7 Steps in the Christian Life, Part 6

 

We’ve come to the end of another series.  We’re taking the last step in the seven steps of the Christian life.  There are probably more steps if you look for them, but these are the seven I chose because, to me, they are the most meaningful.

The first step is one we all take when we become part of God’s family:  We receive Christ.  God is calling all people into His family, but only a few will receive Christ as Lord and Savior.

He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.  (John 1:11 – 13 | TNIV)

The first step God did for you.  All you did was respond, and God even helped you with that!  The second step we could say you couldn’t help but take!  You confessed Christ.  Either by your words or actions, the people around you heard and saw that you had changed.  

For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.  (Romans 10:10 | TNIV)

The third step is a step only you can take.  God will hold onto you – He’ll never let you go – but it’s up to you to remain in Christ.  Like the branch is alive only as long as it connected to the vine, the believer can live and produce good fruit only as long as he is connected to Christ.

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  (John 15:4 | TNIV)

The fourth step sounds a little like the previous one, but it’s different.  You have to remain “in Christ,” but then you have to consciously decide each and ever day to follow Him as closely as you can.  Literally, you must glue yourself to the Lord.  

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”  (Luke 9:23 | TNIV)

The fifth step is a hard one for some people.  As a believer, you have to be on the lookout for open doors; doors the Lord swings open for you to share your faith with others.  These are opportunities that come from God.  But He won’t force you to take advantage of them; it’s up to you to see them and use them.

Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test those who live on the earth.  (Revelation 3:10 | TNIV)

That was written to the church at Philadelphia.  They were to keep on testifying for Christ, even to members of the Synagogue of Satan!  

The sixth step is related to the the fifth.  We are to love each member of the Body of Christ with the same love with which God loves us.  And we are to extend that love to members outside of the Body of Christ.  

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  (Romans 12:11 | TNIV)

The final step is found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…  (Philippians 3:10 | TNIV)

The seventh and last step is to know – really know – Christ and to make His life and death experiences yours.

Short term loss… 

In Philippians 3:2, the apostle gives the Philippians an important piece of advice:

Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh.  (Philippians 3:2 | TNIV)

That’s advice you should heed too.  Do you know any “mutilators of the flesh?”  You do if you listen to any false teachers.  That’s who Paul has in mind.  If you spend some time watching “Christian TV” or reading the latest “Christian” best seller, you’ll soon come across false teachers.  Paul’s advice is to be on guard; be vigilant; be careful to whom you listen.  Sometimes these false teachers don’t know they’re preaching or teaching in error.  Other times false teachers know they are and they’re motives are sinister.  In either case, it’s on you to know what you believe and to pay attention to what a Bible teacher or preacher is saying.  Just because a fellow looks good, sounds good, sells a lot books and videos, and preaches to huge crowds, doesn’t mean he’s the genuine article.  

What’s the best defense against false teachers and false teaching?  It’s knowledge.  You need to know what you believe.  You need to know what the Word says.  Paul was a guy who know a lot of things.  In fact, he knew way more than the average Jew.

If others think they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.  (Philippians 3:4b – 6 | TNIV)

The false teachers who were trying to get into the Philippian church were smart, but as Paul points out, compared to him, they were mental midgets.  He wasn’t jealous of them.  In trying to back a point he’s about to make, he points out that he had everything going for him.  He was one of the highest educated Pharisees in Israel.  He had been raised a strict, observant Jew.  The fact that he now turned his back on all those advantages wasn’t because he didn’t possess them.  If any of the false teachers claimed to be “all that,” Paul could easily make the same claim and then some!  So why then did Paul appear to turn his back on all his training and education?  It was because none of it could make him righteous in God’s sight; none of his learning or strict rule-keeping could make him a better person; none of it could bring him closer to God.

The false teachers were zealous in their beliefs, but then so was Paul.  Before he became a follower of Christ, he zealously persecuted Christians and defended his Jewish faith.  When judged by his compatriots, nobody could accuse Saul/Paul of being a wishy-washy Jew!  

