Gaining Christ (3): Obtaining Perfection
Gaining Christ (3): Obtaining Perfection (Phil. 3:7-9) September 30, 2018 Mt 5; Gal 4; Rom 3 Read Phil 3:4-9 – Anybody here attained perfection? Hard to come by, isn’t it? One guy told his date, “I want to marry a smart woman, a good woman, a sensitive woman, a woman who will make me happy.” His date replied, “Make up your mind, Buddy. Nobody’s perfect.” She was right, wasn’t she? Yet, listen to Jesus! Matt 5:20: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Morally, outwardly the Pharisees were unbeatable. And Jesus says, “You gotta be better than that.” In fact, He says in Mt 5: 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” It requires the perfection of God to reach heaven? That’s crushing, isn’t it? No one can do that. But before you panic, I’ve got good news. Paul tells us how to obtain (not attain) perfection. He uses 3 terms -- “knowing Christ” – “gaining Christ” – and being “found in him” -- 3 ways to express what it means to have “the righteousness from God” of v. 9. The term “righteous” isn’t in vogue these days, but it means to be accepted by God as perfect! Paul’s going to tell us how to get that, seeing clearly beyond time, into eternity. What he says is the exact opposite of what we would naturally do. Our first impulse is – I better get my act together. I’m not so bad, but I gotta get better. That’s human nature. And it is exactly the wrong thing to do. Speaking as an accountant, Paul tells us how to obtain perfection. We must move some things from the asset side of our moral ledger and to the liability side. And we must replace them with something else – and it’s not good works. It’s perfect works! So how do I get my ledger to balance? I. What Moves Out (My Righteousness) – Paul depicts life pre-Christ as a ledger sheet needing audit. As an asset he had “my righteousness” which was prodigious. But he had learned it had to go so he could 9 “be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own.” Great as it was, it didn’t cut it. Paul had to get “Me” off the asset page to make room for something else. A. Renounce the Garbage of Me – The sin of Me – two flavors - that which I willing acknowledge as such – and that which I rationalize. That which is clearly wrong never got on the asset side. Lying to a customer, anger with the kid’s coach, Stealing an idea at work. Taking out my frustration on my spouse. Unfaithfulness. We don’t put those on the plus side. Maybe a couple get on the debit side, but mostly they just sorta get pushed aside. Then there are those rationalizations. Temper tantrums justified because I’m right. Grudges held and relationships broken because my rights were violated. Flirtations enjoyed because my spouse doesn’t understand me. Cheating on expense reports or taxes justified because “they owe me.” The list is long. They show up on the asset side as “standing up for my rights.” But all selfishness of whatever sort is sin to God. It belongs on the debit side of the ledger. All our rationalizations, justifications, accommodations – they have to go. Not covered up. Not ignored, but consciously sent to the liability side. That’s repentance – hating our sin like God does. Our natural bent is like the guy who wrote the IRS: “I cheated on my taxes; It’s keeping me awake at night. Here’s $500. If I still can’t sleep -- I’ll send you the rest.” That’s not confession. That’s self-deception. I Jn 1:8-9: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Let me tell you – being clean inside is better than any guilty pleasure, besetting sin or grudge we’re hanging onto. So we must move it to the liability column and let the blood of Jesus cover it all. That’s renouncing the garbage of me. But believe it or not, that’s the easy part! B. Renounce the Goodness of Me – This is where most people won’t go. They’ll renounce sin as they define it. But renounce goodness? Never! That’s their security blanket and ticket to heaven. But Paul came to understand it all had to go – that which I know is bad – but also that which I know is good. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” The upside Paul wants is Christ. “For the sake of Christ.” He wants to know Christ. He wants eternal life. He knows Jn 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” He wants eternal life. He wants to know Christ, and to be found in Him. But to gain Christ, he has to lose something. What? His sin? Yes. But that’s not what this verse teaches. This verse says “7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” “Whatever gain I had.” Not my sin.. Not my compromises – but whatever gain I had. That carefully cultivated list of assets. It has to go. Years of work – had to go. What a startling realization. And look at the wording. It doesn’t just get moved out. V. 7, it gets “counted as loss.” In v. 8, “I count everything as loss.” In v. 8b: “I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish.” The translators are being gentle. The word is excrement. “All those assets in 4-6, things I worked years to achieve, things I knew would endear me to God; all those well-intentioned, exceptionally credible assets – I finally saw them for what they were – a pile of you know what. Not just useless for gaining eternal life – a detriment to gaining eternal life. I didn’t just erase them as assets. I moved them to the liability side. They weren’t helping; they were hindering me from Christ.” How could human goodness be a detriment? Well, first because until it is motivated by Christ, human goodness is still selfish. Looks great outwardly, but to God, who looks on the heart, it is just another way of putting selfish interests ahead of God. Good works, selfishly motivated, offend God. Thus, Isa 64:6b: “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” In calling his good works rubbish, Paul was just agreeing with God, which is what confession is – agreeing with God. He knows his goodness is mixed with 9 parts bad for every one part good – and at its very best selfish to the core. Human goodness is rubbish because we use it to placate God. To buy Him off. But that is like offering your hard-earned $100,000 home in exchange for Windsor Castle. Good luck with that! Neither will our righteousness ever count with God. As long as we trust in it as an asset, it is keeping us from the very thing we seek. So it has to move from asset to liability. A girl was away at college when a letter from the bank came to her home. Mom called and asked what she should do. The girl said, “Open it and see what it is.” “It says your account has insufficient funds.” “That’s got to be a mistake. I still have plenty of checks left.” That’s us offering our goodness to an infinitely holy God. We are morally bankrupt, insufficient funds – but insisting that our blank checks of goodness are good enough. They are not. That’s why I must renounce not only the garbage but also the goodness of me. Everything I’ve got on the asset page – it all