We're Not There Yet ... But Christ Is!
Lord Jesus, there is nothing more valuable to me than You. There are many other things that attempt to have my highest attention and love. Fill me with such a great love for You that I am able to count those things as loss in order that I might have You. Keep me focused on my true treasure in You and help me run the race that I may lay hold of the inheritance of God’s children the inheritance for which You have laid hold of me. Grant that all who are gathered here today will gladly hear Your Word and that all of our worship will be acceptable to You. Amen.
After God healed Naaman from his leprosy, Naaman wanted to reward Elisha with a gift. Despite Naaman’s urging, Elisha refused the gift. Later, Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, lied to Naaman in order to receive gifts for himself. Elisha valued God’s Word and refused the gift in order to give the glory to God. Gehazi valued earthly gifts more than truthfulness and faithfulness to God’s Word.
At times, throughout the history of Old Testament Israel, the people refused to hear the messengers God sent. In some cases, they killed God’s prophets and would soon kill the Son of God Himself. Jesus’ enemies were rejecting God’s Word just as their ancestors had done. Jesus told the parable of the wicked vinedressers to illustrate this history and to rebuke His enemies’ unbelief. The parable also stirred up Jesus’ enemies’ hatred as the time for His death drew near.
Text: Philippians 3:7-14
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
In Christ Jesus who is our greatest treasure, whose salvation is the greatest value we will ever know, and who is leading us ever-heavenward—dear fellow redeemed:
The war in Iraq is over, all of the troops who are stationed there will be home by the end of next month. We pray this will one day be true, but we’re not there yet. The war still goes on.
The fields are full of growing crops, it looks like another bumper crop in the field, and the high today will be 85 degrees. This day will come, but we’re not there yet.
We are walking heavenward and we aren’t there yet either. We’re still in this life. Not yet being at a desirable and anticipated goal can be frustrating and discouraging, but it helps to know that when you reach the goal it will be well worth the journey. Impatient children pleading with parents, “Are we there yet!” will be ecstatic to see grandpa and grandma when they arrive at grandpa and grandma’s house because that is a goal—a destination well worth the journey. Are we in heaven yet? No, not by any means, but when we get there it will be glorious and well worth the journey.
We “aren’t there yet,” but Christ our Savior is. When we say that Christ our Savior is “there” it means more than simply the fact that Jesus is in heaven. Jesus has walked through this life. He has gone before us. Jesus “has been here, done that”—He has been on this earth. He has “done” this earthly life. Now, He is glorified in heaven. He has walked the same path we are walking, so it is a great comfort to know that even though we are not there yet, our Savior is, having traveled the same path.
After describing Jesus death, the prophet Isaiah speaks of Jesus “seeing His seed” and the fruit of His labor—in other words, that many sinners would be saved and given eternal life (cf. Isaiah 53:10-11). In 1 Corinthians 15—the resurrection chapter of the Apostle Paul—Paul says, “Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). Jesus was the first one. He is the pioneer who has conquered death, but we are following after and He makes it possible for us also to live forever.
Jesus came to be our substitute. He has been our substitute in every needful way. He has been here. He is now in heaven. This morning we study the Apostle Paul’s words, knowing that“WE’RE NOT THERE YET…BUT CHRIST IS.” We will see I. The goal, II. The sacrifice, III. The journey.
The goal of which Paul spoke and toward which we are all running is, very simply put, the closing words of our text: “…the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” [v.14] Ultimately, the crowning goal of this life is the call upward to be with our Savior forever. But before characterizing the goal in this ultimate sense, Paul gives a rather lengthy list of all the things that are also part of the upward call.
One of Paul’s goals was that I might gain Christ [v. 8]. We gain Christ through faith. The unbelieving world has rejected Christ. Unbelievers have not gained Him. Those who have never heard about their Savior and what He has done for them are likewise without Him. Paul described the Ephesians before they were brought to faith as having “no hope and without God in the world.” (Ephesians 2:13). Our goal is that we gain and retain Christ. We have gained Christ by the Gospel coming to us, announcing what He has done, and working faith in our hearts.
Another part of Paul’s goal is that he may be found in Christ. [v.9] Being found in Christ, Paul says, not having his own righteousness, through the law, but the righteousness which is from God—that righteousness of Christ that is given to us through faith. Consider this phrase for a moment longer: “to be found in Christ.” On the Last Day, everyone will be found in one place or the other—found in Christ and taken to heaven, or found in the world, with Satan, and condemned to Hell. Oh, that we would be found in Christ!
