Saturday, March 18, 2006

Who do you trust? Philippians 3:3-11

We live in a culture where there is very little trust. We have lost trust in our families, in our government, and in our institutions. Corruption, scandal, and decay have undermined our confidence in anything in society. Once upon a time you could be confident about certain things and certain relationships. But in our culture of postmodern thinking, where there are no absolutes, everyone does and says what is right in their own eyes. You don’t know where to turn. You don’t know who to trust. So, what we have today, and for the last several generations, is a rugged individualism where a person feels that the only one who is trustworthy is himself or herself. What is our motto? “You want something done right?” Do it how? YOURSELF. We have said it so much that we are convinced that the Bible must really say that God helps those who help themselves. By the way, it isn’t in there.

We are brought up in a culture that instills this kind of individualistic bravado in us; the world encourages and rewards us when we keep ourselves at the center of our attention. I hear these studies saying that so many people have a problem with self-confidence. I suggest to you that the greatest problem of self-confidence facing us today is an overabundance of it. We trust ourselves to the exclusion of any other person or thing.

We trust in ourselves. We are skilled at building our résumés. We know how to parade our accomplishments in front of others, and if by chance our accomplishments are sub-par, we know how to embellish them in ways that come short of lying but stretch all notions of truth beyond recognizable limits. And if we ever feel bad about ourselves, it doesn’t take long for us to look around and find somebody that we think we are better than, and that boosts us up a notch.

Here’s the problem – as long as pursue this self-centered, self-confident, self-saturated path, we are marching directly away from God. Paul says that the true believer, the one whose heart is right with God (he calls it a “true circumcision”), is the one who worships in the Spirit of God, and glories in Christ Jesus, and puts no confidence in the flesh. To worship in the Spirit of God, the other two factors must be present – glory in Christ Jesus; put no confidence in the flesh. To glory in Christ Jesus does not mean to exalt Him in addition to the exaltation of many other things including ourselves. It is to exalt Him alone, and to put no confidence in ourselves.

In light of this very stark reality, I need to ask you today a very searching question: Who do you trust? And by that I do not mean generally speaking but specifically – When it comes to how you will be saved, who do you trust?

I. Each one of us is inclined to trust in ourselves (vv4-6)

Was not the temptation in the Garden of Eden to abandon confidence in God and to begin to trust in the self? Was not the sin of the tower-builders of Babel an overconfidence in their own ability to reach heaven apart from trusting God? We are so thoroughly corrupted by sin that our natural instinct is to think that we don’t need any help – we can do it ourselves. Paul says, “If anybody ever had a right to think they could do it on their own, I did.” If you had asked Paul in those days, “Paul, do you think you will go to heaven?” He would have said, “Absolutely.” If you asked him, “Paul, why do you think God will let you into heaven?” this is what he would have said:

He trusted in his nationality – “of the nation of Israel.” He trusted in his heritage – “of the tribe of Benjamin.” He trusted in his cultural identity – “a Hebrew of Hebrews.” He trusted in his religious upbringing – “circumcised the eighth day.” Now, notice that Paul’s pedigree went from heredity to achievement. Paul was born a Hebrew, a Benjamite, an Israeli. He had no choice in his being circumcised on the eighth day. But there came a point in his life when he began to actively pursue his religious advancement on his own. He trusted in his religious zeal – “as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church. The church was considered a dangerous enemy to the Jewish faith, so his persecution of the church was seen as a spiritual merit. As to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. In other words, you could not take the Old Testament Law and point to one area in which Paul violated it. Sure, he was not perfect, he didn’t claim to be, but he is saying that externally, it would have been difficult to find anyone who kept the law more perfectly than he did. If anyone had ever been sincere in his or her religious commitments, Paul certainly was.

Now, I don’t think it would be too difficult to see how this parallels many in our own day. My friend, why do you think God should let you into heaven? How would you answer that question? Would you answer it like Paul did at a point in his life?

Well, you see I was baptized in a prominent church where my parents were pillars. I have been a patriotic American and a responsible citizen. In fact, my great grandfather was a Senator. I served in the military during one of our nation’s wars. And I have always been a religious person, deeply sincere in my beliefs. How could God turn me down?

Is that what it takes? If that is how you would answer, then who do you ultimately trust? If you would say such a thing to God, then you ultimately trust in yourself. And if that is good enough to save you then why does Paul go on to describe the climactic change that took place in his life?