has to go. Lock, stock and barrel. II. What Moves In (Christ’s Righteousness) – Okay – so now I’ve moved everything I’ve ever done from the asset side of the ledger. It’s blank. I have nothing to offer. Now what? Now, by faith, I ask for the righteousness of Jesus. Perfect righteousness. And I get it. How good is that? Note 3 things: A. It’s Perfect – From God – 9 and 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.” Paul’s righteousness is diametrically contrasted with that of God. We are clothed in one or the other but not both. Given the requirement to be “perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” whose righteousness would you rather have – yours or His? Your decrepit, ragged, mixed bag of good intentions, poor performance and selfish motivation – or His pristine, glorious robe of righteousness? We’ll all meet Him one day soon in one or the other. Browsing a bookstore one day, I found an autopsy photo of Marilyn Monroe. Enlightening. She was in the prime of life but stripped of make-up, proper lighting and the animation she was unrecognizable. If you’ve ever seen your favorite actor or actress without the benefit of the image makers, you’ll be asking, “How do they make them look so gorgeous. They don’t look like that in real life.” No, they don’t. And neither do we spiritually. The beauty is in what God provides, not in what we do. Only His righteousness will do! Isa 54:17: This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication (zadek – righteousness) from me, declares the Lord.” The perfection God requires, God supplies. You’re on fool’s errant to supply it yourself. B. It’s Paid for – In Christ – Okay, so how does God make me righteous? Does He just pull out a magic wand and poof! There I am – perfect? Could He do that? Guess what? He can’t do that? He can’t do that because to make me righteous without payment for my sin would violate His holy character. He would cease to be God that moment bc He would have denied Himself. Sin must be paid for, so how can I possibly get the righteousness of God? It’s beyond me. Thankfully, it was not beyond Him. Before time began, God had a plan for what He knew would happen. When the time came, He enacted His plan. Gal 4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Here’s the overview: God sent His Son – 2nd person of the Trinity – to take on humanity -- 100% God and 100% man in one unique person – but living only thru His human nature for 33 years on earth. During that time, He was tested every way, but whereas the first Adam failed the easiest of tests, Jesus passed them all. Heb 4:15b: He “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Not one slip in word, thought or deed thru extreme temptation. A perfect life. That was critical. Note in v. 9 we get righteousness “through faith in Christ.” Well, that would be true, but that’s not what that phrase says. It literally reads: “through faith of Christ.” It is not our faith in Christ, but the faith of Christ that led to His perfect life that is emphasized here. That’s critical. Why? Bc by faith Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience. He had no sin of His own to pay for. So on the cross Isa 53:5) But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6) All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Jesus was only perfect sacrifice who could pay the penalty for the sins of others. Bc He was a man He could die. Bc He was perfect, His death could be for others. Bc He was God His sacrifice could be of infinite value. His perfection is what we need. And by His obedience, He bought it for us. God solved the problem of making us righteous while still having all sin paid for. Speaking of Christ’s death, Paul says in Rom 3:26: “It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” This is all about God’s righteousness – what we all need. You can’t see it in English but it’s mentioned 3 times in this one verse. Follow with me. Christ’s death was “to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be [righteous – same word] and the justifier [righteousness giver] of the one who has faith Jesus.” God can both be righteous and the righteousness provider because of the death of Jesus Christ in our place. It’s an incredible plan – an amazing plan. On August 16, 1985 NW 225 crashed just after takeoff from Detroit killing 155 people. One survived – 4-year-old Cecilia of Tempe, AZ. Rescuers originally didn’t believe she’d been on the plane – thought she must have been a passenger in a car on the highway where the plane crashed. But when they checked the manifest there she was. Cecilia survived because as the plane was falling her mother unbuckled her own seat belt, got down on her knees in front of her daughter, wrapped her arms and body around Cecilia and would not let her go. Nothing could separate Cecilia from her mother’s love – not the fall, the flames or the chaos that ensued. Such is the sacrifice Jesus made so that we could have the righteousness of God – bought and paid for by Him. Can you see why it’s such a travesty to turn it down? C. It’s Provided – By Faith – So how does this transfer of righteousness occur. By faith. 9c: ”the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” God said it; I believe it! God promised it and put His credibility on the line by sending Jesus, letting Him die and then resurrecting Him. His credibility is not at stake. Ours is, if we refuse to believe what He has said and is verifiable in human history. You hear it. You accept it as true and by faith you appropriate His offer to you of His righteousness. Jn 5:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” The moment you pray, renouncing your sin and even your righteousness and ask for His mercy – that very moment, his righteousness becomes your righteousness. The dirty rags come off; the glorious robe of Christ’s righteous life goes on. II Cor 5:21 is marvelous: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” How? By faith! When? The moment you ask from the bottom of your heart. At that instant, across the asset ledger of your life one word gets written: Christ. And when you’ve got Him – Jesus; you’ve got it – eternal life. Conc – If you go to Scotland at the right time you may see a strange sight – a little lamb with extra fleece tied to its back with holes for its legs and one for its head. It’s a lamb whose mother has died. And it will die too without proper nourishment. But another mother will not accept an orphaned lamb. She won’t recognize its scent and will butt it away. She will know it’s not hers. But if there is a ewe who has lost her baby, the shepherd will skin the dead lamb and make a covering for the orphaned lamb. Now when the mother sniffs the orphaned lamb she smells her own and accepts it. That’s what it means to “be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith [of] Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” So what does your ledger look like this morning? Let’s pray.