Gospel Assurance and Kingdom Citizens

Phil 1:18b-30

One of the things I find most frustrating about the human condition is that I cannot know everything. We often hear advertisements along the lines of “build for your future” “save for tomorrow” “what will you’re life look like in 20 years?” We do everything in our power to navigate life, prepared for any kind of emergency. We, like squirrels, gather our acorns up, preparing for the long Winter of Life, when the winds blow cold and the dark comes too soon. But, as we heard last week, in a moment, that can all change. This boss comes in and says, “You’re on the hot seat”, the doctor says, “It’s worse than we thought”, you find out children just aren’t in your future, the debt collector calls again and again, as if you don’t have a family you’re trying to take care of. We try to navigate life, but the Unknown hovers, like a phantom. And many of us may be tempted to wake up each day in fear. “Is this the day when it all falls apart.” And we don’t know. We can’t know what waits us.

Growing up, I remember times when I would wait in absolute anguish knowing that I was going to get in trouble when my parents came home. Kids, maybe you know the anguish of Report Card day. The first time I brought home a C on my report card, was the longest 35 minute bus ride of my life. Because I knew, the “strongly worded conversation of love at loud volumes” was coming. The spanking was coming. The grounding was coming.

We find Paul in a very similar but higher stakes situation. You’ll remember that he is under arrest, having appealed to Caesar for his freedom. He is waiting, knowing that he very well could die. The Romans could come at any minute and haul him away. This is life or death. He may not get out of this one. But as we also saw a glimpse of last week, Paul seems to not be troubled by this. He is using language like “I will rejoice”. At first glance perhaps you’re like me, thinking “Rejoice Paul? You’re going to rejoice? There? On possible death row?”

And so this draws us to the very first question: What is Paul rejoicing in?

Paul rejoices because, while he may be uncertain about what conclusion Caesar will come to, he is absolutely positive that the result is the same. He says in verses 19-20, “this will work out for my deliverance, it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be ashamed”. Paul is confident in one thing. He is united to Christ. Paul is fixated, hooked, and grounded on the promise that he is already justified before God, and thus will be resurrected and made like Him. He knows in Whom he has believed. He knows that he belongs to His faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. Paul is resting on the promise “He who began a good work in you will complete it.” When Paul says “this will work out for my deliverance,” he uses the same root word we use for salvation. Paul is rejoicing in the assurance he has in the Gospel. Christ has come, lived, and died in the place of His people, he was resurrected and ascended. Paul is rejoicing in that, because by faith in Christ, Paul also will be resurrected. Regardless of what the Romans can do to Paul today, tomorrow Paul will be with Christ. This is the root of the great statement in our Text this morning, “to live is Christ, to die is gain.”

The great temptation this morning is for you to hear that great statement of faith and say “Oh I wish I could be more like Paul. I wish I could have the great faith he had.” My plea with you this morning is that you don’t look to Paul as a model of faith, but rather look to the object of Paul’s faith, Jesus Christ. You have this same promise, by faith. No other place will give us such hope. No other place promises deliverance. This is the only place where we can find real Gospel assurance.

So what does this mean? We can say all day, I have assurance that I am in Christ. But so what? What should be the result of that assurance?

I believe Gospel assurance frees us to glorify God, and calls us to live as Kingdom Citizens.

First, our assurance frees us to glorify God.

Paul is saying very plainly that his highest goal, the height of his desire, is that God is honored in his body, or another way to say that is “glorified”. But then Paul clarifies his statement and says that God will be glorified in either his life or his death. And this seems odd, because Paul’s in jail. He has no life. He can’t do anything. This can’t be a place where Paul can glorify God. But it certainly is. Casesar may look to control the Gospel, to thwart Paul’s ministry. But that’s not the case for Paul. In this cell he is the freest man in Rome. Paul knows God has not brought him here only to abandon Paul. Paul could have very well looked at his cell, the guard chained to him, thrown up his hands and said, “Well I can’t reach anyone here. This isn’t where I’m supposed to be.” But that’s not his reaction, and it shouldn’t be ours. When we see that Christ is not going to let us go, not going to abandon us, it removes all fear that we’re not where God wants us to be.

Growing up in the 2000s, that was the main statement I would hear at youth camp or events: You need to figure out what is God’s will for your life. What is your purpose? And it wasn’t intentional, but what that creates is this overwhelming anxiety, “What am I supposed to do? What do you want from me?” And if we’re honest, we often translate that as if we have to throw everything to the wind, and charge the gates of hell. That we’re the ones that have to go and do big things. That we have to fight all the fights. And it presses down on us, like a weight, to crush us. Some of us are called to church planting or ministry. Some of us are called to work in the ghettoes or in the mission fields far away.

