Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on October 25, 2015
Today marks our last Sunday focusing on the Third Person of the Trinity. To be honest, I am a little sad, for there is still so much that could be said. In fact, because the Spirit is God, there is an infinite amount that could be said, for God is unsearchable.
For those who have found this sermon series on the Holy Spirit interesting and you want to go deeper, I encourage you to read “Forgotten God” by Francis Chan. You can find a link to it on our website. Also, for those who are reading through Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology, there are good sections on the Holy Spirit.. Lastly, I have been reading through the Holy Spirit by Sinclair Ferguson, and I have found it extremely helpful. It is a little heavy, but not to bad.
Before we get into today’s sermon, let us briefly review what we have learned up to this point. First we learned that God is One, in three persons. We call this mystery the Trinity. One of those persons of the Trinity is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is fully God, yet separate in personhood. The Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force, but instead is a personal God. Each person of God has a specific role. The general role of the Holy Spirit is the manifestation of all that God is, or to say it another way He is the proceeding power of the attributes of God. He proceeds originally from the Father, but also equally from the Son. Last week we examined this proceeding power in the lives of God’s elect at the time of regeneration. The power of God that blows into the life of God’s chosen, birthing them into spiritual life and giving them eyes to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Without the Spirit of God regenerating us, we would never have the capacity to trust in Jesus as our Lord and as our Savior.
Today we are going to take the next step and examine the working of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. We will begin where we left off last week. Turn in your Bibles to Ezekiel 36:22
As I said, last week we saw that this outpouring of the Spirit described in Ezekiel is what we call regeneration. It is what Jesus was unpacking for Nicodemus in John 3. The description that Jesus used was being born again. As Jesus said, without this new spiritual birth you cannot see the Kingdom. Spiritual birth is a prerequisite to loving Jesus. This spiritual birth is caused by the Holy Spirit.
Put My Spirit within You
But, now let us ask, what happens next? Does the Holy Spirit blow out of our lives just as quickly as He blew into it? Is the new birth, the end of the story. This answer is an emphatic no. Babies are meant to grow into maturity. Look at verse 27, “I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” In this verse there are two components, God putting his Spirit within you and causing us to walk. First, let us look at the first part, “I will put my Spirit within you.”
As we begin, let’s take a moment and dwell upon the immensity of this statement. “I will put my Spirit within you.” This statement is mind-blowing and is unfathomable. The Holy Spirit is fully God; meaning he lacks nothing of who God is. He is all powerful, all knowing, and all present. We on the other hand are merely created dust. We are clay in the hands of a omnipotent Potter. The distance between the glory of God and the humility of us is infinite, literally infinite. Not to mention that not only are we dust in God’s hands, but we are sinners. We have rejected God’s authority in our life and we deserve Hell, not the gift of the Holy Spirit. But yet, there it is, written in God’s unchanging Word, “I will put my Spirit within you.”
This is not the only place we see God reminding Christians that he has put his Spirit in us. It is a frequent reminder throughout the New Testament.
The reality of the Christian life is that the Third Person of the Trinity takes up residence in your heart. This is what distinguishes Christians from non-Christians. Unbelievers are void of the Spirit of God. According to Ephesians 2:2, instead of the Spirit of God they have a spirit of disobedience.
For some of you with a Catholic background, this idea of the Spirit of God coming into your heart and giving you new life is foreign to you. The religion of Catholicism does not teach Biblical regeneration by the Spirit of God. Instead it teaches regeneration by the works of man, whether it is Baptism, Communion, Confession, or praying to dead people (otherwise known as necromancy). Catholicism wrongly teaches that these religious hoops are what keep you right with God, and therefore are necessary to obtain salvation. In this type of false religion, the Holy Spirit has no role, for it is not up to the Spirit of God, it is up to the individual. I cannot think of a more scary doctrine than my salvation depending upon me. That is a recipe for slavery to the law, slavery to guilt, and slavery to failure. The truth, as proclaimed by the Bible is that the Holy Spirit is the distinguishing factor between the spiritually dead and the spiritually alive.
If the Spirit of God has not taken up residence in your heart, then you are not a Christian. It is as simple as that. It does not matter if you attend Church, or mass, every week. It does not matter if you say you believe in Jesus, for even the demons believe in God. It does not matter if you are a Pastor of Cornerstone or the Pope. The only thing that matters is if you have the Holy Spirit.
So why does God put his Spirit in us? Why not just forgive us in Christ and move on?
God, by his Grace wants to give us assurance. He wants us to know that we are saved. How does he do this? By the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God taking up residence in our heart is a seal. He is a guarantee. What is the purpose of a seal? It is to prove authorship. When a King would write a letter, he put hot wax on the latter and take his ring and press it into the wax. This would cause a royal seal. Anyone who received this letter would know it is from the King. This is one of the purposes of the Holy Spirit? God has pressed his sign upon our hearts by the power of his Spirit. The Spirit within us acts as a sign to us and to the world that we are God's and He is ours.
