Free to Serve, Grace to Grow
When we are dealing with a text that emphasizes one truth, it can be challenging to give clear explanation of balancing truths without removing the impact of the thrust of the passage. The relationship between the law and grace, between faith and works, between justification and sanctification, and between legalism and license can be confusing to us at times.
This was written not long after the Jerusalem Council ruled on how Jewish in practice you had to be in order to be a Christian. Despite what some Jewish teachers were propagating among the new converts in the province of Galatia, Jewish ceremonial law could not and would not merit salvation nor could it make Gentile believers more sanctified. In other words, once they were in Christ, it would not help them be more sanctified or holy by adding the Jewish ceremonial law.
The moral law expressed the holy character of God and as such was good. For that very reason it exposed even the best of human beings as sinful, thus it condemned them rather than saving them. The moral law can’t give us the power to obey the law. It merely demonstrates that we are powerless to fulfill it. Only through Christ’s perfect merits could one be accepted by God and empowered by the Spirit. But the questions then are: What is the believer’s relationship to the moral law now that he belongs to Jesus? How does the law relate to progressive sanctification? What does it mean when we sing “Free from the law, oh, happy condition.” I heard one version where someone had altered the words to “Sin all I want, and there is remission.” Is that what free from the law mean?
To answer these questions, let’s look at several Scripture texts and then focus on one to know what the overall teaching of the New Testament is.
Galatians 5:13-14, 16-17
13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (In other words, anything that you do that would be sin would be a violation of love. If you love according to love, you will fulfill the law if you understand what love would dictate. The law was given to reveal what love would dictate.)
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
There is a battle that wages inside of us because we are born-again and belong to Jesus. There is a striving that happens in the power of the Spirit to do what we ought to do.
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness (not treating God as God) and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessedhope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, (Note that this does not mean that you are going to save yourself. It means to work to the “Nth” degree the salvation that you have.) 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
God works to make us want to do what is right and works to make us able to do what is right by the Spirit. So now we have a new relationship to the moral law of God. He makes it very practical….
14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
Clearly, it is not legalism to strive to obey the commands of the Word of God. The New Testament gives too many commands from Jesus and His apostles—all of which clearly give the evils of legalism and the implications of salvation by grace through faith. It is legalism to do right as a way of gaining merit with God for salvation or to think we can fulfill the law apart from the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of a born-again believer. It is not legalism to have personal standards that you have found help you avoid harming others or setting yourself up for sin, though making those personal rules the moral measurement for everyone else usurps God’s authority in others’ lives and as such expresses legalism.
Paul was such a champion of salvation by grace through faith that many misunderstood or misrepresented his teaching to be against the law of God—antinomian, as if obeying God were not important and really did not matter so long as you were trusting in Jesus. That is why Paul writes what he does in Romans 6—to correct the misunderstandings there may be from his emphasis on salvation by grace alone.
12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We will look at this passage with three basic questions. They are not crafted as well as a catechism would be but hopefully they will make this relationship clear.
1. In what sense is the believer free from the law?
Grace frees you from the condemnation of the law and the tyranny (power) of sin by making you God’s slave. When you put your faith in Jesus, you are born-again and are part of the family, a child of God.
Think about that for a moment in relationship to your children. No child perfectly obeys his parents in everything. They ought to obey their parents. The Scripture teaches obedience to one’s own parents. We can look around and tell which children go with which parents because parents give them instruction, and children obey them. Let’s say that you are working with your son or daughter, and that child normally obeys. One day, however, he disobeys right and left. He does not do the things he is told to do, and he is repeatedly doing things he is told not to do. What happens to your relationship? Does the son or daughter cease to be your child? No, he or she is still your child. Does the relationship change at all when this happens? In some ways, no, but in other ways yes. It becomes a little strained, and there could be some punishment that comes along to correct the matter. In fact, it isn’t quite as enjoyable to be a son or daughter when you choose to disobey your parents. The relationship is strained. The same thing happens in the family of God. When you sin (disobey), it does not mean that you are no longer a child of God or lose your salvation, but it does mean that it is not going to be as enjoyable until you make things right. Sin will disrupt your relationship will God.