But what if that’s not you? What if you’re gifting is that you entertain other families well? What if you’re really good with numbers? Maybe you just really care for children, or you’re administrative skills are awesome. Or let’s step away from the church. Maybe you’re just a good worker. Perhaps you’re just a student, a banker, a doctor, professor, administrator, or businessperson. Because we know, God has redeemed us and gifted us for Himself, we can rest in these things. We can trust that God is glorified in our being faithful sons or daughters, husbands or wives, brothers or sisters, children and friends. You don’t have to be a zealot, or all in, or sold out. Just be ordinary. Just be where you are.

[9] Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, [10] for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, [11] and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, [12] so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.

(1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 ESV)

This is what Paul means when he says “to live is Christ”. It is a statement, a confession, that “Christ will be glorified in my body. If that’s as minister, a housewife, a salesperson, or a faithful child, my life will be marked by a dependence only on Christ and the grace he brings.”

But assurance also frees us to glorify God in our death. For Paul this looked like being courageous when threatened with execution. For us, where the likelihood of dying for the Gospel seems so distant, it’s hard for us to relate to this. But not being able to relate to something doesn’t mean we shouldn’t affirm that it exists for them. That our brothers and sisters worshipped as we slept this morning and risked their lives for the Gospel. We have heard stories of churches being ripped apart by totalitarian governments, missionaries being killed in the field by those whom they loved enough to bring the Gospel to them. We should recognize and pray for the persecuted Church.

For us, where persecution is so foreign, how then can we glorify God in our death? One way is to have an appropriate view of death, one in which we don’t fear it. Paul was so confident in His union with Christ; that at the threat of death is seen as gain. If you keep Paul alive in prison, strip him of everything, he’s going to preach the Gospel to everyone near him, soldier, citizen, whoever. If you kill Paul, his mindset is, “Well then I will be with Jesus.” Dear Christian, this should be a delight to you. I said earlier about how life could change in an instant. And those tragedies can create doubt. Doubt that God cares for us, doubt that we’ll survive. Where will we find our comfort? Our only comfort in life and death is that we are not our own, but belong to Jesus Christ. Not a hair can fall without the will of your Heavenly Father. But if when die, Christian, you will only take your first breath in eternity.

Death is dead. This is why Paul calls it gain. But if you are here this morning, and you do not look to Christ, ut rather something else for your joy, I must ask you this question. Will that thing, whatever it is you cling to; will it sustain you this way? All other things can be taken away. Your job can be gone. Your money can be stolen. Only in Christ are you assured of your fate, even in the face of Death.

Christ has died, and was raised, for you. This truth is freeing. Because I know that I now, and in eternity will stand before God, not according to my righteousness, but Christ’s, I am free to glorify Him in my life.  You do not have to wander in the forest of doubt. You do not have to live in fear that God is not made much of in you.

Second, Gospel assurance calls us to live as Citizens of the Kingdom of God.

Here we come to this part of the text, and after hearing all of that Gospel, all the freedom that we have, now it sounds like Paul is looking at the Philippians and saying, “Earn it”. That’s not what’s going on here. When we begin to look at this phrase, it literally means, “live as citizens of the Gospel.” Paul is taking something that is common among all of them, and elevating it. He is aiming right at the heart of their identity and saying, “Oh this is much better”.

Here’s what I mean. To be Philippian was to be among the most patriotic people of that time. Philipi was granted a unique status in the empire. It was modeld to be a Little Rome.  Philippi, though in Greece, spoke Latin. They had automatic Roman citizenship from birth. Many who called it home were former soldiers. They were as Roman as gladiator fights and chariot races. They took immense amount of pride in being from Philippi.

But Paul is calling them to live as citizens of a much better city than Philippi, a better Kingdom than Rome. Because this Kingdom transcends all Earthly allegiance. In this dense, political season we find ourselves, we often are assaulted with an appeal to our citizenship. “Be sure to do your ‘civic duty’”. But we are also called to a Kingdom duty to one another, and it is of much greater importance.

So how do we live as citizens of the Kingdom? There are many ways, but Paul gives us two here that we should pay close attention to this morning.

