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Are Your Ambitions Justified?

Tom Pennington • Philippians 3:10-11

  • 2017-01-15 AM
  • Sermons


Many of us are old enough to remember May 18th, 1980. May 18th, 1980. It was at 8:32 in the morning, on that day, that a 5.1 magnitude earthquake shook Mount Saint Helens in Washington State. It triggered eruptions that reached 80,000 feet into the air, in 15 minutes. As the mountain began to blow, David Johnston was a geologist who was nearby observing the mountain from about 5 miles away. And as it began, he went on his radio trying to reach his colleagues in Vancouver, WA. And this is what he said, "Vancouver, Vancouver. This is it!", he screamed into the microphone, "Vancouver, Vancouver, is the transmitter still working?" Those were his last words, because in the time that it took him to say those words, rocks and ash and gas, along with steam, blasted out of Mount Saint Helens outward and upward. They estimate, in some cases, exceeding the speed of sound. What was the result, was incredible. In an 8-mile radius around Mount Saint Helens, everything natural and artificial was obliterated or carried away for 8 miles. Although Johnston was five miles away, within the few seconds it took him to say those words, he was buried under a 200-foot-deep avalanche. The blast killed 57 people and caused complete darkness in Spokane, WA, a city 250 miles away. If you've flown over that area since the eruption, you know that all that remains of that smoke, that snowcapped peak, is in fact a huge crater large enough to hold downtown Seattle.

When God acts in creation, often, He acts decisively, powerfully, and there is shattering life-changing results. It's sometimes true in the physical world. We see it almost every year on our television sets. And it's always true in the spiritual world. When God acts on a life there are life-changing, life-altering, shattering results that occur.

That's what Paul wants us to understand, here in Philippians 3. We just read it together, Philippians 3:1-11. The theme of these verses, taken as a whole, is justification by faith alone. Paul is celebrating here, in Philippians, what he spends so much time explaining in Romans, where we've been studying together. Paul's purpose in writing these verses to the Philippians was to remind them that the great doctrine of justification, that is, the doctrine that says that sinful human beings can be declared right with God, based solely on their faith in the work of Jesus Christ - His perfect life, His substitutionary death, His resurrection - that we can be made right with God by His work alone, by believing in Him. That theme is to remain at the very center of our Christian lives. That's what Paul is telling them. And as he reminded the Philippians of what he had taught them before, he says he's writing the same things again to them (verse 1). In other words, He's communicated these truths to them before, but he just can't repeat them often enough. And as he reminds them, he really teaches us, in this passage, a number of key truths about this great doctrine of justification. We don't have time to go through the entire passage. In fact, when I taught through Philippians, I think it took us about 8 messages to get through these verses. So, we're not going to cover it all.

But as we prepare for the Lord's table this morning, I want us to consider just the last truth about justification in this paragraph. It's this: justification is always accompanied by profound changes in a person. Justification is always accompanied by profound changes inside the person. Now, let me be clear. Justification, itself, is not something that happens in you. Justification is that legal declaration of God, in the throne room of heaven, in which He declares the believing sinner to be right with Him. So, it is something that happens outside of you - justification is. But true justification is always accompanied by true changes within. And verses 10 through 11 detail those results. Look at verses 10 and 11 again: "that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead." Paul in Philippians 3 argues as he does in Romans 4 that faith alone is the means through which we receive justification or right standing before God; that's verse 9. In fact, Philippians 3:9 is one of the clearest statements of justification that can be found. Look at it. He says, "[I want to be found in Him], not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law [by what I do], but that which is through faith in Christ..." The righteousness which God gives us a gift on the basis of faith. There's faith alone. But the faith that justifies is never alone. And that's the message of verses 10 and 11. Listen to John Calvin commenting on this reality. He says, "I wish the reader to understand that as often as we mentioned faith alone in this question, we are not thinking of a dead faith which works not by love but holding faith to be the only cause of justification." And then, listen to this clarifying statement. "It is, therefore, faith alone which justifies and yet faith which justifies is not alone." Faith which justifies is not alone. True saving faith always brings with it life transformation.

