redlands

Guarded in Christ

Philippians 4:2-9

Throughout the Philippian epistle, Paul is reminding the church that they are living in the reality that Jesus Christ is transforming all things in order to make them new. Paul encourages us to keep our eyes focused on the reality that we are citizens of Heaven, however, the one thing that will take our eyes off that reality is the conflict of how we live out the reality of Christ’s reign. Rather than being united under the saving grace of Christ we are often divided over how to live out Jesus’ reign. Paul says that Satan loves to use that diversion of our focus to steal our hope, and to completely zap us of all our passion for the gospel. We become filled with seething anger at one another causing anxiety for all involved rather than a church united under one hope.

In the midst of this dilemma, how do we guard against fighting over the how’s of following Jesus?

Why “the how” takes over “the what”

Throughout history the church has had problems with strong leaders who begin to quibble and fight over how they should lead their congregation in following Christ. When this happens it is often the congregation that suffers the consequences of such debates. It would be understandable if these issues occurred in churches that did not have a strong theology, but the problem is we can often find this kind of bickering in churches that are strong theologically and have high biblical convictions. These argumentative obstacles occur when convictions of seeking God’s way shifts into seeking our own way.  We can become obsessed with our method of worship, our way of doing ministry, our way of preaching, our methods of following Christ become the only method to follow Christ. It is within this atmosphere that we can begin to look down on other groups with a sense of spiritual superiority. If other churches do not follow Christ our way then we can immediately separate ourselves from them. The method we use, or how, we worship becomes far more important than who we worship.   

In a healthy church, strong convictions breed healthy disciples. In discipleship we begin to mimic the person that we are following which means we become more like Christ. But, if we become obsessed with our methodology rather than the one we worship, strong convictions act as a poison in the church which slowly spreads from the leadership to the congregation. Paul knows that Philippi has strong convictions for the gospel, but somewhere along the way two leaders are becoming obsessed with their own way which is threatening to tear the church apart. We must be sure that we are not becoming calloused to what Jesus has done, in favor of burning with a passion for the opinions of what we should be doing.  

“When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.”

It is important to recognize that it is not wrong to be passionate about how we follow Jesus. However, it becomes a problem when our love for Jesus becomes overshadowed by our way of following him. It is also crucial to realize that this is not something only leaders of the church should be watching out for. We are all called to be ambassadors for Christ which means it is a heart issue that we must all watch out for because we are all called to lead and serve the church forward with the gifts that God has given us. Methodology is vastly important because it should unite us as we live our lives as disciples of Christ, but it becomes an issue when it becomes the focus.   

“If we leave Jesus behind, what is the point of being the church?”

Paul’s Habits to keep us focused on “the what”

If we want to be a people who know Christ, then we must be a people with habits that saturate our hearts in what Christ has accomplished on our behalf.

Habit 1: Thanksgiving before the Father

The first habit that Paul encourages us to practice is to rejoice in every aspect of our lives. This can be incredibly difficult for us to grasp because our lives are complex. There is a plethora of events which we could say do not evoke a spirit of rejoicing. Yet, Paul encourages us to rejoice in all things because of what Christ has done. Regardless of what happens in our lives, either positive or negative, we can rest assured that we are reconciled to our loving Heavenly Father thanks to what Jesus has done for us. We can draw near to God and He draws near to us. If we make it a habit of pushing away from God, then our lives will be full of anxiety, fear, and worry. Then we will expect other people to fill the void only God can fill which leads to fighting over the best method of overcoming our obstacles.

Habit 2: Hospitality towards others

Paul says that we must literally practice the “what” of Jesus’ kingdom because every day we are going through the motions of what the world says is true, just, pure, and noble. We must strengthen our muscles of discipleship towards Christ and what it looks like to be part of his kingdom by forming habits that mimic those truths. Paul is saying that in order to be a people who properly sees what Jesus has done, we need practices that captures the picture of the truth of Jesus. Hospitality is a habit that keeps our focus in check.

Hospitality is simply welcoming others as Christ has welcomed us. It creates a grace filled space where a friend or stranger can enter and experience the welcoming spirit of Christ. It is a way to express love for others in the way that Jesus loved us even when we were sinners. It challenges our assumptions of other people and pushes away our biases towards others by reminding us of the welcoming grace that we have received in Jesus. As we sacrificially welcome others into our lives our hearts begin to open to the understanding that we all are welcomed into the adopted family of God which keeps us focused on the what so that the how’s can take care of themselves.

