February 17, 2011 David Balzer

Philippians 3: 40 Days of Purpose 4: Discipleship: Created to become like Christ

The City to Surf’s just been on again. 50,000 runners who all start in the City, and then head up Oxford St to Bondi.

 

And there are two sorts of competitors in the City to Surf. There are the SERIOUS runners – not necessarily trying to WIN, but still seeking their own sorts of victory. Perhaps it’s just to run a personal best time.

 

And, for them, it’s that FINISHING LINE AT BONDI that’s the focus. And that big digital clock over the line. And for the whole race, they imagine crossing the line, and raising their arms in victory. IT’S ALL ABOUT THE FINISH.

 

And then there’s the Back of the Pack crowd. They’re called that because they have a different starting line. It’s BEHIND the serious runners. So they don’t get in the way.

 

And that’s where you’ll find the fancy dress. The party-goers. Those out for a good time. A laugh. Or just a pleasant Sunday morning stroll.

 

And for THESE competitors, it’s ALL ABOUT THE JOURNEY. The finishing line, and their time, are really an after-thought. It means nothing to them if they stop for coffee for an hour along the way. Or do a spot of window-shopping. Or wave to everyone watching beside the road.

 

And, according to Paul, the Christian life is just like a race. And like a race, you can run it in one of two ways. You can be a SERIOUS runner – like Paul. His eyes are on the goal. He’s straining towards the line. To win the prize. The prize of eternity with Jesus.

 

Like v8 of Phil 3.

I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ

 

V10. 10 I want to know Christ

 

Or v13

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize

 

For Paul, King Jesus loved him. King Jesus had saved him. And so he’s going to give him EVERYTHING. His mind’s on HEAVENLY things. ETERNAL things. And he’s not going to get bogged down along the way by earthly distractions.

 

And although the race was TOUGH, Paul couldn’t imagine anything else. Because every struggle along the way was making him MORE AND MORE LIKE JESUS. Fitter and fitter for eternity. The race was tough, but the prize was WORTH IT. And everything else he’d given up was just RUBBISH in comparison!

 

That’s the serious runner.

 

And then there’s the OTHER type of runner in the Christian race. The BACK OF THE PACK SLACKER. They’ll tell you they’re in the race, but their mind is on everything BUT the race. Paul says their mind is on EARTHLY THINGS.

 

It’s the pretty trinkets along the way that grab their attention. The bright lights of Kings Cross. Or the expensive shop fronts of Elizabeth Bay. And all they can think about are their sore feet, or dry mouths, or empty stomachs. And they forget why they began the race in the first place. In fact, they don’t look much different from the spectators standing beside the road. Barely distinguishable.

 

When it comes to YOUR Christian race – which are you? A serious runner, or a back of the pack slacker?

 

We’ve come, today, to the THIRD purpose of your life. God CREATED YOU TO BECOME LIKE CHRIST.

 

First, he PLANNED you for his pleasure – that’s WORSHIP. Second, he FORMED you for his FAMILY – that’s FELLOWSHIP. And THIRD, he CREATED you to BECOME LIKE CHRIST.

 

You can see that’s what Paul wants, there in v10.

10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, BECOMING LIKE HIM IN HIS DEATH, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

 

Whatever hills you climb, or pain you endure as you run the race of your Christian life, God’s put them all there so you’ll BECOME MORE LIKE JESUS. He wants to SCULPT you into the shape of Jesus. Take on his attitudes. Take on his behaviour. His characteristics. Respond to situations the same way Jesus would. Love what HE loves. And hate what HE hates.

 

1. Sculpting you into the shape of Jesus

And the key to the whole thing for Paul is there in v10. “I want to KNOW CHRIST” You can’t be CONFORMED to Christ, unless you know what he’s LIKE. Unless you KNOW him.

 

That’s what DRIVES Paul. He’s already said it back in v8. There’s nothing worth MORE than KNOWING CHRIST JESUS HIS LORD. Everything else is RUBBISH.

 

He’s not saying that he DOESN’T ALREADY know Christ. Just that he wants to know him BETTER. Every Christian knows SOMETHING of Christ. But the goal of the race is to KNOW HIM BETTER.