The second part is that the Holy Spirit, is not only a seal upon our hearts, but he is a guarantee of our future glorification with the Lord. He is a down-payment of a promise to be later paid in full. There may be decades between our new birth in Christ and our full reunion with God in Heaven. Those decades will consist of mountains and valleys; brokenness, confusion, uncertainty, and failure. There will be times that you will wonder if God is truly your Father. You will doubt his love for you, but your faith will never fail. Why? Because of the Holy Spirit. He is God's pledge to you that God will never leave you, nor forsake you. God reminds us of this wonderful reality in the book of Ephesians.
Once the Holy Spirit comes into your heart, there is no getting him out. He is there to stay. Therefore, this is another reason why at Cornerstone we believe what is called eternal security, or perseverance of the saints. This is the understanding that once you are saved through Christ, you cannot lose your salvation. You cannot be born again, and then unborn. You cannot be adopted into God's family and then kicked out. You cannot be found then lost again. Why do we say this, for many Biblical reasons, but one of them is the guarantee of the Holy Spirit. Logically, if you could evict the Holy Spirit, he wouldn't be much of a guarantee would he?
Cause You to Obey
At this point, there may be some of you in this room who then say, “If you can't lose your salvation, does that mean you can sin all you want and still go to heaven?” The answer to that question is no, but for another reason.
The second part of Ezekiel 36:27 was that God would, “cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” This is another role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. He not only seals us and guarantees our future glorification with the Lord in Heaven, but he changes our behavior.
When we are born again by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are given eyes to see. What we see is our wretched ways, our sin, and our need for forgiveness in Jesus Christ. This understanding causes us to repent, or turn, from our life of following the ways of the sinful world, and instead follow Jesus. This is an act of the supernatural. You go from caring less about Jesus, to being consumed by Him. If someone was to ask you, “What happened to you?” You would say, “I love Jesus.” They might respond, “How did that happen?” And you would answer, “I don't know. I can't explain it. Something inside of me just changed.” This change is the Holy Spirit being put in your heart.
And this love for Jesus causes you to, not only proclaim your love for Christ, but to live out your love for Christ. The fruit of the Spirit produces in you a love for the Lord that causes you to walk in God's statutes and obey all that he commands. Jesus says this same thing to the disciples in the upper room prior to his death.
Who will obey Christ? Those whom love Christ. Why does someone love Christ? The Holy Spirit. This is why you cannot have Jesus as your Savior, but not your Lord. You can't have one without the other, they are a package deal. If the Spirit has been put inside of you, that means that you are born again, sealed, guaranteed, and will obey Christ.
To be a Christian does mean that you say some magic prayer, it means that you recognize the Jesus is the Lord of your life. He is in charge of what you do, how you spend your money, what words you say, what movies you watch, what goals and dreams you have. And this Lordship of Christ over your life is not a burden, but a joy. For you love Jesus. You want to do all that he asks, for he is your greatest treasure and you delight to serve Him.
This is something that the world does not get, especially our youth. They believe that you can claim to be a Christian, and then live any way you want. You can say what you want, watch want you want, buy what you want, live with who you want, have sex with who you want, marry who you want, live life the way you want. A life that is lived that is out of sync with God's unchanging Word, is proof that the Spirit of God does not live in a persons heart. I don't care if that person goes to their grave saying they are a Christian, if they make a practice of living independent of God's will, then they are walking proof of their damnation. This is why Jesus says in Matthew 7:21
Why were these people sent away on judgment day? They were workers of lawlessness, not workers of righteousness. The Holy Spirit was never poured out on them, causing them to love Christ and obey his commands.
No, the life of a Christian is a life with the proceeding power of God, springing out of your heart like a fountain of living water. It is a life of radical transformation from the inside out. So what is our response to this wonderful reality?
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on April 12, 2015
Open your Bibles to Philippians 3:12-16. Last week we took a short break from studying the book of Philippians due to last week being Easter Sunday. However, today we will return to our journey through my favorite book in the Bible, Philippians.
Before we dive into our text, I wanted to spend some time, once again, talking about why we are walking through an entire book. We began our study of Philippians on the first Sunday of January. Most likely we will end our study of Philippians in May, or perhaps June. This is 5-6 months in one letter, a small letter at that. Philippians has only four chapters in it. Some of you may be thinking, what about the rest of the Bible?
First, when you work through a book of the Bible, you are never in just that book. To mine the Word of God you must use the Bible to interpret itself. By this I mean, to illuminate certain text, we must shine the light of God’s Word onto God’s Word. We must pull in different text to see examples, to show patterns, to define terms. The study of one letter is never limited to one letter. In a way, you end up studying the entire Bible through the lens of the book you are in.
