Sunday, November 02, 2014
"Citizens of Heaven" Sermon: Philippians 3:17-4:1
“Citizens of Heaven”
November 2, 2014 Second Reformed Church
Where is your citizenship?
Does the place of your citizenship affect the way you live?
Paul tells the Philippians – and us – it must.
Paul explained in the preceding verses that the Christian life is a strenuous life – straining and striving forward in the race of faith towards holiness – without which no one will see God – by the Power of the Holy Spirit – leaving behind the paralyzing guilt of past sins which have been forgiven, and the accomplishments which cause us sinful pride and keep us from moving forward. We are in a race – a race in which we will surely get to the end – because Christ is there and is bringing us to the end as those for whom He died.
Earlier Paul gave us a list of his goals – the goals towards which we all – as Christians – ought to be striving and straining: That we would know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior in a very personal way – becoming united with Him in belief and life. That we would live and long for the full power of the Resurrection in our lives – that our spiritual resurrection would be perfected and we would be like Him in all ways. That we would share in suffering for the sake of Christ and His Gospel – submitting ourselves wholly to the Will of the Father in whatever His Hand would have for us. And that we would have as our sure hope the resurrection of our bodies – made like unto Him – at His Coming – when we are received into the fullness of His Kingdom in the restored earth.
This morning’s text continues as Paul tells the Philippians – and us:
First, we are to imitate those who imitate Christ.
Second, we are not to imitate those who strive for Hell.
And third, our citizenship is in Heaven.
And, so Paul writes:
First, we are to imitate those who imitate Christ.
“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.”
At first glance, this might seem pretty arrogant: Paul tells them to imitate Paul? Is Paul saying he is so special and so above everyone else that we should all strive to be like him?
Now, remember, Paul has just told them to imitate the humility of Christ – if Paul was telling them to imitate Paul, he would be going against the very things he had already admonished them and told them about himself.
Paul admits his continual struggle with sin – as we all have as we strive towards holiness – as the Holy Spirit works sanctification in us:
“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Romans 7:15-20, ESV).
Paul was not giving a blanket command to be like him – to imitate him. Nor was he giving blanket command for us to follow his companions – or you or me or whoever our spiritual hero might be – all of us continue to struggle and sin until Christ returns.
No, Paul’s command to imitate him and others who “walk according to the example you have in us” was aimed at imitating each other as we see each other drawing closer in the knowledge of Jesus, in living the life that we are given in our salvation – our spiritual resurrection, in suffering for the sake of the Gospel in obedience to the Father, and in striving forward in the hope of the physical resurrection at the end of the age.
So, in the ways that we see Paul and other Christians living the life of faith, striving towards holiness, seeking to be obedient and pleasing to the Father – in those ways we should imitate each other. That is why we need to be with Christians who are more mature than us or who have different gifts and struggles than us – then we can see in them the way that they imitate Christ and seek to do the same.
There is nothing pleasing to God in imitating Paul or any other Christian, per se, but as we imitate the ways in which they have well imitated Christ, we make gains in our sanctification – in our becoming holy – which is the race of faith that we are engaged in.
When we see someone who is committed to the Word of God, prayer, obedience, trust in the Providence of the Father, and so forth – as Jesus is – we ought to imitate that, because it will help us to grow into the men and women God has called us to be.
Yet, we must be careful as we look to imitate people and be sure that they are truly following Christ and being like Him. There are many false prophets and confused people who think they are being Christ-like, but are not. There are people who want to trap us and confuse us and do the very things that are against Christ. And that is where Paul moves to in this passage:
Second, we are not to imitate those who strive for Hell.
“For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.”
Paul loved the Philippians very much and was deeply concerned for them – that is an example we should follow – we ought to love each other very much as brothers and sisters of Jesus and sons and daughters of God – and we ought to be very concerned for each other as we seek to be like Christ and run the race of faith that is set out before us. We ought to long for the good of each other and watch out for each other and help each other to be the men and women God calls us to be – conformed and transformed into the Image of Christ. And as we see each other stray, we ought to bring each other back.
