DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

How to Grow (Philippians 3:12-4:1)

One of the things that's tough when we read the Bible is figuring out how everything fits together. Sometimes it's just confusing. Lots of things are clear, but then there are the issues that puzzle us. Sometimes we don't need to know. We can live okay without everything figured out. But sometimes it's important that we understand.

If some issues are confusing now, imagine how it must have been in the early church. We've been going through the book of Philippians, which is a book written to a church just a few decades the start of the church. Everything was new. If you were Jewish, your understanding of your faith had been turned upside down. If you were a Gentile follower of Jesus Christ, you had to figure out not only what it meant to be a Christian, but you also had to understand how the Jewish faith fit in. There was no New Testament to consult. You had these preachers coming in and telling you what it meant to be a Christ-follower, and sometimes what they told you was contradictory.

Look at one issue - spiritual growth. How do you grow spiritually? [Get answers] We say read your Bible, go to church, attend a small group, and so on - but don't we all know people who have done all these things, and still haven't grown spiritually? It's not always as clear as we think it is.

One of the reasons that Paul wrote this letter is because he wanted to clear up some confusion that had come up in the Philippian church. Some of the issues we're going to look at in today's passage are still confusing for us, especially as it relates to how to grow spiritually.

What God Does - What We Do

Let's look together at Philippians 3. Paul had just covered one of the controversies I'm glad we no longer have - the debate about whether or not Christians have to follow Old Testament regulations, especially relating to circumcision. Paul was pretty clear that our acceptance with God doesn't depend on our human efforts. It depends only on what Jesus has done for us. He says, "I no longer count on my own goodness or my ability to obey God's law, but I trust Christ to save me" (Philippians 3:9). Our acceptance with God is a product of what Jesus has done for us, and we add nothing to the equation.

But it's hard to figure out what God does and what we do. How do you reconcile what Paul has said with what he said earlier, "continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12)? How do we trust Christ to do it all, and then work it out in our lives at the same time? What do we do and what does God do?

This isn't just an academic issue. It's pretty important that we know how we can grow, and that we understand our responsibilities as followers of Christ. Once we start that journey, what's our part in following him?

Mistake One: Spiritual Pride

Paul helps us answer this question today, but he begins by clearing up two mistakes that people may have made at Philippi already. The first mistake has to do with what he's just said. Paul was afraid that some people might have read what he had just written - about trusting in Christ, giving up all for him, experiencing his mighty power and suffering - and got the impression that Paul had already arrived, that he had made it spiritually. That's a pretty big barrier to spiritual growth - believing that you're already completely mature. Paul writes, beginning in verse 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. 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. (Philippians 3:12-14)

It looks like some people may have misunderstood what it means to follow Jesus. They thought that they'd arrived. Some may have thought that once you became a Christian, nothing else is required. Perhaps they thought that they reacted against the Judaizers (those who required circumcision) Paul had just finished criticizing by saying, "We've already arrived. We're spiritual enough. We already have all the spiritual blessings and maturity we need." Paul wanted to clear this confusion by stating that he hadn't yet arrived. If Paul was still in process, what hope do we have of thinking we've arrived?

We make this mistake sometimes today. Sometimes we emphasize entering into a relationship with Jesus Christ so much that we stop there. Once somebody's entered a relationship with Christ, we're happy. We emphasize that moment so much that we forget the entire growth process that follows.

There's a real danger to falling into this. There are some people who give the impression that they think they're spiritually mature, that they don't need to grow any more. It's deadly. It's called spiritual pride. I love to be part of a church like this where we're okay showing up and saying, "I don't have it all together. I am a mess. I need to admit that I'm still very much in process." There's something healthy about humility, about admitting that we're nowhere close to where we should be. It's freeing to be able to admit that we don't have it together, and that as long as we're alive we'll continue to be in process. We haven't arrived yet.

I love what Paul says to those who think they already are perfect. "All of us who are mature should take such a view of things" (Philippians 3:15). In other words, it's a sign of maturity to admit that you're imperfect, and if you think you are perfect, that in itself is an admission of immaturity. He continues, "And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you." I love it. That's so true. If you think you're perfect, isn't it true that God will bring somebody into your life to clarify the issue? God will eventually let us know that we are far from perfect, if we ever buy into that illusion. He concludes, "Only let us live up to what we have already attained" (Philippians 3:16). If we think that we're perfect, and that nothing else is required, Paul is confident that our error will be corrected. God will clear up the mistake for us. It's just a matter of time.

