across the tightrope to Canada and returned pushing a wheelbarrow.

Get Out of The Boat - hscericaharris.com

The Blondin story is told that it was after pushing a wheelbarrow across while blindfolded that Blondin asked for some audience participation.   The crowds had watched and “Ooooohed” and “Aaaaahed!”   He had proven that he could do it; of that, there was no doubt.   But now he was asking for a volunteer to get into the wheelbarrow and take a ride across the Falls with him!

It is said that he asked his audience, “Do you believe I can carry a person across in this wheelbarrow?”   Of course the crowd shouted that yes, they believed!

It was then that Blondin posed the question – “Who will get in the wheelbarrow?’

Of course…none did.

Nobody really believed that he could carry them safely across.

You might know a lot about Jesus Christ and appreciate that He is both God and man and that historically He did die on the cross and rose from the dead.  You might want him to be your Savior because you know that you are a sinner.

But unless you put your faith into action by making a decision to stop trusting in yourself and your own ability to be righteousness and instead you put all your trust fully in Jesus Christ, you will not be justified.

Faith is putting all your confidence, all your hope, in Jesus Christ alone to save you.  There is no “Jesus and…” this or that, but “Jesus alone.”

“As long as one keeps clinging, even in the slightest degree, to his own righteousness, he cannot fully enjoy Christ’s. The two simply do not go together. The one must be fully given up before the other can be fully appropriated.” (William Hendriksen, p. 165).

Do you want the work of Christ in your behalf, or your own efforts to try to please God?  Paul came to realize that one was better by far—having Christ’s obedience and law keeping put in his account.

That happens not by trying but by trusting.  Paul had a lifetime of trying.  He traded it in for a life of trusting.

Like someone has said, “All the world religions are spelled D-O, do.”  “But Christianity is spelled D-O-N-E, done.”  It has all been done for us and we just receive it by faith.  We have been saved “by grace through faith” (Eph. 2:8), “not as a result of works” (2:9).

In biblical terms, grace includes forgiveness from God that is undeserved, unearned, and unrepayable.

Faith is best described this way:  Faith is the confident, continuous confession of total dependence and trust in Jesus Christ for the necessary requirements for entrance into God’s kingdom.

Remember how Paul began this exposition with the words “rejoice in the Lord”?

Joy in God, then, is inextricably linked to justification by faith alone.  “The surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” will not be fully enjoyed apart from being joined to Jesus by faith and having his righteousness, which far surpasses our own, as the only grounds of our acceptance before God.  A robust, solid embrace of justification by faith alone is essential for the life of Christian joy.

To the degree that we believe God’s acceptance of us rises or falls by our own merit, our joy is compromised.

John Bunyan (1628–1688), the persecuted Baptist pastor and author of Pilgrim’s Progress recalled the day, walking through a field, when the Spirit opened to him the glory of justification by faith alone — and with it opened for him the floodgates for the pursuit of joy. After much distress and anguish of heart, he says, he finally saw

that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, “The same yesterday, today, and forever.” Heb. 13:8. Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. . . . Now I went also home rejoicing for the grace and love of God.

Such has been the testimony of many, among the dead and the living. As John Piper writes,

The great gospel weapon in the fight for joy is the rock-solid reality that we are counted righteous in Christ by faith alone. . . . That gospel weapon is powerful only to the degree we keep the basis of our justification free from our own performances. God accepts us on the basis of Christ’s righteousness, not ours. . . . Oh, what a difference it makes to be assured, in the discouraging darkness of our own imperfection, that we have a perfect righteousness — namely, Christ’s. (When I Don’t Desire God, 85)

So also Bunyan and Piper have experienced, with the apostle Paul, that the full acceptance of God, by faith alone, on the basis of Christ’s righteousness alone, is essential to the unencumbered and uncompromised pursuit of joy.

Remember that Paul had said he “counted all things loss” (v. 7) and then in verse 8 he said he “counts everything as loss.”  It will be a continual battle to maintain your faith and joy and glory in Christ.  It is so easy to slide back into legalism, into believing that I have to earn my way into God’s favor today through spiritual disciplines, or ecstatic experiences.  We wear ourselves out on the treadmill of performance and feel like failures, or we judge others to make ourselves feel better.

