Steps to Standing Firm

Text: Philippians 3: 1- 21

Proposition: Since faith is the core essential to a right relationship with God, it needs to be protected from undermining and corrosion.

Introduction: A recent Ipsos-Reid poll asked six clarifying questions of all Canadians. One of those questions asked how many Canadians would regard themselves as Evangelical Christians. The answer to that was 10%. As one might expect, among those born in Canada, those older than 55 are more likely to embrace religion than younger generations. The exact opposite is the case for those immigrating to Canada. Almost half of those immigrating to Canada that are between the ages 18 to 34 said they attend a religious service, Christian or otherwise, at least once a month. Reginald Bibby’s research, which looked at 2011 Statistics Canada and National Household Survey data, found that about one in every two immigrants to Canada between 2001 and 2011 was either a Catholic or a Protestant. But in contrast to these indicators, the percentage of all Canadians who attend church on a weekly basis has declined. The number who believe that Jesus was the divine son of God has steadily gone down. More people believe they will be reincarnated—up to one-third of Canadians. The percentage of Canadians who believe it’s possible to communicate with the dead has doubled over the past three decades, up to 42 per cent. More than half of Canadians believe some people have psychic powers.

There is a growing spiritual deception and it shows itself not only in the belief that you don’t need a church to grow in your faith but more so in the truth of Who Christ is. The godlessness that increases brings with it sexual confusion, quality of life issues from abortion to euthanasia and suicide and an abandonment of there being any absolute truth. Each man does what is right in his own eyes is the growing trend.

So the question becomes, ‘What are the factors that eat away at any persons’ faith?’ Things were no different in the Philippians day when it came to standing firm in their faith. Paul could see there were things we can do. Turn with me to Philippians 3.

I.  I.  Forgetting to Forget Those Things That Are Behind Us Ruins Faith.

In finances we use terms like assets and liabilities, the plus side of the ledger verses the minus side. We set budgets with this, we assess progress and we do strategic planning with these things. For Paul the assets were all being moved over the liabilities side of the books. He refers to things that he once considered valuable, statements of identity and worth and even righteousness. There’s nothing that we have in our culture that comes close to what Paul describes in verses 5,6. “…circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” These things were more than career, more than accomplishments, they were spiritual investments that turned out to be a pyramid scheme, junk bonds, counterfeit funds. He has come to realize that right standing with God is grounded in a faith in Christ so he moves all these assets to the liability side of the ledger. “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.” Vs 7 Then there was all that happened to him after he became a Christian. He was thrown into jail in Philippi, run out of town in Berea, beaten with rocks in Lystra, hated by the Jews, imprisoned by Rome, shipwrecked, whipped, beaten with rods, rejected by the people of Israel. That’s a great deal of pain and yet look at what he writes in verse 8, “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ…”.

What I’m getting at is that sometimes we live our whole lives looking in the rearview mirror. We can become consumed with past success or past pains and regrets. The effect of that is that it can eat away at our faith.  The church, the Word and the Christ all become unimportant then irrelevant then an impediment and then an obstacle, a stumbling block.                                                                                                                         

Paul makes the simple statement that what really helps us to guard against that kind or erosion of faith is to forget what lies behind and to seek to know Christ in a unique kind of way. He describes it as knowing the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings. The power of His resurrection…Paul sees that Christs resurrection is like a receipt that says ‘Paid In Full’. The body and blood of Christ are completely enough to pay for my sin, your sin.  Paul is also seeing past his own death, past his being absent from the body and present with the Lord. He is looking at the second coming of Christ because that is when our resurrection takes place. So he makes this over the top statement in verse 13, “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Do you see it, it’s all about forgetting those things which are behind. Press on towards the prize, that prize is an upward call. Upward being used in a number of ways here. Theologically upward, righteousness is only in Christ; metaphorically upward as all other things are downward in comparison; literally upward as the reality of resurrection is seen and hoped for.  

II. Being Careless With the Truth Will Distract Your Faith.

There’s a term used in the air traffic control world that also applies to the space industry, it’s CFIT, or Controlled Flight Into Terrain. It’s an acronym that refers to pilot error as the cause of disasters. The British probe to Mars, ‘The Beagle’, named after Darwin’s ship, missed its objective because of CFIT. It was an error from mission control that failed to convert English units of measurement into metric units, and the $125 million dollar project sailed into destruction. The fact is they became careless with the standards, the truth that was supposed to guide them. In verse 16, Paul exhorts us, “Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.”  The Greek word for standard or rule, is the term ‘kanon’. It refers to a rod that you tie something to, to keep it straight, to a rod that is used to measure something.     

The bible is called the canon of scripture for the same purposes, the divinely inspired Word of God to us, to give a direction, a measure of truth by which we not only live but have faith. To be careless with this truth will distract your faith from trusting in God. The compass of your life then begins to swing, and crazily suggests that there are really a number of places that are true north. Keep living by the ‘kanon’ of Scripture, Paul says. What is the canon of belief that you hold to? On what is it based? Is there a possibility of CFIT happening in your life because of what directs you?  

III. Underestimating the Importance of Example Isolates Faith. (v17-19)

I suppose that in a world that so emphasizes individuality and the pluralism that leads to, the importance of example is easily underestimated. I believe that each of us need to both be an example and follow examples. And I think for the most part we all believe in that. The danger is when we underestimate its importance and abandon the course of the example we were following in order to attain something else. Paul cautions the church, “Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.” The examples of godlessness abound, those whose god is their appetite,  people who emphasize pleasure as the goal and god of their life. Examples like those who laugh at their shame, racists who joke about it, adulterers who flaunt it, they may be greedy and brag about it. Whatever the case, they do something that’s wrong and they glory in it. Yet other examples to avoid are those who set their minds on earthly things, they emphasize life as a here and now commodity. The idea of living for post mortality purposes is a theology at best, but their interests lay in pre- mortality concerns. So who do you follow, who are your examples, and perhaps more to the point… who’s following you? Faith will be isolated if you underestimate the importance of Godly examples.

IV. Belief in Conformation Over Transformation Is Powerless Faith.

It seems to me that conformation is always a reaction to the past because of our worries over the future. It’s power lays in the hands of people, either myself or others of similar persuasion. Transformation, on the other hand, occurs from a mind that renews or brings alive the reality of the future because of Christ. Its power doesn’t lay in the hands of men, but in the hands of God. It brings the will of God into my line of sight. Transformation sees my citizenship in heaven, it eagerly awaits the return of Christ, it sees our sinful body changed into an eternal body like Christ’s and it bows in adoration to God over His sovereign transforming power. Faith is the street that leads to throne of the all powerful God but  the pavement of that street is the blood of Jesus Christ that bears me up and allows me to walk over the law of sin and death. My faith is in the sufficiency of Christ’s blood to bear my weight and allow me to reach my Father. Augustine once said, “God does not expect us to submit our faith to him without reason, but the very limits of our reason make faith a necessity.”                                                                                                              

That’s the intent of Paul’s closing words in 4:1… “in this way stand firm in the Lord.”

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