Here's the first application for us. Admit that you're a mess. Admit that you're still very much in process. If you really want to grow spiritually, it's important to understand that what Paul says: "I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made" (Philippians 3:12, The Message).

Mistake Two: Anything Goes

Paul then takes on another mistake:

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. (Philippians 3:17-19)

We read this passage, and it's not immediately clear who he's talking about. After a bit of research, it's clear that Paul was addressing a group that existed back then, and still exists today. You can forget this name as soon as I mention it, but they were called antinomians. They were against the law. They believed that because of what Jesus did, we're free from all laws. There are no moral constraints, no ethical guidelines. We're free to live as we please. These people had no problem engaging in immoral behavior and then going to church. They thought they were believers, but Paul called them enemies of the cross of Christ.

I've met people like this. I guess those of us who live like we please and then come to church fall into this category. Some don't even feel guilty. I knew a couple in one church that actually took this position as a formal one. They left the church as soon as they found out that we believed there are ethical obligations for believers. This position is obvious ly a barrier to spiritual growth. Paul is teaching us to avoid these two mistakes: to think that we've already arrived, or, on the other hand, to believe that anything goes. Both of these positions will prevent spiritual growth.

How to Grow

So how should we grow? Assuming we all understand we don't have it all together, and we can't just live however we please, what help does Paul give us in understanding how to grow spiritually? Paul does give us too principles that we can begin to apply this week.

One - Here's the first. Do you remember when you first learned how to drive? I was pretty confident. There was only one thing that scared me when I learned how to drive - those concrete barriers that they put on the side of the road. They were just inches away from the car. I was always scared of hitting them. I would drive with my eye to the barriers, and my driving would be all over the place. The solution was counter-intuitive. I had to keep my eyes further down the road. I was scared to do this - who was going to watch the concrete barrier? But as soon as I put my eyes on the right place, I drove a lot better, and I never once hit a barrier.

It's tempting to keep our eyes on the barriers in order to grow spiritually. But listen to what Paul says: "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" (Philippians 3:13-14). The key to spiritual growth isn't to watch the barriers. It isn't to focus on the mechanics. It's to focus on Jesus. When we keep our eyes on Jesus, and strain towards pleasing him, it begins to fit into place. The metaphor Paul uses - to strain toward the goal, to win the prize - could have been a military or an athletic one. It's about making Jesus the focus of our lives.

Here's what we should do: remind ourselves that the goal, everyday when we wake up, is not to read so many verses or pray for so many minutes, although these things may be good as a means to a goal. The goal is to please Jesus. The goal is to win the prize, to pursue Christ. If you want to grow, set your eyes on Jesus daily, and a lot of other things will fall into place by themselves. Keep your eyes on Jesus.

Two - Here's the second application. It hit me yesterday, when we visited the Royal Winter Fair, an agricultural fair in the middle of the city. It's strange to visit a place right in the city with cows, horses, hay, sheep, carcasses, everything you can think of related to farm and agriculture. We had a blast. One of the things that made it so enjoyable was that it's so removed from our daily life. It felt like a different world. As much as I enjoyed it, I knew that at the end of the day I would get in my car, drive a couple of miles, and be at home once again in the city. I wasn't tempted to buy a horse trailer or a combine. It was fun visiting, but it wasn't home.

Paul says in verse 20, "But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take these weak mortal bodies of ours and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same mighty power that he will use to conquer everything, everywhere." (Philippians 3:20-21). He said in Philippians 1:27, "But whatever happens to me, you must live in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ, as citizens of heaven."

Paul wrote in an age of city-states. You would be a citizen not of a country, but of the city in which you lived. Philippi was a Roman colony, and most of the people who lived there had a privilege that others didn't enjoy. They weren't citizens of Philippi; they were citizens of Rome, with all the privileges and responsibilities that brought.

One of the keys to growing spiritually is to understand that we're not citizens here. We're citizens of somewhere that's much better, that will last a lot longer, of a place that's really home. When we think about this regularly, it changes our perspective. We're only staying here temporarily. This isn't our home.