Why is that? Because justification doesn't happen in isolation from the rest of what God does in salvation. Let me just remind you that at the moment of salvation, at the moment that a person is brought to life by God, at the moment he repents of his sin and believes in Jesus, at that moment, there are a number of spiritual events that take place. There is regeneration. That's when God speaks life into that dead soul that you had for all those years, before you really heard the gospel. He gives you life, the very life of God. Then there comes repentance and faith, conversion as it sometimes called. God gives you the gift of repentance where you are willing to turn from what you know is your sin and rebellion against God. You're willing to turn away from those things because you want Christ. And you put your faith in Christ and Him alone. At that same moment, then, comes justification where God makes a legal decision about you in light of your faith in the work of Christ and declares you forever righteous with Him. There's also what's called positional sanctification, that is, God sets you apart at that moment of salvation unto Himself and begins a lifelong process of working that out, which is called progressive sanctification. At that same moment of your salvation, comes adoption. God legally adopts you as His son or His daughter.

Now understand that although we can study those events separately, and there is a logical order to them in Scripture, nevertheless, when we talk about chronology, they all occur at the same moment in time, at the moment of your salvation. So, you understand, then, that justification cannot be divorced from the rest of what God does in that moment of your conversion. Jesus compares the work of the Spirit in salvation and regeneration to a wind. Understand this: The Spirit enters our lives in the violent wind of like a hurricane and He leaves no corner of our souls untouched. When the Spirit comes like this, there's radical change. Verses 10 and 11 describe the aftermath of the hurricane that is the Spirit of God, when He comes into our lives bringing salvation. Justification does not happen inside of you. It's a legal decision in heaven about you, but it is always accompanied by the other components of salvation that do actually change you.

Now how does it change you? Well, one of the most immediate and noticeable changes in a person who's truly become converted, is the transformation of your life goals and ambitions. You see that with Paul. Think about what happened to Paul on the road to Damascus. When Paul hit the pavement outside the ancient city of Damascus, everything in his life was changed dramatically. From that point on, his life was all about Jesus Christ. And if you have been truly converted, if you have been justified, then that's true of your life as well. Like Paul, if you have been truly declared righteous before God, your goals and your ambitions have been radically altered in the same way that his were, like Paul, you now have three driving ambitions in life. His experience becomes a kind of mirror for our own. You want to know whether or not you've been justified? You know, I I think if I were to ask this morning, "Have you been justified before God? Have you believed in Christ and has God declared you right with Him?" I think if I asked for a show of hands, most people here this morning would raise their hands. And my question to you is how do you know? How do you know? So, you see, Jesus said there would be many people that would show up at the judgment and say "Lord, Lord" and He would say, "I never knew you. Depart from me!" So, how do you know? You know you've been justified by the results that come along with it. The goals and ambitions of your life changed.