We have to learn to rest in Christ, to remember that we are “complete in him” (Col. 2:10) and that His love for us never changes.

 

 

A Life that Counts, part 3 (Philippians 3:7-8)

Let’s open our Bibles to Philippians chapter 3.  I call your attention to our text today which is in verses 8 through 11…Philippians 3, verses 8-11.

Here Paul writes:

8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Notice how this text emphasizes the personal relationship that Paul had with Christ Jesus his Lord.  The pronouns “I” and “my” occur a number of times.  Paul is giving his first-hand testimony of the change in his life from putting confidence in himself to putting his whole trust in Jesus Christ.

Before we look at these verses, let me remind you of what we saw last week from Philippians 3:4-7.  There Paul identifies the super advantages he possessed by pedigree and by performance that he had once counted to be his advantages, but now counted them loss.  Why?  Because of the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

He recognized, like Jesus said in the gospels, that he had tried to save his life but was really losing it.  Only by trading away all he had once treasured could he pursue the pearl of great price.

Now Jesus was talking about an exchange.  He was talking about losing something to gain something better.

If you want to gain your soul it will cost you your life.  If you desire to save your life, it will cost you your soul.  In other words, if you hold onto the things that to you are precious and reject what God values as precious, it will end up costing your eternal soul.

There is an exchange in salvation.  There is an exchange of all that I am for all that Christ is.  There is an exchange of all my religious activities, ceremonies and righteous works for the righteousness of Christ.  There’s a sense in which I may have spent all my life in religious achievements, but I have to lose it all in order to gain Christ.  Whatever it is that I may have spent my whole life accumulating, even if I gain the whole world, will mean nothing if I lose Christ.

You see, the person who comes to God is the person who is willing to pay whatever God requires, whatever the price, whatever the cost, that person is willing the abandon everything…for Christ.

The rich young ruler was faced with the same dilemma.  Jesus came to him and said, “This is what you have (your riches and your self-righteousness), this is what you possess…are you willing to exchange it for Christ?”  But to him the price was too high, so he walked away.  He kept his possessions, maintained his self-righteousness, and forfeited his eternal soul.

Every person faces that choice when they are confronted with the gospel.  Some people say “yes,” some say “no.”  One’s eternal destiny is determined by what they say about Jesus Christ.

One man who said a resounding “YES!” was the apostle Paul.  And we just heard that “yes” in this text.  Paul is saying here, “I looked at everything I was, every good deed I had done, and I said, ‘It is loss.’  It is worth nothing when it stands next to Christ.  I will exchange it all for Jesus Christ.  I will give it all up for Him.”

And if you were to ask Paul, “What will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Paul says, “I give up everything in exchange for my soul.”

The heart of verse 7 is “whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”

I will exchange everything for that pearl.  I will give everything away for that treasure.  I will give up everything for Christ.  I will make any transaction in order to save my soul.

That, in a nutshell, is Paul’s testimony.

If you want the historical record, look with me for a moment at Acts chapter 9.  In Acts 9, Luke records the observable record of Paul’s conversion, a 3rd person account.

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priestand asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

Up to this point Paul has counted all his religious pedigree and stellar religious performance as profit and Christ as loss.  That’s why he’s killing Christians—he wants to get rid of Christ.  “We’ve got to get rid of Christianity; we’ve got to get rid of Christians.  We don’t want the name of Christ to be proclaimed.”

But then Paul met Christ…

3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.

Luke records what was happening—what was seen and heard.  But in the process of reading down through Acts 9 it is obvious that Paul was converted.  It is obvious because by the time you get to verse 11 Saul is praying, and then in verse 15 he is called to be an apostle.  By the time you get to verse 20 he is proclaiming Jesus everywhere saying He is the Son of God!

So Luke tells us what happened, but doesn’t say anything about Paul’s thinking.

You might therefore conclude that somehow in the sovereign act of salvation, human faculties are overcome or bypassed and that you are not involved in anything except the act of accepting Christ as Savior.

