Gospel-Driven Holiness: The Heavenly Citizen’s Pursuit (Mike Riccardi)

Philippians 3:17–4:1   |   Sunday, November 24, 2013   |   Code: 2013-11-24-MR


We return this morning to our study of the third chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. And we’ve said throughout our expositions of the last few months that, in this chapter, Paul is chiefly concerned with defining the nature of the true Christian in the face of doctrinal threats. And defining a true Christian necessarily touches upon defining the true Gospel. And Philippians chapter 3 gives us one of the most blessed summaries of the Gospel, especially in verse 9, where Paul declares that in Christ, the repentant and believing sinner is justified by God on the basis of the imputation of the external, alien righteousness of Christ. That is to say, the Good News that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that because of sacrifice of Christ in His death and the perfection of righteousness achieved in His life, sinners who turn from sin, abandon all hope of achieving righteousness on their own by their own good works, and trust entirely in Christ’s work to have earned their acceptance with God for them, God will count that perfect righteousness that Christ achieved to their account. Sinners are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.


But from the very inception of that good news—from the earliest days in which it was preached both by our Lord and by His disciples—there have existed two great perversions of that message. And either of those perversions, if believed, empties that message of its power to save—because it changes it into another gospel entirely, which, as Paul says in Galatians, is really no gospel at all. And those two perversions are the heresies of legalism and antinomianism.


Legalism, as many of you know, is that teaching which says the righteousness by which one becomes accepted into fellowship with God is attained not merely by the imputation of the alien righteousness of Christ through faith. Rather, the sinner must add his own law-keeping—his own commandment-keeping, his own good works—to the ground of his righteousness. This was the heresy of the Judaizers, whom we’ve met in chapter 3, and who, according to Acts 15 verse 1, taught that “unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Now, the Judaizers did not reject the atoning work of Christ and the necessity of faith. They believed that one was saved by grace through faith. They simply said it wasn’t by faith alone. Circumcision, and the observance of the Mosaic Law, was necessary for righteousness. So you see the legalists add to the work of Christ to achieve righteousness.


And throughout the third chapter of the Philippians it has been Paul’s concern to respond to this corruption of the Gospel. You see, if the righteousness which came from the Law had anything to do with our acceptance before God, Paul would have had everybody beat. He tells us in verses 5 and 6 that he was circumcised on the eighth day, that he was from pure Israelite stock, that as a Benjamite he had great social standing, that he and his parents maintained his Jewish customs and traditions amidst a pagan environment. He says he was so committed to the Law that he persecuted Christians for what he perceived to be their violation of it, and that when it came to the righteousness that was in the Law, nobody could accuse him of falling short of it. But in spite of all that, what would seem to have been religious advantages—gains—Paul says he counts them as loss for the sake of Christ. That those religious advantages were not only worthless in obtaining a righteousness by which to be accepted with God; they were positively harmful—detrimental to his case—because they tempted him to trust in his own achievements, rather than the achievements of Christ alone. And so, he says in verse 8, he counts those advantages—and everything else in his life—to be refuse in comparison with the surpassing value of knowing Christ. Because in Christ he would not have a righteousness of his own that comes from the Law, but the righteousness that comes from God Himself through faith in Christ alone. That righteousness—Christ’s righteousness—is the only righteousness that will save him.


But in addition to legalism, there is also the heresy of antinomianism. Now, “antinomianism” is made up of anti-, which of course means “against;” and “-nomian” comes from the Greek word nomos which means “law.” And so antinomianism means “anti-law.” It refers to those who downplay and even deny the necessity of obedience in the Christian life; or, said another way, those who downplay and even deny that sanctification is the necessary fruit of justification.


Antinomianism perverts the Gospel—not, as the legalists, by insisting that we must add to Christ’s work our own obedience in order to be justified—but rather by subtracting from the efficacy of Christ’s work, by denying that the Gospel has the power to transform lives—by saying that people declared righteous by virtue of Christ’s work can continue to walk in patterns of unrighteousness. So legalism attempts to add to Christ’s redeeming work the filthy rags of human obedience. Antinomianism subtracts what Christ produces in the redeemed sinner’s life as a result of justifying grace (cf. Martin).