Paul was deeply concerned that those who had not received Christ would be taken far from Him and that those who had believed would be deceived and stray away from Christ. And that should cause us tears – we ought to weep when our brothers and sisters start imitating lies.
Paul says that these walk as enemies of Christ.
Remember – Paul was willing to give up everything, including his life to see the Gospel advance. The Gospel is the answer to how a person can be right with God – we are all born sinners, dead in sin, enemies of God, haters of the truth – we are unable to do anything to save ourselves – to make us right with God – to escape the worthy judgment of God for our sin. But God came to earth in the Person of Jesus, lived a perfect – sinless – holy life, died for the sins of all those who will believe, and physically rose from the dead – ascending back to His throne – victorious over sin and death and Hell, having paid the price for all those who will believe to be made right with God. Jesus Alone and no other – ever – is the Way for anyone to be made right with God. To say otherwise is to be an enemy of Christ.
Paul was likely referring to the Judaizers, who we have talked about – those who say that Jesus is not enough for salvation – salvation is Jesus plus our good works. We must – they say – help Jesus complete our salvation. They are enemies of Christ.
Charles Finney – one of the great revivalist preachers of the Second Great Awakening in the United States preached that Jesus was a great example for us to follow, but not necessary for our salvation. (http://www.mountainretreatorg.net/articles/charles_finney_vs_westminster_confession.shtml) Enemy of Christ.
Roman Catholic doctrine says that Jesus is not enough for salvation – we must do good works to help Jesus save us. (http://carm.org/roman-catholic-view-justification) Enemy of Christ. (I thank God that many Roman Catholics do not believe what the church teaches!)
Joel Osteen said he is not sure if Jesus is necessary for everyone’s salvation. (http://www.av1611.org/osteen.html) Enemy of Christ.
Robert Schuller says that sin is nothing more than low self-esteem, so we need better self-esteem, not Christ’s Sacrifice. (http://www.rapidnet.com/~jbeard/bdm/exposes/schuller/quotes-se.htm) Enemy of Christ.
There are movements within our denomination which say that the biblical writers were wrong and we need to just love everybody and not worry about sin. (Cf. http://thatreformedblog.com/2014/10/20/all-things-being-equal/) Enemy of Christ.
We could go on and on. Know that Paul was right in his day and nothing has changed, as he wrote, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4, ESV).
These false teachers and false doctrines will end in destruction. God is Holy and cannot tolerate sin. We ought to grieve for those inside and outside of the church who believe these enemies of Christ are teaching the Gospel. They are not. Beware! Don’t fall into believing them. They are teaching against God and His Salvation through Jesus Christ Alone.
Paul says that “their god is their belly.” They are obsessed with earthly rules and not with salvation. They try to enslave people into keeping rules that were only for Ancient Israel – like circumcision – or rules that were invented by other people which have no basis in the Scripture. For example, I was told, when I was in high school, if I listened to rock music, grew my hair long, and studied philosophy, I would go to Hell. Those are lies of the devil created to entrap us and leave us hopeless.
Paul says these people, “glory in their shame.” They are prideful about their money and earthly possessions and seeming wellbeing. Have you ever heard someone say that if you have enough faith, you will be healthy and wealthy? They are working for their own ambition, not for the progress of the Gospel. It is a lie of the devil. God blesses from His Hand as He wills and uses suffering to His Glory as well.
“Their minds are set on earthly things.” Be happy. Be healthy. Be wealthy. Love each other. Be helpful people. There is nothing wrong with any of those things – but that is not the Gospel. Someone who thinks or teaches that that is the Gospel is striving towards Hell.
Don’t imitate people who do not believe and clearly present the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
We who truly believe that salvation is in Jesus Alone have our minds and lives set on a different hope.
And third, our citizenship is in Heaven.
“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.”
As opposed to those who are striving towards Hell, “our citizenship is in heaven.”
What does that mean?
Well, I live in the United States, so I am citizen of the United States. But my friend Howard lives in the United States, and he is a citizen of Scotland. So it can’t mean where we live.