 

The tool of TRUTH

Because Christianity ISN’T knowing about a BOOK. Or knowing a set of rules. Or words to songs. It’s about knowing a PERSON. A living, active, powerful person. It’s about thinking his thoughts. Experiencing his presence. Understanding more and more what MOTIVATES him.

 

Paul was lucky enough to have MET him. On the road to Damascus. But that was just the beginning. He ALSO spent plenty of time in his Old Testament working it all out again.

 

And even though Christianity isn’t knowing a BOOK. WE learn about Jesus by studying his book. The Bible is how we learn what Jesus is like.

 

And it’s the first tool God uses to sculpt us into the shape of Jesus. The TRUTH of his word. 2 Tim 3:16-17 says THIS

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting AND TRAINING IN RIGHTEOUSNESS, 17 so that the man of God may be THOROUGHLY EQUIPPED for every good work.

 

God uses his Bible to SHAPE us. It’s the very reason he caused it to be written down. Teaching us, rebuking us. Adding bits here. Cutting off bits there. To mould us into people who are thoroughly equipped. People who resemble Jesus.

 

The Word of God is the SWORD of God’s Spirit. The scalpel and the weapon. The hammer and the goad. The medicine and the bright searchlight. The mirror.

 

It’s the TOOL he uses to do his work. In his people, and in his world.

 

So if the Bible is God’s TOOL to thoroughly equip us, then we need to PAY PARTICULAR ATTENTION TO IT. Sometimes when you’ve been a Christian for a long time, the temptation is to SWITCH OFF when the Bible is read, or being explained. Because you’ve heard that passage BEFORE. And the words just WASH OVER you.

 

But the Bible is God’s TOOL. You can’t be SHAPED by it, if you not letting it DIG INTO YOU. And that takes EFFORT. And it can even be PAINFUL.

 

1 Peter 2:2 says

2 Like newborn babies, CRAVE PURE SPIRITUAL MILK, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,

 

Does that describe YOUR attitude to God’s Word? Think about how a hungry baby CRAVES a feed. Poor old Owen, fading away to nothing, sometimes looks like HIS LIFE DEPENDS ON IT unless he gets fed in the next minute.

 

God’s word is LIFE. We should crave it like THAT.

We must be HUMBLE enough to sit under its AUTHORITY. Not to think WE KNOW BETTER.

We must be COMMITTED enough to APPLY IT THOROUGHLY. To receive it, research it, remember it, and reflect on it.

 

The tool of trials

That’s God’s FIRST tool for sculpting us into the shape of Christ. His Word teaches us to know Christ.

 

But what IN PARTICULAR do we learn about Christ? Back in Phil 3, Paul goes on to give us SOME SPECIFICS. The two events in Jesus’ life on earth which DEFINE who he is. Look there at v10.

(Phil 3:10 NIV)  I want to know Christ and THE POWER OF HIS RESURRECTION and the fellowship of sharing in HIS SUFFERINGS,

 

Jesus is BOTH the resurrected Saviour AND the suffering servant. He’s both the victorious God, and the weak and frail human being. He’s the mighty Lion of Judah who is ALSO the slain lamb.

 

And for Paul to KNOW Christ is to know those qualities in his OWN LIFE. To know Christ better means to EXPERIENCE the power of Christ’s RESURRECTION. AND to join in Christ’s SUFFERINGS.

 

To know “the power of Christ’s resurrection” means experiencing victory over sin. Putting to death the old attitudes and behaviours. It means experiencing the power of the gospel in his own life. And seeing how it changes the lives of people he witnesses to. And they’re all things Paul wants to know.

 

The power of Christ’s resurrection

 

What about “sharing in his sufferings”? Why on earth would Paul WANT a share in Jesus’ sufferings?

 

Because that’s God’s SECOND tool for sculpting you into the shape of Christ. TRIALS.

 

Have you ever watched the locksmith cut a new key using the OLD one? The OLD one was cut into the right shape using a super-hard cutting tool. They attach the old key to ONE side of the machine, and the new blank one to the OTHER side. Then they start that super-hard grinder spinning. And the cutting-tool passes back and forth over the blank, guided by the shape of the MASTER.

