Alfred Place Baptist Church

3:15-19 Equipping Ourselves For Christian Maturity

Philippians 3:15-19 “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. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. 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.”

I am alarmed when I hear one nervous refrain in certain inter-church prayer meetings: “Keep us united Lord.” I want to ask the person praying that prayer, “United in what?” The Gadarene swine were all united as they went over the top of the cliff. Every cult has an image of total uniformity; anyone who refuses to toe the line is out. Keep us Christians united in what? What morality? What theology? What are those prayers going on about? I sometimes am suspicious the people praying are aiming at me or at our congregation, asking that we will not line up their beliefs with the teaching of the Bible. “Let us be allowed to go on holding to our muddled ideas in peace, with no one challenging us for perhaps being mistaken.”

Far better are prayers for a growing understanding of the truth, and obedience to the truth, and love for the truth. “May the truth reign in every church: – That is a far more biblical prayer than, “Keep us united.” It is a sin to be united to heresy. It is very dangerous to be joined to those whom God condemns.

“But what is the truth?” you murmur. We know the answer to that question. We do know. We are not seeking for it; it has been revealed to us. The Son of God came into the world. He is the Lord Jesus Christ. He once said, “I am the truth.” Everything about him, all he said and did, his example, his moral teaching and his doctrines are true. He also said about the Word of God, “Your word is truth” (Jn. 17:17). The incarnate Son of God has bound his people to a Scripture that is a true word. More than that, the Lord Jesus gave the Spirit of truth to the 12 apostles and he said to them, “when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth . . . the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you” (Jn 16:13 & 15). So the apostles, Matthew and John and Paul and Peter, have been guided by God the Holy Spirit, as sent by the Son of God, into all truth and no error. “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.”

C.H.Spurgeon wrote in the “Sword and Trowel” in 1888, “The idea of a progressive gospel seems to have fascinated many. To us that notion is a sort of cross-breed between nonsense and blasphemy. After the gospel has been found effectual in the eternal salvation of untold multitudes, it seems rather late in the day to alter it; and, since it is the revelation of the all-wise and unchanging God, it appears somewhat audacious to attempt its improvement. When we call up before our mind’s eye the gentlemen who have set themselves this presumptuous task, we feel inclined to laugh; the case is so much like the proposal of moles to improve the light of the sun. Their gigantic intellects are to hatch out the meaning of the Infinite! We think we see them brooding over hidden truths to which they lend the aid of their superior genius to accomplish development!”

We are not devising the truth; God has revealed it to us. How do we attain to Christian maturity? There are three ways that Paul suggests in our text.

1. WE ARE TO FOLLOW THE APOSTOLIC EXAMPLE.

So, we know where the truth is to be found. We have it in Jesus Christ and in the Bible. That is what Paul is talking about here, this apostolic “view of things” (v.15) which every Christian should adopt for himself. He repeats the exhortation in verse 17, “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” So he appeals to every mature Christian to accept what he says and how he lives. That is the truth. What we have to pray is this, “Lord help every Christian in our town to believe what Paul taught, and behave as the apostles lived.” That is the kind of prayer we should pray, not keep us all together. Paul did not want the Judaizers in Galatia to remain united to that poor church like a leech, debilitating that congregation and taking glory from Christ.

So we know where the truth is, it is not inside people. The truth is outside of ourselves, in Christ and in the Bible. We don’t go in and in and in, looking for the truth within, we go out, listening to the truth in the Word of the Lord and the Lord of the Word. We don’t search for the teacher inside ourselves. Neither do we go to psychics and those who claim to speak to the dead. Listen to this warning from the Bible: “When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? . . . To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn . . .. They will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness” (Isaiah 8:19-22). It’s bad enough to lose a 20 pound fee on a consultation with some phoney psychic, but it’s far worse to lose your soul. To the law and to the testimony! “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.”