But the corollary to Acts 9 is Philippians 3.  What you don’t see in Acts 9 you see in Philippians 3.  You have the external, observable incident in Acts 9, you have the internal response of Paul in Philippians 3.  This is what was going on in his heart in the moments when he met Christ on the road to Damascus.  He had a decision to make.

You might say, “Well, did Paul understand who Christ claimed to be?”  Yes, that’s why he was killing Christians.  He know exactly who Christ claimed to be, that He claimed to be the Jewish Messiah, that He claimed to die as a sacrifice for our sins, that He claimed to rise from the dead, that He claimed to be God!

He knew all those facts.  He also knew what the Christians were preaching.  He knew that they preached a gospel of grace, not a gospel of law-keeping, and that was something he thought was outright heresy.

Factually, he understood who Christ was, he understood the facts about his life.  He also understood the facts of the gospel that were being preached by Christians.  He was persecuting them because he thought that was heretical.

Intellectually he knew facts about Christ and the gospel.  But that’s different from being confronted by Christ, isn’t it?

When Paul was on the Damascus road Jesus stopped him in his tracks and confronted him.  The Holy Spirit illuminated his hard heart and regenerated his soul so that he could hear the gospel and see the supremacy and sufficiency and sweetness of Jesus Christ.

Please note this:  Salvation is a sovereign act of God by which He invades a sinner’s darkness, gives him light and saves him.  But salvation does not annihilate, obliterate, destroy or bypass human faculties.  It stimulates human faculties.

And so what you have in Philippians 3 is the record of what was going on in Paul’s mind, in his emotions and in his will during the few days surrounding his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus.

What was he experiencing?  What was he feeling?  Well, for all his life he had put his confidence in his own flesh, in his own ability to produce goodness in his life.  He had always put his confidence in his own human ability, his religion, his sincerity, his race, his tribe, his rank, his self-righteousness.  All of that was valued by him, in the asset column.

But then he met Christ, and God’s Spirit opened his heart to a new valuation of his life and to repentance, to turning away from his own goodness to embrace the goodness and the sacrifice of Christ.  In other words, Paul for the first time in his life sees the true value, the real pearl of great price, the true treasure, in Jesus Christ.

Now he recognizes that all that was valued by him is not valued by God at all.  What God values is the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf.  Jesus said on the cross, “Paid in full” and God raised Jesus from the dead to set his stamp of approval on all Christ had done on the cross.  It was enough.

Now, all that once was in the asset column is found to be worthless.  Only Christ is really valued.  So Paul chooses to throw all the trophies to his past goodness into the trash and take Christ because Christ is of “surpassing value.”

What will a man give in exchange for his soul?  Paul gave up everything.  Paul sold everything he had to buy the pearl of great price.

Why did Paul make such a difference and why do we still talk about him today?  Because he abandoned it all for Jesus Christ.  That’s what we said last week, that people whose lives really count treasure Christ above everything that this world has to offer.

Paul had accumulated a treasure chest of good works, but now he realizes that God has written “wasted” over it all and the only true “gain” is Jesus Christ.  He is willing to trash everything he formerly valued for Christ because in Christ he had found something worth losing everything for.

May I note one other thing?  Paul didn’t say, “I had something good, but this is better.”  No, he said, “What I had is really loss.  It isn’t an asset, it’s a liability, it’s not neutral, it’s not good, it’s bad.”

You see, the hardest person to reach in the world for Christ is the person who is religious.  And the more religious they are and the more sincere they are and the more stuck in tradition and religion they are and the more ceremonial they are, the harder they are to reach.

Why?  Because all their confidence is in that stuff and consequently they count on that for salvation.

That’s why Paul says it is loss, it is bad, it’s dangerous.  Religion damns the soul.

Here is the second point I want you see observe in this passage: “Those whose lives count trust Christ to provide everything they could ever need.”

And what did Paul gain?

