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About this series
I Choose Hope
How to Face Your Future with Confidence
We all hope in something or someone. The question is: Will your hope deliver? In uncertain times, hope can waver. Families are under assault, the global economy is tenuous, and violence is on the rise. Is it possible to live confidently in such alarming times? In this series, from the book of Philippians, Chapter 3, Chip explains what God has to say about our future and our fears. He'll teach us how we can face tomorrow, and each day that follows, with certainty and hope that never fails.More from this series
We have been talking about finding hope, experiencing hope, and now we are going to talk about pursuing hope.
Open your Bibles to Philippians chapter 3, we are going to look at verses 12 through 16 in just a minute. But at the heart of finding hope is a spiritual pathway to God. Someway of spiritual development or spiritual maturity, that is what is going to give us lasting, deep hope. And so there is a pursuit.
And what I want to do in our time here is I want to give you four examples, because this gets tricky. This pursuit of hope through a spiritual pathway, even among Christians, has some real potholes here and there that I watch believers go down this direction or that direction and often get very disillusioned with God, because either they think He’s expecting something of them that He’s not, or they are expecting something to happen that is not realistic.
And so they say, “I have pursued lasting, deep hope in a relationship with Christ and, “It doesn’t work.” Let me share four, I think they are rather sad stories, but I want to give you a spectrum.
The first one is a young gal that I knew many years ago, she was a co-ed, engineering major, very bright, went to one of the finest academic institutions in all of America.
She came home after six or eight months and told me that she was dissatisfied with our church, she was dissatisfied with her parents, she had met a group there on campus that really understood the deeper things and she began to talk to me about the shortcomings of our church and most Christians everywhere and this new group. And she said, “I have learned the deeper teaching,” and then she looked me right in the eye and she said, “I have learned the secret of the deeper teaching is I don’t sin anymore.”
And I remember going, “No, no.” I said, “So, you don’t have a bad thought, you don’t have a bad attitude, nothing comes out of your mouth? You never do anything wrong? You are sinless like you are perfect now?” And she sat very calmly in this weird stupor and said, “Yes.”
And she went on to share a Christian cult and by God’s grace I remember years later, she was delivered out of it.
The second example is of a teammate that I had many years ago. We were playing basketball together, traveling throughout South America and great guy, great friends, he was another point guard so we hung out, roomed together on the road. And we were in all these different countries and had deep talks at night and two young guys and I remember one night, I think he felt really open and he began to really share his heart and he goes, “Chip, I really like you. And we are really good friends. And you know what? You’re just missing out.”
And I said, “Well, wow, what do you mean?” And he said, “I have an experience and you can have this experience and I have six airtight passages from Scripture, and when you do exactly what I say, according to these six passages, you will experience a power like never before,” and then he talked about all the things that would happen in my life, and he cared about me, and this is the experience. And if you don’t have this experience, second-rate Christian, you’ll never amount to anything.
The third spiritual pathway that was to give lasting hope was I had an elderly friend who had a daughter that was grown. She was literally a musical genius. She went to that most prestigious musical school on the east coast in the entire world – or at least they think so.
She was finishing up her Ph.D. But she had recently gone to work with her husband who worked for a spiritual organization. And as she came home on break and met with me, being a pastor and her parents being involved in the church, she was telling me about the vast untapped spiritual potential that I could have if I would go to this weekend seminar that had some scientific test and that they could help me for a mere five hundred and fifty dollars at the time, spending this weekend that would transform my spiritual life.
So, number one, there’s some deeper teaching that I can be perfect. Number two, there’s an experience I need to have. Number three, there’s a seminar with science mixed in about tapping into the spiritual potential that’s in all of us.
And then the fourth was, it was bizarre. I still remember reading it in the paper, actually. It was the story of a semi-unkempt, unsophisticated woman who happened to be, with research later, a high school dropout. She exercised a mind-boggling control, if you will, over – in the Dallas area at the time – professors, doctors, lawyers. She was a spiritual guide, she took them into various experiences, she actually had some times and ways where she told them future things that were going to happen to them, she assigned a spiritual guide to them.