Second, there is an epidemic within American Churches today, and the epidemic is that Churches are full of one inch deep Christians. Now there are multiple reasons for this, but one reason is that pastors aren’t doing their job in preaching the full counsel of God. Many pastors preach only topically. Meaning that the pastor picks a topic and preaches. This is ok, from time to time, but if this is the only way you preach, then you have a tendency to pick easy text, or comfortable text, or familiar text, and you leave out the difficult stuff. When you preach through an entire book, you don’t pick and choose. The preach as it comes, no matter what the topic: divorce, homosexuality, gluttony, death, the doctrines of Grace, etc. You are required to teach all that God commands.
Third, when you study a book for six months, week after week digging into the text, seeing how it all fits together, asking hard questions, meditating on implications, comparing it to your life, you will find the greatest treasures. The largest and most beautiful diamonds are not found on the surface, they are deep inside the mountain.
So those are a few reasons why I predominately subscribe to teaching through books of the Bible. There are of course more reasons, but those are the ones that I wanted to bring to your attention today. So with that said, let us get into our text for this morning and see what God has in store for us.
In verse 12 we see Paul say, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect.” What is the Apostle Paul talking about? For this we must look back into verse 10 where Paul says, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”
Paul, in verse twelve is continuing his thoughts in verse 10 and 11 and he is talking about obtaining the knowledge and likeness of Jesus Christ. So when Paul says “Not that I have already obtain it” he is saying that he is not obtained a full knowledge of Christ and it not completely like Christ. Paul is admitting that he is still on the journey of being sanctified.
And what do we see the end goal being? Perfection. Verse 12, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect.” If Paul would have obtained “this” if he would have full knowledge of Christ or be completely like Christ, he would be perfect. Why? Because Christ is perfect. In Christ there is no flaw. In Christ there is no sin. He is God incarnate, Emmanuel. Jesus himself tells Philip in John 14:9, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” In Hebrews 1:3 we are told, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature,”
How crucial is this reality. Jesus is the ultimate role model. If you want to know how to live, look at Jesus. If you want to know how to love, look at Jesus. If you want to know how to have joy, look at Jesus. If you want to know your purpose, look at Jesus. Jesus is the perfect man, and his is the only perfect man. Which leads me to a false doctrine that is taught from time to time and it the doctrine of Perfectionism. It is the false teaching that you can become totally without sin. This doctrine has its roots in John Wesley, not that he necessarily taught it, but it is out of his words that perfectionism has its origins. Today, perfectionism still exists in some teachings of the Methodist and the Nazarene denominations. However, we know these teaching to be false due to text like we have today. Paul admitted that he was not perfect, how can we believe that anyone can achieve perfection if not even the Apostle Paul can attain it. Perfection only comes upon the return of Christ, but until then we are all sinners, and as we discussed last week, this sin finds its origin in teh Garden of Eden.
If you recall, in the beginning, God created Adam and Eve in his image. However, something happened, sin entered the world and the image of God has been severely marred. Sin caused us to bear the mark of Satan, more than the mark of God. However, this is not so for Christ. Christ does not bear the mark of sin, he is spotless. In fact, this is one of the reasons Jesus came to die. To restore the image of God that was marred because of the fall. In fact turn with me to Romans 8:29.
We are perfect in the sense that we are justified before God. All the sins that I commit in the past and in the future are cleansed from me; therefore when I stand before God, he will not see any sin in my life, for Jesus washed away my sin. Having said that, this doesn’t mean that tomorrow I won’t commit a sin. It just means that tomorrow when I commit a sin, it is already paid for. Therefore, I am perfect in the sense that upon the day of judgment Christ has paid my penalty; however I am not perfect in the sense that I don’t sin anymore. You can see this in Hebrews 10:14, ““For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”
Yes we are perfect in Christ, but there is still work to be done in our lives. We still struggle with sin and we will still fall short. God is sanctifying us. As Romans 8:29 says, God is conforming us to the image of His Son. We saw this in Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” It is guaranteed. God is making the outside look like the inside. He is making our lives match our eternal reality.
However, our role in this is not passive. What does Paul say in 2:12-13, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Paul says that once you are justified, the work begins. We must work, not to earn our salvation, for Christ does this, but we must work out of salvation. Our salvation produces in us a desire for sanctification, and this desire is not easy. It is work. Paul is now expanding on that idea of working out your salvation, your sanctification, and says that we must “press on.” We must press on to become like Jesus.
What does press on mean? The Greek word is diókó. It means to pursue as a hunter would pursue his prey. Chasing after it to apprehend. I don't know if we have any hunters in our congregation, but perhaps some of you can relate to this picture. I know that I have met a lot of obsessed people when it comes to hunting. In fact, I am related to some of them. During deer season, they are consumed with killing the 10 or 12 point buck. It is all they can think about. Paul is speaking the same language, not regarding white tail, but with Christ. We must be consumed with a desire for Christ likeness.