The first thing Paul gained was an experiential knowledge of Jesus Christ, a personal relationship with a living Savior.  He gained “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

By the way, God is impressed with that.  God isn’t impressed with any of the accolades or achievements of Paul back in vv. 5 and 6, but God is impressed with the fact that Paul came into a personal relationship of knowing Jesus experientially.

Listen to the words of Jeremiah 9:23-24…

23 Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.  For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

To understand and know God, that is what God delights in.  Paul expresses this in verse 8…

8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ

Right in the middle of that verse Paul says “the surpassing value of knowing Christ.”  Knowing Christ far surpasses any of those accolades and achievements in vv. 5-6.  Paul says, “I will gladly get rid of them for the sake of knowing Christ.”

In fact, Paul wants to make that point so strongly that he starts out verse 8 with a string of five particles that is difficult to translate (most editions of the Bible have something different).  To actually read them straight from the Greek text would sound something like, “But rather therefore at least.”  Just a pile of Greek particles, which together makes Paul’s expression much stronger.

It’s like Paul is saying, “But way beyond that I count all things to be loss…not only my pedigree and my performance, but all things.  Nothing compares to the value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

Here’s the thing: If we put our trust in any of those things—our goodness, our commitment, our intellect, our religious instincts, our spiritual track record—any of those things, then we are not trusting in Christ.  We can’t trust Christ and ourselves at the same time.

You must trust in Christ completely and wholly and only to provide everything you need for justification, sanctification and eventual glory.

What does Paul mean by “all things?”  Any kind of allegiance, any kind of act, any type of performance or even stopping some habits—those things that we might think are meritorious before God—all of that is loss.

So Paul says, “Look, not only have I counted,” (that’s a perfect tense verb which took place in the past but has continuing results in the present), but then in verse 8, he says, “I am counting” (present tense), which refers to a continuous present action.

In other words, unlike some of us, he is not regretting what he once did (gave it all up for Jesus), but is daily reinforcing that decision by continually “counting” all things loss.

It’s all loss.  It just can’t compare to Christ.  There’s nothing in life that can.

Now, I have to say, it is an uphill battle to keep our value system in Christ, to continue to value Him above everything.  If we stop counting everything loss compared to Him we will drift back into self-reliance and self-recrimination.  Yes, we do that even as Christians.

Paul says, “Make a wholesale break with everything,” for the sake of knowing Jesus in a personal relationship.

That’s what happened on the road to Damascus, Paul was enabled by the Holy Spirit to see and savor all that Christ truly is.  That is where salvation begins.

The Greek word for knowing Christ here is actually a noun—knowledge of—and it is important to understand that it’s not referring so much to intellectual facts—information about Christ—but a deep, personal knowledge that comes from interaction with and involvement with Christ.

This is what it means to be a Christian.  Jesus, the Great Shepherd, says, “I know My sheep and they know me.”  In Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17 he says, “This is eternal life that they may know Thee, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”

It is a relationship built on interactive knowledge that starts at the moment of salvation and continues to our great delight throughout eternity.

It is a union of love built on knowledge, that becomes intimate and transcendent.

The South African pastor F. B. Meyer explains the depth of that relational knowledge like this:

We may know Him personally, intimately, face to face. Christ does not live back in the centuries, nor amid the clouds of heaven: He is near us, with us, compassing our path and our lying down, and acquainted with all our ways.  But we cannot know Him in this mortal life except through the illumination and teaching of the Holy Spirit.

What a difference there is between the knowledge which the man in the street has of some public character and that which is vouchsafed to the inner circle of his home; and we must surely know Christ, not as a stranger who turns in to visit for the night, or as the exalted King of men,–there must be the inner knowledge as of those whom He counts His own familiar friends, whom He trusts with His secrets, who eat with Him of His bread (Psalms 41:9).

To know Christ in the storm of battle; to know Him in the valley of shadow; to know Him when the solar light irradiates our faces, or when they are darkened with disappointment and sorrow; to know the sweetness of his dealing with bruised reeds and smoking flax; to know the tenderness of His sympathy and the strength of His right hand—all this involves many varieties of experience on our part, but each of them, like the facets of a diamond, will reflect the prismatic beauty of His glory from a new angle.