This is the infernal reasoning of Paul’s objector in Romans 6. After going on for two and a half chapters about the magnificent grace of God in accomplishing righteousness in Christ and justifying sinners freely through faith apart from works, he comes to the climax in chapter 5 verse 20 and says, “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound!” And so Paul’s antinomian objector suggests, “Well if increasing sin does nothing but to cause saving grace to abound all the more, let us sin that grace may abound! If I am declared to be perfectly righteous on the basis of the external, alien righteousness of Christ imputed to me through faith alone, then it makes no difference whether I sin or whether I obey! I’m going to heaven on the basis of someone else’s righteousness, not my own!”


And of course Paul responds in the very next verse by appealing to our new nature as a Christian—as one who has been united with Christ in His death and resurrection. He asks, very simply, “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?”


Well, having dealt with the legalism of the Judaizers in the opening 11 verses, Paul then turned his attention to address a misconception—namely, that in light of all of the great blessings of a saving relationship with Christ, Paul was saying he was perfect. And so he writes in verses 12 to 16 that he has not already become perfect or attained to the resurrection of the dead, but he presses on in the race of the Christian life, straining every spiritual muscle that he has in the pursuit of practical holiness, in order to reach the finish line and lay hold of the prize that is face-to-face, sin-free fellowship with Christ Jesus Himself.


And by virtue of those exhortations unto maximum, concentrated effort in the fight against the flesh and the pursuit of holiness, Paul puts the lie to the error of antinomianism. If we are to press on, if we are to strain forward to what lies ahead, if conducting ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel means pressing on to lay hold of the practical holiness for which we were laid hold of by Christ—then antinomianism is contrary to the Gospel.


And that is precisely Paul’s point in our text this morning. Let’s read, starting in verse 17, and going all the way through to chapter 4 verse 1.


Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. 18For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, 19whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. 20For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. 4:1Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.


And so in this context of having likened the Christian life to strenuous race of pursuing holiness, Paul exhorts the Philippians to follow the example that he and other faithful Christians have modeled for them—that is, that example of pursuing holiness with all their might. And along with this central exhortation, Paul gives two reasons that the Philippians should imitate him and those who walk like him. To stir them up to greater commitment in the fight for holiness, Paul paints two vivid pictures—contrasting the shameful character and the wretched destiny of the sensualists who deny the Gospel by their licentious behavior, with the virtuous character and glorious destiny of the true citizens of heaven.


And so those are three lines of thought along which we will unpack this text. First, we’ll briefly examine Paul’s central exhortation for the Philippians to follow his example in the pursuit of holiness. And then we’ll consider the two reasons he gives for that exhortation, each in their turn.


Follow Our Godly Example (3:17)


Notice first, the main thrust and central exhortation of this passage: Paul’s call to the Philippians to follow his godly example. Look at verse 17: “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.”


Now again, in dissuading the Philippians from the theology of perfectionism beginning in verse 12, Paul has just admonished them in verse 16 to “keep living by that same standard to which we have attained”—that is, to continue in step with that same rule of life by which you’ve made the progress you’ve already made. And that rule of life is the Apostolic teaching that we now have codified for us in the sufficient Scriptures. But by God’s grace, the Philippians did not need to merely follow abstract instructions; they were given godly examples in the Apostle Paul and those who imitated him.


And in our study of Philippians 2 verses 17 to 30, when we observed the examples of those three Gospel-driven ministers: Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus—we spent some time underscoring the importance of discipleship, and of godly examples to follow as we seek to be faithful in our Christian walk. We all benefit so much more when things move from “tell me what,” to “show me how.” Yes, the Lord Jesus is our perfect example, but it’s also helpful for us to have an imperfect example as well. Pastor John says it so helpfully. He writes, “We need to follow someone who is not perfect so we can see how to overcome our imperfections” (MacArthur, 254). He makes the excellent observation that Christ never pursued perfection; He was always perfect. And so having an example to follow in godly, but nevertheless fallen, Christians, is a good thing. It helps us to see the principles that we learn in Scripture practically lived out by someone who’s running the same race we’re running. To extend the metaphor, we watch their form as they turn corners; we imitate their strategy for running straight-aways; we see how they handle particular hurdles and obstacles; and so we imitate them as they imitate Christ (cf. 1 Cor 11:1).