2. In what way should you as a believer show you are a slave to God?
(Remember that what grace has done is freed you from the condemnation of the law and from the tyranny of sin by making you God’s slave.) According to the Scripture, we are to present every part of our body to God as an instrument of righteousness (love fulfills the law of God) rather than to sin as an instrument of unrighteousness. We may say, “God, I want to give you my hands because I do not want to sin with my hands.” “God, I want to give you my eyes. I do not want to give my eyes to sin.” “God, I give you every part of me to be used for righteousness.”
How can this be illustrated? In your toolbox at home you would likely find a hammer and a screwdriver. The primary use of a hammer is to hammer things – to construct. The screwdriver is meant to fix things or attach things together. Both are constructive kinds of tools. However, we can destroy things with a hammer. We wouldn’t want to take the hammer to a piece of furniture or a favorite vase. That would be taking an instrument meant for good and using it for evil – giving it to sin and unrighteousness. The same can be done with a screwdriver.
If you belong to Jesus, you have not only been created in His image for His glory, but you have also been redeemed by the blood of Christ, bought with a price to be used for good. You have no more business using your body parts to do evil and what is harmful and unrighteous than to take a screwdriver and killing people with it rather than using it for its intended purpose.
Take every part of your body, because you are owned by God, and use it for good. Your eyes—use them for good; feed on what purifies your heart and grows your soul; convey kindness; weep for the suffering and the lost; see the possibilities and the needs. Your mouth—build others up instead of tearing them down; share the good news; grace; purity; kindness; truth. Your feet—let them take you where you ought to be. The Scripture says “beautiful are the feet of those who take the good news to others.” Don’t let them be swift to run to evil, to the forbidden woman, to the place where lawlessness reigns, drinking parties, robbery, and such. Your hands should be gentle; helping; strengthening; welcoming; and creative rather than destructive.
3. What is the relationship between slavery and obedience?
Sometimes we don’t like the word slavery too much. We like the idea of no longer being a slave to sin, but being a slave to God seems a little scary to us. Slavery is a negative word in most places, but Paul explains that we are a slave to whatever or whomever we obey. Who are you obeying? If you obey your appetites and they control your decisions, you are a slave to your appetites. If you obey whatever the fad of the day is, you are a slave to fads. If you obey whatever your unsaved friends tell you to do, you are a slave to your unsaved friends. If you obey sin, you are a slave to sin. Choose your master!
This newspaper dated December 11, 1941, was found in the attic of an old house this past week. The headline reads: “U.S. declares war against Germany and Italy,” and we know from history and from other articles in this newspaper that countries around the world chose sides. Do you know what we are doing as believers when we have been saved by Christ? We are choosing sides. We have to choose which Master we want to serve. We have to choose who we are going to be a slave to. We are going to be a slave. There is no getting out of that. There is no neutral ground here. You are either for or against God. You are either for or against sin.
· What does obedience to sin do?
(This is not freedom! It is not freedom to serve sin. There is no good result from it. Why work for something that produces a bad result? That’s the worst kind of slavery!)
Ø Causes impurity—internal effect—like a wound that gets dirt in it—will get worse (infected) (19)
Ø Increases lawlessness (19) – One sin leads to another.
Ø Results in death (destroys you) (16, 21)
· What does obedience (slavery) to God do? (This is obedience from the heart, according to true teaching) (17)
Ø Leads to righteousness—conformity to a standard of right and wrong (18)
Ø Increases sanctification (growth in Jesus)
God declares us righteous but the process of sanctification (becoming more like Jesus) requires some degree of effort or cultivation by the believer. (19)
Ø Gives eternal life (22) (not possible apart from God’s free gift through Christ Jesus—none of it is!)