If you want supernatural truth and want to know how to live, don’t go in, and don’t go off to New Age people. Turn to Jesus Christ. And if you want to know what God says, don’t go to a preacher who’s always saying, “The Lord told me.” Go to the Bible. “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.” The Bible, the Word of God in print, the prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New Testament, must be our final authority. The Bible reveals Jesus, and since Jesus is God’s final revelation, the Bible’s testimony to Jesus is God’s final word to us. God’s Word is our only firm foundation. What more can God say than he has already said in the Scriptures? “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.”

The fact that the Bible is authoritative means that anything that contradicts the Bible is not of God. Everything the Bible reveals is true, and nothing can be subtracted from it. And the fact that the Bible alone is the final authority means that any claim to reveal something about God beyond what the Bible reveals is not of God. This means we need to beware not only of attacks on the Bible but also of additions to the Bible. When we start looking to sources other than the Bible to reveal God and his ways, when we make our final authority the Bible plus something else, we’re headed for trouble. There are various ways of doing this. It may be the Bible plus personal experiences and visions, or the Bible plus some other supposedly sacred book, or the Bible plus church traditions that go beyond Scripture, or the Bible plus modern ideas to “improve” on what the prophets and apostles wrote, but whatever it is, the moment we give anything else the same level of spiritual authority as the Bible, we are on a path that leads away from God and the truth. “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.”

There are those who claim another source of authority in contrast with the final authority of the Bible alone. Let’s think about personal experiences and private revelations. Some people like to say, “The Lord told me this,” or, “The Lord told me that.” If you challenge a belief of theirs with a statement from the Bible, they might say, “You only have your theology; I have my experience.” The might say, “Let’s close the Book and listen to the Spirit.” But the fact is that the written Word of God has been God-breathed. Holy men of old wrote as they were moved by the Spirit, so that the book is spirit and life, and it stands above personal experiences and revelations. For example, God inspired Moses to write the first five books of the Bible as a record of who God is and how God wants his people to live. The Lord said plainly that any deviation from that written record, even if it came with amazing predictions and miraculous signs and wonders, could not possibly be of God: “See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it . . . If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, ‘Let us follow other gods’ (gods you have not known) ‘and let us worship them,’ you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him.” (Deut 12:32-13:4) “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.”

Do you love the God of the Bible? Do you believe and obey what Paul and Peter have written in the New Testament? Or do you count on feelings and experiences aside from the Bible, and take your cue from people who claim to have special powers and spiritual insights beyond what the Bible reveals? The Bible, not experience, is the final authority. I’m not saying that Bible-believing Christians never have spiritual experiences. They do. But those experiences, if they are truly of God, come when the Holy Spirit applies biblical truth to their hearts, not when they’re stirred by some dream or feeling that has no grounding in biblical truth. The Holy Spirit of God uses the laws and warnings of the Bible to show us our sin and to humble us; God uses the biblical truth about Jesus to fill us with faith and confidence in the Saviour; God uses the Bible’s promises to fill us with peace and joy; God uses the biblical revelation of his majesty to fill us with awe. These are profound experiences, but they are experiences that cannot be separated from Scripture, and they do not add to it. “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.”

I’ve had various spiritual experiences. At times I have experienced horrible sadness over my sin and felt an overwhelming hunger for God. At other times I have sensed God’s leading and have been thrilled at God’s goodness. I have dreamed of death and entering of heaven. But my experiences, feelings, and dreams can’t replace the Bible or add to what God says in the Bible. At best, these things can only confirm what God says in the Bible. Whatever experiences I do or don’t have, I base my relationship with God on his Word, not on my feelings. And I don’t want others to base their faith on any experience of mine but only on the sure truth of God revealed in Scripture. My experiences might deceive me, and if I preached my own experiences as gospel, that might deceive others. But God’s Word never deceives. The Holy Spirit led the apostle Paul into all truth. The same Spirit enables us to live according to the pattern the apostles gave us, applying biblical truth to us and helping us to grow in our understanding and experience of what God says in the Bible. “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.”

This week I had a letter from the secretary of the Christian Union in Bangor University on the North Wales coast arranging a meeting for me next month. She sent me the Christian Union’s 12 point doctrinal basis, asking me to sign my agreement with it. In other words before I could speak there I had to affirm that I accepted historic Christianity as found in the Bible. I was delighted she sent it to me, and signed it humbly, thankful that she had faithfully done this and most thankful to God that a statement of faith which I first signed almost 44 years ago I believe yet.