Links: Youtube-Full Sermon Transcription-Lent Guide


The Importance of Confession

As Paul approaches the end of his letter to the church in Philipi, he implores his readers to remember that they are a work in progress. As human beings we can become tied up in the human tension which consists of a desire for perfection while being fully aware that we are not close to this goal. Paul reminds us that even though he is an apostle he has not attained this perfection. It is important for us to understand the tension of who we long to be and who we really are in order to avoid a life of hypocrisy.

Human Tension

Humans live in the tension of having a genuine desire to live for God, but struggle in the process. We want to live lives that mimic love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. Yet, even though we may sincerely desire these things, we find that it is incredibly difficult to do so consistently. We somehow fall short of living the lives we wish we could. As we grow in our awareness of our flesh and sinfulness our dependency on the cross enlarges.

Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy... He who is alone with his sins is utterly alone.”

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Within this tension the gospel gives us hope to press on. Paul declares that there is no height nor depth that the cross cannot go, in order to bridge the gap between us and God’s holiness. By God’s grace Christ makes us his own; we belong to him. The question is: how do we live in the knowledge that we belong to Christ despite the human tension that we find ourselves in?

We sense that we should want to know God and live accordingly.

And yet, while I feel I want it, I fail to obtain it.

The Mistaken Ways of Resolving the Tension

Rather than resolving the tension of our sin and the process of God’s transformative grace we try to move forward quickly. We can easily become dishonest with the fact that our transformation is ongoing and pretend to be further along in the process than we are. The ideal of perfection becomes tantalizing to the point that we would rather pretend to be perfect than be honest about our shortcomings.  

  1. Pretending

    We tend to hide our sin from God or others by pretending that everything we do is acceptable. We can create habits of avoiding those who would keep us accountable for our actions which naturally turns into a form of isolation. We begin pretending to be someone we are not in order to hide our shortcomings. Hopelessness erupts in our lives when we believe that life in Christ is only available to the spiritual elite.

  2. Performing

    In order to cover our failures, we bury our sin in busyness to impress God and/or other people. We put on our best moral performance to meet everyone’s expectations of us in hopes that the tension we desperately hope to avoid will disappear. The outcome of such a performance is hypocrisy rather than peace. We become trapped in the cycle of seeing the sham of our performance which leads to the sense of belonging to our sin, rather than Christ, which returns us to our habit of performing.

If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.

-Mark Twain

Pretending and performing only furthers the dichotomy between the people we pretend to be and our true selves. It binds us into a false assumption that we belong to our sins rather than exist under the banner of God’s grace through the cross of Christ.

Confession: The Gospel Key to Resolving the Tension

Paul discourages us from using the old system of law or titles in order to pretend that we are living in perfection. Instead, Paul encourages us to use any means necessary in order to grow in the reality of grace even if that means revealing our shortcomings. As we mature, we will grow in our understanding of how holy God is which, in turn, reveals the depths of our sin while simultaneously revealing how good God’s grace is in light of the cross. Being a mature Christian is not about perfection, but the realization that there is always room to grow.

The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”

-Timothy Keller

The key for pressing forward to Christ is the discipline of confession.

The two types of confession

  1. We must come to terms with the fact that we are unable to free or protect ourselves from our shortcomings.

  2. Recognize that Christ has made us his own

    Confession is simply admitting these two truths before God which provides us with the hope to move forward. Confession is the act of examining our lives so that we can bring our shortcomings before God and humbly receive the truth that the only way to freedom is moving towards Christ. We also confess our knowledge that Christ has made us his own despite our failures which means we do not have to pretend that we are spiritually pure. We confess that we have sinned and that we belong to Jesus Christ.  

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

Philippians 3:11

Do we live as though we belong to Christ or do we live as though we belong to our failures and shortcomings?

Links: Youtube-Full Sermon Transcript-Lent Guide



Fulfillment in Christ Alone

WHAT WE WERE CREATED FOR

Humans are fundamentally searching creatures. We are constantly seeking validation and fulfillment outside of ourselves to satisfy a longing deep within each one of us. Even children are searching for connection through experiences of tasting sweets or watching movies that they have seen a multitude of times. As we grow, we continue to seek out what gives us purpose, value, and inner joy. If left to their own devices, humans naturally begin to stuff their lives full of things that break, get lost, or get old and rusty in the hopes that something will satisfy the longing of their hearts. The heart is so complex, deep, and intricate that its desire to be known cannot be satisfied through imperfect desires or people.  Unless we find our place in Christ all other longings will leave us wanting more.