How will we be found in Christ? How will we be declared children of God and heirs of eternal life? Certainly not by anything we have done. Anyone who depends upon himself, who thinks that by being “good enough” and living an outwardly acceptable life that he will thereby be found in Christ is wrong. There is no righteousness in what we do. All of our righteousnesses are filthy rags (cf. Isaiah 64:6). “We are saved by grace, through faith and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8). We are justified by Christ. We have the righteousness of God and are able to be found in Him because God made Jesus who know no sin to be sin for us (cf. 2 Corinthians 5). He took our sin and put it on Christ and gives us Christ’s righteousness. That is how we are found in Christ and no other way! Because “there is no other name under heaven, given among men by which we must be saved” other than the name of Jesus Christ. (Acts 4:12)
We have as our goal to be found in Christ whenever our last hour of life on this earth comes and to be found in Christ when He returns in glory. However, our desire to be found in Christ can extend to situations in this life as well. We have as a goal that we would be found in Christ whenever a time of hard decision making comes. When we find ourselves hard pressed to choose whether to follow the crowd, to cave into our flesh, and stray from the path God desires for us, it is our prayer that we be found in Him. Being found in Him we also pray that through Jesus we receive the strength to say, “no,” and follow Him no matter how hard it may be.
Part of the goal Paul describes is that I may know Christ [v.10] We know Jesus through the Gospel that has been declared to us and what God has revealed to us in that Word. But is there still more to learn? Yes! We truly know Jesus because the truth of His Word reveals to us who He is. He is the Son of God. He is also true man. He is 100% God and 100% man both of which were necessary for Him to be our Savior. That is who Jesus is. We know Him to be that person. We know Him to be the Son of God who came and gave His life for us. We know Him as our loving Savior who now rules all things. We know Him to be the one who guides us in our lives, who has promised to be with us forever. Our goal is that we continue Him in that way and then learn to know Him even more fully. There is always more knowledge to be gained, more depth of understanding, more depth of love toward Him whom we know.
Another part of the goal is to know the power of the resurrection. Many people deny the physical resurrection of Christ. Others believe it, but do not yet grasp the full significance and power behind Jesus’ return to life. The power of Jesus’ resurrection is, first of all, a power that defeated death. When have you seen a dead person, a dead animal, a dead plant—a dead anything—come back to life?! Never. Only by the power of God did Jesus raise people from the dead. Only by that same power of God did He come forth from the dead and only by that same power will we be raised from death and given eternal life. The power of Jesus’ resurrection is the power of victory over sin. Jesus resurrection is the seal and guarantee that God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice and our sins are indeed forgiven. The power of Jesus resurrection is conquering death. When we see death in this world, when we come to funerals, when we have Christian loved ones die, we need not fear, because we have that power. We know the power of Jesus’ resurrection that will not leave the Christian brother or sister dead when he has died in the Lord and is found in Christ. The power of Jesus’ resurrection is the power over death, so dramatic, and so graciously given to us by Jesus our substitute. The power of Jesus’ resurrection is the power for our resurrection and life eternal.
Another goal listed by Paul is that “I know the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” [vv.10-11] We are made fellow sufferers with Christ because He is our substitute. Jesus went to the cross for us so we don’t have to face the eternal punishment of Hell. When Jesus went to the cross it was on our behalf, so now through baptism and through the faith which the Holy Spirit creates we are joined to Christ. Though we do not personally suffer the condemnation, it is as if we did, because Jesus is so closely united to us and is our substitute. Paul wrote to the Romans, “… as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death. Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).
The goal is that through our faith which rests in the promises of God we have the confidence of knowing that Jesus’ death is really our death, His payment for sin is our payment for sin, and thereby His resurrection to life is ours so that we also will attain to the resurrection of the dead.
The final item in Paul’s list of goals is that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me [v.12] What a dramatic statement of God’s love! The goal is that we would lay hold of the truth of God’s Word of salvation all the way to eternity. The dramatic statement of God’s love is that we would lay hold of that for which He has laid hold of us! It is not what we have done. We did not go out searching for Jesus. He by grace and the power of His Word took hold of us. He laid hold of us before time began by electing us to salvation. The Holy Spirit has grabbed hold of our hearts, creating faith. God has laid hold of us, our prayer, “Oh, that I would lay hold of that for which You, Lord Christ have so graciously laid hold of me!”
Before Paul described these goals, he said that he had made a sacrifice so that he could attain these goals. Paul had once been a very noteworthy citizen among the people of Israel and a Pharisee. In the verses leading up to the text, Paul wrote that he was, “…circumcised the eighth day (according to the law), of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of theHebrews (the cream of the crop, an upstanding citizen of noble blood); concerning the law, a Pharisee (the outwardly righteous and highly respected); concerning zeal, persecuting the church (very zealous for what he felt was serving God and he was commended for it by the Jewish leaders); concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless (outwardly law-abiding including all the Pharisaic laws to leave him very righteous in his own sight)” (Philippians 3:5-6). But what things were gain to me—all those things upon which Paul had once relied, all those things he formerly wore as a badge of honor—he counted as loss for Christ.