II. Each one of us must renounce personal accomplishment for the sake of Christ (vv7-8)

Paul says that he has counted as loss all those accomplishments of the former life. It is as if he has taken his spiritual résumé and run it through a shredder. But he has not just renounced those things for the sake of asceticism or self-deprivation, or in order to boast in a pseudo-humility. He says he has exchanged these things for Christ. He could no longer esteem these personal accomplishments and at the same time cling to Jesus. Augustus Toplady said it best in that great hymn of the 18th Century, “Rock of Ages,” when he wrote, Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling.

Notice that he says it is not only his own list of accomplishments which he has renounced for Christ’s sake, but he says that all things are counted as loss when compared to Christ. Knowing Christ is of such surpassing value of all other earthly things, that Paul says, “It’s no contest. I lose it all for the sake of knowing Christ.” And he says, “I count it rubbish!” The word that Paul uses there is the Greek word skubalon, which is only used here in the New Testament. However, elsewhere in ancient Greek writings, this word is used to denote worthless or unwanted material that is rejected and normally thrown out.[1] Several ancient Greek writers used the word to denote specifically of human excrement[2], giving rise to the KJV translation of dung (which is more literally accurate than we might want to acknowledge). This is a very graphic and vulgar term.

Yesterday, Donia asked, “Could you do me a favor please,” to which I said, “Certainly.” She proceeded to hand me a plastic bag that contained something very malodorous. I said, “What in the world is in this sack?” She said “It is full of dirty diapers.” So I carry this toxic waste at arm’s length out of the house, my nose turned aside from the stench, and I quickly it in the outside trash can as quickly as possible, fastening the lid back down before anyone else could get a whiff of this awful thing. As I stepped back from the can, it hit me. That’s the best I can do. Take all my accomplishments, all my education, all my claims to fame, and if I try to wave them in front of God thinking He will be impressed, they will be only the toxic stench of skubalon. Isaiah 64:6 says, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.”

Paul says that knowing Christ is of such surpassingly great value, that not only is he preferred over all earthly things, but all those things become skubalon in comparison to Him. What would you give in exchange for Christ? Now you will say piously, “Nothing, pastor!” You better be careful, because God just might hold you to it. Would you give your financial security up for Christ? Would you give your personal safety up for Christ? Would you give up your family for Christ? Jesus said two things that specifically relate to this:

He said in Matthew 19:29, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.” The KJV includes the word wife in there based on one early manuscript, but we have good reason to believe that this should not be present in the text. Most early manuscripts do not contain this word. And there are theological reasons as well. First, Jesus never advocates divorce; second, Paul commands believing spouses to not leave unbelieving spouses; and third, there is no “receiving many times as much.” You don’t leave one spouse and get many more. So, don’t ever think that you are doing something spiritual for Jesus by leaving your husband or wife. That is not part of His plan. But, Jesus says, you may have to leave houses, family members, land, etc. for Him. Do you think He is worth it? Don’t just give Him church talk; if it came right down to it, could you say, “I count these things loss for the sake of Christ.”

Now if you aren’t there yet, if you can’t evaluate all things in your life and say, “I’d lose that for Jesus,” you might reflect on what Jesus said in Mark 8:34-37. "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

So who do you trust? Are you still trusting yourself, your own goodness, your own accomplishments to gain you acceptance before God? If so, the disappointment that awaits will be of an infinite, eternal, and intense magnitude. Any other thing that we may depend upon or treasure above Him must be counted as loss – even as waste – in view of the surpassing greatness of Christ.

So what’s left? If my nationality, my patriotism, my heritage, my religious zeal, my personal accomplishments are loss and waste, then is there anything or anyone left to trust? Oh yes. In fact, when nothing but Christ is left, we have finally gotten down to the one person we absolutely must trust to gain us acceptance before God.

III. The Necessity of Trusting Christ Alone (vv9-11)

Paul says that he counts all things as loss, all things as waste, so that he may gain Christ and be found in Him. What does it mean to be found in Christ?

First, let me ask a different question: What does it take to get into heaven? What does it take for God to view you as acceptable in His sight? The answer, beloved, is this: You must be absolutely and completely sinless, perfect, holy and righteous. That ought to sound like bad news, and it is. Because the Bible says that we have all sinned and fallen short of that mark. Who can say that they have attained that status before God? Only Jesus Christ! So, how can we guilty sinners stand before God and be seen as absolutely and completely sinless, perfect, holy and righteous? Only if we are in Him.

To be in Christ means to be found righteous before God. But the righteous that God sees is not our own. Paul says, “not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law.” I can’t keep the Law perfectly enough to be found righteous before God. Hard as I may try, good as I think I’ve done, better though I may be than every other person, I cannot impress God with my own goodness. Remember, it is just skubalon in His sight. But instead, if I am in Christ, then the righteousness that God sees is what Paul calls, “that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.” I have received the righteousness of Christ Himself, and been wrapped completely in it, and instead of the foulness of my own sins, God sees the perfect righteousness of Christ, a righteousness that is of the same standard as His very own, and He accepts me on that basis.