2 Peter 1:3-11
3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
See this begonia. (Shows blooming begonia potted plant.) Someone gave it to us. It began with a seed. It has been cared for, and now we are going to be caring for it. With any growing thing like this, you can fertilize it, water it, add potting soil and do all kinds of marvelous things to make it grow, but nothing at all will happen if it doesn’t have life. That’s true with begonias, tomato plants, or whatever it is.
So you can work and work and try to win favor with God and become more like Jesus, but unless you have life in Jesus Christ through faith in Him (faith in what He has done), unless you have been reconciled to God and have been born-again and have the Spirit of God in you, you can plow and cultivate all you want and you will never become more and more like Jesus. However, if you have been born again and you have been given things that pertain to life and godliness, you can choose not to water it or cultivate, what kind of growth do you think you will have? It needs to be nurtured, cultivated by the power of the Spirit for the glory of Jesus. You have a precious gift if you belong to Jesus. He has given you eternal life. He has given you His Word. So strive to make the most of it, to cultivate it even as our text has declared.
We strive for holiness not to win merit with God so as to earn salvation, but rather as an expression of who we are as those being saved by Christ. Because we have been reconciled to God through Christ’s righteousness, death and resurrection we have been given the Holy Spirit who motivates and empowers us to obey God from the heart. It is an awesome plan! It works! It calls for us to give to the “Nth degree” of our loyalty and commitment. It lets us honor God by becoming more and more like Jesus, using what God has given to us for His glory.
1. How does thinking of the parts of your body as instruments belonging to God for righteousness help you in your battle against sin in your life?
2. In what ways is being a slave to God joyful freedom in the short term and in the long term?
3. What are some ways you have found help you cultivate God’s gifts for life and godliness in your life?
Pastor Drew Conley
Hampton Park Baptist Church
June 22, 2014
Principles for Battle
1 Corinthians 16:13-14
Love is self denial that I might give myself to the one loved
for their sake seeking nothing in return.
I. Be Watchful
II. Stand Firm in the Faith
III. Act Like Men
IV. Be Strong
V. Be Done in Love
Mr. Colin Brazier
member of Hampton Park Baptist Church
June 15, 2014
Those most familiar with Jesus are most tempted to be named among His associates while denying His authority and offer of transformation (i.e., "Jesus is a great hometown hero until he starts trying to change the citizens.”)
We must view Jesus as a Savior who saves and changes people, not a hometown hero that makes us feel socially proud.
It is amazing how quickly we are drawn to famous people, celebrities, and people of extraordinary talents, especially when they are from our own hometown. Sure, it may be an interesting conversation starter that we share some geographical proximity to a famous person, but in the end what are we really trying to accomplish? Ultimately, we would like a little of that glory to somehow spill over to us. Most of us like to be identified with someone extraordinary. An example is Kirk Gibson and Pat LaFontaine, who came from my hometown. I would be quick to acknowledge that, but I am noticeably slower with the likes of others who might have shady reputations. I might not mention that people who were held in low esteem for one reason or another came from my hometown. Human behavior like this is nothing new. If we or our community can find an attachment to an admired or famous person, we like the attachment. Ultimately, we enjoy this attachment, not for what it does for the famous person, but what it may do for us. In John 4:43-54 we see this same phenomenon among the people of Galilee.
In this passage, John is writing about the first ministry circuit of Jesus. Jesus began this circuit of ministry in His hometown of Cana of Galilee, where He graciously met a need in a miraculous way. He didn’t simply provide more wine at the wedding, but turned water to wine, a miracle that supersedes both molecular laws and time itself. This is the first miracle John records in his mission to demonstrate who Jesus is that we might believe in the Christ (end of the book). Jesus journeyed to Judea, cleansed the temple, met with Nicodemus, and then headed back toward Galilee, but passed through Samaria first where He met a woman at the well. So here at the end of chapter 4 Jesus is completing this circuit and returns to His hometown in Cana of Galilee. John opens this section in v. 43 –
43 After the two days he departed for Galilee. 44 (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.) 45 So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast. 46a So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine.