Things changed for Paul. Instead of receiving respect, he was now opposed by those who had once respected him. Instead of hunting Christians and bringing them to trials, he became the hunted and was put on trial. No more did Paul rely on his own righteousness that he could accomplish through the Law—it was worthless. He counted it as loss so that he could have the righteousness of God through faith. The zeal and energy he had spent working against Christ he counted as loss so that he could turn his energies to proclaiming the Word of God and doing the work of an apostle. It wasn’t just these things that Paul sacrificed because he goes on to say, “Indeed I also count all things loss…and count them as rubbish that I may gain Christ” [v.8]
The sacrifice is not really a sacrifice at all. It is a sacrifice of all the ineffectual things—righteousness from ourselves, doing what we want to do, sin. It is, however, a painful sacrifice for our sinful flesh. Our flesh doesn’t want to give up those things. Our flesh says, “Rubbish? No! Those are the things I love!”
Paul told the Romans we were once slaves to sin. Jesus has rescued us and made us slaves to righteousness (cf. Romans 6:15ff). Having been brought out of slavery to sin and the Devil, is it gain to go back to sin? Of course not! Having once been slaves to everything that is evil and opposed to God and be brought out to everything that is good and pleasing to Him, to faith in Christ and salvation…would you want to go back? No! So we count all those things as loss—that’s the sacrifice—so that we can have Christ. It’s not a hard sacrifice, except for the fact that our sinful flesh finds it hard.
Also in Romans, Paul says, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). No matter what the troubles may be in this life, and whatever we might sacrifice in service to God—maybe we don’t live as well materially, wealthy a life as we could because we are giving of our lives to God—whatever hardship, whatever sacrifice is made in this life, it is nothing compared to the glory we have in Christ. We count all things loss so that we might have Christ.
The things that are our pet sins, the things that tend to pull us away from our Savior, the things we might like to do that are displeasing to God or that pull us away from Him, all of these are counted as loss that we might have Christ. We cut off those things that are a danger to our souls and to our faith so that we might know Him, be found in Him, and have the righteousness of God through Him. Jesus once told the people, if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; if your hand causes you to sin, cut it of, if it is your foot, cut it off (Mark 9:43ff). Jesus’ instruction is to cut off from our lives—to count as loss—those things that could stand in the way of having Christ as our Savior and being found in Him.
The road to where Christ is—the final goal of heaven—is a journey which we still run. It is a marathon, not a sprint. Paul said, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead…”[vv.12-13]
As children of God, we need to stretch forward toward the goal. The journey is oftentimes hard and sorrowful. The journey can be difficult. The weight of the journey—the temptations, the suffering, the tribulations—may lead us to cry out, “are we there yet?!?” We aren’t there yet, but Jesus is. Jesus, our Savior, who gives us the power of the resurrection, who died for our sins, who makes it possible to have all these goals, is also the one guiding our journey. He is already in heaven, the one seated at the right hand of God, governing and controlling all things for our blessing to make sure we get through this journey. So that we reach our goal, so that we are found in Him.
Paul said he forgot the things of the past, didn’t turn back, and struggled and strove forward. All those sins Paul had committed against Christ and the Church were no longer a burden. He forgot those things of the past because God had forgotten them through the forgiveness of sins. He trusted God’s forgiveness that those sins were gone and he went forward. Likewise, you, reach forward, forgetting the past. All those sins of the past, all the regrets, all the times when we have failed…God says they are forgiven, they are washed away, He will remember them no more. Let them be behind and fade in memory. Strive forward in service to the Lord.
All the things we could rely upon, all the things that we want to rely upon according to our sinful flesh, let them be behind you and strive for the upward call by following your Lord.
Earlier in this same letter, chapter 2, Paul told the Philippians, “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). This is not to work out your salvation in the sense of accomplishing the salvation, as in “work it out for yourselves how you’re going to get to heaven.” Rather, Paul encourages the Philippians and us to be active in our faith and pursue the salvation which Christ has given us by letting go of the past and striving toward our goal. Even in this, we remember, that we cannot do it alone for “it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
The journey is now. The journey can be long, but Jesus is the one leading you on. “What is the world to me?” All those things we count as loss so that we might gain Christ.
We close with the words of the hymnwriter:
When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain, I count but loss and pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it Lord that I should boast except in the death of Christ my Lord
All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from His head, His hands, His feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet? Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a tribute far too small
Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all. Amen!
—Pastor Wayne Eichstadt