First, we strive together in unity. He writes “If I come at see you or if I’m absent, I may hear” that they are living in light of the Gospel. This is important for them, because the time could be soon that Paul could not be around anymore. He could be gone, and the Philippians have to have a better unifier than just being Paul’s fruitful harvest in Macedonia

Paul is saying very plainly, if I come to you or if I don’t, what’s most important for you is that you live life this way. Paul is intimately tied to this church. He is its planter; preaching the Gospel to Lydia, baptizing her and her house. Freeing the demonic girl. Preaching the Gospel to the jailer, baptizing him and his house. There’s roots with Paul. But healthy churches are united by more than their planter. They live decades longer, because they’re united, not by a man and his vision. But by the Gospel he proclaims.  We have to be untied in Christ and by the Gospel he proclaims.

And this is hard because we don’t naturally pull towards one another. There are so many things that we can use to separate ourselves from each other. In this highly polar political season, we are tempted to let our own ideologies and our own party put blinders on us and ask “how can they over there on the other side even say they love Jesus.” We debate things and are divided by that even at the end of the day aren’t important. Some of us care more about social justice and racial reconciliation, some of us care more about taxation and economics, and that’s ok. Some of us homeschool, some us public, and that’s ok. Some of us extroverts, some of us introverts, and that’s ok. We are tied together by something so much better, so much bigger than that.

Paul also says that we are to strive together. This carries with it an idea of soldiers standing side by side and fighting together. We are called to share the fights, the burdens with those around us. To care for one another. To help each other anyway we can. But the only way we can do this is by being in each other’s lives. This is an area where I personally have failed. If we are going to stand together and strive together, then we have to fellowship together. Spend time together. Care for another.

There was a professor who went to the hospital and found out he had only a few months left to live. Lying in his bed one day, he heard singing hymns outside his window. He went to it and saw his students, perhaps 100 of them, serenading him in his final hours. He said, “I didn’t feel alone” The worst place we could be is alone. That is my greatest fear. To be in a vulnerable place alone.  We need each other, and to live as united citizens is to look at one another, knowing these issues exist and saying, “Brother, sister, how may I encourage you with the Gospel?”

Second, live as citizens by facing opposition boldly. Paul says that we are “not to fear our opponents”. We admitted earlier that, while persecution is not the common threat to the Church in America, there still remains pressure to walk away. We are assaulted with the call from those around us to return. To defect and repatriate ourselves back to a dying City. A coworker may throw you under the bus just so that they can get ahead, and we are tempted to get revenge against them. Our culture tells us that truth is relative, morality subjective; and tells the Church that if we don’t support this notion, that we will lose our influence and attractiveness. On the other hand we are warned by some that we could lose our freedoms and rights to worship, that they are the only ones who can help us. But we need not worry about our attractiveness nor our rights. Both ends of this City of Man call out for us to join them and to come find our peace in citizenship with them. But this City is crumbling; our Kingdom cannot be shaken.

We will suffer in this life. It may be through our family, or our finances, or our health. Suffering will come. That is one of the few things you can rest assured of. But a far greater assurance you have is this. Christ has died on behalf of His enemies. And those same enemies may, by faith in Him, be made right with God and brought in as citizens of a Great Kingdom, glorifying their God and enjoying him in life, in death, and forever.

A Mental Buffet // 30 Mar 2017

Mental Buffet

Some reading material for the eager mind and the hungry soul.

After Great Pain, Where Is God? – Peter Wehner

“I’m no theologian. My professional life has been focused on politics and the ideas that inform politics. Yet I’m also a Christian trying to wrestle honestly with the complexities and losses in life, within the context of my faith. And while it’s fine for Christians to say God will comfort people in their pain, if a child dies, if the cancer doesn’t go into remission, if the marriage breaks apart, how much good is that exactly?”

 

There is a Crack in Everything. That’s How the Light Gets In. – Matt Johnson

“God is at work despite the pee-drenched straw, the stubbed toes, and the waiting around in funeral parlors. When your life is in the crapper, when your church is torn apart by wolves, God is present even when you can’t see it, or feel his presence.”

 

The Plow of God – Douglas Wilson

“God plows his people. He deals with us, and He deals with us here in the Supper. He deals with sin in the Supper.”

 

A Mental Buffet // 23 Mar 2017

Mental Buffet
Some reading material for the eager mind and the hungry soul.
7 Reasons Your Church Should have a Front Porch – Patrick Scriven
“Where there is a challenge for society, there is also an opportunity for the church to step in and help neighborhoods to build real community. But we don’t get to contribute without doing the hard work of reorienting our ministry outward.”
Preaching the Ten Commandments – Ray Ortlund
“When I preach through the Ten Commandments, each sermon has four points, because each commandment does four things at once.”
God is Enough – Jonathan Bradley
“God is enough for the thousands of persecuted Christians all over the world that face imprisonment and death as you read this very sentence.Is He enough for you?”