And so with the Philippians surrounded by the immorality of their pagan neighbors, as well as the immorality of professing Christians (who we’ll meet in verses 18 and 19), Paul basically says, “I know that you all are inundated with bad examples of how to conduct yourselves in this world. But consider my own example, as well as the examples of Timothy and Epaphroditus, and the examples of your leaders who walk according to the pattern you have in us as well. Let our pursuit of holiness and our fight against sin be a concrete example that you can latch on to and imitate.”


And friends, I know that you too are inundated with bad examples of how to conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel. Our 21st-century Western society is increasingly rivaling that first-century Greco-Roman world in terms of its paganism, self-indulgence, and virulent immorality. And unfortunately, those who would call themselves Christians are being conformed to the pattern of this world more and more every day. Many professing Christians have so abandoned any commitment to sound doctrine and careful study of the Scriptures, and they have so imbibed the spirit of this age and the Devil’s imitation of what they call Christian “liberty,” that their seared consciences permit them to indulge in the deeds of the flesh without a thought to how their behavior belies their profession of faith.


And if you’re not vigilant in submitting your mind and your affections to Scripture, that bad example can begin look attractive. “After all,” you say, “these are professing believers! And look at how they enjoy their freedom in Christ! They seem to have the best of both worlds.” But I say it again: indulging in the desires of the flesh in the name of “free grace” is not the biblical doctrine of grace, or of Christian liberty; it is Satan’s knock-off. And they don’t have the best of both worlds, because the Lord made it clear that you cannot serve two masters.


And so don’t follow the example of such people who redefine sanctification so that no actual effort is required on your part—who insist that holiness comes simply by reflecting on your justification, and is not marked by the kind of fervent struggle that an Olympic sprinter experiences as he runs his race. Instead, surround yourselves with the kind of godly examples that are serious about the pursuit of God and the fight for holiness. That is your responsibility. It’s unlikely that someone more mature in the faith is just going to come right up to you and say, “Hey, follow my example.” And we wouldn’t quite know what to think of someone even if they did that! So you need cast a discerning eye on those people in this church that are worthy to be imitated—who are walking according to the pattern we have in Paul, who are zealous to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ—and you need ask them to disciple you, to get in your life and show you how it’s done. And again, it’s a sad reality that there are plenty of people you could go to who will never make you feel you’ve got any progress to make—people who will pad your ego and excuse your sin, quite likely because they don’t want anyone to call them out for their sin. But don’t follow that example. Find people who are serious about godliness, who will help you lay aside every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles, so that you can run this race with endurance (Heb 12:1).


I. Because Lawlessness is Enmity with and Contradictory to the Gospel (3:18–19)


Well now, having considered this central exhortation to follow the Apostle Paul’s example of fervently pursuing Christlikeness, we now ask the question: Why? What are the reasons for such an urgent exhortation?


And as we said, there are two of them. The first is, number one: because lawlessness is enmity with, and contradictory to, the Gospel. Look with me at verses 18 and 19: “Brethren, join in following my example . . . . For [or because] many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.”


Here we meet the antinomians—professing believers who have so corrupted the doctrine of Christian liberty that they have seared their consciences, and have plunged into a lifestyle marked by sensuality, shamelessness, and worldliness. In fact, Paul uses such strong language that some are hesitant even to grant that these are professing Christians; they think they’re just out-and-out pagans. And surely part of Paul’s point is to show that they are not true Christians and so there is little difference.


