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Fighting for Joy, Growing in Humility, Knowing Christ and the Peace that Passes Understanding: A Study of Philippians (37): The Christian's Triple Gain

Series: Fighting for Joy, Growing in Humility, Knowing Christ and the Peace that Passes Understanding: A Study of Philippians

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Apr 20, 2008

Philippians 3:1-11 (especially 7-11)

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The Lord's Day Morning

April 20, 2008

Philippians 3:1-11

Fighting for Joy, Growing in Humility,

Knowing Christ and the Peace that Passes Understanding: A Study of Philippians

“The Christian's Triple Gain”

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

Amen. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Philippians 3.

As we look at this passage which speaks to us about the triple gain of Christians (that is, the triple blessing, the triple benefit that believers have in Jesus Christ), you’ll notice especially in verses 7-11 that Paul outlines for us what that triple gain is, and in the language of our catechism it is justification, sanctification, and glorification. Just open your hymnals and take a look at The Shorter Catechism (towards the back of the hymnal) and look at Questions 33, 35, and 38, and you’ll see justification, sanctification, and glorification unfolded. But I want you to see where to look for this in Philippians 3.

First, take a look at Philippians 3:8, 9:

“For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order 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 comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness of God that depends on faith…”

It's hard to conceive of a better brief description of the Bible's teaching on justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone than that. After all, the Holy Spirit wrote it. How are you going to improve upon the work of the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul? But there Paul is speaking about our justification by faith.

But he goes on to speak about sanctification. You’ll see this especially in verse 10:

“…That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death….”

That is, the Apostle Paul is concerned to become like Jesus through the fellowship of His sufferings and the power of the resurrection. He wants to be sanctified, he wants to be mature, he wants to grow up in grace. He wants to become more like Jesus Christ. That's sanctification.

And then, as you see in verse 11, he speaks of glorification, because that work of becoming like Christ is never finished in this life. And so he says,

“…that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

In other words, Paul, at the resurrection, wants to be made perfect so that he can enjoy God through Jesus Christ eternally.

Let me ask you to take your hymnals and just look at how The Shorter Catechism expresses this. Turn to page 872 and look at Question 38:

Q. “What benefits do believers receive from Christ at the resurrection?”
A. “At the resurrection, believers, being raised up in glory, shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the Day of Judgment, and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity.”

Why does the Apostle Paul want to be glorified? Why does he want to be made perfect? So that he can fellowship with his God, through Jesus Christ, to all eternity.

So in this passage, in verses 7-11, Paul lays out these three benefits that every Christian has in Christ. That is, as you trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation as He is offered in the gospel, you receive the benefit of justification. You are declared right with God. You receive the benefit of sanctification, whereby the Spirit more and more makes you to be like Christ, and one day you will receive the fullness of perfection in glorification, where all sin is banished from you. And in your body you will see the glory of the Lord, and you will commune with the risen and ascended and reigning Lord Jesus Christ forever and ever.

Now it's very tempting just to do a theological exposition on that passage, but that's not what we're going to do today. But I want you to do is I want you to see how this passage explains the gospel to us so that we understand and embrace the gospel more deeply; and, I want you to see how this passage tells us how we go about sharing the gospel to others.

You see, it seems to me that one of the problems in our culture is that even the gospel is seen as a means to our own ends, and Jesus is simply seen as a tool to get what we really want. You won't have to turn on the TV very long to see some preacher tell you that Jesus can get you health and wealth. In other words, Jesus is viewed as a ticket to get what you want, and I want you to see that Paul's gospel has nothing to do with that. Paul's gospel is not about Jesus getting the world what the world wants, because the world wants the wrong thing. See, the fundamental problem in the world is not that they want the right thing but they’re trying to get it the wrong way. The world doesn't want the right thing, and it's trying to get it the wrong way, and it's trying to live to God in the wrong strength. So the world is messed up at every level. It's not that they want the right thing the wrong way; they don't even want the right thing! And so this passage will actually help us understand just how radical the gospel is, just how comprehensive the gospel is, and it will help us to share the gospel with a world that is not only confused about the way of salvation, but about what the greatest treasure in life is. So let's pray, as we read God's word.

