- Hebrews 12:22-29;
- Philippians 3:7-4:1
Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
This is the last day of 2017. The days of the last year made up part of the journey we are on—indeed, we are on our way to eternity. 2018 will once again add to privileges and opportunities, but it will surely present us with challenges, and, dare we say, disappointments.
Each day granted to us should ultimately be valued as another step forward, closer to our final objective: to end this pilgrimage seeing the face of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
The text for this morning is Philippians 3:16:
Only let us live up to what we have already attained. (Philippians 3:16, NIV)
Look a bit closer to this verse and you will find something of the past, something of the future, and surely something of the present.
The Authorised Version translates:
Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing. (Philippians 3:16, AV)
The “let us live up to” has something of “let’s live in agreement”, or “lets keep in step with”. It has in mind a certain standard. The expression “attain” has to do with “arriving at” or “reach”, or “come to be”.
If we paraphrase this verse it could sound something like this: We must live in agreement with what we have come to be.
What we did not have and the standard by which we must live, has no connection with what we could not achieve in the past year on which we must improve; it has nothing to do with our desire to do better. No, it is all about our relationship with Jesus Christ.
Where we came from (the yesterday before Christ)
Chapter 3 of Philippians deals with living in the right relationship with God. Or the technical term “righteousness”—it is what satisfies God for Him to declare us forgiven, and the ground on which we may call Him “Father”.
It is natural for sinners to think that to live in a right relationship with God we must do something to present ourselves better before God. Somewhere in our minds we know God is holy, and we are not. A crucial mistake anyone can make is to think that somehow God will lower his standards, turn a blind eye on sin, and excuse our sinfulness. Another deadly mistake, which almost stands opposed to this, is to think we must achieve some level of holiness before God will even look at us.
The first assumption that God will somehow turn a blind eye on sin, and excuse us be showing lenience, is born in hell. Fact is God is holy and we are not. Don’t get confused between tolerance of sin and grace over sin. God will never excuse or tolerate sin; it can only be forgiven—and forgiveness is achieved by a perfect standard of righteousness.
Paul never contemplated the attitude of God being lenient. The opposite is true: he threw in all he could to get on God’s right side—he came from the right family, the right clan, he followed the law to the letter, and even went a second mile by devoting his life as a Pharisee, in opposition to other sects of the Jewish faith which tried to water down the law.
But then he met Christ—and his whole outlook on righteousness changed. In the light of what Christ achieved in perfect holiness and obedience to his Father, Paul considered his “righteousness” as rubbish. He chucked his achievements out the window as worthless, useless as “dung”. His own achievements stank compared to the righteousness of Christ.
When he discovered the immeasurable worth of Christ’s work and how He brought Paul into the right relationship with God, the only thing he wanted was to “know” Christ and “to be found in Him”.
He came to this conclusion: It was wrong for me to think that I could live in the right relationship with God while I was trying to achieve it by keeping the Law. What is necessary to live in the right relationship with God, was Christ who achieved what I could not. I committed myself by faith to Him only, and God granted me what was necessary to live in relationship with Him based on what Christ did on my behalf.
This is a paraphrase of verse 9.
Then he expresses only one wish in verse 10: I now only desire to live in relationship with Christ, to be associated with Him, to be united with Him by faith, and to live with the understanding that He suffered and was resurrected to make it possible for me to be right with God. When He died, by faith I died. He will enable me to suffer for his sake too.
The before Christ life is a life of own achievement; own merit to gain God’s mercy in the hope to be saved. My dear friend, this is counter-gospel. The folk in Galatia abandoned grace and went down the track of BYO righteousness achieve by the Law. Listen to what Paul write to them:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! (Galatians 1:6–8, NIV)
Are you so foolish? Although you began with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by human effort? (Galatians 3:3)
That’s our past: trying to achieve righteousness which would put us in the right relationship with God.
I asked members in good standing with the church about their relationship with God, and how many times have I heard this: “Well, I try my best!” Bad news—our best is never good enough, because God is holy and we are not. Good news: Someone else gave his best and that was enough—His best made it possible for us to live in the right relationship with God. Forget about trying; it’s a matter of believing, putting your trust in Christ’s hand, believing He achieved the holiness which God is looking for.
Now we understand the first part of Philippians 3:16: “What we already attained”, or “what we have come to”.
Where we are going to (the future because of Christ)
Paul writes in Philippians 3:20-21:
But our citizenship is in heaven—and we also await a saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of his glorious body by means of that power by which he is able to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20–21)
This is a marvellous verse. Before Christ we had no citizenship, other than to be on our way to eternal punishment in hell. If by faith we know Him, and are united with Him, if we understand that in our hands we have nothing to secure any life with God, we receive a new address: eternity with God in heaven. If we continue to try our own thing we’ll miss heaven and we are without hope. Paul writes to the Ephesians:
… remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship …, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:12–13, NIV)
Through Christ we received hope, not an uncertain “I think so”, “I’ll try my best, who knows!”, but a sure destination, all based on the perfect work of Christ which put us in the right relationship with God. He who said He is going to prepare a home for us, also gave us the promise that He will return to take us to be where He is. He is our way, our truth and our life! (John 14:1-6) There is only one way to the Father and that is Jesus Christ; own efforts don’t count for a penny’s worth.
We trust Him and wait eagerly for his return. He will return as King and everything will be under his rule:
On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of kings and Lord of lords. (Revelation 19:16, NIV)
I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” (Psalm 2:8–9)
This is our Lord, our Saviour, our righteousness! Because He conquered death and defeated this enemy, our lowly bodies will be transformed in the wink of an eye, to be like his glorious body.
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55–57, NIV)
O, you want to know Him, you need to be united to Him by faith.
The pilgrimage between the past to the future
Now we come to that phrase in Philippians 3:16: “Let us live in keeping with”, or “let us walk in agreement”. Where have come from? A life outside of the rich relationship with God; a life of trying and despairing DIY righteousness. What have we come to be? People with a hope in eternal life with Christ. How did this happen? Christ made it all possible by achieving the righteousness acceptable to the holy Father. We took hold of it by faith.
What difference does it make to the way we live now?
1. Take hold of Christ because He took hold of us
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:12)
He discovered the freedom of grace and the way to live in a right relationship with God, but his eyes are still set on the end goal: Jesus took hold of him, and he pressed on to take hold on to the reason for Christ grace: eternity. “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)
2. Following the example of those who finished the race before us
Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. (Philippians 3:17, NIV)
God was gracious to give us people like Paul, Silas, Timothy, Peter, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, John Bunyan, Billy Graham, Martin Lloyd Jones, R.C. Sproul, godly grandparents and parents. They are examples of people who knew Christ and were found in Him.
3. Renounce the world
Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. (Philippians 3:18–19, NIV)
The world seem be attractive, but those who are in Christ now live with a Kingdom mindset, not fulfilling their fleshly desires, with their backs on all this world can offer, with the mind controlled by heavenly principles.
Where will 2018 takes us? No-one knows, but one thing: if you know Jesus Christ, if your life is united in his, if you live in the right relationship with God because of Christ’s righteousness, then: “Live in agreement with what you have become in Him”.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 31 December 2017