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.”