Heavenly Father, this is Your word. We ask that You would bless it to our spiritual nourishment. Help us to see that You have not only given us the means of salvation, but that the means of salvation are to the end of glorifying and enjoying You in Jesus Christ forever and ever. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Hear the word of God:

“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.
“Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the real circumcision who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh–though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for 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; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, 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 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–that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

Sometimes when we are sharing the gospel, or preparing to share the gospel with someone, we think that people's fundamental problem is that they are seeking the right thing in the wrong way. So, for instance, we may think that they’re seeking God, they’re seeking heaven, but their problem is they’re seeking it by their own works and they need instead to seek it by grace, to seek it by faith. They’re seeking the right thing, but they’re seeking it in the wrong way. They want heaven, but they want it by their own deserving or their own goodness or their own works. Now there are certainly people like that, and they certainly need to be corrected as to the way about which one goes about receiving the free gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. But, my friends, all around us in our culture are people that are not seeking heaven and they’re not seeking God. And if we think that their only problem is that they’re seeking the right thing the wrong way, we will miss how deep their problem is and how glorious the gospel solution to that problem is.

A dear friend of mine, David Meredith, who preached the Missions Conference for us last year, was preaching to us at the Twin Lakes Fellowship just a few weeks ago. A couple of hundred pastors gathered to be refreshed and to be invigorated for church planning. And in the course of his message, he said in Scotland (which has become more and more secular in our own time…we think of Scotland as the birthplace of Presbyterianism - and it was; we think of it as the home country of our mother church - and it is; but it's a very, very secular place.), and David was saying that very often he can ask people the question, “If you were to die tonight and stand before God, and God were to ask you, ‘Why should I let you into My heaven?’” their response is not like you might think it might be…not to say, well, I don't believe in God. It's a very secular culture; you might think they would say, “Well, I don't even believe in God.” No, they won't say that. What they’ll say is, “I don't want to go to heaven. Who would want to go there? It would be no fun. I wouldn't get to do things I want to do.” I mean, they’re incredibly honest! They have no desire whatsoever to go to this place that's described in the word, because it would be a place of torment and torture for them. All of the wickedness that they want to pursue with great zeal, they would no longer be able to pursue it; so very often their response is, “Why would I want to go there?” Now at that point your mouth is not stopped and you are not unable to share the gospel because — oops! — you thought that everybody was seeking for the right thing in the wrong way. No, you see the problem is much deeper than that. The Bible says that our plight is far deeper than that. We’re seeking the wrong thing in the wrong way, in the wrong strength. And this passage speaks to each of these three things.

Seeking the wrong thing: what's your ultimate goal, what's your end, what's your purpose in life? Paul in this passage says it's to, in my resurrected body, stand and see the Lord of glory with my own eyes, ruling and reigning and publicly acknowledged to be the king of the world, and fellowshipping with Him, knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, fellowshipping with Him to eternity.

And, my friends, that's not what the world is aiming for. That's not their purpose. That's not the thing they desire above everything else, and if you begin to share the gospel and you think that they’re seeking the right thing but in the wrong way, you’re going to have a hard time. But Paul shows you how to get at that in this passage, and he does speak to us about the right way to get there. Because there are some people who have come under biblical teaching and they've come under enough biblical teaching to know that they don't want to be condemned to hell, and in the back of their minds, they vaguely believe that there might be such a place. And they do want to go to heaven, and in the back of their minds they vaguely believe that there might be such a place. And they are trusting in their own works. And you do need to address them about that as you explain to them the realities of heaven and hell: that life is short, and hell is real, and eternity is long, and the only way that you fellowship with God forever is through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, the benefits of which you receive not by your works, not by your goodness, not by your deserving, but by faith alone in Christ alone, as He is offered in the gospel. And Paul talks about that in this passage, too.

But he also tells us how to live the Christian life here, now. I'm not going to get to those latter two things. We’re just going to focus on the first thing together of this triple gain of believers. We’re going to focus on glorification, what Paul wants in this passage, because it will change the way you think about the gospel, it will change the way you think about the Lord Jesus Christ, it will help you as you share the gospel. And if you are here today not trusting in Christ, I hope it will challenge you with the gospel.

I. What Paul wants.

So what is it that Paul says he wants here? Look at verse 10-11, and then look back to verse 8. In verses 10-11, the Apostle Paul says that he wants “to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, and share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain to the resurrection of the dead.