Some of you are not there yet. Inevitably you have some baggage from the past which you have brought with you into the kingdom of God, and so on some points you now think differently. That’s OK, as Paul says here, “that too God will make clear to you” (v.15). You are new to the doctrines of grace, to total depravity, and unconditional election, and limited atonement. Those sorts of truth are taught here, but God will make them clear to you if you are serious to know him better and obey him fully. So, we are to follow the apostolic example to become mature believers.

2. WE ARE TO KNOW THE BELIEFS AND LIFESTYLES OF FALSE TEACHERS.

Part of Paul’s preaching was to warn a congregation about false teaching. He often did that, he tells us here, never tiring of ringing an alarm bell when they got complacent: “You needn’t tell us about the false teachers, Paul. Others will fall away, but not us. We’ve had you as our pastor and teacher,” they might have said. “Don’t you believe it,” Paul could say, and he would remind them of the church he pastored at Galatia and how quickly after he had gone on that group welcomed false teachers into their congregation and the havoc that caused. He couldn’t say it without breaking down. People had been hurt. A church had been almost destroyed. The gospel had been perverted, and Paul cried: the truth has to be married to love.

Paul was a great weeper. He shed salty tears in his yearning for the Ephesians when he said good-bye to them at the harbour and set sail leaving them there. He wept over the Corinthians when he rebuked them (2 Cor. 2:4), and here again he is full of tears (v.18). But here he is weeping about the very heretics who are stealing people from Jesus Christ. Even as Paul denounces, or exposes in a solemn warning, he weeps for their souls. It is because we have left our first love that our ardour has gone. Our experience of Christ is not what it should be, so we can joke about false teaching instead of breaking our hearts over men who have gone astray. Being loving, and yet being clear-headed in our commitment to the truth are not mutually exclusive attitudes. Follow Paul’s example and weep over those who preach another gospel. “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.”

What characterises these many people who had left the apostolic example?

i] “Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” (v.19). In other words they showed their enmity to Christianity by their hatred for the very heart of its message, the atonement of Christ. The cross is the centre of the gospel. There is still hostility to the cross today. There is the aggressive ReImaging Movement in the USA led by two militant feminists, Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker with meetings planned later this year. These two woman have written a book entitled, “In Proverbs of Ashes: Why We Weren’t Saved by the Death of Jesus.” How they hate the New Testament doctrine of the Cross. Brock has said, “We were convinced that Christianity couldn’t promise healing for victims of domestic violence as long as its central image was a divine parent who required the death of his child.” And Parker wrote, “You couldn’t look on the man of sorrows and give thanks to God without ending up a partner in a thousand crimes.”

How different is our view of the Cross. The Christian believes that Christ became the Lamb of God and lovingly and freely chose to make atonement for the law that sinners had broken. The Bible asserts that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures;” that “he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” “He (Christ) who knew no sin was made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness in him.” “He (Christ) redeemed us from the curse of the law being made a curse for us” (I Corinthians 15:3; Isaiah 53:5, 6; II Corinthians 5:19, 21; I Peter 2:24; 3:18; Romans 3:24-26; 5:611; Ephesians 1:6, 7; Galatians 3:13).

All of us have sinned and come short of the glory of God; all of us are transgressors of God’s law, and according to eternal justice all of us deserve to die; all of us merit God’s wrath and curse “for it is written, cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things that are written in the law” (Galatians 3:10; Romans 3:9, 19; James 2:10). But Jesus Christ the Son of God came and in the stead of his people he satisfied every charge that the law of God had against them. He paid their penalty by his death upon the cross and fully satisfied every claim that divine justice might have against his people.

