The Road Ahead
February 16, 2014 Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen
Scripture: Philippians 3:10–3:21
Synopsis: This is the second of two messages from Philippians 3. In this message (The Road Ahead) we follow Paul as he describes the journey forward from his Damascus Road experience. That day, he gave up his confidence in his own efforts and performance and entered into a relationship with Jesus Christ. But was that the end of the story? Find out in this message!
This is the second of two messages taken from Philippians 3. Last week we looked at the “waiting room question” and the two chairs. If your life ended and you found yourself in a waiting room where it would be decided whether you were to enter the door to heaven or to hell – how would you answer the question: Why should you be allowed into heaven?
We found that the way we answer that question ultimately reveals whether we are sitting in the “confidence in the flesh” chair, or in the “faith” or “relationship with Christ” chair. For the first half of his life, Paul sat in the “confidence in the flesh” chair. Then he met Christ on the Damascus Road, and he gave up his confidence in the flesh and entered into a relationship with Jesus Christ by faith.
That decision (to leave the flesh chair and sit in the faith chair) determines our eternal destiny. It establishes the basis for our “justification” whereby we are declared righteous before God by faith in Christ.
But is that all there is to knowing Christ and the Christian life? There is one more important set of questions and issues that we need to address – and that is where Paul takes us in the second half of Philippians 3. This second topic is commonly referred to as “sanctification.”
Priscilla shared with me a note that one of the children wrote to her following her baptism last year. Priscilla had taught a class on what it meant to follow Christ before the children were baptized, so afterward this little girl wrote to describe how happy she felt after her baptism and closed with these words: “I just can’t stop thinking about sanctification!”
I don’t know if you’ve spent a lot of time in the past week thinking about sanctification – but we’re going to do some thinking about it this evening.
What is sanctification? I like the way Paul describes it in Philippians 3:12: Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
I really like that expression: “to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” Our justification is when Christ Jesus takes hold of us. He redeems us. We become his children, members of his family and of his kingdom. He has something in mind for us when he does this. He loves us and redeems us just as we are, in all of our sinfulness. But he doesn’t redeem us and claim us for his own in order to leave us the way we are. He laid hold of us for a reason and for a purpose. That purpose is “sanctification”. That we might be set apart to him and for him and to become like him.
Paul describes this a little more completely in verses 10-11. He continues to develop the idea of the Christian life as a relationship.
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow to attain the resurrection from the dead.
As we come to know Christ, we become like him – and we begin to live new lives now. That is sanctification. That is the goal. But how do we get there? That is what I want to focus on this evening in this message which I have entitled The Road Ahead. Because it is a journey. It is a process. The goal that Paul has set before himself and before us is not one that will be achieved overnight. In fact it will not be fully achieved in this life. I think this is clear from Paul’s words in verse 12: "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on…"
I think it is important for us to recognize that the goal of knowing Christ and becoming like him, of experiencing a life where we are dead to sin and fully alive to God, is not so much a destination as it is a direction of travel. If Paul, near the end of his life, says that he has not yet fully obtained all this, then I think it is safe to admit that you and I will not become perfect either. Certain schools of Christian thought have taught that it is possible to arrive at a state of sinless perfection in this life. I think this teaching flies in the face of numerous clear Biblical statements such as this one before us. But at the same time, we must be very careful how we respond to this reality. It is easy to take the lazy way out. We may shrug our shoulders at our failures and casually say, “Well, nobody’s perfect!” But that is not Paul’s response. “I press on!” he says. I renew my efforts.
The Christian life, Christian growth, the pursuit of Christian maturity is a process. It is a journey that will not be complete this side of heaven. But as we make the journey, Paul gives us several different ways of thinking about the process and the path before us. As I thought about his words in the rest of the chapter, I found Paul’s ideas coalescing into three different word pictures which will help us keep our perspective and our thinking clear on the way.
The first picture Paul paints for us is that of the athlete. Specifically, it is the picture of a runner in a race. Paul was fond of metaphors from the world of sports, and he clearly has one in mind here.
Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (verses 13-14)
There are several valuable lessons to be learned from the athlete. We need an accurate self-assessment. Look what Paul say in verse 13: "I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it." This is really a repetition of his point in verse 12. But it is an important lesson to keep in mind. An athlete who thinks he has arrived, that he is undefeatable, that all he has to do is show up for the race in order to win, is quickly defeated. As Christians, we need to have an accurate view of ourselves. We must recognize that we have not arrived. We must not be proud or over-confident. We are not yet at the finish line!
We must focus like an athlete. The athlete has a single focus. That is a great statement Paul makes here: “But one thing I do.” That single focus is typical of every great athlete. You can see it in his eyes. He has an ability to focus totally and utterly upon the race, the track ahead. The athlete or runner also has a forward focus. “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.” No one ever won a race looking over his shoulder. Whether wallowing in misery over past failures or basking in the glow of former victories, the result is disastrous. We must focus on the path in front of us. And it is a clear focus. In verse 14 he says “I press on toward the goal.” The word “goal” refers to a mark on which one’s eye is fixed. Paul knew what his goal was. He knew what he wanted to achieve. He had a clear focus.
We must strive like an athlete. The verbs in these verse are very strong and active words. Twice he uses the words “press on” which is a translation of a Greek word which means to pursue, to chase, or to hunt. It is a word of the open field and the forest; a word soaked with sweat and accompanied by pounding heart and gasping breath. The other verb here is even more descriptive: straining toward. It literally means “stretched out.” It is the picture of a runner in the final stretch toward the tape at the finish line of the race. There is nothing held back. Every muscle, every tendon, every joint in the body is driving and thrusting and stretching forward to be first across the line. “That,” Paul says, “is how I pursue my goal of knowing Christ, of fulfilling the purpose for which Christ saved me.”