In other words, what is Paul's ultimate goal? He wants to be raised again from the dead, so that in his body — body and spirit together — he is standing justified on the Last Day. For what? Look back to verse 8:

“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….”

What is it that he has given up everything for? To gain Christ! So for the Apostle Paul, Jesus is not just his ticket to get something else; for the Apostle Paul Jesus is his treasure — the thing that means more to Paul than everything that he has lost; the thing which is more valuable than everything in this world is Christ himself. Jesus isn't just a ticket to get him somewhere where he can have other desires fulfilled; Jesus is God's provided means whereby Paul experiences the ultimate reason for his being created: that is, to be in face to face communion with the living God through Jesus Christ, in his own body.

Do you not understand that this has been the hope of believers in all ages? Let me just remind you. Take a peek at Exodus 33. Second book of the Bible. Exodus 33…look at verses 18-20. Do you remember what Moses asked there? He says to the Lord, ‘Lord, I've just got one request. I want to see Your glory with these eyes. I want You to pass right by me. I want to see Your glory.’ And in verse 20, you know what God says to him: ‘Moses, if you saw My glory you would disintegrate into a trillion atoms! You couldn't see Me and live.’ Why? Why? Well, Isaiah 6 tells you why. Do you remember when Isaiah…? He doesn't see God himself, he sees what? He sees a vision of God. And in Isaiah 6, even when Isaiah sees a vision of God, do you remember what Isaiah says? “Woe to me! I am undone, because mine eyes have seen the king, the Lord of hosts, high and lifted up, and I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips.” In other words — what? “I'm a sinner, and I've seen God in the vision! I'm going to be destroyed!”

You see, the reason we can't see God is because we're sinners, and God is too pure to dwell in the presence of sin, and sin cannot abide Him. And yet it has been the desire of God's people in all ages to see the living God. Do you remember what Job says in Job 19? “Though worms destroy my body, yet in my flesh I will see God with these eyes, and not another.” He longs…he knows that his Redeemer lives…he knows that. He tells you, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” ‘But on the Last Day, in my own body, in this flesh which is withering away under the assault of Satan, I am going to see God.’ He says it in faith. It's been the desire of God's people in all ages, and Paul's saying the same thing here: “I want to attain to the resurrection of the dead,” so that in a perfected body, my soul and body together see the king of glory, see Him reigning; and I know Him, and I commune with Him, and I'm found in Him, and I gain Him, and I fellowship with Him. That's my desire.

And Paul's of course talking about the same thing that John is talking about in I John 3:2. Turn with me there. The last book of the New Testament before Revelation. Three tiny little letters come before the book of Revelation — I, II, III John. I John 3:2, what does John say?

“Beloved, now we are children of God, and it is not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is.”

Now that's a little confusing, isn't it? You know, when you first read that, you want to say, ‘John, I am not following the logic. I'm wanting A-B-C, and you’re giving me A-E-B-C-B-E, you know! And what does that mean? What does that mean, that we know that when He appears we will be like Him? How is it that we know that when He appears we will be like Him?’

He tells you: “…Because we shall see Him just as He is.”

‘Now, I'm still not following you, John. We know that when He appears at His coming on the Last Day that we will be like Him. OK, I'm with you that far, John. When He appears, I'm going to be like Him.’

‘How do I know that? Because we shall see Him as He is.’

‘OK, John, still don't understand you.’

‘When He appears, we're going to be like Him, and the reason that we know that we're going to be like Him is that we shall see Him just as He is.’

‘What's the logic?’

‘The logic is this: how is it that you are going to see Him as He is? Because if you were a sinner, you’d disintegrate into a trillion atoms. Because you will have been made like Him.’

That's what the Apostle Paul wants: he wants to be glorified so that in his flesh he sees from earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast, streaming through gates of pearl the countless hosts, singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost as the king of glory passes by. Paul is saying, ‘Lord, this is what I want to see. I'm willing to be beaten five times, I'm willing to be left for dead, I'm willing to be abandoned by all men, I'm willing to face the curse of this life, if only I can see the king of glory with my own eyes acknowledged by every knee and every mouth that He is Lord of all, and to know Him and fellowship with Him forever.’