 

And by the end, you’ve got a NEW key, exactly the same shape as the MASTER key. Cut using the same TOOL.

 

And it’s the same with US being shaped into the likeness of OUR master. The reality is that God uses suffering – TRIALS – as one of his tools to sculpt you into the same shape as Jesus. Because that’s exactly what JESUS went through.

 

As the Christian follows Jesus through suffering, he becomes more LIKE him. The fruit of obedience is Christlikeness. It’s literally that we “share in the shape of his death”. We are moulded into the shape of SERVANTS as we follow THE SERVANT KING.

 

It’s false advertising whenever an evangelist promises that when you become a Christian, all your problems will be solved. If anything, the OPPOSITE is often true. Listen to what Jesus himself says. John 15 v20.

(John 15:20-21 NIV)  Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. {21} They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.

 

To follow Christ, means we WILL suffer. It MAY mean persecution for being a Christian. That certainly happens in many countries today. But it might just mean suffering the consequences of putting Christ first.

 

Missing out on a promotion. Or refusing to cut the corners, and not winning the contract. Or doing without the new car, or new clothes because you support that missionary.

 

You see, we don’t just share in ANY sufferings. We share in CHRIST’S sufferings.

 

Christ suffered because he put his FATHER’S will before his own. He lay down his life for his sheep. We SHARE in Christ’s sufferings when they flow from OBEDIENCE  like HIS. Obedience to the FATHER’S will. Which puts the needs of others first.

 

We are shaped like Christ when we RESPOND like him. When we show LOVE in the face of HATE. Patience in the face of short-temper. Peace in the face of anger. Hope in the face of cynicism and failure. Perseverance in the face of giving up. Obedience in the face of rebellion. Purity in the face of evil.

 

And they’re all things God wants to see in you.

So if you’re praying for any of these, look out!!

 

Tool of time (12-16)

That’s why Paul wanted to knowing the fellowship of sharing in Christ’s sufferings. Because it was TRAINING him for the race. Making him fitter and stronger to make it to the finish line.

 

And even though Paul can’t WAIT for that. He doesn’t make the mistake of thinking he’s arrived already. Look at v12.

(Phil 3:12 NIV)  Not that I have ALREADY obtained all this, or have ALREADY BEEN MADE PERFECT.

 

I’ve watched some of Lachlan’s Cross Country races. 4 km this year.

 

And even though Lachlan’s not a sprinter, he’s got good endurance. And he knows not to worry if people sprint right at the start. They’ll run out of puff. He knows how far 4 km is. He knows how far to the finish line. So he runs his own race.”

 

And what normally happens is that when the gun goes off, 20 kids SPRINT for the first corner. Lachlan starts at a steady jog. They turn the corner, all bumping into each other. And a few of them slow to a trot almost immediately. After the first 200 m half of them are walking. And within half a km, Lachlan’s caught all but one.

 

It’s immature to pretend you’ve made it when you’ve still got a long way to go. But Paul’s not like that. He knows he’s still got a long way to go. That’s what maturity is.

 

But what’s he talking about? What’s the “all this” he hasn’t obtained yet? It could be his resurrection. But that’s a little obvious. Of course he’s not dead and resurrected.

 

It’s the complete knowledge of Christ, and complete Christ-likeness he hasn’t achieved. He’s not COMPLETE, or PERFECT, or MATURE, or perhaps even FULLY-EQUIPPED. The word for “perfect” can mean all of those things.

 

And you can see that Christ-likeness is what he’s talking about when you look at the second half of that verse. It’s tricky, but it’s beautiful. V12.

(Phil 3:12 NIV)  Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect but I press on to take hold of that  FOR WHICH Christ Jesus took hold of me.

 

In other words, I’m working towards the goal which is the very reason Christ chose me to begin with. My job-description is to be Christ-like. That’s why Christ chose me. And that’s what I’m working towards. Following him. Becoming like him. Living FOR him.

 

And then Paul goes on in v13.

13 Brothers, I do not consider myself YET to have taken hold of it.

 

I’m not there yet. But I’m GETTING there. And it takes TIME.