“Because you made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless

 til they find thy rest in thee.”

 -Augustine

Jesus points us towards what we were truly created for when he says: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then, in his joy, he goes and sells all that he has and buys the field” (Matthew 13:44). We must realize that the good things that leave us momentarily satisfied are simply glimpses of the reality which our hearts truly long for. The reality that only exists in the Kingdom of God. When we find the reality of the kingdom, and kingship that we are searching for, we will sell all we have in order to gain it. However, we must be wary that we do not settle for achievements of the flesh which fails to accomplish true confidence.

THE WRONG KIND OF CONFIDENCE

  1. Putting our trust in religious behavior rather than the work of Christ

  2. Attaining salvation through our own desires or giftings

  3. Becoming watch dogs of heresy rather than shepherds of truth

Paul urges the church in Philippi to be cautious about putting their confidence in anything other than the saving grace of Christ. It is too easy to place one’s confidence in deeds, works, titles, or relationships. But Paul emphatically denies the notion that any of these can offer fulfillment for oneself or favor with God. We have no confidence in the work of the flesh. It’s not through circumcision and law keeping that brings about salvation, but it is the circumcision of the heart through Jesus Christ who came to fulfill the law. The mark of a new believer is not physical circumcision, but the spirit of God, at work in us.

THE RIGHT KIND OF LOSS

It is important to note that it is not ambition or the celebration of hard work that is wrong. However, we must never lose sight of that fact that compared to Christ all is rubbish. Nothing can come close to the importance of one’s identity solidly planted in the restorative nature of God himself. Paul is not saying that all human achievement is worthless, but he is saying that compared to Christ, and without Christ, it is worthless.

“Indeed, I count everything as loss, because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord. For his sake, I’ve suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, in order that I might gain Christ.”

 Philippians 3:8 

HOW DO WE LIVE OUR LIVES IN THE RIGHT KIND OF LOSS?

  1. Recognizing that everything that comes our way is an opportunity to gain more of Christ

    Everything that comes our way in life is our opportunity to move towards Christ. In everything that is pleasant, we give thanks to Jesus. In everything that is difficult, we lean on him for strength. We constantly live in the tension between thanks and dependency on Christ. This is counting all things as loss.

  2. Hold things gently

    As we interact with the things of this world, we will consistently demonstrate that the achievements of the flesh are not our ultimate treasure. Everything we achieve in this life will be given its value based on the value we have in Christ. This means that we will hold everything loosely because compared to Christ it is not something worth holding on too tightly. Those who hold the spoils of this life loosely will find that generosity is a natural outpouring. When we refuse to hold tightly to the temporal nature of things that rust and corrupt, we become generous.

  3. Trust that we will not lose our joy

    Experiencing loss in this world is an unfortunate side effect of the fall that we all must face. We will experience it. But, even in the loss of all things we will not grumble because our joy is Christ. This is the kind of loss that leads to life and what we were created for.

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others who do not have hope.”

1 Thessalonians 4:13

THE BEST KIND OF KNOWING

In order for us to move past the wrong kind of confidence and push forward into the right kind of loss we must have a personal knowledge of Christ. This is not simply a knowledge of the historicity of Jesus; rather, this is the kind of knowing that makes us say that Jesus is our lord and our savior. The kind of knowing that becomes a fountainhead from which the rest of the aspects flow.

KNOWING CHRIST

  1. Biblically

    Christians are Bible people; thus we know the grand story of redemption and the reality of Christ through scripture. It is not simply a book that we read but it is the very essence of our lives. We are tethered to scripture because it is how we come to know who we are in Christ.

  2. Theologically

    We come to know Christ through the theological truths of the Christian faith which include: salvation, the trinity, humanity, and even scripture. It covers the basic theological truths because without these truths we cannot truly know Christ.

  3. Personally

    If all we have is knowing Jesus theologically and doctrinally, we reduce knowing Christ to the legalistic snare of avoiding error. Personally knowing Christ is more than orthodoxy and articulating the correct theology or doctrine. Knowing Christ personally means we commune with him as we learn from him. The love we have for him begins to grow and mature as we think of him and talk with him. We find that in Christ we are home. The longings that exist deep inside of us find rest and fulfillment in Christ alone.

“We can’t have confidence in the flesh and gain right standing before God. We have right standing before God, because he has found us.”

DOES CHRIST LOOK SO GOOD TO US THAT EVERYTHING ELSE, BY COMPARISON, SEEMS EXPENDABLE?

Links: Youtube-Full Sermon Transcript-Lent Guide