But these are professing Christians, and we can tell that for a number of reasons. First, there’s the repetition of the verb “walk” from verse 17 to verse 18. This is one of Paul’s favorite words to describe the conduct of the Christian life (Eph 4:1; 1 Thess 2:12). And having just used the verb of Christians—speaking of those who walk according to the pattern set by the Apostle Paul—it makes sense that he’s referring to professing believers. Secondly, Paul is overcome with emotion as he thinks about these people. As we’ll see, this is the only place in any of Paul’s writings where he says that he is currently weeping, in the present tense. It’s very unlikely that Paul would be moved to tears in this way because unbelievers are behaving like unbelievers. He would expect that. And finally, the context and the whole flow of his argument has been about pursuing sanctification as the necessary fruit of justification. And as Paul says in verse 12, unbelievers can’t press on to lay hold of Christ until Christ has first laid hold of them.


And so when he says that many walk as enemies of the cross, he’s not referring to people who are openly hostile to the Gospel. These are people who would agree with the claims of Jesus as being Messiah and Lord who died for sins and rose again on the third day. They have become enemies of the cross not by their profession, but by their behavior. And we’ll look into that in a moment.


But first, let’s set the scene. As Paul exhorts his dear friends to greater Christlikeness, his mind turns to other professing believers he has interacted with—perhaps those whom he had at one point considered to be as close to him as he considers the Philippians to be. It’s as if he pauses at his desk, puts his pen down, and looks out a window. And in his mind’s eye he sees the faces of those he might have at one time called brothers and sisters. But as he thinks of their conduct, and how they have abandoned the pursuit of holiness to indulge the desires of the flesh, he is overcome with sadness and grief. And his eyes well up with tears that he tries to fight back, but it’s no use, and he finally lets out a loud cry as his tears overflow right onto the parchment. Those whom he at one time counted to be friends, he now says that they are enemies of the cross of Christ. It’s as if he is mourning the death of lost loved ones.


And briefly, friends, there is something that we can learn from Paul’s example here. In this verse, in no uncertain terms, Paul is clear to say that the destiny of such professing believers who give themselves to gratifying the desires of the flesh is destruction. But he does not rejoice triumphalistically and vindictively in such a declaration: “Those traitors! Their end is destruction!” No. He is heart-broken. And we should be heart-broken, too, over professing believers who deny the faith by their conduct. We tend to get annoyed and defensive, because, as David says, zeal for [the Lord’s] house consumes us (Ps 69:9). But we need to drink deeply of the spirit of the great Apostle, and deal in brokenness, knowing as James says that “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (Jas 1:20)

And so these professing Christians are enemies of the cross of Christ—not because they were doctrinally opposed to the saving efficacy of the cross! They would boast in the grace that they thought to be theirs by virtue of the saving work of Christ! No, they had become enemies of the cross by rejecting the implications that the cross had on their daily living. In a word, they failed to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ (1:27). So you see: you can be an enemy of the cross by denying its sufficiency to be the sole instrument of salvation. That was the error of the legalists. Or you can be an enemy of the cross by denying its power to transform lives—to free sinners not only from the penalty of sin but also from the power of sin. And that is the error of the antinomians. The one adds to the cross, and the other subtracts from the cross. Both are enmity with, and are contradictory to, the Gospel.


William Hendriksen summarizes helpfully when he writes, “If the friends of the cross are those who show in their lives that they have caught the spirit of the cross, namely, that of self-denial … then surely the enemies of the cross are those who manifest the very opposite attitude, namely, that of self-indulgence” (Hendriksen, 180, emphases original).


And so do you follow Paul’s argument? He exhorts the Philippians to follow his example in the hot pursuit of personal holiness, because to do anything else is contrary to the Gospel. To stop running the race of righteousness is to become an enemy of the cross, for it was the very purpose of the cross to deliver us from sin. Titus 2:14 tells us that Christ gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, [who are] zealous for good deeds. And so when you attempt to “cash in” on the forgiveness of the cross by confessing Jesus as Savior, but then fail to take up your cross and die daily to yourself and your sinful desires, and to submit your life to Him as Lord, you contradict the Gospel you claim to believe, and show yourself to be an enemy of the purifying cross of Christ.