Does this describe you? In your life, are you pressing on, pursuing Christ-likeness? Paul in verse 14 says it is his goal, and it should be the way we should be oriented. We should think just like Paul. How many goals have you set for yourself in your life? Perhaps you have made educational goals, financial goals, business goals, social goals, creative goals, physical goals. In pursuing these goals you have devoted substantial time, money and energy, and most likely thre have been sacrifices made.
I want each of you to take a moment and think about some goals you have made in your life. Now I want you to picture yourself on your deathbed. Now I want you to picutre yourself in the presence of God, a million years from now. How important is that earthly goal of yours? Who cares about how much money you have? Who cares how fast you can run a 5k? Who cares how successful you business was? Who cares what degree hangs on your wall? In those moments of death and glory, the only thing that matters is Christ.
My challenge to each of you today, is to reorient your life starting today. Stop pursuing things of this world, instead pursue Christ. Stop thinking like infant Christians and start thinking like mature Christians. Start to implement things in your life to reach the goal of looking more and more and more like Jesus. Be intentional is then pursuit. Each morning wake up with this goal on your mind. Pray that God would work continue this work in your heart and produce in you an image that resembles his son, not the world.
Read your Bible, not sporadically, but every day, multiple times a day. And don't just read it to read it, but eat it, like spiritual food for your soul. Approach the Bible like Jesus approached the Bible. Jesus in the desert to Satan, what does he say? Matthew 4:4 - “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Jesus before he is crucified what does he pray? John 17:17 - “Sanctify them in your truth, Your word is truth.”
Paul understands this. To become like Christ means to pick up your Bible? What does Paul remind the young pastor Timothy? 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of Godb may be complete, equipped for every good work.” What does complete mean? It means to be like Christ. How is this done? By eating this book like we eat bread!
This is how we press on, this is how we pursue, this is how we are made perfect, this is how we become like Christ, by reading this book and letting it cut off the sin that clings to us. Will this be easy? Absolutely not. Paul says in verse 13 that we will have to strain. What does strain imply? It implies a force pushing against us? Not as light force, but a force that causes us to grit our teeth and put our head down and move forward.
This resistance may be the world that you have saturated in for 30 years. It may be your flesh that loves slothfulness. It may be your pride. It may be your family that thinks you went off the deep end. It may be Satan himself in the wilderness of our life, tempting and mocking you. But never forget that “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” and “he who began a good work in your will bring it to completion” and he who foreknew you, predestined you to be conformed to the image of His Son; therefore work our your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you to will and work for His good pleasure; so press on to reach the destiny for which you were created.
And do not forget that he who justifies will also glorify, and this is the end for which we pursue. It is the prize of the upward call. And this prize is like no other prize in this universe. As we stated several weeks ago, Jesus Christ far surpasses anything this world has to offer. He is better than money, your business, the American dream, your life itself, and anything else that this world tries to deceive you with.
So let us be like the Apostle Paul. Let us forget what lies behind us. Let us forget the goals of the world, let us forget the fleetingness of this world, let us walk out of this building with a new found commitment to pusruing Christ-likeness. Let us be like Joshua who at Shechem in Joshua 24 said, “choose this day whom you will serve ...as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on March 29, 2015.
Open your Bibles to Philippians 3:1-11. Today will be our second week in this text. In all honesty we could spend months examining these words of God found in Philippians, for there is so much truth packed into these verses. With that said, let us jump right in this morning.
As we discussed last week, Paul’s purpose in writing this section of the letter to the Philippians was to warn them about the dogs. Verse 2, “look out for the dogs.” We saw that these dogs were people who were known as judiazers. Judiazers were religious people who claimed to love Jesus, but they also claimed that in order to be saved, you had to be circumcised, or maintain the Jewish dietary laws, to continue to celebrate the Jewish festivals. Judiazers believed that Jesus’s perfect life, and perfect sacrifice, was not perfect enough. They believed Jesus didn’t really save anyone, but just got people close to being saved, and it was up to us to walk across the goal-line into Heaven. Judiazers believed that Jesus plus works equaled salvation.
Paul does not call these people Christians. He is not being inclusive. He is not being tolerant. He is creating a clear and important divide between those who trust in God’s grace, and who trust in their own ability. He calls these people dogs, evildoers, and mutilators of the flesh. Paul then goes on to say that true, real, born again authentic Christians put no confidence in the flesh. None. Zero.
So as to make this point abundantly clear, Paul lists his resume, and his resume is impressive: “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” And what does he say about his resume? Verse 8, “rubbish.”
Paul says that everything he has ever done in his life is garbage. This word rubbish in the Greek is skubalon (skü'-bä-lon). This word skubalon is not a soft word. For it was the word for something that is worthless, detestable, refuse, and the excrement of animals. In fact, the King James Version of the Bible translates this word to dung. Paul uses this hard and graphic word, skubalon to convey his utter abhorrence of the false teaching that you have to add to the Grace of God in Christ.
