Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Last week, the Apostle Paul reminded us that Christians should to desire to be like Jesus Christ and to, by the grace of God, be transformed in increasing holiness. Perfect holiness, however, only comes after the Last Day in Christ Jesus.
That is in the background of what he says in Philippians 3:12-16. Also, there are some people in the Philippian congregation who have fallen under the influence of a false teaching of perfectionism. “Perfectionism” is the view that a person can become sinless in this life.
Now in order to teach that, you have to either scale down what you mean by sin, or you have to scale down the requirements of holiness, or both. In Philippi some were teaching that the way to be complete, mature, perfect, was to not only believe in Jesus, but also to keep the Law of Moses with its ritual ordinances.
Contrary to that, Paul gives us here three key truths that guide us in our sanctification, our living of the Christian life, and help us in our growth in grace in the Christian life.
I. We are not yet there yet.
Notice what Paul says in verses 12-13:
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect….”
“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it [perfect holiness] my own.”
Paul is saying, ‘I have a zeal to become more like Jesus like you can’t believe! But I’m not there yet! I have not arrived at that perfection, and I will not arrive at that perfection until the final resurrection.’
Why, then, does he talk about the perfect in verse 15? I think Paul may be doing a little play on words. He’s saying, ‘For those of you who are ‘perfect’, you need to recognize that none of us are perfect yet. And we will not be until the day that we stand before His throne in glory. Until then, we’re on the way. Life is a pilgrimage, it’s not perfection.’ The church is not a place where perfect people gather.
Christians still struggle with sin. Perhaps you have encountered Christians who you believe are hypocrites because they’ve sinned. It is very important for you to understand that Christians do not believe that we have somehow become perfect. We do not excuse our own sin, we’re still responsible for our sin. In fact, there are very often Christians who have done really, really bad things who have subsequently come to faith in Christ, and they still have to pay for the consequences of their sin.
For believers: the fact that you are not perfect yet is your charter of hope in this life. You know, if I thought where I am now was as far as I was ever going to get, I’d give up today. But the fact that I’m not perfected yet gives me hope and comfort.
II. We press on.
Christians are always desirous and active in growing in holiness, in becoming more mature in Christ, in pursuing godliness. Notice the language that Paul uses in verses 12-14 and 16: “I press on...I strain forward… I forget what is behind… I strain forward to what is ahead… I hold true to what we have attained.” Paul’s pursuit of holiness is active and passionate.
Paul is not telling you that this is the way that you are saved. The way that you’re saved is by embracing the gospel. So when you hear Christians urging one another to press on, to strive to grow in holiness, they’re not talking about how they’re made right with God. They’re talking about having been made right with God by grace, how they become more like the Lord Jesus Christ who saved them by grace.
We must always press on, cultivating a holy dissatisfaction about our present state of growth. Paul is able to do that, but it doesn’t compromise his assurance. Paul knows that he is saved by grace alone and yet, he is utterly dissatisfied with his present state of godliness, because he wants to be more like Jesus.
III. We strive by grace.
Christians want to grow, not so that we will be accepted and embraced by Christ, but because we already have been accepted and embraced by Christ.
In verse 14 Paul tells you how He presses on: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God…in Christ Jesus.”
Paul pursues holiness in and from his union with Christ. How does the Holy Spirit change our hearts from the inside out? By uniting us to Jesus Christ, so that all that is His becomes ours. How are we united to Jesus Christ? By faith. So the Holy Spirit causes us to trust in Christ, and as we trust in Christ our sin is imputed to Him, His righteousness is imputed to us, and the power of His resurrection begins to work renovating us.
Unbelievers, if you want to change your life, it’s got to start with you realizing that you can’t change your life. Christianity is not offering you yet another program or package about how you can change your life. Jesus has to change you before you can change.
But believers, our security is not based upon how well we do in this pursuit of holiness. Our security is based on Jesus Christ having embraced us, on our union with Christ. But what that leads us to is not laziness, but energy and passion and zeal in the pursuit of godliness.
And those three truths that Paul lays out in this passage are life-transforming, if we’ll understand and practice them by His grace.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 2:50 PM