Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, March 13, 2016
Pressing on Toward the Goal - March 13, 2016 - Fifth Sunday in Lent - Text: Philipians 3:(4b-7)8-14
What is important? Unfortunately, it is often not until too late that people ask that question. It is often only at the time of the death of a loved one that we ask the question, what really is important in this life? The topic of what is important is such a big topic that there have been books written and movies made with the underlining theme talking about what the writer thinks is important. And interestingly enough, most books and movies come to the conclusion that the things in life that are most important are our relationships, and the least important thing is money. And even though we would probably agree that this is true, the way we live our lives very often actually shows the opposite. We spend more time engaging in things financial than we do in our relationships and we do so with the explanation (not excuse, but explanation) that we have to have money to live, to eat, to support our family and the like. Instead of our priorities being what we probably would like them to be and what we probably profess them to be, that is: #1 our relationship with our Savior; #2 our relationship with our spouse or family; #3 our relationship with the rest of our family and #4 our job and the like, the way we live our lives tends to show that our priorities are #1 putting in enough or too many hours at work to bring in enough money to pay for everything we need, or think we need, and want and to make sure that we have enough for retirement (don’t get me wrong, I do know that those things are important, but I think we tend to be like the rich man who put so much into tearing down the old barns and building bigger and better barns and then thought that tomorrow he would be concerned with his spiritual life); our #2 priority tends to be being busy with the things of this world, running here and there, running our children here and there to participate in all the social activities of this world; our #3 priority tends to be our relationship with our family and spouse or spouse and family and finally our #4 priority might be our own spiritual life. I know that I am speaking strong words of Law, but I think we should admit, except for a few rare exceptions, this is the way we human beings tend to be. If you do not believe me, then I challenge you to sit down and take an honest look at your life. Take time to look at your checkbook to see who gets the biggest percent of the money God has given you though your work. Think about how much time, out of the 168 hours in a week that God gives you, do you spend in all the activities in which you participate, including amount of time in prayer, reading the Bible, personal and family devotion, and in divine service and Bible study and in volunteer service to the Lord at His church. I think you might be surprised.
One of the reasons I bring this up this morning is again for the simple fact that we are in the season of Lent, the season we take the time to look at our lives, to look at our sins, and to see the seriousness of our sins and the fact that is was because of our sins that Jesus came to live, suffer, and die on the cross. The other reason I began this way this morning is because Paul talks about what is important in our text for today. He does not tell us in this text in particular, but we know that Paul was a Pharisee of Pharisees. He was well grounded in the faith of his fathers. He could have been a big person in the church. He could have been bringing in the big salary. Yet, he counts this all as loss, compared to his relationship with Jesus. As Paul says, “4bIf anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law blameless. 7But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (v. 4b-7).
Paul’s life might remind us of our own life. Maybe we have been educated in the most renown institutions, or at least we have had the opportunity to have completed high school, college and even earned a masters or doctorate degree. We may be seen as smart, wise and intelligent in the ways of this world, but what does that do for us when it comes to our relationship with Jesus? What is that worth if we have no relationship with Jesus?
Paul reminds us that the most important thing is this life is our relationship with Jesus. The most important thing in this life is our faith in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection for us. And that most important thing is not something we go out and get, rather it is a gift which God gives to us, at our Baptism or at our conversion. It is God who gives us faith, brings us to faith, strengthens us in faith and keeps us in faith.
God gives us faith and it is this faith that is the instrument that makes Jesus’ work our work. It is faith which makes Jesus’ life our life, Jesus’ death our death and Jesus’ resurrection our resurrection. As Paul reminds us, “8Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—10that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (v. 8-11).
All of this, God’s giving faith, God’s giving Jesus’ life for ours, God’s giving us eternal life is what we call justification. It is that we are justified, made “just as if I’d never sinned” in God’s eyes. And all of this living, suffering, dying and rising has already been completed. Jesus’ perfect life, suffering and death was enough, we do not have to do anything else, we do not have to suffer eternal death. We want to make sure that we have this clear. There is nothing we do to gain forgiveness and eternal life, it has all already been done for us and is ours by faith which is also given to us. To say that we have to do something extra in order to earn our forgiveness and heaven is to say that Jesus’ death was not enough, that His suffering was not for all people of all places of all times, that His suffering did not completely do what He said it would do. God tells us that Jesus’ suffering was complete and it was enough.
It is important that we understand that according to our being made just and right in God’s eyes, everything has been done for us and there is nothing that we can do. This is important because Paul goes on to tell us that we are to “press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of” us. And this is what we call sanctification. Paul continues, “12Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (v. 12-14).
Sanctification is doing the good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do. Sanctification is that we do good works only as we are moved to do good works. In other words, we do not normally, of our own accord, do good works. Normally, as our Lord tells us, ever intention of our heart is evil all the time. Normally we refuse and reject the Lord and His gifts, staying away from divine service, Bible class and the like. Or, if we do good works, normally we do good works because of an ulterior motive, self recognition, or to get something in return. That is just our nature. True good works, good works of sanctification, good works that are good works in God’s eyes are those good works we do because God has moved us to do them.
Sanctification is also that we do good works only as the Lord helps us to do good works. Again, in and of ourselves we can do no good thing, at least not in God’s eyes. As Isaiah reminds us, in God’s eyes, even our good works, that is the good works we believe we do on our own, apart from God, are as filthy rags. A good work in God’s eyes is a work which is motivate by Him, worked in us by Him and is done to His glory.
Which brings us to the understanding that sanctification is that we do good works only as the good work we do is done to the glory of the Lord. So, as we can see, when it comes to good works that are truly good works, good works that are good works in God’s eyes, everything points away from us and instead, everything points back to God. He gives us faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. He gives us good works to do, motivates us to do those good works, works them through us and we do them to His glory.
Paul uses the analogy of an athlete pressing on toward a goal. The goal for which we are heading is heaven. Interestingly enough, heaven is ours. It is a present reality. We may have to wait to move in, but it is ours now. And so we press on toward heaven.
Because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, because of the faith which the Holy Spirit has given to us at our Baptism or conversion, we are no longer what we were before that is, we are no longer complete sinners. But at the same time we are not yet what we will be in heaven, that is complete saints. We are somewhere in the middle. We are at the same time sinner and saint. And this is what adds to our struggles in life. This sinner, saint-ness in each of us is what adds to our difficulty in determining what is important in life, and not only speaking Godly priorities, but also in living those priorities.
As we press on through this short life, our goal is the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” As we go though life we tend to mess things up. Time and again we mess up. We get in the way of the Lord working in and through us, we refuse and reject the gifts He has to give by staying away from where He gives His gifts and at times we even become instruments of the devil working in and through us. Yet, the Lord continues to be our God. He continues to show us what a great God He is, what a loving God He is. He continues to grant us forgiveness. He continues to work through His Word to bring us forgiveness of sins, strengthening of faith and life.
Getting back to the question of what is important?, I pray that the Lord will continue to work though His Word so that you can confidently says with Paul, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.