What are these goals and ambitions? Let's look at them. First of all, you want to know Him. You want to know Jesus Christ. Notice verse 10: "that I may know Him..." You see, as part of his conversion, Paul experienced a radical change in his thinking about himself and his thinking about Jesus Christ. He came to grasp and embrace the surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ. Look at verse 7: "But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things [everything, nothing measures up] to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord..." And then he says, "...I have suffered the loss of all things..." Paul says, "Listen, when I came to Christ, I lost everything." He lost his career, he lost his friends, he was alienated from his family, he was...he lost everything. And you know what he says? Look at what he says there in verse 8, "I lost it all. And yet, I count everything lost as rubbish." The Greek word is skoobalon. It is the most polite Greek word to describe the worst of refuse. In fact, sometimes this word is used in a polite way of excrement. He says, "Everything. It's value to me is like excrement, that I may gain Christ." That's what he came to understand of the value of Christ at his conversion. But having come to know Christ on the Damascus Road, having come to know Christ, he just wants to know Him better. That stream that began small on the Damascus Road continues to grow until it becomes a mighty flood in his soul. I want to know Christ. The word "know" here, by the way, is not just a knowledge of the facts about Christ. I expect everyone in this room could come up here and recite plenty of facts about Christ. It's not what he's talking about. It means to know personally, to know relationally. It has to do with personal experience, intimate relationship. Paul wanted to know Christ like that. If you have a good marriage, you understand this. My wife and I have been married for 30 years. We love and enjoy each other deeply. We know a lot about each other. We know each other very well. But we always look forward to the times when we can be together, we can be together so we can learn even more about each other, enjoy each other even more. You never get tired of getting to know the person you love better. That's where Paul was. When Paul wrote Philippians, he had been a Christian for more than 30 years. Now in those 30 years, on three or four occasions, Christ had actually appeared to Paul. But even that wasn't the norm for Paul. Or I should say that wasn't the norm even for Paul. Most of his life, most of those 30 years, he was pursuing knowing Christ just like you and I do. He would open up the Scriptures and he would look for Christ. He would look to understand who He is and what He'd done and what He'd accomplished and what He was going to do. And then he would go to prayer and he would pray to Christ. And he would pray to the Father about Christ. This is how he was pursuing knowing Him - 30 years. But if you had asked Paul after those 30 years what he wanted more than anything else, he would have said to you what he says here, "I want to know Christ better!"

And it makes sense, doesn't it? Because that's what eternal life is all about. Even Jesus our Lord defined it that way. In John 17:3, in His great high priestly prayer, He's praying to the Father and He says, "[Father] this is eternal life." Here it is - "that they may know You, the only true God, and [that they may know] Jesus Christ whom You have sent." So many people think eternal life is about living forever. And it is about that. But it's about so much more. That's not eternal life. Unbelievers are going to live forever. It's about knowing God. It's about knowing Jesus Christ.

Let me ask you, this morning, and I really want you to answer this question in your heart. Could I ask you to do that? Don't be passive. Ask yourself this question: is the greatest ambition of my life to know Jesus Christ? Are you in the Scripture? Are you seeking Him in the Word of God? Are you seeking Him in prayer like Paul did? Let me just say bluntly to you this morning: if that doesn't make any sense to you, if you just have no interest in that - "What? Knowing Christ? What is...what are you talking about?" Let me tell you that you have never been justified. You have never been truly converted. You've never been truly saved. But perhaps you're a Christian and you do love Christ. You do want this. You want to know Him but it's not at the level it once was. You have to be honest with yourself. You've sort of allowed your first love to be lost. You've allowed your faith to become stagnant. What do you do? Please, let me plead with you. Do something about it this week! You say, "Well, what can I do?" Well, purpose, determine that you're going to set aside all of the unnecessary things of life this week - television, unnecessary errands, etc., etc. And you're going to focus on the person of Jesus Christ. How do you do that? Start by reading the gospels. That's where He's most powerfully and clearly presented. This is revolutionary.

I remember when I was a junior in college, the Lord put me in the hospital for two weeks in extreme isolation. It wasn't quite this bad, but it was pretty close. The nurses sort of shoved my food under the door. When I began to get better, toward the end of those two weeks, on one of those days I read through all of the gospels in one day. That was one of the most revolutionary days of my life because I saw Christ. I saw the beauty of Christ, the value of Christ. I watched Him as He worked His miracles. I heard His teaching, and it impacted my life. I saw His priorities and His plans and His goals for my life and for humanity. And at the end of that day, I got down on my knees, my junior year in college in that hospital, I got on my knees and I said, "God, I don't know what You want with my life. But I want You to have it, and I want to do that. Whatever it is, I want to serve Christ. I want to serve His church." So, start by reading the gospels.