As Jesus completes this ministry circuit to return to His hometown, the author clearly intends to communicate something be inserting this proverbial saying of Jesus – a prophet has no honor in his own hometown. What makes this more curious is the very next verse. Look at it again. The Galileans welcomed him. Why? They welcomed Him because they had seen all that He had done in Jerusalem (John 2:23). He had done some amazing things. So what are we to do with these two statements back to back: A prophet has not honor in his hometown – Galileans welcomed him? It is this apparent paradox or the seemingly different statements that John uses to teach us something very important about the person of Jesus and the human heart. The text even suggests that the whole lesson of this passage is bound up in these two statements. Jesus went to Galilee FOR Jesus had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.
John 2:23 – Earlier in the book of John, at the feast, the people were impressed, but Jesus did not receive their accolades because He knew what was in man. Jesus’ mission was to reveal His person as Savior so that men would believe. The people of the feast were marveling at Him, but He knew they marveled over a miracle worker, not a Savior of lost men. So John puts these two statements together to teach us that there is a big difference between viewing Jesus as merely a hometown hero and viewing Jesus as the Savior of mankind. Let’s look at the first of two major lessons drawn from this passage.
I. To receive Jesus as a hometown hero requires only external fanfare over visible works.
According to John statements here, it is entirely possible for a group of people to welcome Jesus without honoring him. This welcoming is not what it looks like on the outside. There is a kind of receiving Jesus that has no true honor for His person in it. It’s just an interest in His signs and wonders. This is what Jesus is referring to earlier in chapter 2 when He knew what was in man. The kind of belief and reception spoken of in this passage is not the kind of faith Jesus accepts. Sure there was excitement over His miracles, but they failed to desire what these miracles pointed to, namely His beauty and glory as the Son of God, the Messiah, and the Savior of the world. In short, they welcomed Jesus as a hometown hero, a worker of wonders and miracles, but as Jesus stated, they were not interested in a prophet, one who would represent the Triune God and proclaim Himself to be the Savior of men.
Perhaps this a place to pause for a moment and ask ourselves some probing questions concerning our view of Jesus.
As you live your life daily, what statement drives your actions an attitude?
· I admire Jesus. He is amazing. He can do anything. I’m glad I’m on His side. Oh, what a hero. Or,
· I trust in Jesus. Without Him I am nothing. I am lost and undone, seeking my own desires and aspirations, but Jesus saves me from myself. O, what a Savior!
Don’t get me wrong, Jesus is indeed a hero. He is a miracle worker, but don’t forget that His heroic acts were to save you from sin. If we simply love our association with a hero, it feeds our feelings of superiority and we view the world around us as some sort of ignorantly informed adversary. Viewing Jesus as a Savior leads toward a spirit of humble thanksgiving and we view the world around us as fellow human beings lost in their sins just like we were before we heard the good news of Jesus’ saving work. Today bask in glory of our Kings of Kings. Rejoice in our conquering hero, but at the heart of such boasting, understand and embrace the most basic work of Christ as a Savior. Recite continually the words of the apostle Paul – “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost.”
I urge you to resist a familiarity with Jesus, Christian culture, and religious talk that simply affirms that you are on the right side of issues, and to ponder deeply the most fundamental relationship Christ has to you – a Savior of sinners.
In this opening scene of Jesus’ return to His hometown, we have learned what kind of reception and welcoming reveals an insufficient view of Christ’s person and work. This scene has taught us that to receive Jesus merely as a hometown hero requires only external fanfare over his visible works. So that leaves us asking the question, then what does it look like to receive Jesus as more than just a hometown hero? John now presents to us a scene change. Into this scene of a crowd marked by the shallow welcoming of their hometown hero enters an official.
And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. 48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” 49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.