My wife's a deep thinker at night. I'm not. Last night, she asked me as I fell asleep, "What do you think heaven's like?" I said, "I think heaven's a place where people don't ask you questions as you're trying to go to sleep." But she was on to something. Thinking about heaven changes our perspective. When we understand that we're citizens of heaven, it changes how we live today.

If you want to grow spiritually, keep your eyes on Jesus. Make him your focus. Love him and live for him. And daily remind yourself that you're only living abroad. Heaven is your home.

Philippians 4:1 is a good way to end. They divided the chapters wrong; it really belongs here. Paul concludes, "Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!" (NIV)

Audacious Prayer (Matthew 7:7-8)

When he got the invitation to Alaska, he didn't even have to think or pray about it. His son loved to fish, and had always dreamed of traveling to Alaska to fish there. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make his son's dream come true at next to no cost.

You know how these kinds of stories go. They got to Alaska, he spoke at the conference, and finally, it was time to go fishing. They traveled to the lake, and discovered that the boats were a little more than they had planned for - $300 U.S. There was no way they could afford the rental. They decided instead to wade into the lake and fish there. They didn't have the right poles, they certainly weren't in the right spot, but it was about the best that could be done under the circumstances.

His son had prayed that they would catch a big, huge fish. The father knew that this was a moment of truth. As a Bible teacher, he would have to explain to his son that God doesn't always answer prayers the way that we think he will. It's childlike, even audacious, to pray a prayer and expect God to answer it. How do you explain to a child why God doesn't always answer our prayers?

Don't you sometimes wish that Jesus hadn't been so clear when he taught about prayer? He should have qualified his language more, been a bit more careful. The problem is that some people read what Jesus said about prayer and take him at his word. For instance:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)

"You didn't have enough faith," Jesus told them. "I assure you, even if you had faith as small as a mustard seed you could say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it would move. Nothing would be impossible." (Matthew 17:20-21)

"Yes, ask anything in my name, and I will do it!" (John 14:14)

Some people read what Jesus taught about prayer and really believe that he meant it. And preachers like me come along and try to explain that Jesus couldn't possibly have meant that, that prayer isn't that simple. Eventually we come to the place that prayer is more than asking, seeking, knocking, believing with simple faith. That's why prayer services like today can become hard and tough, because we no longer believe what Jesus taught about prayer.

But maybe the boy is right. If we could get rid of two barriers to prayer, maybe we would begin to experience something closer to what the Father really intends. The first is that we made prayer about GUILT. I talked to a friend this week who's just come out with a book on prayer. He said, "My goal was to write a book about prayer that doesn't make the reader feel guilty." What a great concept. A lot of times, we find prayer tough because we feel guilty about prayer. That's a tragedy - to take something that the Father gave us as a privilege, as a way of growing into relationship with him, and to turn it into a source of guilt in our lives. If I ever get up and preach a message about prayer that makes you feel guilty, you ought to shoot me. Prayer isn't about guilt, it's about privilege.

The other barrier to prayer is that we've become TOO CAREFUL, too reserved, too safe. We no longer believe what Jesus says about asking. Without knowing it, we've reduced our prayers to what we think is safe. We've stopped really believing, so we make our prayers so small that even if God didn't answer, it wouldn't make a difference. We're so scared of going out on a limb in our prayers that we only ask what's under our control anyway. We shudder whenever anyone asks for anything audacious. We don't feel free to be honest in our prayers.

I'm not here today to talk about why God doesn't always answer prayers the way that we expect. That's a different sermon. I am here today to say that we've somehow let prayer become too guilt-based and too careful, too safe for our own good. I'm here today to encourage you to make your prayers in the rest of the service become prayers of freedom, prayers of honesty, and prayers of faith.

Why? Because that's how God invites you to pray. He wants you to come to him today, not because you feel guilty or obligated, but because he's invited you. He wants you to experience the freedom and joy of a relationship with him.