Another thing you can do is read books about, good books about, Christ like John Piper's book "Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ", or the Puritan Thomas Goodwin's book, "The Heart of Christ" or another English Puritan, John Owen, "The Glory of Christ". Read about Christ and then pray. Ask God to breathe on the embers of your heart and to reignite your love for Christ into full flame. But, if this morning, you just simply have no desire in your heart to see Christ or to know Him, then please understand, that is all the indication you need to show you that you are not a Christian. Justification brings with it, in its wake with the things that accompany it, life transformation. It creates a consuming ambition to know Christ.

Secondly, it creates a consuming desire to be like Him - to know Him, to be like Him. Look at verse 10: "that I may know...the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death." Those expressions have to do with being like Christ. Justification is always accompanied by a longing in your heart to be like Jesus Christ, to strive to be like Him. Look at verse 12: "Not that I have already obtained it..." What's he talking about? "...or have already become perfect..." In other words, not that I have arrived at being like Jesus Christ. "...but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus." That's a very interesting expression. Paul says Christ laid hold of me so that I would lay hold of Christ's likeness. And then notice what he says, verse 13: "Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." What is that about? The goal is Christlikeness in this life. The prize is perfect likeness to Christ when we're in His presence. And Paul says, like a runner who's about to cross the finish line, I lean and strain for the goal of Christlikeness. That's what I want in my life. Why is that? It's because God implants the desire for Christlikeness in every true believer because this was God's plan for every believer. Romans 8:29 says, "For those whom He [God] foreknew [that is, those whom God determined to have a relationship with], He also predestined..." Don't be afraid of that word. "Pre" - before, "destined" - your destiny. He predetermined your destiny. What was the destiny He predetermined? Those whom He decided to set His love upon, "those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son." God saved you to make you like His Son, in your moral character, so that forever you would bring praise and glory to His Son. He implants that in our hearts. 2 Thessalonians 2:14. Listen to this. Paul couldn't say it any clearer: "It was for this He called you through our gospel..." You want to know why you're saved? Here it is. "It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ", that you may share in the glorious character of Jesus Christ. That's why I called you.

Now Paul describes this desire to be like Christ in several ways here. Notice, first of all, as to know the power of His resurrection. This has to do with being like Him in our moral characters. True Christians want to know or experience the power of Christ's resurrection. Why? Because it's that power that works in us to make us like Jesus. Turn back to Ephesians 1, Ephesians 1:19. This is in the middle of a prayer of Paul's. Verse 18, he says, "I pray... so that you will know [that you'll understand some things]". Verse 19, here's what I want you to understand: "...what is the surpassing greatness of His [God's] power toward us who believe." It's the very kind of power that, notice verse 20, which He used "when He raised Him [Jesus] from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places." Paul is saying, I want you to understand that God is at work in you with His power. And His power is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.

You know, it's hard to live a moral life, just a moral life, in our culture. But imagine how much harder it is if it's your ambition to live like Jesus Christ lived in this world. Folks, that is only possible through God's power - the same power He used when He raised Jesus' body from the dead. Here's Paul's point. If God can raise the dead body of Christ to life, then He can bring spiritual life to your dead heart. And once He has brought spiritual life to your dead heart, He is more than able to bring permanent lasting change to your now living heart. But to produce that kind of change in us, requires God's power, the very power He used to raise Jesus from the dead. And if you're a Christian, that power is at work in you, to change you into the image of Jesus Christ.

Paul not only desires to be like Christ in bearing His moral image but, in a second way, he wants to be like Him, notice in verse 10, "in the fellowship of his sufferings." He wants to know the fellowship of His sufferings. The word fellowship is a familiar Greek word. It's the word koinonia. Paul loves this word. He uses it six times here in Philippians. It's a word that involves two things: association and participation, association and participation. In fact, I think a great illustration of the way Paul uses this word is the way that Tolkien uses it in his book, "The fellowship of the Ring". That small group, you remember, who bound themselves with Frodo Baggins to destroy the ring of power, they were partners. They were associated but they were also partners in a common cause. They were in the fellowship of the ring. Paul, here, says, "I want to be in the fellowship of Christ's sufferings." He wanted to join the partnership of the suffering Christ endured.