In contrast to what it looks like to receive Jesus as a hometown hero, we see that this scene with official teaches us that
II. To receive Jesus as the Savior requires personal faith in His invisible promises.
Jesus uses this scene to demonstrate the difference between receiving Him as a miracle-working hero or as Savior. When this man asks for healing, Jesus doesn’t address this man directly. He actually addresses the entire crowd (you is plural in v. 48). He says explicitly what the previous scene hinted about. In essence, Jesus is saying to the crowd, “You are sign seekers. You are wonder worshippers. You say you believe, but it is not a belief that honors who I am. It honors what I do that you find interesting.”
What about the official? Was he a sign-seeker or Savior seeker? Was he a lover of Jesus’ power, or lover of His person?
Jesus is testing him through this statement. We are not given insight immediately, but this moment of pause gives us another opportunity to ask ourselves the same questions we may have about this man.
Are we the kind of people who primarily view our greatest needs a those things that need fixing – health, finance, situations? These are fine, but they are never our primary need. We must move beyond Jesus being simply a miracle worker to being a Savior. Our primary request should be to acknowledge our continued sin and find forgiveness and power to live for our merciful, gracious Savior. If we are not careful, we may come close to the motives of unbelievers. Unbelievers do not love God, they use God. So Jesus bluntly asks this man and those around Him this probing question: Do you form your view of me based on the greatness of a miracle or on the greatness of my person? On what basis do you form your estimation of Jesus? Is Jesus great when you see Him do something really impressive in your life that you deem beneficial, or is Jesus great by virtue of being your Savior from sin? Are we more impressed with external works of Jesus that wow us, or are we drawn closer to Him as He is faithful to His promises toward us? Must signs be the basis of your belief, or will a quiet promise from the Savior suffice?
We do get some insight. It says the man believed the word. I’m inclined to say that this question awakened a deeper faith in this man. He saw more than a miracle worker. He saw a divine Savior who is as good as His promise with or without a grand display.
When he arrives home his faith is further confirmed and spreads throughout his house:
51 As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. 52 So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” 53 The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. 54 This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.
So let’s take a step back and see the main point of this whole story: John is teaching us that there is an honorable way to welcome Jesus and a dishonorable way. We must view Jesus as a Savior who saves and changes people; not a hometown hero that makes us feel socially proud.
Through John’s gospel He shows us the greatness of Christ through astonishing miracles, but these miracles point to His mission as Savior of sinful men. If we are not careful, we, as the Galileans, may allow the great works of Jesus to cloud His most important purposes toward us. I want to close with three applications. Based on this passage, what kinds of things have the potential of keeping us from seeing Jesus’ glorious work as Savior?
1. Pride of attachment to someone special
· We may be seeking some sort of importance for ourselves through the connection we have to Jesus. The people of Galilee could say this miracle worker grew up in their town. The more He does, the more their attachment feeds their ego. They didn’t see humble service. They didn’t feel the need for His grace. They use Him for themselves.
· This impulse is alive today. We may be attached to a church or a movement, or a musical style, or a person, or a ministry in a way that feeds our ego. It is justifiable because it is Christian. Over time we begin to want this Christian thing to thrive not for the glory of Christ, but because it feeds our ego. When this happens it become harder to see Christ for who He really is – a Savior of sinful men.
2. Sense of entitlement
· This is the idea that somehow if He is our hometown hero we get first dibs. We feel as if we are entitled to the blessings of Christ. We are close to Him and therefore deserve His blessing now. No, it is the same now for those who have been with Jesus a long time versus those who have not. We deserve nothing, but we have a gracious Savior who delights in giving us everything. We get these blessings because He is gracious, not because our family or friends have known Him a long time.
3. Over-familiarity with Jesus
· This is somewhat the opposite of the other two, which demonstrates the devious nature of sin. We’ve known Jesus so long, we are over-familiar. He may be doing some mind blowing things, but we’re used to it. We know Him. We can be so familiar with the Bible, and with Jesus, and with Christianity that it cannot shock us. Jesus can’t do anything super amazing. He’s too s familiar. Jesus ’work is the norm rather than miraculous. Saving a sinner is expected rather than gracious.