 

 

A Life that Counts, part 2 (Philippians 3:7-8)

At the end of World War I, General Pershing sent word to the troops in Europe announcing a victory parade through the streets of Paris.  There were two requirements for the soldiers to qualify to march in the parade: They had to have a good record; and, they had to be at least 186 centimeters tall.

Word came to one company of American soldiers and the excitement built about how great it would be to march in that victory parade.  Being Americans, no one knew for sure just how tall 186 centimeters was.  But the men began comparing themselves, lining up back to back to see who was the tallest.  The taller men in the company were ribbing the shorter ones, “Too bad for you, Shorty!  We’ll think of you when we’re in Paris!”

Then the officer came to find out if there were any candidates for the parade.  He put the mark on the wall at 186 centimeters.  Some men took one look at the mark and walked away, realizing that they weren’t even close.  Others tried, but fell short by a small amount.  Finally, the tallest man in the troop stood up to the mark and squared his shoulders.  But he discovered that he was a quarter of an inch shy of the mark (6’ 1/2”).  When those men compared themselves with themselves, some thought they were tall enough to qualify.  But when the standard came, it proved that none qualified.

It is commonly thought that the way to get into heaven is by being a good person.  People who believe that compare themselves with others and think, “I’m good enough because I’m better than my no-good neighbor who drinks beer and watches sports on TV every Sunday.  I usually go to church; I don’t get drunk (at least not on Sunday); I don’t gamble (sure, I buy an occasional lottery ticket, but I don’t gamble as much as he does).  I don’t hit my wife (we yell a lot, but I’ve never hit her!).  I pay my taxes (well, at least most of what I owe; nobody declares everything!).”  That’s the way people justify themselves and convince themselves that they’re going to get to heaven.  They compare themselves with others and figure that they’re in the top half that’s going to make it.

That’s the problem with trying to get to heaven by our own goodness.  We compare ourselves with one another, and we don’t realize that we fall far short of God’s standard, which is perfection.

Paul states in Romans 3:23 that we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  Or, as he puts it in Galatians 2:16, “by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.”

Here in Philippians 3 Paul has been arguing that if anyone could put confidence in the flesh, he would be the perfect candidate.  He had an impeccable pedigree and a stellar record of behavior.  In every way he was head and shoulders above everyone else.

But through the Damascus road experience, Paul had come to recognize that as tall a moral stature that he was, he did not measure up to God’s standard of perfection.  Paul came to realize that all of those things that he was relying upon to get him to heaven were absolutely worthless.  So he threw them all on the trash heap in order to embrace Jesus Christ alone as his Savior.

Here is how Paul states this re-evaluation in Philippians 3:7-11

7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Paul took all those trophies of his past pedigree and performance that once showed up in his profit column, and one by one he gave them up and threw them in the garbage heap.

Why?  Because in Christ he had found something worth losing everything for.  In Christ Paul had found what was of infinite worth, what really counted.

Paul came to see and savor Jesus Christ as a greater treasure of joy than all these other accolades and accomplishments.

Everything pales in light of Christ’s greatness and worthiness.  Jesus is the treasure chest of holy joy so that over everything else we write “LOSS.”

Paul came to realize that everything that he had once thought made him spiritually rich, only bankrupted him spiritually.  So he took them out of the profit column and put them in the loss column.  He took his trophies off the shelf where he once proudly displayed them and now threw them on the garbage heap.

In a flash Paul struck off everything in the credit column and inserted it in the debit column.  Christ alone stands in the credit column.  The apostle’s language is explicit because “gain” is in the plural and “loss” is in the singular.  One by one the apostle had carefully added up the cumulative benefit of all the individual items of merit as he looked to the judgment.  They were real pluses.  But in a blinding moment they became one great singular loss.

Paul had the experience that Jesus talked about in Matthew 13:44:

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

In verse 8 Paul says that he now considers “everything to be loss,” not merely those things he had accomplished, but absolutely everything.  Nothing matches the supremacy and desirability of having Christ.  Paul had now found something of “surpassing greatness,” of infinite value, of colossal worth to him.  And that allowed him to give everything up.

