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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
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. 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.