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Hey there! Welcome to Gospel Home Brew, a resource from River City Spokane. I hope the word of God will brew in you today as we continue with our study of Philippians. I’m Tim, I’ve been here in Spokane for 2 years now, this is my 3rd year as a student at Moody Bible Institute, and I attend the Thursday night Gospel Home. I am really excited to share with you all what the Word of God has for us to hear today; I’ll say a few words of prayer, and we’ll jump right in.
Father God, we thank you for who You are; we thank you for the new identity You have offered us; we thank You because who we are does not depend on what we do, but instead on what You have done for us. As we look at Paul’s presentation of Christian righteousness, we pray that You will help us have a better understanding of what a Christian’s life looks like. We want a better understanding of not only the fact that You have saved us, but also of what it is You have saved us from. We pray these things in the name of Your Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today’s passage is Philippians chapter 3, verses 12 through 21. So far, we have studied together the historical context of who the author of this letter is, who the recipient is, and a little bit about why the author, Paul, wrote this letter to the church in Philippi. The previous chapter and the first half of chapter 3 make mention of the kind of life Christians should live. Chapter 3, however, gets a little bit more into the idea of sanctification. Let us read our passage real quick; I’m going to read from the ESV translation, Philippians chapter 3, verses 12 through 21 say:
12Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
17Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
One of the things that helps me a little bit when reading the bible, is to replace all the pronouns (“this” or “it”) and read it again; it rids me of things that otherwise would be ambiguous or confusing to me. Although some interpreters of the bible will disagree on exactly what it is that Paul is referring to with these pronouns, I believe the best guess we
can make—from a simple grammatical standpoint—is to look at what the author was talking about last. Let me re-read the passage filling-in the pronouns in light of what Paul was talking about last before each of those pronouns:
12Not that I have already obtained [righteousness from God] or am already perfect, but I press on to make [this righteousness] my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Brothers, I do not consider that I have made [righteousness] my own. But one thing I do (consider I have made my own): forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15Let those of us who are mature think (of righteousness) this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
17Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20But our citizenship is in heaven, and from (this citizenship) we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
I think there is so much to unpack in this short passage; I love it! Well, firstly, let’s remember that chapter 3 of Philippians is about Paul’s opinion between the wrong way of thinking about righteousness, and the right way of thinking about righteousness. And secondly, let’s notice the kind of imagery Paul is using when he writes this passage. There are many words that draw in our heads the picture of someone walking, or perhaps running, or just the idea of moving towards a goal, a destination, for the sake of earning a prize.
I think this is the one difference between “righteousness from God” and “confidence in the flesh.” One of them is a perfection that looks more like a stationary “I arrived!” While the other one is a perfection that looks more like a dynamic “I’m on my way!”
You see, Paul was speaking against the “obtainable perfection” that “Judaizing practices” advocated back in his time.1 He disapproved of the idea of “trying hard enough” to reach a point in which one is considered “righteous” or “perfect.” Paul instead spoke of two things: the salvation that Jesus has offered us, and the kind of perfection for which we should strive. These can be described with other words that you may be familiar with: justification, and sanctification. In the traditional Christian context, the former refers to the point in time in which you choose to follow Christ, and the latter refers to the lifetime you spend following the example of Christ.
To the people from back then, the idea of sanctification was more like the finish line of a race, while what Paul taught—on the other hand—was that sanctification is the race itself. It is a continuous thing; an ongoing process. This difference is not in the definition of the word, because in both contexts the definition is to reach perfection. The difference is in what each considered to be “perfection.” The priests from back then taught “perfection” was to follow all the rules; while Paul now understood that perfection is in being like Jesus.
That’s what Paul is teaching in verses 12 through 14. And that’s what he means when he says in verse 15, “let those of us who are mature think this way.” He means, let the mature think of sanctification as an ongoing process. Because Christianity is not about being perfect, it’s about being made perfect. It’s the process.
There is a danger in thinking of sanctification as a place we can achieve. Those who think that way are prone to stop growing once they think they “reached” sanctification. Or, perhaps, also disregard anyone else who has not yet “reached” sanctification! Because to them, the journey would not matter, what truly has value is having “reached” it!