One Christian has said: “When one day we shall come before the throne of judgment – and we shall come before the throne of judgment make no mistake about that – the law may point a finger at us. ‘Have you sinned?’, it will ask. To which we must reply that we have sinned, daily, constantly, in all our actions and words and even our thoughts. Then the law may reply, ‘What have you to say for yourself?’ Blessed are we if then we may say, ‘I have sinned; I have broken all thy demands, and I cannot pay the terrible debt that I owe. However, my Saviour Jesus Christ, saw my lost condition and took pity upon me. In love he came and paid the debt of my sin. I cannot atone for my sin; I cannot pay the debt. But Jesus Christ has paid the debt; he has shed his blood for me.’ Then the law will answer, ‘I have nothing to say against those for whom Christ has died. He has fully satisfied all my claims.’ Oh blessed condition, if on that last day we may be found in Christ! Then it matters not how great is the guilt of our sin. Make it mountain high, yet Jesus Christ has atoned for all. If men reject this, yet God will not, for Christ has paid our debt. Blessed work of satisfaction! It is precisely that which Christ has done. Upon the basis of his work God’s law will say, ‘I am satisfied. I have no claims against those for whom he died.’ So if Jesus has removed the grounds for our condemnation, God may freely and honestly pardon and receive us to himself. He no longer holds our sins against us, and even more than that he looks upon us as righteous. He tells us that we may stand in a right relationship with him.” The cross of Christ accomplishes all that. It is the heart of the gospel, and thus the enemies of the Christian faith are enemies of the cross.

ii] “Their destiny is destruction.” (v.19). You see the connection. Without the cross the destiny of all men is destruction. In other words, hell. There is only one barrier to the place of woe and that is Golgotha. Destruction is the logic of the absence of a pardon from God for our wretched lives of sin. Hell says three things, if people would listen: (1) Hell is a revelation of the holy character of God. (2) Hell declares the perfection of his very nature. There is nothing in the Bible that opens up the divine righteousness quite so much as the awesomeness and the awfulness of eternal hell. God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (3) Hell declares a God whose indignation will yet flame in mighty waves of wrath breaking over the breakers of his holy law. If you want to get a picture of Almighty God’s holy character, look in two places, at the Bible’s description of Golgotha where you see the blameless Son of God hanging, suffering and dying there, hour after hour, in the darkness, crying “Why?” and getting no answer. Then look also at the Bible’s description of that place called hell, where the worm dies not and the fires are not quenched, where men and women shall be confined throughout eternity. There, everybody has everybody else in utter contempt, and everyone is hating everyone else. This tells us of the unrelieved antagonism to sin in our Holy, Holy, Holy God.

What is Jesus’ logic in speaking so often of hell? He is simply unfolding the character of God’s holy law. And what is the character of God’s holy law? It is a revelation of the rectitude of Jehovah. There is nothing in ten compact rules to be worried about except for this, that behind them stands all the holiness of God, and those rules are the revelation of the perfection of his character. Almighty God gave that holy law to express who the Lord is, and to outline his requirements for creatures who live and move and have their being in him in his creation.

When a man who has lived as an enemy of the cross dies, he is confronted with the most awful task any human being will ever be called upon to face. He will go out alone to stand before the judgment bar of God and will have to deal with the demands made against him of God’s eternal, just, holy and perfect law. With no Mediator he will go to destruction, but he has scorned the one Mediator with God, the man Christ Jesus. Hell, I say to you, is a revelation of the glory of Calvary’s satisfied justice.

The blood of Christ seems awfully red when you look at it through the fires of hell. That cross is very wonderful when you know it as the only way of escaping from destruction. Hell is always the backcloth to the glory of Golgotha’s cross from whence the streams of blood once flowed from the hands and feet and side of the eternal Son of God. Of course, the blood of Christ does not save from the law’s temporal penalty, we still have to die, saved or not; women have to bring children into the world with terrible pain, saved or not; men have to earn their living by the sweat of their face, saved or not. There’s a lot more to Christ’s salvation than deliverances in this life. It is appointed unto men once to die, and after death the judgment. We are guilty of breaking God’s holy law, and the penalty is destruction. Men have got to stand before God and be judged by God’s holy law. Thank God for Calvary!