Shakespeare vs. Puritanism – Ryan Reeves

“The devil a puritan that he is, or anything constantly, but a time-pleaser; an affectioned ass that cons state without book and utters it by great swarths; the best persuaded of himself, so crammed, as he thinks, with excellencies, that it is his grounds of faith that all that look on him love him. And on that vice in him will my revenge find notable cause to work.” – Shakespeare

(Just a personal note, I’m fairly okay with anyone who calls Puritans asses. LAWL.)

Against Truth – Chad West

“When I was young, I didn’t understand how a person with a lot of knowledge about the bible could also be a jerk.”

What Breaking Lent Taught Me

BreakingLent

Over the last several years, God has developed in me an appreciation for the liturgical calendar and some of the more “high church” traditions of the body of Christ, two of those traditions being Ash Wednesday and Lent.

This is the first year that I’ve decided to celebrate Lent and so I thought I would give up carbonated beverages since I usually have one of those with me at all times. It was hard for the few days, but it got easier – especially when I learned that the Sundays don’t actually count in Lent, but then it got harder again when I started having caffeine withdrawals. So, I became weak and I broke my commitment. As we speak, I’m sipping on a berry flavored Rip It that I bought at a local convenience store before work. Now that I’ve failed, where do I go from here? Do I just give up and try again next year? Someone might do that, but not me. After I finish this tall can of faux sugar, carbon water, and caffeine, I’m going to get back on the wagon and ride again, and with God’s help, I’ll ride it all the way to Easter this time. This experience was not for naught though. I’ve learned (or been reminded rather) of two very important truths.

1. I’m weak

Never be rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be quick to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven, and you upon earth; therefore let your words be few… When you make a vow to God, do not delay fulfilling it; for he has no pleasure in fools. Fulfill what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not fulfill it.”
– Ecclesiastes 5:2, 4-5, NRSV 

I get so mad at myself when I try to do something for God and fail. I tell God that I’m going to do something productive or important for Him and then I end up falling on my face.  Sometimes I get so frustrated I just hang my head and ask, “Why am I such a screw up?” And then after I’ve had my pity party and bemoaned my existence for a while, I realize that God often uses our weaknesses to keep us humble.

If there was anyone who had any right to brag, it was the Apostle Paul. He was educated at the feet of Gamaliel, who was a high-ranking and extremely official for the Sanhedrin. He was personally selected by Jesus to carry the message of the Gospel. He planted several churches, survived beatings and shipwrecks, preached before kings and other dignitaries, debated with the most intellectual of pagans on Mars Hill, and he wrote 2/3 of the New Testament. Yet, out of everything, he still had a “thorn in the flesh.” He had a weakness of some kind that kept him humble.

 If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.”
– 2 Corinthians 12:6-7, NLT

Whenever we fail at keeping our commitments to God, He isn’t surprised or taken aback at us, but rather He looks on us with compassion because His only begotten son, Jesus Christ, took on weak and frail flesh to show us that He identifies with our weakness, and in our weakness, God is shown to be strong.

“For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength…  God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.”
– 1 Corinthians 1:25, 28-29, NRSV

In 1st Corinthians 1, Paul addresses the congregation at Corinth and reminds them that they look weak to the world, and their Gospel message of the resurrection of Jesus Christ seemed foolish, but God uses what seems foolish and weak to show His wisdom and His power. His wisdom is Christ Himself, and His power is the message that Jesus came to save sinners. In our weakness, God is glorified because it reminds us that we must always depend on Him and not our own effort.

2. God’s grace is sufficient.

“Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
– 2 Corinthians 12:8-10, NLT

We should learn to be friends with the fact that we’re weak. Notice that I didn’t say that we should make friends with our weaknesses. Paul prayed for his “thorn in the flesh” to be taken away and so I think we should pray for ours to be taken away too, but if it doesn’t get taken away we should remember why it’s there in the first place.

God shows us His grace and His strength in the places in our lives where see weakness and frailty. We are insufficient to fulfill all the vows that we make to Him, but He is more than sufficient with a supply of grace to equip us for the tasks to which He has called us. To Him be glory, power, and dominion. Forever and ever. Amen.

A Mental Buffet // 16 Mar 2017

Mental Buffet

Some reading material for the eager mind and the hungry soul.

Does God Love Everyone the Same? – Jeff Robinson

“God’s love for sinners should always astound and humble us. It must never be reduced to a merely academic matter. Rightly did the psalmist wonder, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps. 8:4).”