And then the police, in investigating the entire web of manipulation, connected this woman to a series of suicides of high-level professionals that were all her clients who all happened to leave, in their will, their money to her.
And here’s all I want to say. What all four of these stories have in common is each one of them is linked, all four had a pursuit of hope. They had a pursuit of hope. They wanted to look at a promising future. They wanted to have a sense that progress is certain. They wanted to know that life is good. And even in the midst of their struggles and their ups and their downs, they were looking for hope and they were looking for it where most people are, at the end of the day, is through a spiritual relationship where you become growing and become spiritually mature.
So, here’s what I want to address: What does it mean to be spiritually mature? Because if you’re not clear on that, if you’re not clear on exactly what it means to be spiritually mature, and what it doesn’t mean to be spiritually mature, and if you’re not on the right spiritual path, your pursuit of hope can take you down some very, very bad paths.
The apostle Paul is actually going to answer this question. He is going to define spiritual authenticity for us. And as he does that, notice the context here. The context is, he has found hope.
But what he knows is as he shares that, that there is some bad teaching and there’s some paths that even in what he said, people could go the wrong direction. So, here’s what he is going to do. Verses 12 through 16 he is going to explain to them what spiritual maturity is and what spiritual maturity is not.
Notice what he says. He says, “Not that I have already obtained all of this,” or, “have already been made perfect,” circle the word perfect if you will, “but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” Will you underline take hold of and take hold of me? It’s going to be very, very important.
Notice in the next line, “Brothers, I don’t consider myself as having taken hold of it yet,” is the idea, “but this one thing I do,” circle one thing I do, “forgetting what lies behind, reaching forward to what lies ahead,” literally, straining forward, “I press on toward the goal, toward the prize for God, which He has called me heavenward.” Straining forward. He wants to know Christ personally.
He says, “I’m on a journey.” Now, in your notes, I want you to write the word disclaimer. What he is really saying is, is, “Look, I want to know Christ. I am as passionate or more passionate today, thirty years after I met Jesus on the Damascus Road.” And we learned that he wanted to know in his daily life, not just that someday, someway he is going to be resurrected. He wanted to know in his daily life the power of the resurrection.
We talked about experiencing God’s strength in weakness, overcoming temptation, overcoming the flesh, overcoming difficulty, seeing God’s power actually work through us in everyday life, giving us patience for people that make us crazy, giving us a generous heart that doesn’t come naturally.
And then he said, “Not only do I want to experience the power of His resurrection, I also want to know, I want to know the fellowship of His suffering.” That in the ups and downs and difficulties of life, in the pain that you’re going to have and I am going to have, we are human. We will have pain in relationships, we will have pain in our physical bodies, we will have disappointments, we will be betrayed. We will suffer.
And what Paul said is, “I want to share in, I want to experience the presence of Christ when I suffer.” And whether that suffering is external and people do it to me, whether I experience internally in the anguish of my heart, or whether I suffer because I am a follower of Christ, I want to experience the intimacy and the power and the love and the comfort that Jesus promised.
And then notice that last line, “As I am being conformed, progressively transformed into the very likeness of Christ in His death.” So, that’s his prayer.
But here’s the misunderstanding. Paul, do you have it all together? Paul, have you become perfect? So, I want you to write the word, disclaimer. “Not that I already have this,” in other words, I haven’t arrived. No sinless perfection. I haven’t been made perfect.
The word means mature. It’s a picture of something that fulfills its design. It’s not perfection as in: without fault or sinless. It’s the same word in James chapter 1, 2 through 4 where he says, “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, knowing the testing of your faith produces endurance and let endurance have its perfecting,” or, “perfect result, that you grow and become mature, lacking in nothing.”
In other words, he goes, “I don’t have it all together, I haven’t been made sinlessly perfect, but I press on.” In other words, it’s a hunting term. It’s like a hunter who is waiting and then stalking and then waiting and then stalking. “I press on,” in other words, there’s a very clear-cut goal. I don’t have it all together, but, get it? I am progressively on a journey.