Paul had not always viewed Christ as having “surpassing greatness,” and, I would guess, neither did we.  Paul had viewed Jesus as “accursed” by God for having died on the cross—at best a moral man and a troubling teacher.

I don’t know how you viewed him, but it is not until you see Jesus in “surpassing greatness,” as all supreme, all sufficient, that you will be willing to discount all other advantages and accomplishments (indeed all other pleasures and treasures) that you will come to the cross and give them ALL up for the sake of Christ.

In that moment that Paul came to the realization that all he had depended upon before was WASTED and that in Christ was the life that COUNTED, he was transformed.

Who else, besides that brilliant Pharisee now transformed by his encounter with Christ, could so well explain the mistakes we make about our salvation and the truth that they must embrace?

Who else could describe with such sympathy the attractions of systems of self-salvation and, at the same time, their fatal flaws?

Who else could recommend so winsomely and persuasively the good news of eternal life though faith in Jesus Christ?

Who could better explain the infinite distance that separates one’s own works from the work of Christ?

As one poem states:

Upon a life I did not live

Upon a death I did not die;

Another’s life, another’s death,

I stake my whole eternity.

Paul never imagined, before his conversion, before he met Jesus Christ, that he would ever believe such a thing, still less that he would ever preach it to the nations.

And many people today are where Paul as before he became a Christian, depending upon their own efforts, trusting in themselves, comparing themselves favorably to others, but in reality falling far short of the standard of perfection that Jesus set.

Paul now chooses to count as loss those things that once were gain.  Why?  That he might have Christ.

Paul went on to emphatically explain why this was so: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (v. 8a).  This statement is uniquely personal and looks back to Paul’s meeting the risen Christ on the Damascus Road.  There the grace of the Lord Jesus found Paul the terrorist.  And from that point Paul began a process of understanding, first in the house of Ananias and then in Tarsus and then during several years in Arabia (cf. Galatians 1:17, 18).

Now Paul’s understanding has become stunning because it is only here in Paul’s writings that we find the intensely personal “Christ Jesus my Lord.”  This is the only place where Paul calls Jesus “my Lord.”

The wonder of this increases when we realize that the Philippian hymn of 2:6-11 climaxes with Jesus being given God’s name “Lord” (Yahweh), so that at the end “every tongue [will] confess that Jesus Christ [Messiah] is Lord [Yahweh], to the glory of God the Father” (2:11).

Here Paul made the astonishing claim that the same Christ is “my Lord” — the awesome Yahweh of Scripture was Paul’s Lord.  No wonder all his credits slid to the debit column.  He sees the “surpassing value” of Jesus as his Lord.

Paul had regarded his advantages over other people as what put him in an especially good position with God.  However, he had come to realize that absolutely nothing apart from Jesus Christ’s work on the cross was of any value in his gaining God’s acceptance.

Paul here put a personal relationship with Jesus Christ at the very center of the Christian’s life.  He joyfully accepted the loss of all other things for the greatness of this personal relationship.

In v. 7 Paul said that he counted; in this verse he said I also count.  This first counting was at his conversion; the second – some 30 years later – was in his Roman prison.  After all he had experienced, he still counted it worthy to give everything up for the sake of following Jesus.

As Spurgeon says…

“After twenty years or more of experience Paul had an opportunity of revising his balance-sheet, and looking again at his estimates, and seeing whether or not his counting was correct.  What was the issue of his latest search?  How do matters stand at his last stocktaking?  He exclaims with very special emphasis, ‘Yea doubtless; and I [still] count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.’”

Not only had he mentally considered all things loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus as his Lord, but he had actually suffered loss.  Now, in the Roman prison, many privileges had been stripped from him.  He was suffering for Christ.

Did he still value Christ?  Of course he did!

In fact, Paul uses the term “rubbish” in verse 8 to describe all those accolades and accomplishments that he had once depended upon and been so proud of.  He came to realize that no good works give us credit before God.  In fact, as Isaiah 64:6 says, “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.”

Isaiah is speaking of our righteous deeds being like the menstrual clothes women used during their period, or we could liken it today to used toilet paper.