He wants you to come with complete honesty. Why? Because God can handle your honesty. He can handle you right where you are. What kind of God is asking us to come to him in prayer? He's the kind of God who gives us the example of a lifetime-liar wrestling with him, refusing to let God go until he receives a blessing. He's the kind of God who included a songbook in the Bible containing brutally honest prayers. David was able to come to God and tell God exactly how he was feeling, to question God, even to challenge God. He's the kind of God who included an entire book of the Bible - Habakkuk - about one of his prophets complaining and questioning God. He's the kind of God who can handle you coming to him today in plain language, who can handle your questions, your doubts, your honesty. He invites you to come today just as you are.

He also invites you to come with faith. He invites you to come with big prayers, prayers that are beyond what you can do. He welcomes prayers from kids about fish, prayers that we would consider audacious.

I should tell you how the story ends. They continued to fish just off the shore, and of course, they didn't have to catch fish. The father was trying to find a way to explain to his son why God doesn't answer prayer, why his request wasn't realistic. Just then, a boat appeared. The man in the boat invited them into the boat, and they were given real poles and were taken to the spot in the lake where the fish really did bite - a spot they would never have found by themselves if they had rented a boat. The boy did catch a huge fish, and better yet, the father was able to talk to the man about the kind of God they served - a God who heard the prayers of a kid and helped him catch a fish. When they returned home, he corresponded with that fisherman about God. God was able to take a kid's simple request and turn it into an opportunity to change a life forever.

Today as you came in, you should have received a card. I want you to stick it in your wallet or purse, and pull it out occasionally to remind yourself what kind of God you're praying to. "Ask when there is something you need. Seek when there is something you can't find. Knock when there is something closed to you." And I invite you today to join me in praying guilt-free, honest, even audacious prayers. Remember these words, written long ago:

Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring;
For his grace and power are such
None can ever ask too much.

Nothing More (Philippians 3:1-11)

One of the hardest things is to be clear about something. Sometimes it's just as hard to stay clear.

Have you ever heard a sermon that started out clear - sort of - and went downhill from there? You may have experienced this in other areas. I don't know if it's just me, but I've gone to get something in my house, and by the time I get there, I've forgotten what I came for. Or even worse, I go out shopping with a mental list and come home without the very thing I went for.

This happens in the bigger areas of life. When we got married, we were all pretty clear on what we were committing to - for richer and poorer, better or worse, in sickness and health. It doesn't always look that clear in daily life, does it? A lot of us made career decisions because of some goal - to help people, to teach children - but as time goes on, the other demands of our job make it easy to forget why we started out.

Within every one of us, there is a pull from clarity to fuzziness or confusion. This is sometimes laughable when we're dealing with small issues, but it can be tragic when we deal with something important. The consequences can be tragic.

When this happens in the church, it's tragic. Most churches start out clear about their mission and their message, but eventually lose that clarity. Erwin McManus has said, "Most places have lost the essence of what it means to be a church." If that's true - and I think it is - it's because we all face this pull from clarity, and we soon lose sight of what really matters and what we really should be doing.

The church has been given a mission. There's really no confusion about what we should be doing. But over time, there is a drift in all of us from passion to apathy, from sacrifice to comfort, from service to selfishness. This is true in marriage, in life, and in the church.

Today's passage confronts this potential danger before it even happens. If you have a Bible with you, please take a look with me at Philippians 3.

Watch Out!

This is one of the hardest passages in Philippians. Paul is about to confront a danger to the church that hadn't even happened yet. Verse one says, "Whatever happens, dear brothers and sisters, may the Lord give you joy. I never get tired of telling you this. I am doing this for your own good." Paul is setting the stage here to deal with some unpleasant issues.

Verse two says, "Watch out for those dogs, those wicked men and their evil deeds, those mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved." It doesn't come across in English, but Paul uses some incredibly harsh language here. One translation says, "Barking dogs [wild dogs - not the domestic type]…religious busybodies…knife-happy circumcisers" (The Message). We read this, and we start to wonder why Paul's so upset. We need to fill in some of the background to understand this passage.

Here's some of the background. When Christianity started, it came out of the Jewish religion. In the early days, it was actually seen part of Judaism. To become a Christian without also becoming Jewish in those days was unthinkable.

The problem came when Gentiles began to enter the church. At first, they wondered if Gentiles could really become Christians, but the Holy Spirit solved that one for them when the Gentiles began to speak in tongues. There was no doubt that they had become part of what God was doing. But shouldn't the Gentile Christians then become converts to Judaism? Isn't that part of what it means to be a Christian?