And here’s his passion. Notice what he says. He says, “I want to take hold of.” It means to reach out, to grasp, to obtain, to actually experience. “I want to take hold of that for which God has taken hold of me.”
And so his disclaimer is: Am I perfect? No. Am I pressing ahead? Do I have a goal? Am I seeking with all my heart to know Christ? Absolutely.
“Brothers, I don’t consider myself as taking hold of it yet,” okay? I haven’t met Christ, I haven’t been transformed, I still have issues, I still have times where I get angry, I still have times when lustful thoughts come to my mind. I still have times when I get discouraged. “I haven’t taken hold of it yet, but here’s one thing I do,” get this, here’s his explanation, I not there yet, but I have a focus. I have a priority, I have an intentionality and I have an intensity. This is after thirty years. An intentionality and an intensity that I want to press on to know Him. I am going to eliminate distractions, and then he tells us how.
“I am going to, forgetting what lies behind,” we will develop this in a minute. He is going to forget all of his past failures. He is going to forget that he was a persecutor. He is going to not think that God is down on him, that the things that he did in his past are still held up against him.
But he is also going to forget his past accomplishments. He has been an apostle for thirty years, he has planted churches, he has already written New Testament books, he has had amazing, amazing experiences. He goes, “Neither am I going to rest on my laurels.” He said, I’m not going to live under condemnation of my past, but there’s no way there can be any complacency like, “Oh, I have loved the Lord and I served when I was young and I did a lot of things and now, it’s the McDonalds philosophy of life.” I deserve a break today! There is none of that in the apostle Paul.
And so his disclaimer is: I’m not perfect and I haven’t arrived. His explanation is that: I press on toward the goal for the prize of which God called me heavenward. That phrase God called me heavenward, every time it’s used throughout the New Testament, save once, it’s about the calling of God for salvation. He is saying, God has a calling on my life, I have turned from my sin, I have received Christ, that calling – one day, someday – when I die, or what we are going to find out, he’s not quite sure when Christ returns, I am going to be with Him.
And he says, “I,” he repeats, “I press on.” That’s my goal, that’s the prize that God has called me heavenward.
And then he has a bit of an admonition. Because he has got problems. Notice this whole book, underlying, there are some problems. We had some disunity problems, they had some persecution problems, we had some false teacher problems. And so he knows there’s some stuff going on because he is getting reports from Epaphroditus. And he says, “All of us who are mature,” that’s our word teleos again.
“All of us who have come to a standard of progressive maturity in Christ,” not perfect, but mature, “should have this attitude,” the New American Standard says. “And if on any point you think differently, that too God will make clear.” In other words, this idea that there’s no sinless perfection over here, and this idea that it requires a passionate pursuit of following God, anybody that has a different idea, God will reveal it to you.
But then, notice, his final admonition. “Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” In other words, wherever you’re at in the truth that you have received in the spiritual growth where you’re at in your life right now; in your life right now, wherever you’re at, he goes, “You need to respond to the truth. The fact that I haven’t already arrived,” or, “no one has already arrived can become an excuse,” is what he is saying.
You can’t say, “Well, everyone struggles. Most men have a pornography issue, so God understands. Most people understand that this is how we live and this is what is going on.” No, no. He said, “Whatever truth you have received, you need to respond to.”
What the apostle Paul is doing is he addressing two extremes. There were two extremes about what it meant to be spiritually mature. And in very subtle ways he has addressed both of them.
On the one hand, spiritual maturity is not compulsive perfectionism. When the Judiazers and legalistic people came in, “You’ve got to live up, you’ve got to live up, you’ve got to live up, you’ve got to live up, you’ve got to live up.” And, by the way, there are some of us and there are some of you that, maybe it’s not even conscious but you live with this, who you are and where you’re at on your journey, it never measures up.
You live with this low-grade guilt that messes with your life all the time, and as a result, some of you parents, you are passing that on to your kids. No matter what they do, however much progress they make, it’s never enough. There’s this perfectionism.