Today I would ask that you allow John’s gospel to move you from someone who would estimate the worth of Jesus according to His miracles to the estimation of His worth as declared by His word. I would urge you to place faith in the Jesus as He revealed Himself and resist an urge to follow after a Jesus of your own making. Allow God’s Word to keep you from evaluating Christ according to how remarkable you find His works, but in how faithful He will fulfill His promise. Allow John’s gospel to culminate in your life as it did in Thomas’s life near the end of this book. Even the disciple Thomas had to move from demanding proof to believing promise. May the mighty saving work of Jesus move you more than any grand display to say, “My Lord and my God!” Move from fanfare to faith. Move from demanding proofs to dependence on promise. Shift your worship from that of a hometown hero, to the life-saving, life-changing Savior.
If we are not careful, we, as the Galileans, may allow the great works of Jesus to cloud His most important purposes toward us. Which of the obstacles listed above could have potential for keeping you from seeing Jesus’ glorious work as Savior?
Pastor Chris Barney
Hampton Park Baptist Church
June 8, 2014
One Goal - Many Examples
The last time I spoke we were in Philippians 3:12-16 and we saw 6 things that Paul told us we needed to do in order to follow Christ. The big message was that we have One Goal, one pursuit in life.
Admit your need for Christlikeness. (v12a)
Passionately pursue Christlikeness. (v12b)
Stay focused on Christlikeness. (v 13)
Be motivated by the prize of Christlikeness. (v 14)
Trust God for the attitude of Christlikeness. (v 15)
Stay on the path toward Christlikeness. (v 16)
We have one goal - to be like Christ. If our goal is to be like Christ, what do we need to get there? God has given us many examples, both positive and negative; people who will lead you to Christ and people who will lead you away from Christ. If you are going to pursue Christlikeness, you have to follow after people who are already pursuing Christ. We naturally follow people's examples every day. Maybe it is a boy or girl following the example of their parent. If you are a businessman, maybe you follow the example of successful businessmen. Because of that we need to follow the example of those who will lead us to Christ.
Because your one goal is to be like Christ, you must be careful of the example you follow. That is the big idea for tonight: follow good examples.
1. Follow believers who passionately pursue Christ. (Philippians 3:17)
17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.
That's what we were talking about at the beginning. That's what discipleship is, thinking we are not perfect, but we're working on it. Follow those who are passionately pursuing Christ. Several years ago my family went on vacation. As we were walking down the street, my dad was walking in front of us in a very distinct way. My brother and I decided we would walk as he walked. This is what it is to imitate or follow the leader. That is what Paul means here: Follow my leading. Do as I am doing.
When Paul says "join in imitating me," we may think that sounds arrogant. Paul is not saying he has it all together, but that he is pursuing a worthy prize, so follow along with me as I pursue Christ. You may be thinking, "Why can't I just follow Christ? Why do I need human examples?" We have to have human examples because humans are the only ones who are sinners. If you follow Christ, Christ never sinned. If you want to learn how to get up after spiritual failure, you can't follow the example of Christ because He never sinned. If you want to learn how to ask forgiveness of somebody because you have wronged them, can you go to Christ for your example? Did Christ ever wrong anybody? No. He never did. Christ never walked the road of sanctification that we walk. He was already perfect. That is our goal, to be perfect, so we have to follow people who are like us, sinners becoming more like Jesus Christ.
We also need fellow believers. We need each other because we are hurting sinners. We need to encourage and lift each other up. Others are good at giving, supporting needs. Some are good at praying. We need to be active in each other's lives. If you are not a part of a LifeGroup, that is a great way for you to meet together with other believers, to pray for them and encourage them in their walk toward Christ.
We also need to carefully watch how they live.
17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.
It is not enough to know someone who knows Christ, you need to watch their life, get involved in their life. LifeGroups give you a chance to get involved in someone's life outside of a church setting. In this passage Paul doesn't give us all the examples of the ways people are examples to us, but in other passages he does.