Paul views all of his religion as rubish and he counts it as loss, and in fact he says that he counts everything as loss. This seems somewhat radical, does it not, to count everything in life as loss. Is this really what Jesus desires? Absolutely, for Jesus says the same words as Paul does in Luke 14:33.
So how does God do it? How does he give us the capacity to lay everything down to gain Jesus? Last week we started to unpack this and we saw that it begins with God. God must begin the work in you. He does this by His Spirit. The Spirit of God blows into your heart like a mighty rushing wind and births you into spiritual existence. The example we looked at last week in regards to this was Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit rushed upon 3,000 people and circumcised their hearts and made them true worshipers, who worship in the Spirit.
Worth of Christ Jesus
However, is that it? Is becoming a Christian just about the Holy Spirit coming into your heart? What about Jesus? How does he fit into the conversion of a sinner? Doesn't he play a role? Absolutely. Lets look at verse 8.
So what did he do? He gives up everything so that he could grab hold of the treasure. He sells everything he has to purchase this jewel. And does he do it begrudgingly? No. He does it with joy. He is exploding with excitement about this treasure. There is no hesitation, he is all in immediately. Why? Why is he so full of joy in the giving up of all that he has accumulated in his life? Because he is exchanging all that he has for something exceedingly better. His sacrifice is no sacrifice because he sees the surpassing worth of the treasure.
Let me ask you a question. Is the man's behavior irrational? Why not? Because this the basic economics of man, is it not? This mode of behavior is what humanity has engrained in them. If you have $1 in your hands and you have a choice to exchange it for $100 do you do it? Of course you do. Why? Because we are designed to pursue what we believe to be the greatest value. This is the will that we have implanted in our hearts. Our will is to pursue what we see as having the greatest value to us. We are slaves to this will. It is not a freedom of will, it is a will that is bent towards certain things. For some your will is bent towards money, for some your will is bent towards sex, for some your will is bent towards security, for some your will is bent towards stuff, for some your will is bent towards sports, etc. You choose those things at the cost of other things because you see greater value in them.
So with this said, what is the treasure. What is this fine pearl of great value? It is Jesus Christ our Lord. When this man's eyes gazed upon the beauty and worth of Jesus Christ, there was nothing left to do but renounce all that he had and grab hold of Jesus.
And this is exactly what Paul is talking about in Philippians 3:8 when he says, “ I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.“ Paul was the man in the field. He was the merchant seeking pearls. He was on the road to Damascus and his eyes were opened to the reality of the worth of Jesus. At that moment the pearls that Paul that were pearls were in fact rubbish in comparison to whom stood before him, the Son of the Living God.
This is exactly what happens at the point of conversion, at the point of becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is being proclaimed in a sinners life and it is hidden fro their eyes. They do not see the value of Christ. Instead they believe that the pearls of this worlds are far better. They are blind, they do not have eyes to see. But then the Holy Spirit rushes upon them and gives them eyes to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ and they let go of everything to have Christ. Why? Because it is the only logical decision.
At that moment their will is going to pursue that which it believes to be the highest value, and because they now have eyes to see Jesus Christ and his surpassing worth, they choose Christ. He is for the first time in their life irresistible, and it was God who made the decisive move to give the sinner eyes to see His Son.
We See Dimly
The question we now have is this, if we as Christians have seen the beauty of Jesus Christ and have let go of all things so as to grab hold of Christ, is this passage relevant to us? I would say yes. The reason for this is that we are told in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
It is true that if you are a follower of Jesus Christ we know the worth of Christ, but we only know his worth in part. Yes, we have eyes to see, but we see dimly. We do not see as clearly as we can. We have not seen the depth of the riches of Jesus Christ. This is why Paul prays in Ephesians 1:17, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him”
And if you don't believe me, just look at your life. How many times do you cling to the rubbish of this world, when you should be clinging to Christ? How many times to you run to the fridge instead of running to Jesus? How many times do you pursue the books of your business over the book about Christ? How many times to you stare in the mirror vainly attempting to make yourself beautiful instead of staring into the most beautiful face ever to exist, the face of your King?
Why do we do this? Because we don't understand the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ. We don't understand that Jesus is better than everything. He is better than anything that this world has to offer. He is better than life itself.
The more we see this, the more we will let go. The more we will realize that what we thought were fine pearls are just worthless rocks weighing us down, and it won't be hard, we will drop these rocks with joy in our heart, for we know that Christ is far better.
Pursuing and Treasuring Jesus Christ
This leads us to application. First, let me talk to those of you who are unbelievers, for I know that there are some of you among us.