And what he is saying is is that that’s not spiritual maturity. Reading your Bible every day, praying every day, having all your ducks in a row – it’s about a relationship. The test of spiritual maturity is loving God and loving people and a transformed life. It’s not this external perfectionism.
But there’s another extreme and he addressed that in the very last verse. Spiritual maturity is not complacent passivity. On the one hand, these Judaizers were coming in and giving people a list of rules – you’ve got to do all this.
But there was another group. The other group – it’s a big word – antinomianist. You learned a big word today. Anti: against; nomi: the law. And what they would say is: You know this stuff about Jesus? It’s even better than we thought. This is what grace means: you pray and you receive Jesus into your heart, you are forgiven, God loves you unconditionally, there are no rules, you can live however you want, there is no morality. It’s just grace, grace, grace. Some people have called it “cheap grace.”
So you can keep living in “sin,” because God understands! He is a gracious God. You’re already forgiven. And this is where he says you need to live up to the standard.
Okay, thank you, Chip. We have now learned a great deal about the apostle Paul and what was going on in the life of the Church. Help me a little bit on: what’s this really got to do with me?
I want you to lean back, I want you to really think. I want to summarize some things because God wants to give you hope. You need to find it, you need to experience it, but you need to pursue it. But you need to pursue it in such a way that no matter what you do: “you never measure up,” is not an option. And, on the other hand, that there’s not just this laxity that, “I guess God just winks at everything.”
Genuine spiritual maturity is a passionate pursuit of knowing and becoming like Jesus. Will you get it in this life? Will I? No. But it’s a passionate pursuit.
So, let me give you, again, what I think are three really major takeaways. Number one, spiritual maturity does not mean that we are perfect. Write that word in. What I mean by that is “sinless.” We never will be in this life. He says he wants to know Christ, he gave us the disclaimer, “but,” that’s huge. It doesn’t say that we are perfect but it does give us a direction. He says, “But I press on.” “But I hold on.”
And, so, what it does mean is that spiritual maturity is a lifelong process of knowing and becoming like Christ.
And what I want you to know, there is no quick fix. Becoming like Jesus, knowing God takes time, progressively in His Word. It takes you being honest with yourself and talking with God from your heart. It requires, and this is a non-negotiable, that you are involved in relationships with people where there is honesty and love and support and understanding and accountability.
And apart from God’s Word, people, prayer, and – are you ready? suffering and difficulty and pain – those are the avenues by which God begins to conform us to Himself, and as those things are happening, He calls us, Paul is ministering, He calls us to serve, first, wherever we live. With our roommate, our family.
He calls us to serve, that I am an agent of light and love in my neighborhood and at the coffee shop and at the gym and where I go to work. And what he’s saying is: it is going to be a journey. There’s an already/not yet. Okay? You already are loved, you already are forgiven, but you’re not yet perfect. And there is a tension that you’re going to live in.
But there is a direction, not perfection, there is a direction, there is a focus, there is an intentionality. So, can I pause? How are you doing? Not legalism, not oughts and should, but how are you doing at pursuing, intentionally, and with intensity a deep, rich, growing relationship with the God who made you and saved you and loves you?
And, if you’re a follower of Christ, His Spirit lives in you, His Word has been given to you, and in this room and all around the world, you’re a part of a supernatural body called “the Church,” that His Spirit lives in them and they will minister to you and you will minister to them and this process of transformation continues and continues and continues.
The second major takeaway is that spiritual maturity does mean our lives are characterized by a passionate pursuit of knowing and becoming like Jesus. Verse 12: we are never going to be perfect. Verse 13 and 14: passionate pursuit.
How do you do that? You have to come before God. It’s when we see Him, when we get glimpses of Him, when He reveals Himself in His Word and prayer and people and as we serve.
We come before God, we come before God regularly, come together and worship. It really matters. That’s part of a passionate pursuit.