I am a citizen of the United States, so all the rights and privileges of the United States are mine, right. That is closer to the meaning Paul is getting at.
The city of Philippi, which was on the eastern border of Greece, was a commonwealth of Rome, so the people who were residents of Philippi were considered citizens of Rome – with all the rights and privileges of a Roman who lived in Rome.
So, though we are living in the United States – or wherever else on earth, and though our legal citizenship may be in the United States or Scotland, or somewhere else, we also have citizenship in Heaven – not because we are there now, but because Jesus is there and all the rights and privileges of a resident of Heaven are given to those who believe through Jesus.
Just as the Philippians had the rights and privileges of Rome because Rome owned Philippi, we have the rights and privileges of Heaven because we have been bought – we who believe are owned by Heaven.
How is that?
Paul explains – in writing against sexual sin – “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, ESV).
And writing against the Judaizers, Paul wrote, “You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men” (1 Corinthians 7:23, ESV).
Similar to the way Philippi became part of Rome, through the Blood of Christ, with which He purchased us, we are part of Heaven – we are owned by Christ – we are citizens of Heaven.
And just as the citizens of Philippi had to live in a way the pleased Rome, so we are to live in a way that pleases Heaven – that is, God.
We are to live in a way that is pleasing to God – pursuing faithfulness and obedience and holiness as we run the race of faith. We are to seek God’s Pleasure in all things, in thanksgiving for His making us His through Jesus.
We are to be waiting in hope for our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who will come from Heaven through the clouds, just as He ascended forty days after the Resurrection. We are to be in expectant hope that He is returning! We do not know the day or the hour, but he is coming, so we should always be ready – excited and hopeful and ready.
As Jesus said, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake” (Mark 13:32-37, ESV).
As we wait for Him with hope, seeking to become more like Him, we hold onto the promise that Jesus is the Lord of Heaven and earth – the Almighty God over all of Creation – Who is returning and will cause all of we who believe – living and dead – to be raised and changed into a glorious body like His Body.
Paul told the Romans that this is the great hope of the Creation itself – that all of the material Creation will be made right – restored and perfected – the greatest sign of which will be our physical bodies becoming like the physical body Jesus has now:
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:19-23, ESV).
Are you looking forward in joy for that day when Jesus returns and all those you love who have believed will be raised in their physical bodies to be welcomed with us as citizens of Heaven into the Kingdom of God? Are you looking forward to that day when Jesus – in His physical body – will be among us always to worship and adore? Are you striving forward in holiness for the joy of hearing Jesus open His mouth to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21, ESV).
Paul ends this section by telling the Philippians that he loves them and longs for them – that they delighted him and were like a crown to him, because they received the Gospel of Jesus Christ preached by Paul. So, he tells them, as his beloved, to stand firm in the faith.
No matter what happens. No matter what evil should come upon us. No matter what blessings we should receive. No matter how far we are along in the race of faith – pursuing holiness. We must stand firm in the faith.
As we seek to imitate Jesus as we see how others imitate Him well, we must stand firm in the faith. As we turn away from those who are striving after Hell – desiring to confuse us and pull us down with them, we must stand firm in the faith. And as we rejoice in our citizenship in Heaven – as we rejoice in the fact that, through Christ, we have the rights and privileges of Heaven, we must stand firm in the faith. As we look forward in great expectation for the return of Christ and the restoration of the Creation, we must stand firm in the faith.
If we are citizens of Heaven, we will stand firm in the faith. We will proclaim the Gospel, seek its advance, and strive to know Jesus, to know the power of the Resurrection, to suffer for the Gospel, to obey the Father, and to look forward to our resurrection of the body.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You that You have given us examples of godly men and women who help us to see how we may imitate Jesus all the better. We ask that You would give us wisdom to see those who strive for Hell for who they are and to reject their “alternative gospel.” We thank You for purchasing us through the Blood of Jesus and we humble ourselves before You that You would make us delightful in Your Sight. For it is Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.