You see, for the Apostle Paul, friends, Jesus is not a ticket. Jesus isn't a means to some other end. Jesus is the way to that glory; Jesus is the way to forgiveness, but He's so much more than that. He's the treasure. You see, for Paul it's not that Jesus is the ticket; Jesus is his treasure. He's the thing that Paul cares about more than anything else. He's the reason Paul does what he does. That the way it is for a Christian, you understand! It's not that we say, ‘Lord Jesus, thank You for dying so that I can be forgiven of my sins and I can go on doing whatever I jolly well please. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for dying so that I can get healthy and wealthy and enjoy this life. Forget about You.’

No, Jesus is our treasure, and that's one way that we distinguish the gospel that we're preaching from the gospel that the world around us hears so often from people claiming the name of Jesus Christ. Those people hear those preachers say Jesus is your ticket to get what you already want. What you already want is more: more stuff…more pleasure in sin…more self…more of your own ambition. All of those things that you want, Jesus will get you more than that.

Is that a very radical message? No! It's taking worldly desires and plugging in Jesus, and it's saying Jesus is your ticket to get that stuff better than anything else. Do you think that turns the world on its head to hear it? The world looks at that and says, ‘I can get all that without Jesus. What do I need Jesus for? What's radical about the gospel?’

What's radical about the gospel is the world looks at you when you are down in the desolation and you've lost the things that are nearest and dearest to you, and you still stand up and you say, “It is well with my soul, because all these things you can take from me, but you can't take Jesus! You can take everything away from me…you can take my life from me, but you cannot take Jesus from me, because when I was saved I was justified and sanctified, and I will be glorified, and in this body and with these eyes I will see Him. Because He's not just my ticket, He's my treasure.

Do you see how radically different that is than the message that so many people are preaching in the name of Jesus Christ? Do you see how that changes how you share the gospel? When that person says, ‘I don't want to go to heaven,’ you go, ‘You’re right. You don't. And you won't! Because those that go to heaven don't just want Jesus as a ticket. They own Him as their treasure.

That's what we're going to sing about in a minute. Do you notice how this is picked up? In For All the Saints (you can go ahead and open, it's 358), not only is Jesus acknowledged to be our rock, our fortress, and our might; not only is He acknowledged to be our captain in the well-fought fight, He's acknowledged to be our one true light. And the picture…you see, the picture in the last two stanzas of For All the Saints is this: it's of all God's children in all ages standing in a triumphant procession where Jesus is acknowledged to be the Lord of hosts. And this picture is before my mind's eye all the time, because when the worst of this life comes, still I have this hope: that one day by God's grace I'm going to be standing there, and I'm going to be standing there with Derek, I'm going to be standing there with Jeremy, and with Nate, and with Brister, and with Billy, with Bill, and with Bill and all my fellow pastors and all my fellow elders, and with this little congregation, and we're going to be so outnumbered there we're going to be a tiny little speck in that multitude that can hardly be numbered. And when the Lord Jesus passes by we're going to look at one another and we're going to say, ‘Everything we went through — everything! — every crushing death blow dealt to us by this world, every broken heart, every heartache, every loss, every cross, every dark providence, every diagnosis of cancer, every obscenity that we ever endured in this world, it was worth it to see this, because that's our treasure! And finally, finally, He's getting the glory due His name! This is what we lived for! This is what we died for! This is why we rejoiced when all the lights went out: just to see Him.

But here's the glory of it. This that we're seeing today is never going to end. It's never going to end. We’re going to be singing to that Lamb who saved us and caused us to persevere, and perfected us into countless days — into eternity — because this life is short, but eternity is long.’

And my friends, if that's not what you’re hoping for, let me say this: If you will come to Jesus, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and trust in Him, He will give you rest.

Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, the vision of the future of your people and the glories of the gospel overwhelms our soul to conceive it. Forgive us…forgive us for thinking that Jesus was just a ticket, because He's our treasure. And nothing can take Him from us or us from Him, because He holds us in His hands, and our names are inscribed in His palms, and He is the Lord, the king of glory. Receive our prayers in Him. Amen.

Now let's take our hymnals, and let's sing with understanding and faith For All the Saints.

[Congregation sings.]

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

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