And, yes, there’s prayer and all the things I mentioned. But he gives us two very specific things that I think a lot of people don’t get. There are two things that need to happen for your passionate pursuit. Number one, he says, “Forgetting what lies behind, and reaching,” or, “straining forward to what is ahead.”
See, for some of you, you have to forget some of your past life and failure. I have shared a little bit of my wife’s story, but part of her journey, she came to Christ after being abandoned, she had these two little boys, her life was desperate, she came to know Christ after her husband left with this other woman. She became a believer; she began to grow.
But even after we were married, even after I was most of the way through seminary, even after I was pastoring a church, my wife had this part of her that she didn’t want people to know because she was actually told, “You’re a second-class citizen. A biblical divorce for adultery or being abandoned, that may be true, but you’re a second-class citizen.” And, so, her freedom never took off because she lived under condemnation. She wasn’t forgetting her past.
And I’ll never forget, I sat in a room with Bill Lawrence, and Bill Lawrence looked at my wife and said, “Your past has been completely forgiven, He has radically changed your life,” and he said, “Theresa, you are a trophy of God’s grace and it’s on His mantelpiece. That’s how God sees you.”
And it was a barrier. It was a barrier. How many of you, how many of you won’t forget your past, your baggage, your pain, the abortion, the divorce, the lying, the stealing, the one night affair. I don’t know where you’ve been.
What I know in a group this size and a church this size, we’ve got everything under the sun. You have to forget what lies behind. But not only the difficulty and the past, but also you’ve got to forget some of the success. We have got some people here that you feel like you’ve done your part and you’re living on old verses and your passion and your drive – your life isn’t characterized by pressing ahead and knowing Him and serving Him.
It’s kind of like, “I did my deal.” You have to forget your success, whether it’s in the secular world or whether it’s your spiritual success. That’s, he says, required for a spiritual pursuit. And that’s the negative. And the positive is straining forward. Literally, it’s the picture of a runner who is not swerving.
It was used in the ancient games where, when you were riding a chariot is there would be two wheels and it would be flat, and you had to lean forward and hold on in such a way, with absolute focus, in order to not fall off and to win the race. And that’s the picture that most people think Paul is alluding to.
Pursuing hope means pursuing a deep, rich relationship with Christ. Perfection? No. Complacency? No. Passionate pursuit? Yes.
It raises the question, doesn’t it? How do you know? How would we know if we are making progress? Beyond the activities, right? The Pharisees read the Bible, the Pharisees prayed a lot, the Pharisees gave their money, the Pharisees went to their worship service. But they weren’t close to God.
J.I. Packer has this moment in his book where he says, “If you want to know how well you know God, there’s a litmus test, there are four things that characterize people that genuinely know God.”
It’s not their external stuff. These are things you can actually measure. He writes in his book, “Those who know God deeply have great energy for God.” So, just, privately, maybe on your notes just write, “Great energy.” Yes or no? Do you have great energy for God? Or ask yourself: Where do you have great energy for? Because that will tell you what you worship.
Second, he says, “Those who know God deeply have great thoughts about God.” Great thoughts about God. Do you find yourself thinking, God is infinite and powerful? Do you find yourself looking at nature and thinking, He must be so beautiful to create that? You have great, high thoughts about God.
Third, “People who know God deeply have great boldness for God.” Do you find yourself not caring what other people think? I’m a follower of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Savior of the world. Now, you don’t have to put it on a big bumper sticker and you don’t have to get a Bible this big and put it on your desk, but are you bold? Do you step out? Are you unashamed of the gospel, unashamed of Christ, not worried about fitting in and being corrected in the way that everyone sees things?
If you have great energy, great thoughts, and a boldness, those are evidences you have a genuine, deep, and growing knowledge of God.
And, fourth, “Those who know God have great contentment in God. There’s a peace. Your life isn’t about the next promotion, it’s not about the next house, it’s not the next remodel, it’s not the when/then strategy, right? “I’m single, when I have a mate.” “We’re married, when we have a kid.” “We’re in a small house, when we can buy a house that is a bigger house. When/then; when/then.