Now Paul's not an ascetic. He's not a masochist. He doesn't enjoy pain; that's not the point. Here's his point. Christians want to know Christ, and want to be like Christ, and the result of knowing Christ and being like Christ is that we will experience a taste of the same kind of sufferings He did, because we'll get treated just as He was treated. Certainly, true of Paul. It's going to be true of any true believer. Look at chapter 1 of Philippians. Philippians 1:29: "For to you it has been granted [it's been given] for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him [faith is a gift. Here's a gift you may not want], but also to suffer for His sake." 2 Timothy 3:12: "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." Folks, when we suffer because of our relationship to Jesus Christ or our likeness to Him, our suffering is intimately related to His because we are being hated in His place. We've all seen ISIS capture and execute people from various countries. Why do they do that? Well, they can't get to the leaders of those countries and so they attack the citizens of those countries. The same is true with the people of this world. Sinners can't get at Christ, so they attack those who bear His image.

Now for us, thankfully, physical suffering is pretty foreign. But for many places in our world, intense physical suffering for Christ occurs today. Can you get this in your mind? Last year...I just read a report about last year, here on this planet we call home. Last year, this report estimates, and it's a reputable report, that the number of Christians who lived under high to extreme persecution, last year, was 215 million people. 215! More than half the population of the United States, lived under high to extreme persecution. The same report estimates that last year, in the year 2016, 90,000 Christians were killed for their faith. Do you understand that many of our brothers and sisters in Christ will end up sharing in the fellowship of Christ's suffering as martyrs? 90,000 of them did last year.

But you and I don't have to endure that kind of intensity of persecution to be a partner, to be in the fellowship of His sufferings. No, in fact, most of the persecution that comes to Christians in the world is verbal. Look at Luke 6, Luke 6:22. Jesus says this to us: "Blessed are you when men hate you..." That's one form of persecution. That's sharing in the fellowship of His sufferings. "...and ostracize you..." You ever been sort of ostracized at work or school or in other social settings because of your faith in Jesus Christ? You're sharing in the fellowship of the sufferings of Jesus. When they "insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets."

Paul wanted to be like Christ in His moral character. He wanted to be like Christ in the fellowship of His sufferings. But there's a third way he wanted to be like Christ: he wanted to be conformed to His death. You see that in verse 10? Do you remember how Jesus characterized the call to the gospel? He said if any man would come after me, he must deny himself and, what? Take up his cross. That's what he's talking about here. Paul lived daily under the threat of death because of his relationship to Jesus Christ. And you and I may never be called to be martyrs for Jesus Christ, but when you become a Christian, you take up your cross. You are willing to follow Christ whatever it costs you, up to death itself. That's being conformed to His death. And Paul of course, ultimately, was perfectly conformed to the death of Christ because he died on behalf of Christ.

Now, do you claim to have been justified? Here's the test: do you long to be like Jesus Christ? Do you? Do you long to be like Him? How do you know what that's like? Well, in that book you hold on your lap, we have Paul says, "the mind of Christ". He tells us how to think and speak and live. Is that what you want? Do you really want your life to conform to that? Can I just share my heart with you this morning? Every week that goes by, I pray for people in this church. I don't know who they are; it's not that I have a person specifically in mind. But I know there are people in this church who are here today, on this Sunday, who come and attend and say their believers, but their lives are a wreck. Their lives resemble nothing of Jesus Christ. Their thoughts and what they allow in their minds - they're a cesspool. What they allow in their marriages - their marriages resemble nothing that Jesus lays out in His Word. Their families don't resemble it at all. What they do in the workplace, and at school, and in all these different environments - they're godless! And yet say, "I'm a Christian!" Listen, don't you think for a moment that you can have confidence that you have been justified if you don't want to be like Jesus Christ. Genuine Christians want to be like Jesus in every way. They want their lives to conform to His will. Justification is always accompanied by a profound change, a change that begins in our desires and ambitions.