Your heart longs for treasure. You are designed to pursue what you believe is of greatest value. I can say this with full confidence, your journey to this point has left you unsatisfied. You have pursued the things of this world, and they have left you empty. Perhaps it is time that you stop looking in the world, and start looking at the one who overcame the World. Turn your eyes upon Jesus and see his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Now to those of us who have grabbed hold of Christ because he has grabbed hold of us. Your work is not done. We must work out our salvation and pursue the knowledge of Jesus Christ. We must pursue the glory of Jesus.
How do we do this? Two ways, the Word of God and the Spirit of God. I realize that I am a broken record when it comes to this, but truth is truth. The way be which we see the surpassing worth of Jesus Christ is to read the book about Him. We must gaze upon these pages, and in doing so we will gaze upon Christ. Jesus is on every page, from beginning to end. You will see him as God and as man. You will see him as Prophet, Priest and King. You will see him as Lion and Lamb. You will see him as Savior, Lord, and brother. You will see him weep. You will see him work. You will see his zeal. You will see his compassion. You will see his light. You will see his love. A love that he has for you, and has always, and will always have for you.
And while we read, we dare not do it alone. We must be guided into all truth by the power of the Holy Spirit. His is our counselor, and we must let him counsel our souls. We must pray as we read that God would give us eyes to see the glory of His Son. If we read this book absent the Holy Spirit then we are no better than the Pharisees. It is the Spirit of God that illumines our hearts. It is the Spirit of God who writes the Word, capital “W”, upon our hearts.
If we do this; if we pursue the glory of Jesus Christ by soaking in the Word by the power of the Spirit we will see the surpassing worth of Jesus. It is inevitable. And when we see the surpassing worth of Jesus more and more, we will, with joy, lay down more and more of our lives for his sake. Why? Because Jesus is better than everything.
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on March 22, 2015.
Turn with me to Philippians 3:1-11. Today we are unpacking what might be the most important sermon that some of you have ever heard. I say this not because I believe my sermon is great, but because what Paul is talking is great. We have a fair amount to get through, so let us read our text, pray that the Holy Spirit would fill our hearts, and then hear the words of our Lord.
As we begin today I think it is important to remind ourselves that the author of this letter is the Apostle Paul. He wrote 13 books of the New Testament and he was God’s instrument for the gospel to the gentiles. I think it is also important to remember that Paul is writing to a group of people. In this case he is writing to the Church in Philippi. This Church would be full of young and old, blue collar and white collar, Jews and gentiles.
The fellowship of these people would also have in its midst both the saved and the unsaved. By this I mean that the visible church, the ones who are physically present and gather in a singular location day after day are not necessarily the same as the true Church, those who are born again, or true followers of Jesus. This is the reality for every physical gathering of the visible church. In fact it is true for us today. In this room, there is most likely someone who is going through the religious motions, but who is actually not a converted Christian.
With this in mind, Paul says some very startling words in verse 2 of our text today, “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.” As you can see, Paul did not mince words. He must have missed the memo that said Pastors need to be “seeker sensitive.” So who was Paul talking about?
Paul was primarily talking about the judiazers. The judiazers were a group of people who claimed to be Christians, but they also took the position that every Christian was required to follow the laws of Moses to ensure their salvation. So for example, they would come to Church and they would praise the name of Jesus, and they would intellectually agree that Christ is the Messiah, and that he was without sin, and that he died on the cross for our sins, and that he rose from the tomb, and that he sits at the right hand of God. However, they would have also said that all Christians had to be circumcised. This is why Paul calls them, “mutilators of the flesh.” And it wasn’t just circumcision; it would have also included things like the dietary laws and Jewish festivals.
The judiazers did not believe in the sufficiency of Jesus’ work on the cross. They proclaimed that you had to add to Jesus’ sacrifice. They taught that Jesus’ blood was not powerful enough to save you, but that you had to help him. They taught that faith in Christ was not enough. And it was these people that Paul calls dogs and evil doers, and these are the people who Paul warned the Church to watch out for.
This issue of false teaching and false living was prevalent in the early church. How do we know this? Because Paul addresses it over and over and over again in his letters. In fact, the entire book of Galatians is about this specific issue. Listen to what he says in Galatians 1:6.
No Confidence I the Flesh
The question we have today, is does this warning of BEWARE still apply? Are there still false teachers out there proclaiming Jesus plus works equal salvation? You bet there is! We are surrounded by them. These are the people that seem religious, but they deny the true power of the Gospel. They are those who preach Jesus, but then teach that in order to be saved you must be baptized. They are those who preach Jesus, but then teach that in order to be saved you must be confirmed. They are those who preach Jesus, but then teach that in order to be saved you must participate in certain sacraments. They preach Jesus, but then teach that in order to be saved you must never commit a certain sin. This teaching is not the Gospel in the Bible, but so many people fall prey to these evildoers because they have never read the Bible!