Is that not the most incredible miracle ever performed? What would you trade for that? Only a fool would trade that for anything, or even everything, under the sun. Only a fool would say, “No thanks, I will take my chances trying to stand before him trusting in my own goodness.” How arrogant and ignorant! You might have attained to every level of what this world considers success, but if you trust those accomplishments to gain you acceptance before God – though it may open every door of opportunity for you here on earth – it will by no means impress God. And the echo of His words saying, “Depart from Me, for I never knew you,” will reverberate in your ears for eternity.

The world around us says that we are arrogant, narrow-minded and intolerant for proclaiming that you must believe in Jesus Christ to get to heaven. And you know, in some ways they may be right. Because I am afraid that many Christians misunderstand this as much as the lost people of the world do. You see our claim is not just that we are all good people on our own religious journeys, and only those who are journeying with Jesus will get there. Our claim is that in order to be accepted by God, you must be absolutely and completely sinless, perfect, holy and righteous. And how can you attain that status? Line up representatives from all the world’s religions and ask them, “How can a sinner like me be made perfect in God’s sight?” They don’t have an answer. They will try to tell you that you are not a sinner. They will try to tell you that there is no such thing as sin. They will try to tell that if you do your best, no matter how far short you fall, God will overlook your failures. But nobody has an answer for how a sinner can be made righteous. Nobody except Jesus. You see the reason we proclaim that faith in Christ alone opens the doors of heaven is because only through Jesus Christ can we be given the righteousness that God accepts, a righteousness that we could never earn. That is the message of the Christian faith, and that is what we must proclaim to the world. Call us arrogant, call us narrow-minded, call us intolerant, but I say that telling everyone in the world how they can have their sins removed and be made righteous is the most loving thing we could possibly do.

So how can this righteousness by mine? FAITH. Faith is not a substitute for righteousness, faith is not the righteousness. Faith is the “spiritual hand” (if you will) wherein we receive the righteousness. God is offering to give it to us as a free and undeserved gift. That is His grace reaching out to us. And we accept that gift of His grace by faith. We believe that by acknowledging our sins before God, and recognizing that God punished all my sins at the death of Jesus Christ – He died for me, and by transferring all of our trust to Him, we will be given that righteousness, and will be saved for eternity.

So who do you trust? Some may say, “Well I trust Jesus.” Do you? Have you understood that this is why it is necessary to trust Jesus? Do you believe that by trusting Him instead of your own merit that God will accept you as if you were as righteous as Christ Himself? Or have you been led to believe that if you do your best, and put Jesus on top of your best, God will say, “That’s good enough.” Only one of those two is real biblical saving faith. You see because the latter belief is still a trust in oneself. But biblical faith renounces all other trust except Christ alone. I know it is hard to confess that perhaps your view of Christian salvation has been wrong, maybe even for many years. You might be ashamed to say, “I’ve been wrong, and I’m not sure I’m really saved.” But I assure you that there will be more shame in continuing to cling to your own pseudo-goodness and miss heaven because you were too proud to really get saved. I know that there are many people here today who settled this issue years ago – you are saved and you know it, and you know how and why. But I am also quite certain that in every church are people who just don’t get it. If that is you today, if you realize today that you have been trusting yourself plus Christ instead of Christ alone, then I want to lovingly invite you to receive the greatest gift of God’s grace this very day. As we sing, you just come and say, “Pastor, I want to know that I’ve got it right.”

You may be here today, your conscience is heavy, you are loaded with the guilt of your sins and you know that there is no way you could stand before God. I am so glad you are here so that I can be the one who gets to tell you that there is a way. Jesus said, “I am the Way!” And if you want to turn your life over to Him today, I’ll invite you to come talk with me as we sing.

However else God may be speaking to your heart, to testify to Christ through baptism, to join this church, or to commit to serving God in some way, you are also invited to come as we sing.

[1]Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament : Based on Semantic Domains. electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, Page 78. New York: United Bible societies, 1996, c1989.

[2]Arndt, William, F. Wilbur Gingrich, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature : A Translation and Adaption of the Fourth Revised and Augmented Edition of Walter Bauer's Griechisch-Deutsches Worterbuch Zu Den Schrift En Des Neuen Testaments Und Der Ubrigen Urchristlichen Literatur, Page 758. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996, c1979.

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