The other thing I would point out here is the tense of these verbs. They are all in the continuous present tense. This is continuous, ongoing effort. In my last message on the first half of Philippians 3, I used the illustration of the two chairs: the flesh chair and the faith chair. But there is one thing I don’t like about that illustration. A chair is something you sit in and rest. We might get the impression that after moving into the faith chair, all we have to do is sit! But there was nothing passive about Paul’s approach to the Christian life. He threw every ounce of strength he had into the race.
So, one of the things we need to do as we prepare for the journey ahead of us is to think like an athlete. Let us carry the image of a runner with us as we pursue the goal of knowing Christ.
We’ve been looking at the lessons of the athlete. In the next five verses we turn to what I have labeled the lessons of the apprentice. Through much of human history, this is how knowledge and skill was passed on from generation to generation, from craftsman to craftsman. As we approach the Christian life, the journey toward our goal of Christian maturity, we would do well to approach it with the mindset of an apprentice or learner; those who are undergoing training.
The first lesson of the apprentice that Paul points out here is that we must recognize that God himself is the ultimate teacher/trainer. We find this in verse 15: "All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you." At first glance this seems rather humorous. It is almost as if Paul is being flippant, almost cheeky. “I expect you all to agree with me, and if you don’t, then I’ll leave it to God to straighten out your thinking!” But I think there is a more serious point being made here. God himself is our ultimate source of truth. He is the ultimate teacher. We should all view ourselves as coming under his instruction and listening to his voice. I think back to Paul’s words in Philippians 2:12-13: "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you." Let us remain learners, always eager to hear God speaking and to see as he makes things clear.
The second lesson of the apprentice is that we must practice what we know. Verse 16 says, “Let us live up to what we have already attained.” In more formal training programs there are often different levels from novice through journeyman and up to expert or master craftsman. There are many levels of growth and development in the Christian life as well. But Paul’s admonition here is to “live up to what you’ve attained.”
There is always a temptation to regress; to get excited about today’s lesson and in the process forget yesterday’s carefully acquired skill. A novice carpenter may start out simply learning to plane the rough wood and make it smooth. Then he may advance to more complicated skills of joining the wood together and fitting everything into place. But you don’t want to sit in one of his chairs if he has forgotten the importance of planing the wood until it is smooth!
How often do we as Christians neglect this simple principle? We learn the importance of being thankful as new Christians. And then as we move on in our Christian walk, we forget this simple Christian virtue. We learn to bring our daily needs to God in prayer in our early walk with the Lord. But then we forget and find that we have plowed through an entire day without stopping to pray! Line upon line! Precept upon precept. Go on to the deep things of God, but don’t forget or neglect the simple early lessons of faith.
Thirdly, we must choose our models carefully. Verse 17 says it clearly: "Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you." Being an apprentice is about learning from good examples. The novice watches the journeyman and the journeyman learns from the master. God is our ultimate teacher. Christ is our supreme example. But we are also surrounded by human models and examples. Choose good ones. At first it may seem that Paul is being egotistical by telling the Philippians to follow his example. But think about it for a moment. Paul has already admitted that he has not arrived. He is not yet perfect. But he is traveling in the right direction. He is pursuing the knowledge of Christ and the victorious Christian life. So anyone who follows him will be moving in the right direction. I believe every Christian should be able to say, as Paul does in I Corinthians 11:1: “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.” The point here, however, is directed to the learner. A wise apprentice chooses his models and mentors carefully.
Paul goes on to explain why this choice is so important. The world is full of the wrong kinds of examples as he tells us in verse 18-19: "For as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things." We are not sure exactly who Paul is referring to in these verses. It doesn’t really matter to our application. Whoever they are, the lesson is the same. “Don’t follow them! Choose your models with care.”
Paul gives us one more word picture to shape our thinking at the end of the chapter. Let’s read verse 20-21: "But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body." In the last two verses we find the lesson of the alien. I am using that word “alien” here because it gives me 3 “A’s” in my outline: athlete, apprentice and alien. I am also using it in a technically accurate sense. However I am also aware that for many the word “alien” carries with it the connotation of space ships and beings from other planets. Probably a more preferable word in today’s usage would be the word “expatriate.” And that is a word that we can all relate to, isn’t it? To live in a country other than your own.
Paul here uses the language of citizenship. It was a metaphor which would have resonated powerfully for the Philippians. Philippi was a Roman colony, literally an outpost of the city of Rome, with Roman laws and Roman rights and privileges. But it was located in the region of Macedonia, surrounded by Greek and Macedonian culture and values and practices. That’s the way life is for us as Christians as well. We live on the earth, but we are true citizens of heaven. That reality should have a profound effect on every facet of our lives. Expatriates think differently!
First of all, we have a new loyalty. Our King is Jesus, and we are eagerly anticipating his return. Our loyalty to him should outweigh every earthly allegiance. Our ultimate home is heaven. That should affect our attitude toward how and where we invest our lives. And our final hope is resurrection; the hope that when Christ returns, we will receive new bodies that will be like Jesus’ own glorious resurrected body. That puts all of our earthly struggles and striving and suffering into the proper perspective. As Paul says in II Corinthians 4:16-18: "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."
We know what the purpose of life is. We have also learned that it is process, a long journey toward maturity in Christ. As you think about the journey, consider these three pictures: the athlete, the apprentice, and the alien. Let us take these pictures with us into the week ahead as we pursue the goal that has been set before us.