The first year he was saved Rolfe Barnard the old evangelist from the southern states went on vacation to Yellow Stone National Park and he was alone. He recalled it like this, “I drove to what they call ‘the handkerchief pool,’ and I brought from my car an old dirty cloth that I had used to clean the spark plugs on my old Ford. It was awful – black and greasy, and I held two corners of it and let it down in that boiling water till it touched my fingers, and then I pulled it out in a hurry. It came out as pure as the driven snow. I was spell-bound, and I stood there utterly unconscious of my surroundings, and I began to sing (they told me).

‘There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins,
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.”

“Then I felt something touch my shoulder, and there were perhaps 100 people gathering around, and somebody said, ‘Will you let us sing with you, preacher?’ And I said, ‘Surely.’ Then those people from many states and I sung together that great verse,

‘Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power,
Till all the ransomed church of God
Are saved, to sin no more.”

Praise the Lord!'”

Hell is a revelation of the glory of Calvary. My Lord died on the cross, glory to the Lamb of God!. He dealt with God’s holy law. He did that for somebody, bless God! Please, men and women, seek an interest in what he did for sinners on the cross. Repent or you perish! Proverbs 28:13: “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsake them shall have mercy.” Isaiah 45:22: “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.”

iii] “Their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind in on earthly things” (v.19). Here is the catechism of these people: Who is your god? My belly is my god. What do you glory in? I glory in my shame. What do you think about? I think about earthly things. That is the natural man. That is the Aberystwyth man today. His god is his stomach. Take that term in itself. How many programmes on TV are about Jesus Christ in a month? Scarcely any. Usually none at all. How many programmes are about cooking food? Hundreds. Their god is their stomach. Can the people of our town give us the names of Christ’s apostles? No. Can they give us the names of twelve TV chefs? Yes. Their god is their stomach. Or spread that term ‘stomach’ a little broader; it refers to everything below the waist, their animal instincts, and desires, and passions. You put some food in front of an animal and it devours it. Put down some water and it drinks. Put down a mate and it will copulate. That is how the whole country is operating today. The Welsh god is the belly, and men and women, young and old, serve it and worship it and live for it. That is how they rate a weekend, how much they drank, who they slept with. For them, that is the good life. That is what their songs are about. Their god is their belly. It will be the epitaph of our whole sad civilization – its god became its belly. It used to be called the Playboy philosophy.

So what do they glory in? What is their boast? What are they so proud of? “Shameful things,” says Paul. Men are proud of the freedom we have in Wa les today. They can boast in the magazines on the top shelves of our newsagents, that the websites most watched by far on the Internet are pornography. Think of the persistence of the homosexual lobby. It never stops speaking about its behaviour in despicable detail. The guest list of the imminent investiture of the Archbishop of Canterbury was announced yesterday and the papers pointed out that the leading American homosexual activist has been invited to the ceremony. Their glory is in their shame. Leading educational authorities this week encouraged schoolteachers to deal with sordid aspects of sexual behaviour to prevent pregnancy – glorying in their shame. The prophet comments on recalcitrant Israel of his day: “They have forgotten how to blush,” he says.

The Paul tells us on what these men set their minds. Not the living God, nor eternity, nor they never-dying souls, nor the invisible things of righteousness, truth and holiness. None of them. “Their mind is on earthly things,” says Paul. Their whole focus is here and now. You can do a little experiment some time. You can look at your digital watch, at the second hand counting off the seconds, You can wait until it reaches 59. It is still in the future as the numbers go up and up, 56, 57, 58 . . . what happens when it reaches 59? Does it stop? No. Now the 59 is past, it goes on to double zero and the start of the next minute. That minute which you checked out is now over. It has gone forever. That part of your life has passed by in an instant never to return. You have just experienced time as it passes us by. The question is this: is that all there is? Is there only this time? This secular moment? These earthly things? Or is there something else? Is there eternity beyond this world and this time? What we are really asking is, is there a God beyond this life who has always existed and will always exist? Does my personal life extend beyond the limits of earthly things?

Let me ask the question another way. You are in church in Alfred Place at this moment. Where will you be in exactly 24 hours time? What will you be doing? You don’t know for sure. You can make a vague guess. You may be right, but we are not sure if a war will have broken out, whether a terrorist bomb will have gone off in London. Will we be alive? Will that place where we plan to be still exist? There are limits about tomorrow, and there is something of a mystery about what lie ahead.