You cannot be clearer than what Paul says in this passage. Verse 3 tells us that true Christians put no confidence in the flesh. No confidence. None. Zero. People, words matter, and God’s Word really matters. If anyone could have claimed that Jesus plus works equals salvation, it was Paul. His list is better than anyone’s in the Vatican, but what does he say? Rubbish. Garbage. No value. No confidence. Paul lets go of all human effort so that he can grab hold of Christ.
Look at verse 8 and 9, “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 9and be found in him.“ The only way to gain Christ is to let go of all things. You cannot cling to the cross until you let go of yourself. You baptism will not save you, your confirmation will not save you, your penance will not save you, your rosaries will not save you, your lent will not save you, only Christ saves you.
Just in case you still haven’t accepted it. Look at verse 9 again. Does Paul have some righteousness to add to Christ sacrifice? No. Paul has NO righteousness. None. Zero. Paul adds nothing to his right standing to God. The only righteousness his has is the righteousness that he receives through faith in Christ. This righteousness does not depend on works. It depends on faith.
Oh how crucial this is. If you put confidence in the flesh, if you say yes to Jesus AND yes to works, you are a dog, you are an evildoer, you are accursed, and you will be the one whom hears the words of Jesus, “Depart from me you worker of lawlessness for I never knew you.”
Worship by the Spirit and Glory in Christ
Therefore, if, Jesus plus works is a picture of a non-Christian, what is a picture of a real Christian? Take a look at verse 3.
Look at verse 8, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Do you see it? What does it say, “The wind blows where it wishes.” What does that mean? It means that the wind has a will. It chooses whose heart it will blow into. You cannot lasso the wind, you can only experience its effects. We see this most clearly in Acts 2, at Pentecost. The disciples were together in one place and suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind. What was it? It was the Holy Spirit. What followed this wind storm? Three thousand souls were born again, and for the first time they saw the Kingdom of God, and for the first time they had the capacity to truly worship.
Listen to what Jesus tells the Samaritan women at the well in John 4:
Some of you today may come to the realization that you are fooling yourselves. That you are not a true worshiper, but you are still blind to kingdom of heaven, and you want to know if there is anything you can do about it. My suggestion is to do the same thing the blind begger did in Luke 18:37.
And to bring it full circle, this is why in Philippians 3:3 it says, “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus.“ To be a Christian means to give Jesus Christ all the glory in our salvation. Why? Because he did all the work. If you try to take credit for yourself, then with tears in my eyes I tell you you have no part in Christ. The blood of Jesus was sufficient to cover your sins and reconcile you to God. God was not stingy in the giving of Christ. He poured the cup of Christ's suffering richly upon your heart and cleansed you completely with the clean, living water of Jesus Christ. To the praise of His glorious Grace.
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on January 4, 2015
Today we begin our journey together through my favorite book in the Bible, Philippians. Before we get started, I want to encourage all of you to resist the tendency to be passive in this journey. I want you to be actively engaged in the soaking of this book. Don’t just sit and kind of listen to me preach for 45 minutes. Bring your Bibles to church, read along with me, use your pen to make notes, memorize some of the passages, figure out ways to be doers of this Word not just hearers. Make a list of action items. Live out the Word of God. You will not regret it. With that said, lets jump in we have a lot of ground to cover. Turn with me to Philippians 1:1-11.
The book of Philippians is known as the letter of joy. In this short, four chapter book the noun joy, “chara” is used five times and the verb rejoice, “charein,” is used nine times. Only the book of Luke uses “charein” more than Philippians. What is interesting about this is that this letter of joy is written by the Apostle Paul while he was in prison, most likely in Rome. And not only was he in prison, but his life laid in the balance. His release was not guaranteed. Paul was staring death right in the face. Everything about Paul's life in that moment screamed pity party, not joy, yet what do we find Paul doing while chained to a Roman guard, rejoicing.
And it should be noted that this joyful disposition was not unique for Paul. This was not an anomaly. Paul's life was one of joy, day in and day out. This was despite his trials and tribulations. Paul had joy in the midst of imprisonments, beatings, lashings, stonings, being shipwrecked, adrift at sea, constant dangers, sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, cold and exposure to the elements. Perhaps no one said it better than Paul himself, he is “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” His joy was not dependent upon his circumstances. His disposition was not a prisoner to happenstance.
So what was the source of his joy? His relationship with Jesus Christ. No matter what took place in Paul's life, it could never separate him from the love of God found in Jesus Christ. The love of Christ was better than wealth, food, comfort, freedom, and life itself. Jesus was the greatest treasure of his life and everything was garbage compared to knowing Him. As we walk through this book I want you to keep this in mind, that despite Paul's circumstances he always had joy. Why? Because he had Jesus.
My guess is that many of you in this room are struggling. The circumstances in your life have become a weight that you are about to break under. Perhaps it is your job, your finances, your marriage, your singleness, your health, or just the monotony of life. Whatever it is your heart craves joy and you have searched the world for something to satisfy its hunger, yet time and time again you come up empty. Why? Because the joy of your heart is not found in this world, it is found in something out of this world. You need to stop focusing on your circumstances and start focusing on Jesus. So if you are tired of a joyless life, lean in and listen the words found in this wonderful book of Philippians, a true letter of joy.