First, watch how people use their possessions. That is a really good indicator as to whether they are pursuing Christ. If you are not pursuing Christ you are using your possessions for yourself: to make yourself comfortable, to have more entertainment. People who are following Christ use their possessions to further the cause of Christ and the Gospel.
In 1 Thessalonians 1:7, Paul is talking to the believers of Thessalonica who were very poor. They took up a collection for believers in Jerusalem who were suffering persecution. They sent their money to them. They used their possessions to further the cause of Christ. Paul said they were an example to others in the church.
Watch how they work diligently. (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15) If someone is pursuing Christ, they are not a lazy individual. They work hard at what they do. Paul was writing back to those in Thessalonica to tell them to follow his example from when he was there with them.
In 1 Timothy 4:12, Paul tells Timothy to be an example in his speech, lifestyle, love, faith and purity. Sometimes when we think of being an example we think of older, more mature Christians. That was not the case with Timothy who was younger. Paul told him to be an example even though he was younger because Christ was changing him to be more like Christ. If you are a teenager, you can be an example to other adults or to children. If you are a child in elementary school you can be an example to your friends or your siblings. Be an example in lifestyle.
Watch how they are patient in suffering. That is a really good indicator of whether they are following Christ. When someone has a loved one pass away, watch how they respond. Yes, it is painful and it hurts, but they are still pursuing Christ. They are patient in what God is putting them through.
Back in the 1980's in Africa they decided to transfer a family of elephants from one national park to another one. They were to do this by helicopter using harnesses. The older male elephants were too big to transport. About 10 years later they noticed that the now teenage elephants were going around attacking other animals, especially rhinos. Scientists wondered why this was happening in this area. They realized they did not have the older male elephants to give them an example of how to behave like an elephant. As they then began to introduce some older male elephants into the herd, the problem went away. The older males taught them how to live as elephants.
We, as believers, need examples to follow of how to be a Christian, how to follow Christ. Paul does not stop there. Not only do we need good examples to follow, we also need to know who not to follow.
2. Avoid "believers" who passionately pursue selfish desires. (Philippians 3:18-19)
You may wonder why "believers" is in quotation marks. Because they were not really believers. They came to the church and said they followed Christ, but they were actually wolves in sheep's clothing, false teachers. They were living a different way. Paul labeled them as the enemies of the cross. They claimed to be Christians, but their lifestyle, their walk, was as an enemy of the cross.
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.
This moved Paul so much that he was crying as he wrote this letter, thinking of people who claim the name of Christ but live a different lifestyle. They don't live as a follower of Christ, but as a follower of this world. They follow their own desires and are walking as enemies of the cross by the way they are living.
Also, they are consumed with self.
19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
This verse does not mean that they are eating a lot. It means that their god was themselves. That's what the word belly is really talking about--the inner part of you. Many times you feel pain first in your gut or your belly. It's your emotions. Their god is their emotions or their feelings. It also says they glory in their shame. What they should be ashamed about they are boasting about. Finally it says "with minds set on earthly things." They are saying they are Christians, but their mind is not set on heaven but on the world around them.
As my wife and I are expecting our first child in several months, my thoughts go first to finances, a place to live, food to eat, diapers--earthly things. This is usually the first thing our minds go to because we are so focused on the world around us. These are earthly things that don't last forever. We lose our focus on Christ because we are so focused on the world around us. Paul says don't follow people who are focused on earthly things. Focus on what is in heaven.
Who were these people? What were they really like? If they were the Jews, they would be called the Judaizers. They were consumed with self-righteousness. They thought they needed to follow Christ and the law and in order to have a better standing before God you needed to follow both. They taught faith + good works = salvation. Is that what the Bible teaches? No. The Bible teaches it is by grace, through faith, not of works. They were boasting about what they should have been ashamed of. They should have been ashamed of their own self-righteousness. They say they give a gift of righteousness to God, but God says righteousness is God's gift to us.