Paul describes these enemies of the cross in four ways. He starts at the end, and first exposes their destiny. He says, in verse 19, that their end is destruction. And friends this is none other than the eternal, conscious torment and everlasting punishment of hell. This is what the Lord Jesus spoke when he said that “the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it” (Matt 7:13). This is the doctrine of the Apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians 1:9, where he says, “These [speaking of enemies of the Gospel] will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” “Eternal destruction.” That doesn’t mean a once-for-all destruction that lasts for eternity. It means an everlasting, consummate destruction—always in the process being destroyed, but never finally coming to a state of rest. Friends, that thought is unbearable!


But that is the destiny of those who profess the name of Christ but who fail to pursue holiness! Be warned! Be deterred from sin by beholding the dismal place to which it leads! Proverbs chapter 5: Solomon issues the same warning to his son. He says, “The lips of an adulteress drip honey and smoother than oil is her speech; but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death, Her steps take hold of Sheol” (Prov 5:3–5). And in chapter 23, verse 31: “Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly; At the last it bites like a serpent and stings like a viper.” Dear friends, don’t look on sin in its deceitful façade of temporal satisfaction! Sin doesn’t satisfy—not even in the short-term!—and in the end it only leads to destruction.


Paul goes on to describe their sensuality. Again, verse 19: “…whose god is their appetite.” “Appetite” there is the Greek word, koilia, which literally refers to the stomach. Because the viscera were perceived as the seat of a person’s raw desires, it was used metaphorically to refer to unrestrained, sensual, fleshly impulses (MacArthur, 258; Silva, 181). These people, Paul says, are driven by unbridled sensuality. This is the philosophy of: “If it feels good, do it.” “And why not? We’re free in Christ! We are saved by grace alone through faith alone, on the basis of the righteousness of another!” Jude says such are “ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4)


And Paul says: that is nothing less than making a god out of your own instincts. “If my inordinate desire for sleep demands laziness, I will obey, and turn on my bed as the door turns on its hinges!” (Prov 26:14). “If the lusts of my eyes demand gratification, I will obey, and darken the lamp of my body with lust.” “If my sexual desires demand fulfillment, I will obey, and surrender myself to immorality, fornication, and adultery.” “If my desires for pride and distinction demand fulfillment, I will obey, and inject a self-serving comment into the conversation as soon as possible.” And one we don’t like to talk about but that is especially relevant this week: “If the lusts of my flesh demand gratification, I will obey, and have a third helping of candied yams and a fourth plate of pumpkin pie!” Almost every commentary on this passage lists two categories of sin when they comment on this phrase. One is licentiousness. The other is gluttony.


And so instead of disciplining themselves for the purpose of godliness (1 Tim 4:7) and keeping their appetites under control, presenting the members of their bodies to God as instruments of righteousness (Rom 6:12), they surrender rather to their fleshly passions. The Bible says your god is whatever it is you shape your life around and pursue satisfaction in. If you shape your life around gaining the satisfaction of your senses, that is your god. But if you shape your life around gaining the satisfaction—gaining the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord—then Christ is your God, and you will count all those sensual so-called “pleasures” as loss for the sake of the surpassing pleasure of knowing Christ!


Thirdly, Paul exposes their shamelessness. Again in verse 19: “…and whose glory is in their shame.” This means, very simply, that these people boasted in the very things that should have brought them shame. “Do you want to know how sure I am that I’m saved by an alien, external righteousness? Do you want to know how thoroughly I believe in the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s alien righteousness as the ground of my justification? Just look at how I enjoy my liberty in Christ! After all, it’s not my righteousness that saves me!” And professing Christians do that very thing, today. They flaunt the devil’s cheap imitation of “Christian liberty” and boast in practices and habits that they ought to be ashamed of.


And finally, Paul exposes their worldliness. Once more at verse 19: “…who set their minds on earthly things.” Their mindset—their entire disposition, orientation, and attitude—is entirely preoccupied with the things of this world, the physical and material interests characterized by the earthly sphere of sin. These are those of whom Paul speaks in Romans 8:5 when he writes, “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh.” It makes sense, then, that he goes on to say in verse 7 that “the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God” or “is enmity against God.” For these are the enemies of the cross.


And so, Paul exhorts us to follow his example in going hard after holiness, because a life marked by sensuality, shamelessness, and worldliness leads only to destruction. Such sinful indulgence is enmity with, and contradictory to, the Gospel that not only frees us from the penalty of sin, but also from the power of sin.