Like Paul, you can know you have been justified if you have a longing to know Christ, to be like Him and, thirdly, to be with Him. Look at verse 11: "in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead." The word "attain" is often used literally in the Book of Acts of arriving in a destination. Paul says I want to arrive at the destination of the resurrection. He uses a really interesting expression, here in the Greek text. Literally, the Greek text says this, "I want to arrive at the destination of the resurrection out from among the corpses." I think he's talking about the rapture, where the rest of the unbelieving dead are left but God gathers His own. He longed for the resurrection. And don't misunderstand. Paul didn't long for the resurrection because he wanted to be out of the troubles of this life. He longed for the resurrection so he could know Christ in the highest and fullest sense, so he could be perfectly like Jesus Christ. And so, he could be with Him forever. Look at Philippians 1, Philippians 1:21. He says, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." Paul why is dying gain? Verse 23: "...[because] to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better." That's why Paul wanted to be with ...wanted to embrace death. That's why he wanted to attain to the resurrection. It wasn't just to be rid of this life. It was to be with Christ.

Can you honestly say, that one of your greatest ambitions, is to be with Jesus Christ? If you've received the gift of righteousness from God, you received it by faith alone. But that faith that saved you didn't come to you alone. Justification cannot be divorced from regeneration, from faith, from repentance. Justification produces life transforming results or, at least, it comes with them; it's accompanied by them. Like Paul, if you've been justified, your ambitions in life have changed radically. And they are now focused on Christ. You want to know Him. You want to be like Him. And you want to be with Him. These may not be the perfection of your life, but if you are in Christ, they will be and are, the direction of your life. It really comes down to this. Do you love Jesus Christ? I'm not asking you if you've prayed a prayer, walked an aisle, claim to be a Christian, baptized. Do you love Jesus Christ? Look at Ephesians 6. Here it's stated positively. Love for Christ is what distinguishes those who were truly justified. Ephesians 6:24: "Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love." Listen, Paul isn't talking about some special category of Christians - those elite Christians who love Jesus. No! He's talking about all Christians. If you're a Christian, you love Jesus Christ. But let's look at it negatively. Turn over to 1 Corinthians 16, 1 Corinthians 16:22. This is sobering. Paul says (1 Corinthians 16:22), "If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed [damned]." If anyone does not love the Lord, he's to be damned. In other words, love for Christ is the distinguishing mark that differentiates those who are truly Christ's from those who are not. So, my question to you this morning is to hold the mirror of God's word up to your own soul and ask yourself, "Do I love Jesus Christ?"

Our Father, I pray for those here this morning who, in holding the mirror of Your Word up to their own souls, have to admit that they do not love Jesus Christ. They have no desire to know Him. They have no great desire to be like Him or to be with Him. Father strip away their false profession and bring them, this day, to a true knowledge of Yourself. May they repent of their sins, put their faith in Christ. May they cry out to you like a beggar and find You gracious. Father I pray for the rest of us who are in Christ. Lord thank You that You've given us a love for You. That's not our own doing; that's Your doing. But Lord, even though we confess that we do love You, our love is not what it ought to be. Oh Lord stir up in us, as we look at Christ in the Scripture, as we think about Him and meditate on Him, as we look at His surpassing value, Father make Him precious to us again. Forgive us for our lack of love for Christ and for others for His sake. Lord each of us, individually, confess our sins to You as we prepare to take of the Lord's table. Forgive us for His sake, because of what He did. And Lord make us clean so that we can take of the Lord's table in a way that honors You. We pray it in Jesus' name, Amen!