And that’s God’s THIRD tool for sculpting you into the shape of Jesus. TIME.

 

God’s got your whole life planned out so that by the END of it, you’ll resemble Christ. And you can be sure it’s going to TAKE a lifetime.

 

Nothing that happens in your life happens accidentally. God uses the WHOLE THING to SHAPE you.

 

He COULD do it INSTANTLY. But that’s not the way he MADE us. Like everything, shaping you is a PARTNERSHIP.

 

* It takes a lifetime because we’re slow learners. We’re quick to forget and slow to remember.

 

* It takes a lifetime because we’ve got a lot of bad habits to UN-learn. Often we’ve learned sinful attitudes and habits over YEARS. But we expect God to fix them overnight.

 

Taking off the OLD self. And PUTTING on the NEW self takes a long time. And anyone who says different, is fooling themselves.

 

* It takes a lifetime because GROWING HURTS.

 

One of Lachlan’s soccer team-mates had the whole of last season off because of growing pains in his legs. His bones grew so quickly, his muscles and tendons couldn’t keep up. And he couldn’t run without pain, or risking permanent damage.

 

He just had to be patient, and let everything else catch up to his bones. He’s back playing know, even stronger AND BIGGER than before.

 

So be patient, and don’t get discouraged if YOUR growing seems slow. God promises that you WILL get there. Because it’s not just YOU. He’s working WITH you. Listen to what Paul says about the Philippians in Ch 1:6.

6 I’m confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will CARRY IT ON TO COMPLETION until the day of Christ Jesus.

 

He’s worked out everything else in your life. So you can be confident he’ll work out your Christlikeness.

 

Which doesn’t mean we sit back and do NOTHING. It’s not LET GO and LET GOD. Remember, it’s a partnership. In Phil 2:12-13 Paul put it like this;

work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

 

God’s DESIRE and his PLANS are behind you. So there’s no FRUSTRATION, no spinning wheels. No wrong turns. Everything is an opportunity for God’s plans to be worked out in YOU. So WORK AT IT steadily and conscientiously and consistently, and firmly and confidently.

 

Or as Paul puts it here in Phil 3, PRESS ON.

 

V12. Press on to take hold of THAT FOR WHICH Christ Jesus took hold of you.” Take hold of Christlikeness. Take hold of a life which glorifies Jesus.

 

And it’s this reason for living which Paul is SINGLE-MINDED about. Look at HOW he presses on. V13.

(Phil 3:13-14 NIV)  But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, {14} I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

 

One thing. Pressing on. And he does it by FORGETTING what’s behind. That’s failures AND victories.

 

Forget past hurts, and disappointments, and discouragements. They can sap the LIFE out of you. Make you BITTER. People who’ve laughed at you, or rejected you. Or perhaps even just IGNORED you. That can be worse. And you wonder why you’d ever bother doing THAT again.

 

But the way to press on is to forget what’s past. And keep your eyes on the prize.

 

And sometimes we need to forget THE VICTORIES TOO. Especially if they make us complacent and proud. And make us trust in our own abilities. And make us think we’re further along the race than we really are.

 

Don’t look back. Press on toward the goal. And keep your eyes on your prize.

 

What’s the prize? From the context it’s probably Christ himself. We know Jesus now only A LITTLE. But COMPLETE and INTIMATE knowledge is what’s waiting for us at the finish line.

 

That’s the prize. Eternal fellowship with Jesus. Resurrection. And turning up to the throne of judgment. And King Jesus is there. And he says, “Good friend. I’ve been waiting for you. I ran the race. And although it was tough, you followed after me.

 

God’s used the race to sculpt you into a shape just like me.

 

“Well done, good and faithful servant. I can’t WAIT to spend eternity with you. Enter into your rest. You should see the party I’ve got ready for you!” That’s a prize worth striving for!

 

Press on.

 

Take hold of the very thing which was the reason Christ took hold of you. Christlikeness. Knowing Christ. In his sufferings and power.

 

Forget the past. Strain forward to win the prize. It’s what you were MADE for. Created to become like Christ.

 

 

 

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