 

Don’t Settle for Jesusy Advice – Matt Johnson

“If you’ve been told that the core of Christian faith is about your ongoing transformation by making good on all the Jesusy advice, you’re getting ripped off.”

 

Jesus Will Finish the Mission – John Piper

“The grace of missionary service is as irresistible as the grace of regeneration. Christ can promise universal proclamation because he is sovereign. He knows the future success of missions because he makes the future. All the nations will hear!”

 

The Image of God and the Quest for Holiness – David Long

“Being the people of God is a matter of having one’s very being restored to the image of God. In Paul’s terms, it is being conformed to the image of Christ.”

A Mental Buffet //9 Mar 2017

mental-buffet

Some reading material for the eager mind and the hungry soul.

How Flocks Are Protected – Douglas Wilson

“Shepherds need, in Paul’s terms, to “take heed.” They need to take head to themselves, and they need to take heed to the flock. A man who is not taking heed to himself cannot watch out for the flock. And if a man is not watching out for the flock, then he is clearly not taking heed to himself—he is guilty of a gross dereliction of duty.”

 

Throw Like a Girl: Why Feminism Insults Real Women – Rebekah Merkle

“The idea that women are equal to men is not a feminist idea; it’s a Christian idea. The apostle Paul said it long before Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Gloria Steinem when he taught us that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Galatians 3:28). And he said it nearly two millennia before the women’s rights people came along.

The feminists try to take credit for something that is the fruit of the gospel, working its way into culture like yeast through a loaf. We need to stop letting the feminists act as if they somehow achieved our equality.”

 

Why I Am a Continuationist – Sam Storms

“If signs and wonders were designed exclusively to authenticate apostles, we have no explanation why non-apostolic believers (such as Philip and Stephen) were empowered to perform them (see especially 1 Cor. 12:8-10, where the “gift” of “miracles,” among others, was given to average, non-apostolic believers).”

 

Evolution and the Historical Fall: What Does Genesis 3 Tell Us about the Origin of Evil? – J. Richard Middleton

“…the narrative of disobedience in Genesis 3 is not simply about a single event in the past (though that is not thereby excluded), but describes what is typical in the process of temptation and sin in human experience. Indeed, when preachers expound the Garden story they tend to emphasize how this is true for all of us, rather than locating it in a singular event long ago.

Once we are open to viewing the Garden narrative in this manner, the dialogue between the woman and the snake in Genesis can be seen as a profound study in the phenomenology of temptation and sin, which may be applied not only to our own present experience of temptation, but also to the experience of early Homo sapiens.”

A Mental Buffet // 2 Mar 2017

the-new-you

Some reading material for the eager mind and the hungry soul.

Covenantal Presence – Douglas Wilson

“Christ is not present for the one who has faith, but absent from the one who does not have faith. Rather, He is present covenantally for both.”

 

Why the American South Would’ve Killed Spurgeon – Christian George

“Southern Baptists ranked among Spurgeon’s chief antagonists. The Mississippi Baptist hoped “no Southern Baptist will now purchase any of that incendiary’s books.” The Baptist colporteurs of Virginia were forced to return all copies of his sermons to the publisher. The Alabama Baptist and Mississippi Baptist “gave the Londoner 4,000 miles of an awful raking” and “took the hide off him.” The Southwestern Baptist and other denominational newspapers took the “spoiled child to task and administered due castigation.”

 

God Knows What You Need in Worship – Nick Roen

“Every week, a miracle happens. The Spirit of God that dwells within applies the truth of God’s word to the hearts of his children. By God’s word of truth, we are sanctified (John 17:17), conformed more and more into the image of his Son (Romans 8:29). He takes the same truth proclaimed among us and applies it to our hearts in ways that only he can.

He is our Helper who brings to our remembrance the truth of Christ at the precise moment that we need it most (John 14:26). After all, he knows what our hearts need better than we do (Jeremiah 17:9–10), and the Spirit himself helps us in our weakness (Romans 8:26).”

 

Praying with the ‘Holy Apostles’ – Kevin DeYoung

As an individual Christian wanting to pray more effectively, and as one who must lead others in prayer, I’ve benefited from many of the forms and patterns handed down by our fathers in the faith. One example—and one that I’ve used from time to time in our churchwide prayer meetings—comes from the fourth-century work The Constitution of the Holy Apostles.

 

Symptoms of Legalism: Playing the Spiritual Comparison Game – Stephen Altrogge

“When I compare my moral achievements to someone else and then get satisfaction from the difference, that’s legalism! I’m basically saying, “God, thank you that I’m more righteous than that person!”

Honestly, it’s a wonder God doesn’t smite me.”