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  (Philippians 3:7 | TNIV)

When Paul met the risen and ascended Lord on the road to Damascus, everything changed! This is a tremendous verse, full of depth and meaning.  Here, Paul used the language of commerce.  “Gains” and “loss” in the Greek were words used by Greek merchants and shopkeepers.  Before encountering Christ, all of the advantages he mentioned in the previous verses Paul placed on the credit side of his ledger, as though each one of them had value in itself.  You can imagine, knowing Paul as we do, that he reminded God often of his virtues.  Paul was full of himself – full of spiritual pride because he imagined himself so much better than others.  He, like so many people today, trusted his intellectual acumen, his skill with the Scriptures, his personal ethics and virtues, his very disciplined life, and he held them up to God as though He, God, should take notice of him.  But when he met Jesus, his whole perspective changed.  Instead of advantages, all the things Paul had achieved he saw for the first time as hindrances and not advantages. All those good things – education, ethics, philosophies, religion – were doing more harm than good because they blinded Paul to the reality of his state:  He wasn’t a good person.  He wasn’t a virtuous person.  He wasn’t in good stead with the Almighty.  All the things he had been depending on were actually drawing him further and further away from God.

And when Paul found Jesus, and saw his pitiful state, it was as though he moved all those things from the credit side of the ledger to the debit side, considering them to be one great loss.  Though he never heard the Lord say the words, Paul instinctively knew them to be true:

What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?  (Matthew 16:26 | NIV84)

It’s too bad so many Christians know what Jesus said and what Paul experienced, but have yet to appropriate its truth.  So many of us still think that our “doing” will lead to our “being” righteous, when if fact all too often, the “doing” does the exact opposite.  As one scholar noted:

We forget that we do not strive to live by the Spirit in order to be in the Spirit. It is the reverse. Because we are in the Spirit we live by the Spirit. And because we have been conferred the righteousness of God, we do deeds of righteousness. We do righteous works not to get in right relationship with God, but because He has already justified us. 

Long term gain… 

What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.  I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.  (Philippians 3:8 – 11 | TNIV)

In order to follow Christ, Paul tossed out all the junk he had accumulated.  He considered all the advantages of his past as “garbage.”  That’s harsh, but Paul is making the point that everything, even very good things, pale in comparison to “gaining Christ” and “being found in Him.”  The climax of this group of verses must surely be Paul’s singular ambition:  “To know Christ.”  But what does that mean?  How do you “know Christ?”  Paul gives us the answer:

Knowing Christ is to have His Resurrection power in your life now.  When we become born again, we repent and place our faith in Christ and His work on the Cross.  God does this for us.  He unites us to Christ.  But now, we must come to know Him, and knowing Christ is not the same thing as knowing about Him.  It’s knowing that our Lord’s suffering, death, and Resurrection are forces active in our lives right now.  We need to be absolutely convinced that Christ rose from the dead and so we rise to our new life in Him as a new creation.  It’s waking up every morning and knowing we’re different from the person we used to be; it’s living like the new person we became at our conversion; it’s living in optimism and joy and anticipation of God’s power working in us and through us.  It’s forcing ourselves to stop “the old man” from crawling back into our new skins.

Knowing Christ is suffering as He did.  No believer can fully appreciate Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior without suffering to one degree or another for the faith.  That’s not just persecution, although that may be part of it.  Suffering for your faith includes things like reaching out to help others when you’d rather not; loving people you don’t like; obeying the Word of the Lord when your mind rebels against it.  Paul, who spent a lot of time downplaying “doing” things to gain righteousness, knows that righteous acts are part of the new life.  Being born again – saved by faith – is the motivation that compels you to live a new lifestyle; a lifestyle marked by good works.  The bottom line is, if your faith in Christ hasn’t changed your life, then you aren’t saved; you’re same as you were before.  As Dr McGee once said,

Paul dissipates any notion that beings saved by faith means you can sit in a rocking chair and rock yourself all the way to heaven.

Maybe the “fellowship of suffering” means a new kind of prayer life for you.  Interceding on behalf of others.  It may mean developing an awareness of and becoming keenly sensitive to the suffering of others and, to a certain degree, taking on their suffering and making it your own.  Intercession isn’t easy, but some of us are called to do it.  

Suffering for the faith takes many forms, but as we do, we are in fellowship with Christ and we are growing closer and closer to Him and becoming more like Him.  

Third, Paul wrote about being “conformed to His death,” which as creepy as it sounds, is a theme he goes back to over and over again.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  (Galatians 2:20 | TNIV)

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  (Colossians 3:3 | TNIV)

In other words, as a born again believer, you have died to the old order.  It may not seem like it, but your old life is gone; you aren’t the same person you were then and now, to live your new life to the fullest, you must let go of the old so that the new can grow stronger and stronger.

The final step in the Christian life is a big one.  It’s leaving the past behind and moving forward in your new life, given you by the Lord.  

 

 

 

 

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