Let us make the experiment even more challenging. Where will you be 100 years from today? Where will you be 500 years from today? What will you be doing then? “I shall be dead,” you say. “I shall be pushing up the daisies,” one says and he makes a joke about it, because it is unthinkable to contemplate the biblical possibilities, because it is in death and eternity that the Christian view and the view of those whose mind is on earthly things come into the most violent collision. Those men were minding earthly things because that is all they had, every value, every human activity had to be understood in the light of earthly things. What matters is now and only now. They must make their decisions, live their lives, make their plans, all within the closed area of this time – the fleeting moment, because they believe that’s all they have. What selfishness and pain such a philosophy can create. Remember that old lyric of Hal David commenting on the life of such a man whose beliefs had made him a wastrel?

“What’s it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?”

But Christianity says that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. Its great message is that we can get out of this world alive. It was God who made the world in the beginning, and creation’s order and glory display his handiwork. We have one message for the world and it is this, that right now counts for ever. What you and I do has eternal significance. The now is important because it counts for a long, long time. It matters whether your God is the Lord Jesus Christ or your stomach. It counts whether you glory in the magnificent Creator and Saviour or in your shame. It counts whether you live for lasting things or just this fleeting moment. These are two opposing religions, and when your remove the cross of Christ then your destiny is destruction and all these things follow. And Paul wept when he spoke about lovely, terrific, grand men and women serving so cruel a god and facing such an appalling prospect.

There was a Christian woman who was always full of hope and peace, even though she was confined to her room because of illness. She lived high up in a block of flats where the lifts didn’t work, and one day a friend decided to visit her and bring another woman for the first time: a person of some wealth. The only way they could get to the woman’s flat was by climbing five flights of stairs, so up they went. When they reached the third floor, the well-to-do woman commented, “Isn’t it a dark place!” Her friend replied, “It’s better higher up.”

When they arrived at the fourth floor landing, the remark was made: “It seems to get worse, and there’s a smell.” Again the reply came: “It’s better higher up.” Finally, breathing heavily, they reached the floor where they found this house-bound Christian. She was so pleased to see them and apologetic for the long climb they’d had to make.

Although the room sparkled, and flowers were on the windowsill, the visitor couldn’t contain herself about the stark surroundings. “It must be very difficult for you to be here like this” she said. Without a moment’s hesitation the shut-in responded: “It will be better higher up.” She wasn’t minding earthly things. Her eyes of faith were fixed on the eternal; in Christ she had found the secret of real contentment. She had been transformed because of what she knew was yet to come.

So that is the second point Paul makes, to attain maturity let’s beware of the enemies of the cross of Christ.

3. WE ARE TO LIVE UP TO WHAT WE HAVE ALREADY ATTAINED.

This is Paul’s third great challenge to the church. If we say that the Bible is true, and God’s Son is Jesus Christ, and we have been given eternal life, then there is this great exhortation: “Only let us live up to what we have already attained” (v.16). So many Christians are concerned about what God hasn’t given them, but Paul’s concern is about Christians not living up to what we’ve already got. If we have Christ we have been graciously given all things, the apostle assures us (Romans 8:32). If our god is our belly and we glory in our shame then we end up with nothing. But if we have Jesus Christ we get everything else as well. Everything that comes to us comes to us in Christ. Jesus is the one through whom all things were created, the one in whom all things hold together. He’s more lovely and precious than all created things combined. So he’s not only the costliest gift God could give for sinners, but also the most precious and delightful gift God can give. When you have him, whatever is his becomes yours, and since Jesus is Lord of all, that means all things are yours. It’s plain logic, once you know the truth about Jesus.