Part of adopting Judaism was becoming circumcised. You think that baptism is demanding - imagine the deacons coming to meet with you about getting circumcised! Those who argued for this even had a verse: "Anyone who refuses to be circumcised will be cut off from the covenant family for violating the covenant" (Genesis 17:14). This was a big issue in the church. The issue had actually been debated and settled 11 years earlier in a meeting described in Acts 15, but there were still some who were trying to convince Gentile believers to get circumcised.

This was going to be a huge issue in Philippi. Most of the people there where Gentile believers. It was probably only a matter of time before some arrived in the church to convince them to be circumcised.

Paul wasn't exactly neutral on this issue. Why? Because he understood what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, and he knew the dangers of adding any human requirements. Read verses 3 and 4 with me: "For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reasons for such confidence." Paul knew that there were only a few requirements for following Christ, and circumcision wasn't one of them. What are the requirements? To worship by the Spirit of God, not by some human tradition or some external rite; to glory in Jesus Christ and what he's done for us; and to refuse to depend on human effort or accomplishments to please God. You don't have to be circumcised to be a follower of Christ.

This all sounds strange to us today, because this isn't really an issue for us anymore. It's not hotly debated in our circles. But the same kind of thing is happening today. The equivalent today would be to say, "You have to become a follower of Jesus Christ, PLUS you need to do something else." That something else may be walking up an aisle, signing a card or a Gideon Bible, praying a certain prayer, singing a certain way, dressing in some particular type of clothing. It's easy to begin to add human requirements to what it means to become a follower of Jesus Christ, even to add a cultural requirement. We're going to look at that in just a minute.

Pushing Back

Some may have said, "Okay, Paul, we get your point, but you're carrying this a little too far." Or even, "You're just saying that because you're not one of us. You've never been on our side."

Paul says, "If you want to talk about that, I'm on equal footing with any of you."

Yet I could have confidence in myself if anyone could. If others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more! For I was circumcised when I was eight days old, having been born into a pure-blooded Jewish family that is a branch of the tribe of Benjamin. So I am a real Jew if there ever was one! What's more, I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. And zealous? Yes, in fact, I harshly persecuted the church. And I obeyed the Jewish law so carefully that I was never accused of any fault. (Philippians 3:4-6)

Paul had the right upbringing, nationality, family background, inheritance, orthodoxy, activity, and morality. He had all the right credentials, but instead of bringing him closer to God, they got in the way. The advantage became a disadvantage. His credentials and advantages led him to persecute the church and oppose what God was doing.

It would be like Paul saying today, "Don't write me off, thinking that I don't know the way church works. I haven't missed church since the week I was born. I've attend every meeting and every program of the church. I've memorized large portions of the hymnal and the Bible." All the credentials are there. Paul isn't challenging from the outside. He's challenging as someone who's been steeped in the culture he's challenging. He has credibility to speak to the issue.

Here's how it works in our lives. When we come to Christ, he begins to change us. We know that there's nothing that we did or could do to earn salvation. Over time, our characters begin to change. Then, after a while, we begin to confuse our changed characters with the entry requirements of faith. We begin to think that you have to act a certain way or look a certain way, or clean up your act enough to become a follower of Jesus Christ. We even begin to isolate ourselves from those who aren't like us.

Eventually, we start to confuse the cultural markers of what it means to be a good person with what it means to be a Christian. The markers we use - what Christians should do and shouldn't do - become as important as faith itself.

This is important. Is there anything wrong with these markers? Things like dressing a certain way, liking a certain type of music, attending certain meetings, doing certain things, not doing certain things? Just like in Paul's day, was there anything wrong in itself with circumcision? Not at all. The issue isn't the markers. The issue is our attitude toward them - that we begin to think that God is impressed by them, and that others are required to do them as well. It really becomes a problem when we lose clarity about what really matters and we think that the markers are essential.