Second, these people could have been the Antinomians. They were against the Law (Old Testament Law). They were consumed with self-gratification. They say if you have salvation it is because you have faith. We would agree with that. But they go on to say that it doesn't matter what you do. They say you get salvation because you have faith, but it doesn't affect the way you live.
On one hand we have the Judaizers who are the legalists who say you must follow all these rules to have a better standing before God. Then we have the Antinomians who say believe in Christ, but it shouldn't matter what you do afterwards - how you dress, where you go, who you hang out with. They say those things don't matter because you belong to Christ. Do those things change your standing before God? No. Do those things affect your relationship with God? Yes. They affect how God relates to us. God doesn't like it when we don't care about the way we live. God wants us to follow the example of Christ. This was a bad example to follow. There are people like this all over the church in America today. They say believe in Christ and follow your heart, make yourself really comfortable. They say your best life is right now. Is that what Christ preached? He said deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me. Forget the world and follow Me. Avoid bad examples.
Several years ago there was a skier out near Telluride with a camera on him so we can see what he did. He saw other paths skiers had gone through and followed them. It didn't end very well, but he only slightly injured his shoulder as he fell from quite a height. He followed the wrong example and it led to destruction. That is what Paul said about these believers: that they followed their own heart and it led to destruction. Don't be like those "believers" who said they followed Christ, but had a desire for themselves.
3. Focus on your heavenly home as you passionately pursue Christ. (Philippians 3: 20-21)
Remember that this world is not where you belong. It is not your home. We are pilgrims on a journey to heaven.
20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,
The Philippians understood this better than we do many times. They lived in Philippi, which was really a part of the Roman Empire. They were actually citizens of Rome. They lived in one location but belonged to another. Paul said you are citizens, not of Rome or Philippi, not of Greenville, but of heaven. That's where you belong. It's a reality. It's not like one day you will be there. You actually belong there right now. Your name is written down in heaven, you have a legal standing before God because of Christ. You belong in heaven and you belong to Christ. Christ died for you. We are waiting for Him as our Savior. The verse goes on to say "from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ." That should be what you are looking forward to in being in heaven. I teach children here and they may make the decision that they want to be in heaven with Christ, but what they are focusing on is that they don't want to be punished in Hell. The decision is not Heaven or Hell, the decision is between Jesus and your sin. Do you love Jesus or do you love your sin? Christ is coming back for us. Do you love Him? Are you looking forward to that day? Or do you think of earthly events you would like to happen first? As Christians we belong to Christ. We should be with Him.
Finally, your belonging brings a result, and that result is Christlikeness. Because you belong to Christ something is going to happen to you.
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.
A lot of times we stop there and focus on the pleasure of having a nice body. What are you looking forward to? The pleasure of a nice body, or Jesus Christ? The purpose of having a perfect body is primarily so that you can be with Jesus. Right now your body can't stand being in heaven. Earthly bodies don't belong in heaven, but God is going to change that. God will give you ears so that you can stand listening to the glories of heaven. He will give you a mouth that can adequately praise God for all He has done. He will give you eyes that can see Christ without being destroyed. That's what we are looking forward to. God won't almost do it. God's power will completely change your body to be like Christ. We are supposed to focus on our heavenly home.
Former Secretary of State to Ronald Reagan, George Shultz, would have ambassadors meet with him before they went out and after they came back. He would have them go to a globe and point out their country. One man spun the globe around and looked at it and put his hand on the United States, saying this is where he was from. That's what all ambassadors should be saying. They are not from China or Japan. They are going to these countries from the United States. Ever since then he would tell ambassadors this: "Never forget you're over there in that country, but your country is the United States. You're there to represent us. Take care of our interests and never forget you're representing the best country in the world."
We are Christians. We don't represent America. We represent Christ and heaven to people around us. When people want to know what Christ is like, you are the ambassador to show them. Are you living as an ambassador or are you living for the world? Are you focused on this country and forgetting that heaven is your home? May God help us to remember that our home is in heaven and not here.
Hampton Park Baptist Church
June 8, 2014