II. Because of Our Present Position and Our Future Hope (3:20–21)


There’s a second reason Paul gives as motivation for pressing on with all our might in our fight for holiness. And this second reason is twofold: because of our present position, and our future hope. Look at verses 20 and 21: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”


The word “our” in that opening phrase is thrown all the way to the very front of the sentence in the original in order to show an emphatic contrast. Sensuality, shamelessness, and worldliness characterize the enemies of the cross. But as for us, Paul says, our citizenship is in heaven. And because of our present position as citizens, enrolled on the register of the Heavenly Kingdom, our lives must be ruled and governed by the laws of that blessed realm.


And the Philippians would have understood this imagery of “citizenship” immediately. Remember that according to Acts 16:12, Philippi was a Roman colony. And the historical sources tell us that Philippi enjoyed an elite status in the Roman empire called the ius Italicum—which is to say that it was governed as if it was on Italian soil. Philippians enjoyed the full rights and privileges of Roman citizenship as if they had been born there themselves. And they were proud of that status. They spoke the Romans’ language, they copied the Romans’ architecture, and they even adopted the way the Romans dressed. Everything about their way of life was governed by a kingdom which they were citizens of but were not presently living in.


And so Paul latches on to that reality and says, “Brothers, you may glory in your Roman citizenship. But you must recognize that you are citizens of an infinitely greater kingdom: the Kingdom of Heaven itself! You have your birthright there, for you were “born from above” (John 3:3). And though you remain on this earth, you are nevertheless enrolled on the heavenly register as citizens of that realm. Your names are in the book of life, Philippians chapter 4 verse 3. And you are, Ephesians 2:6, presently seated in the heavenlies with Christ! Your imperishable and undefiled inheritance is reserved in heaven (1 Pet 1:4). Your great and final reward is in heaven (Matt 5:12). Your treasure is stored up in heaven (Matt 6:20). And so there may be people who have abandoned the pursuit of holiness, but they belong to the realm in which sin rules, and so their conduct is determined by sin. But, dear brothers and sisters, our citizenship is in heaven, the realm where Christ Jesus rules as Lord! And so your conduct must be determined by that reality!” And friends, if we presently belong to a kingdom that is distinguished in every way by holiness, we ought to live holy lives as citizens of that kingdom in this heavenly colony here on earth that we call the Church.


But not only are we spurred on to holiness because of our present position. We are also motivated to pursue Christlikeness because our future hope. Paul goes on to say, “…from which also [that is, from heaven also] we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory.”


In contrast to the sensualists “who set their minds on earthly things,” the true believer eagerly awaits for Christ’s return, and is thus preoccupied with heavenly things. He sets his mind on—he keeps seeking—the things above, not on the things that are on earth. Why? Colossians chapter 3: because Christ is there. And if Christ is our treasure, our hearts will be with Him, our treasure, in heaven. We will be focused upon heavenly interests, governed and regulated by Kingdom purposes. And chief among those Kingdom purposes is our own growth in personal holiness.


And when Christ appears, what is it that Paul emphasizes that He’ll do? He will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory! Oh, and if you are in Christ here this morning you know what it is to groan, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5, being burdened by the weakness of our flesh as a result of sin. Our bodies are not inherently sinful; they are not merely a prison which we long to escape. Adam and Eve were created perfectly in the image of God and they were both soul and body. But ever since Adam fell our bodies have reaped the corruption of that seed of disobedience and rebellion. It is because of sin that our bodies decay, and are beset with sickness and infirmity, and will finally succumb to death. And of course, we groan not only under the physical weakness of our body, but we groan in a body that is still beset with sin itself. And so we eagerly await the coming of our Savior, because He will transform our bodies so that they are conformed even to the body of His own glory. He will literally banish sin from our bodies! The answer to Paul’s cry in Romans 7:24—“Who will save me from the body of this death?”—is answered in this text. We eagerly await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.