In Christ we have all the blessings of salvation. Our sins – oh the bliss of this glorious thought – our sins, not in part but the whole of them have been nailed to the cross and remembered no more. We are pardoned for all our past sins, present sins and future sins. We have imputed to us the righteousness of Christ and so we have been justified freely by God’s grace. We have been adopted into the family of God, and made God’s sons and heirs. The dominion of sin over us has been ended and we have a new Lord, Jesus Christ, as our Sovereign Protector. We have the Holy Spirit indwelling us and we have illimitable access to him. We are united to Jesus Christ like a branch is joined to a vine and we receive of his life day by day. All these salvation privileges are the gifts of God to every single believer. He did not wait until we were taught we needed them, and then waited until we had agonized for each of them, and then slowly, even reluctantly and grudgingly, over the years gave them to us. They were his gifts in regeneration. As his grace began to work in us and we were saved then this was the salvation that he bestowed. He gave it to the newest Christian and to the one saved from the lowest depths of a godless life. Salvation was all of his grace.

Then there are the blessings of his providence. Let’s think about what Christians already have right now. The Bible says, “All things are yours, whether… the world or life or death or the present or the future all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God” (1 Corinthians 3:21-22). Notice that it doesn’t just say all things will be yours in heaven; it says all thing are yours. If you belong to Jesus, the present is yours as well as the future. Life is yours and death is yours, as well as the unimaginable happiness that will come in life after death.

What does that mean? Suppose you’re a Christian with little money and lots of troubles – many are like that. How can it be true that all things are yours? Well, Scripture says that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). Every event in this entire world is being arranged by God for the good of his people. It’s not always easy to see this. Sometimes God’s people suffer exquisite pain and perplexity. God’s plan isn’t always plain to us; there are secret plans that God keeps to himself, but his plan is being executed whether we see it or not.

And the proof is simply this: God “did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all.” God used the most horrible event in the world, the crucifixion of Jesus, for the good of those who love him. And God will also work for our good in all other troubles and trials of life. If Jesus’ cross is yours for your good, then so is every lesser cross in your life, whether cold or cancer or controversy or crushing heartbreak. “All things are yours,” including life in the present world, with its ups and downs. It’s yours, and it’s guaranteed to work out for your good if you love him.

The Bible even says that death is yours. Your own death! Nowadays, when England plays Wales each year at rugby football England comes out on top virtually every time, and we Welshmen are saying now that on the rugby pitch England “owns” Wales. If you’re about to face an opponent that’s sure to defeat and humiliate you, it’s no game. But if you “own” your opponent, you don’t consider defeat. Instead, you look forward to the contest, because you know you’re going to enjoy winning. The same is true of death. Without Jesus, death owns you, and the thought of dying is dreadful indeed. But if the crucified and risen Jesus is yours, then you “own” death, and you’re going to enjoy winning over it. Death is yours. Instead of destroying you, it’s your gateway to glory.

Now if it’s true that our present troubles and even death are ours for our benefit, how much more glorious will be our future! If it’s a joy and a marvel to have a taste of God’s love and a relationship to Jesus even now, when we can’t see him, how much more wonderful will be the sight and enjoyment of Jesus with no sin to come between us! My heart beats faster, and my imagination soars as I picture the future in light of Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

“All things,” including our future blessings, already belong to followers of Jesus because he paid for the right to them, but right now we don’t yet fully enjoy what is ours. A fabulous home has been bought and paid for, but we haven’t yet moved in. We’ve been appointed to positions in our great King’s government, but we haven’t yet taken up those positions with all their powers, perks, privileges, and happy responsibilities.

The pleasures of our future home are so great that if we tasted them now, in our weak and sinful condition, they would be so overwhelming and intoxicating that we’d focus on the pleasures rather than on the Lord. But when we’re sinless and we see Jesus in all his loveliness and feast on the sweet delights of his goodness, any other pleasures he gives to us won’t distract us from him.

By Christ we have already attained all this. Every single believer in Jesus Christ – the mere Christian – has attained all this by the extraordinary grace and mercy of Jesus. Our salvation is commensurate with his mighty power and love. Then please let us live up to what we have attained. Look up! Pray up! Stand up! Speak up for Jesus, that he is Lord of all, that the Bible is God’s truth, and that God’s people are called to holy living by that truth. That is how we show we are equipped for mature Christian living.

23 February 2003 GEOFF THOMAS