But let’s be honest here, part of Christianity is to admit that we are sinners, and that we cannot achieve righteousness (or perfection) on our own, that’s why God had to come and redeem us of our sin and make us perfect! We don’t make ourselves perfect; we are made perfect.
The fact that we understand we cannot completely reach perfection is what gives us the right framework to appreciate whatever we did reach so far. That’s why, in verse 16, Paul encourages the Philippians to appreciate whatever they achieved so far; he encourages them to “hold true to what we have attained,” because there is no need to fake anything when there is no shame (nor pride) in how far you have come in this journey.
And I say there is neither shame nor pride in how far you have come along your journey because—frankly—we are not to take credit for our sanctification. What I mean is this: It was never we walking the journey; it is God walking us through the journey. And therefore we should not take credit for how far along we may have come, and we should not shame others who might not be as far along the way as we are.
Christianity is not about being perfect. That’s a lie. Whatever “Christian” you may have met in the past that has somehow made you feel like you were not “good enough” because he or she was a “perfect Christian,” is truly not understanding this; and those are the kind of people who Paul refers to in the second half of verse 15 when he says, “and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.”
Christianity is about being made perfect. It is the process. The “growth phase,” which, by the way, it’s not going to end while we are still living on this side of eternity.
Understanding this gives us a burden to keep growing, keep seeking God, and keep ourselves humble while God takes us through this walk. But, you know what? I think it not only gives us a burden, it also lightens our burden. You see, because sanctification is not
our responsibility, no one can point a finger at us and speak against us if we understand that we are in the process of being sanctified just as anybody else. I can’t—I shouldn’t—point my finger at a brother or sister of mine and judge them saying (or thinking) they are not a good Christian because they are not as patient as I am, or as gentle, or as loud as me in worship, or …fill in the blank.
We are not to compare ourselves with others in the first place, because our journeys are all different, and only God—who guides us through this journey—knows the path that each is to take.
I recently read a book (well, part of it, didn’t get to finish it yet) with some of my brothers in the church; it is called The Gospel-Centered Life, written by Will Walker and Robert Thune. And I liked what it taught. It said that when we understand how good Jesus is and how bad we are, we start performing in order to appear as though we are someone we are not, and we start pretending in order to appear as though we are not someone we are. I have seen those tendencies in me, so I know this is true—at least for me.
Let me tell you today, you do not need to perform nor pretend. That is what Jesus saved us from. He saved us from having to perform under strict religious rules; He saved us from having to pretend we aren’t just as bad as other people. Verse 16, again, says, “let us hold true to what we have attained.” And that’s it. Of course, we will have attained a little bit more and another little bit more as we keep continuing on our walk with Jesus. But Christianity is not about being perfect, is about being made perfect. Let us hold true to what we have attained.
When we are not true to what we have attained. When we perform or pretend in order to make other people think a certain way about us. We are not doing that for God, are we? We are doing so because we care too much about what others would think about me. It is a selfish thing. It’s holding our image at a higher value than our self. And I think this is what Paul speaks against in verses 18 and 19.
In verse 17, Paul says don’t think of sanctification the way others do; “join in imitating me!” Understand that being a Jesus follower is not about being perfect, it’s about being made perfect! And “keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” And then verses 18 and 19 describe those who do not “hold true to what [they] have attained.” Verses 18 and 19 describe those who hold their image higher than their self.
And then, in the last two verses, Paul encourages us and reminds us of our hope; in verse 20, he says, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from (this citizenship) we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 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.
Jesus will transform us. That’s something we can hope for. So let us be faithful today and hold true to what we have attained. Continuing to walk with Jesus as He guides us through our long journey; attaining a little more of His perfection day by day, and loving and encouraging those who are also walking their own journey with Jesus.
Let me close us in prayer. Father God, we thank You. You are good, and You love us. You have saved us from our sin, and You have saved us from having to pretend or perform in order to appear as someone we are not. We are sinners whom You have redeemed, and children whom You continue to sanctify every day and every moment. Help us hold true to that which we have attained, Father, as we understand that following You is not about being perfect, but being made perfect by You. We pray these things in the name of Your Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.