If you really know God, it’s fine to get married, it’s fine to have a house – all those things in and of themselves. If you are growing, there is a contentment with who you are in this room, in your present state. And I don’t mean to over spiritualize but Jesus really is enough. He’s your hope. He’s supplying grace. He gives you joy in the midst of suffering. He gives you power in the midst of difficulty. That’s what he’s saying.
The final takeaway is that spiritual maturity does mean our lives will exhibit significant spiritual progress within and without.
Perfection? No. Complacency? No. But progress. Progress within and progress without. I get that from his final verse – 2.
Without is action. He says, “Live up to the truth that you have already obtained, and within is to understand the tension of the already and the not yet. Okay? See, let me give you a picture of this. I have shared very openly about my marriage and our journey. In fact, it is better now than it has ever been and we just celebrated thirty-nine years.
When I said, “I do” to Theresa, I knew her. Okay? I know her already. We are married already. We are completely married. I am committed to her. We have a relationship. Now.
But it’s not perfect. Right? It has been growing for thirty-nine years. Some of the growth were some really deep valleys and then some really nice high peaks. And it involved difficulty and pain and sometimes deep health issues and raising children.
But, so, we already had a relationship five minutes after we were married. Already. But we were not yet as deep, as close, as rich as we are now. And I pray, if I get to live long enough, in another five or ten years, if the Lord doesn’t return, it will keep getting deeper and deeper and richer.
And, so, what the apostle Paul is saying to that church and to this church, he says, “Maturity is the sense of – every time you make a mistake, you don’t start condemning yourself and, “You’re a terrible person.” But on the other hand, you don’t have issues in your life that you let keep going and saying, “Well, everyone struggles.” “Everyone is materialistic, so I guess I can be too.” “Everyone has major debt issues,” or, “most men struggle with pornography.” All these kinds of things that we give each other a pass. “Everyone I’m around, they talk about other people and they gossip a little bit,” and so we just all give each other a pass on.
He said, “No! No!” You understand the tension internally that you haven’t arrived and you don’t beat yourself up, but externally, wherever God has spoken to you and you have made progress, you are living in that progress and you don’t use the, “We haven’t arrived yet,” as an excuse. Does that make sense?
Now, let me just take a moment, because I’m concerned for two groups. One group is you have really high standards, you are very into getting everything right, and you are passing that on to your kids. And can I graciously say, you’ve got to lighten up?
There’s another group and it’s more and more and more and more in America, it’s just the, “Hey, Jesus loves us, I prayed a prayer, I come to church when I can, I live with my boyfriend, I live with my girlfriend, I had an affair, I am doing things that the Bible says aren’t right, but I get to choose what I believe, what I don’t believe.” And you’re really an antinomian.
And I want you to know that there are very serious consequences to that. Here’s my heart. Spiritual maturity and pursuing it is about experiencing hope. Hope is not about perfection, it’s about direction. Hope is not about duty. Hope is about devotion. Your heart! Your passion.
And hope is not about complacency over here or being compulsive over here. It’s about you saying, “I want to press on toward the hope of knowing and growing in my relationship with Jesus, and allowing Him to change me every moment of every day.” That’s how you pursue hope.
Father, I thank You that You love us, that Your Spirit is within us, that You care about us. Lord, I pray right now for the people in this room and even in advance, the people who will log on and watch this that feel such condemnation and are so overwhelmed and so feel like no matter what they do, even with You, they never measure up – will You free them? Would You help them to believe with all their heart? It’s an already, but it’s a process and it’s a journey.
And, Lord, I pray for those that, somehow, over time, have justified clearly behavior and attitudes that are not only wrong and immoral, but they are destructive. And it breaks Your heart because it’s hurting them and it’s hurting others. Would You, like an arrow, pierce their heart? Convict them in order to draw them to Yourself. Give them the grace to turn away and repent and then begin to grow.
Lord, we want to be holy and blameless. We want to follow You. We want to anchor our hope in You, Lord Jesus. We thank You for how much You love us. And we come to You, Father, with great appreciation. In Jesus’ name, amen.