If our righteous acts are like polluted garments to God, how much more revolting must be our sins?

Paul uses the somewhat embarrassing term “rubbish,” which literally means “dung,” “waste,” “poop,” a dirty diaper, or it could refer to “table scraps.”  In extrabiblical Greek, it describes a half-eaten corpse and lumps of manure.

Adam Clarke says…

“The word [rubbish] means the vilest dross or refuse of any thing; the worst excrement.  The word shows how utterly insignificant and unavailing, in point of salvation, the apostle esteemed everything but the Gospel of Jesus.”

Thus, Paul meant that his former advantages (his standing, wealth, and position in the Jewish community) were not only worthless, but strongly offensive and potentially dangerous.

So Paul, and Isaiah before him, helps us see more clearly the ultimate value of our own good deeds—they are like used toilet paper.  But instead of flushing them down the toilet, we frame them, put them up on our walls and proudly point out to others our good deeds, when they ought to be in the garbage heap.

This serves to point out the absurdity of our thinking, imagining that God would value this!

Paul’s former accomplishments had become abhorrent to him, not because they were bad (for they were not), but because they kept him from Christ.

It wasn’t so much that those things were worthless in themselves, but compared to the greatness of the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, they really were nothing

And he had no regrets.  John Calvin noted that when people battling a storm at sea cast their belongings overboard to lighten the ship, they wail afterward at the loss.  But Paul did not look back.  There was no hidden longing.  Why?  Because he will gain Christ in that final great day when his goal is fully realized.  To die will be gain (cf. 1:21)

What he had learned to value was Christ Jesus his Lord.  Consequently, coming to know Christ, entering into a deeper and fuller appreciation of His person and work, was of primary importance to Paul.

This knowledge (Gr. gnosis) is the kind that one obtains only by personal relationship.  It is different from the knowledge we gain through objective academic study (Gr. oida), though information is part of our growing personal knowledge of Christ.  It is knowledge of the heart in addition to knowledge of the head (cf. John 17:3; Gal. 4:9; 1 John 2:18, 29; 4:8).

To gain this fuller knowledge of Christ, Paul had let everything else in life go.  To use the language of 2:6, Paul did not regard anything else in life worthy of retaining.  All he wanted was a fuller and deeper experiential appreciation of his Savior (cf. Ps. 73:25).

Gordon Fee points out the relationship between Paul’s salvation experience here with the humiliation that Jesus experienced.

“While Christ did not consider God-likeness to accrue to his own advantage, but ‘made himself nothing,’ so Paul now considers his former ‘gain’ as ‘loss’ for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.

As Christ was ‘found’ in ‘human likeness,’ Paul is now ‘found in Christ,’ knowing whom means to be ‘conformed’ (echoing the morphe of a slave, 2:7) to his death (2:8).

Finally, as Christ’s humiliation was followed by God’s ‘glorious’ vindication of him, so present ‘suffering’ for Christ’s sake will be followed by ‘glory’ in the form of resurrection.

As he has appealed to the Philippians to do, Paul thus exemplifies Christ’s ‘mindset,’ embracing suffering and death.  This is what it means ‘to know Christ,’ to be ‘found in him’ by means of his gift of righteousness; and as he was raised and exalted to the highest place, so Paul and the Philippian believers, because they are now ‘conformed to Christ’ in his death, will also be ‘conformed’ to his glory.”

Thousands of churchgoers will assume their lives will count because they have grown up in church, taken their children to church, associated with evangelical, conservative Christians, attended Bible studies and seminars, graduated from Bible college, memorized Scriptures, never missed church, spoken in tongues, devoted themselves to ministering to people, gone on mission trips, kept themselves morally clean…yet over their whole life God writes WASTED.

Jesus speaks of this near the end of the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 7, when he says…

22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Knowing Christ, and being known by Him, that is what salvation is.  Valuing a personal, growing relationship with Jesus Christ is eternal life (John 17:3).

Are you willing to give up anything and everything else to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?  Ultimately, that is what makes this life and the life to come count.