Doulos of Christ
Lets start right at the beginning. Verse 1, “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus.” The word servant in Greek is doulus. In some translations this word is translated to bondservant, however, the best translation is actually slave. “Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus.” Our English translations have chosen not to use the word slave due to its negative connotations, however, the word actually means slave. This is not the only time Paul began a letter with this description of himself. He also began his letter to the Romans and to Titus the same way, “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ. Likewise, he was not the only apostle to refer to himself as a slave. Peter, James, Jude and John all used this description of themselves, slaves.
So what do these disciples mean when they call themselves slaves of Jesus? Perhaps to answer this question we should begin on the road to Damascus, where Paul was chosen by His master. Turn with me to Acts 9.
Why? Because God had shown the light of His glory into Paul's life and caused the the scales to fall from the eyes of his heart and for the first time he beheld the glory of God in the face of Christ. And when he beheld the glory of Jesus the Christ, and the mercies of God as directed to him, the Chief of Sinners, he knew of only one thing left to do, pick up his cross every single day and follow Him.
This call to radically follow Christ is not exclusive to Paul, Peter, James, Jude, and John. All disciples of Jesus are called to abandon all things for Jesus. All Christians are called to be a doulos, a slave to Christ.
And this is exactly what Paul did in his life. His life was a drink offering poured out at the feet of Jesus. He was a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. And the fruit of this obedience were, as verse 1 says, “the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi”.
Saints in Philippians
Phillipi was a northeastern city in Greece. It derived its name from Philip II, the Father of Alexander the Great. The town itself was under Roman authority and was patterned after Rome itself. Having said that Phillip was more of a colony as opposed to a thriving commercial epicenter. Prior to Christianity, Phillipi was an eclectic mix of religion. However, many in Philippi worshiped the Greek gods, however identified by their Latin names: Jupiter (Zues), Juno, Mars, Artemis. The question is how did the gospel get to Philipi? For that answer turn to Acts 16:6-10.
It was in the midst of these failed attempts to take the gospel to certain parts of Asia, that God gave Paul a vision. A man from Macedonia urging Paul to help them. Paul's response was doulus like. He immediately started making arrangements to get to Macedonia. Once again, notice what he didn't do. He didn't say, let me pray about it. He immediately started making plans. And what were his intentions when he arrived? Dig wells? No, Paul knew that the help they needed was found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. So once again, we see in Paul a gospel default.
When they arrived, they went to the river to look for a place of prayer. Seems odd, does it not? You can pray anywhere, why seek out a special place? The reason is because in towns where there was no synagogue, it was a Jewish custom for Jews to congregate at the nearest river on the Sabbath. Paul, being a Jew, knew this and went to see who he would find. And there he found Lydia.
Upon finding Lydia, what did they do? They shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ, just as God had called them to do. Once again, notice that they didn't hesitate. They didn't first build a relationship with her before talking about Jesus. They engaged and got right to what is of first importance, the gospel.
And what happened? Verse 14, “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” Folks, I know some of you struggled with our sermon series on the Doctrines of Grace, but you can't argue with what God's inspired word says in verse 14. Absent God opening up Lydia's heart, she does not hear the gospel message. The first domino that falls in conversion is always God. We are passive recipients of God's Grace. This was true for Paul, the twelve disciples, Lydia and it is true for all who are in Christ, including you and including me.
Just as Paul says in Philippians 1:6, our text today, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” It was God who began the work in Lydia's heart. Without God performing a miracle in your life, you will never be a saint. And lets make something abundantly clear, every follower of Jesus is a saint. The Catholic Church has once again created confusion around this term, a saint is not some dead person who once performed a miracle. A saint is someone who has been touched by the hand of God and is himself a walking miracle. God, not man, determines who will be a saint, and if you are in Christ, you have received that honor.
The very next thing that happened was she was baptized. They performed a Christ ordained, celebration of the union of Lydia and Christ, both in his death and in his life. And with that we have our very first convert in the Continent of Europe, a Jewish business woman along side a river one Saturday morning 2000 years ago.
And this is how the Philippians Church began, through the obedience of four men willing to risk everything to unleash the gospel in Europe. Lydia was the first fruit of a partnership that Paul in verse 4 says he remembers with joy and verses 7 and 8 says he holds in his heart and yearns for with the affection of Jesus Christ.
Which makes me wonder, how many joy filled, loving relationships are we missing out of when we chose to not serve God, and instead serve our own passions and desires. How often have we exchanged the sweet fellowship of brothers and sisters in Christ for the shallow relationships provided on facebook. As I stated earlier, if you long for joy, Paul has something to teach you.