Just as Christ’s resurrection is the guarantee of our resurrection, so is His resurrected and glorified body the guarantee of our resurrected and glorified bodies. If we had time I would take you to 1 Corinthians 15. In that amazing chapter about the hope of our resurrection, without which, Paul says, we are of all men most to be pitied, we learn something of this precious future hope. But spend some time later today or later this week as you reflect on this passage. Suffice it to say, for now, that as we have borne the weakness and the infirmity of the image of the earthy man, we will one day bear the power and the glory of the image of the heavenly Man, the last Adam (1 Cor 15:42–49).


And what is our Savior coming to do? Again, the very nature of His final work of salvation at His coming will be to transform our sinful bodies into sin-free, glorified bodies! This is the very work He’s coming to do! To finally purge us from all sin! If we eagerly await that, how can we do anything less than fight sin with all our might now?! If that is the great destiny of my body as it experiences such consummated salvation in Christ, how can I presently yield my body and its members as instruments to unrighteousness?


1 John 3:2–3: “We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” 2 Peter 3:13–14: “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace” (ESV). “An eager expectation of his return does much to protect the believer from earthly, sensual enticements” (Kent, 148). We see that in the latter parts of Matthew 24 and the beginning of Matthew 25, with the illustration of the slaves whose master is away but is coming soon, and the parable of the ten virgins. We are to be on the alert! I would hate for Jesus to return when I was being unfaithful! If He returns before He takes me to be with Him, I want to be engaged in His business at the time of His return! And I know you do too. And since we don’t know the time of His coming, we are thereby motivated to be diligent in holiness all the time.


Now, those who know themselves and their sinful frailty will ask: “Can it be possible that this lowly body will be so transformed as to be free from sin and infirmity and decay? Can it be?” The answer is: Yes, it can. By the inestimable power of Christ! If He can subject all things—every power in the entire universe—to Himself, we have every reason to trust that He can use that same power to ensure that we shed this body of humiliation, perishable, weak, and full of decay, and put on a body like unto His own glory, imperishable, and powerful.


Conclusion: Stand Firm (4:1)


And after all this, what remains to be said? What’s the conclusion? Look at chapter 4 verse 1. Paul says, “Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.” Because there are many professing Christians who live in a way so as to deny their profession of faith and put them at enmity with the cross of Christ, and because the end of such a way of life is nothing but destruction, dear friends, stand firm. And I think this is why Paul heaps up so many words of tender affection: beloved, brethren, those whom I long to see, my joy, my crown. I can imagine him looking again into the distance, and in his mind’s eye seeing the faces of the sensualists who profess to be believers, and then seeing the faces of the Philippians as he thinks of them, and being overcome with emotion that any of them might go the way of the sensualists—that they might go out from Christ, demonstrating that they were never truly of Christ (1 John 2:19)—Paul can barely handle the thought. And he says, “Not you. Not my beloved brethren. Not you who my heart aches to see again. Not you who will be my joy and my crown of rejoicing on the day of Christ Jesus!”


Oh, and GraceLife, I say the same thing to you! May it never be that your elders hear of you that you are living in profligacy, denying by your behavior the profession of faith that you now make. Don’t slacken in your pursuit of holiness, and set yourself on a path toward destruction. Press on! And lay hold of Christ!


And be not only warned by the negative example, but be wooed by the glorious promises of our present condition and our future hope. You, dear friends, if you are in Christ, are at this very moment enrolled in the register of heaven. Your citizenship is there. You are a colony of heaven here on the earth, and so I plead with you: live like it! And don’t forget! The King is returning soon! And when He comes, He will exercise His almighty power and will banish sin from your mortal bodies! He will transform the body of your humble state into conformity with the body of His glory. And that same power that will accomplish your glorification is presently working in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure in sanctification (Phil 2:13). And so on the basis of that marvelously gracious reality, work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12)! Press on to lay hold of Christ! Lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles, and run this race with endurance (Heb 12:1)!


Amidst every attack, amidst every bad example, and every voice calling for you to slacken—to lighten up, and relax, and “don’t take this holiness thing so seriously”—you remember that this world is not your home, that you are a citizen of heaven. And like a good soldier, you hold your ground! Beloved, stand firm in the Lord. Stand firm.