Let me give you an example. How many of us have ever heard this from our parents when we asked why we had to get dressed up for church. "What would you wear if you were going to meet the Queen?" I don't know, I think I may have even used this with my kids at some point. There's nothing wrong with getting dressed up. The problem is when we start to think that anything we wear could impress God. The problem is when we think that God is more impressed with the man in a suit and tie or a woman in a dress rather than somebody else in jeans and a t-shirt. There's nothing that we could wear that earn us acceptance by God. It may matter to you - it may even be important to you - and there's nothing wrong with that. But it's wrong to think you've earned points with God, or that others should do as you do. Nothing we do out of human effort earns us acceptance with him.

The Alternative

What's the alternative to living this way? Read verses 7-8:

I once thought all these things were so very important, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I may have Christ…

Everything - even Paul's best credentials - are not just meaningless; they're garbage. When translators worked on this verse, they had a challenge, because Paul didn't use the word "garbage" in the original. He literally used a vulgar word that refers to body waste. It was a word designed to make his point forcibly. Our best human efforts, the markers we invent to define who's in and who's out - they're not at all important. There may be nothing wrong with them in themselves, but when we make them issues, they're worse than garbage. We've got to get rid of them.

What's the alternative? Paul says it's "the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord." In other words, it's about relationship. It's not only an intellectual thing. It's acknowledging him and obeying him. It's what's talked about in Jeremiah 31:34:

And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their family, saying, 'You should know the LORD.' For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will already know me," says the LORD. "And I will forgive their wickedness and will never again remember their sins."

Then Paul outlines the results of this relationship with Jesus. It's two things. First, we gain Christ, he says. That means that one day, on the Day of Judgment when we're being judged, we can cling to the righteousness that comes from faith in Christ, rather than our own actions and credentials. "I no longer count on my own goodness or my ability to obey God's law, but I trust Christ to save me. For God's way of making us right with himself depends on faith" (Philippians 3:9). It's going to be a lot better to cling to Christ on that day than to brag about how well we attended church and how well we did other stuff. Paul says you can't cling to both; it's a lot better to cling to Christ.

Second, he says that our lives will take the shape of Christ's life. "As a result, I can really know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I can learn what it means to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that, somehow, I can experience the resurrection from the dead!" (Philippians 3:10-11). Our lives will begin to actually look like his life. We can't control many things in our lives, including how much we suffer. But we can control our passion, our willingness to give up our lives so that we can gain our lives. We can choose to crucify ourselves daily - die to our own self-interests - so that we can really live.

Bringing It Home

Let's make this really practical. There's something in your life that wants to add to the Gospel. What is it? There's something in all of us that wants to say, "You're not one of us because…" Fill in the blanks. Because you look a certain way? Because you do (or don't do) certain things? There's a certain marker that's important to you, that you probably think is essential to following Jesus Christ. It's not actually commanded or essential, but we've made it that way.

This is hard - it's hard for me. It's hard because God has worked in our lives a certain way, and we begin to think that he will work in everybody's life using the same programs, the same music, the same everything as he did with us. We become part of a certain culture which believes certain things are important, and it's hard to step out of that culture and see that some things we thought were essential are more cultural than biblical. The things that are important to you may even be good. There's nothing wrong with them. You may even have arguments and verses about why they're important.

There's nothing wrong with these things, except when we think that God smiles on those who act in a certain way - our way - and that he frowns on those who don't. The problem is when we rely on our flesh. Flesh doesn't mean the physical body. It means our best human efforts - our best worship, our highest wisdom, our best efforts.

We need to get down to two bedrock beliefs. First, God and I are not partners in salvation. Jesus did it all. There's nothing I could add, even if I tried. Jesus did it all.

Second, to those of us who are tempted to add anything to the Gospel, any attempts to add human requirements are not additions to but rejections of the Gospel. The minute we try to add something to the Gospel, we're actually rejecting the whole Gospel.

Paul said that he considered some things garbage, or worse. What are you going to take out to the garbage today? Not because there's anything wrong with them in themselves, but because it's garbage compared to knowing Christ and helping others to know him? The number of years you've been a Christian? The number of years you've been baptized? Your prayer life? The things you've done? What you know? What you don't do?

Let's boast about one thing only: "I know Jesus." You may remember an old hymn:

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

Prayer:

It's all about knowing you.

Pray that we would steer clear of keeping up appearances, living by our own efforts.

Pray that we would take out to the trash anything that we take credit for.

Pray that we would know you and lead others in their relationship with you.