by Mike Ratliff
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. (Hebrews 6:1-2 ESV)
As I stated a few days ago, I am preparing to review John MacArthur’s book The Jesus You Can’t Ignore. I should have that ready by the end of this week or early next week. In any case, I am currently in one of the latter chapters of the book, which has the title “Hard Preaching.” MacArthur covers two Biblical passages in this chapter, the “Sermon on the Mount” from Matthew 5,6 & 7 and “The Bread of Life Discourse” from John 6. When studied from the perspective of what was actually going on in our Lord’s ministry as He preached those polemic messages, the utter separation from those truly in Christ from the merely religious becomes extremely clear. The politically correct, seeker sensitive, Church Growth approaches to ministry are vividly shown for the empty fallacies they are. In this post, I believe God would have us take a closer look at the marker of true discipleship, its source, and how it becomes apparent in every genuine Christian and how its absence is evidence of disingenuousness.
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. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Philippians 3:7-12 ESV)
7 αλλα ατινα ην μοι κερδη ταυτα ηγημαι δια τον χριστ 8αλλα μενουνγε και ηγουμαι παντα ζημιαν ειναι δια το υπερεχον της γνωσεως χριστου ιησου του κυριου μου δι ον τα παντα εζημιωθην και ηγουμαι σκυβαλα ινα χριστον κερδησω 9και ευρεθω εν αυτω μη εχων εμην δικαιοσυνην την εκ νομου αλλα την δια πιστεως χριστου την εκ θεου δικαιοσυνην επι τη πιστει 10του γνωναι αυτον και την δυναμιν της αναστασεως αυτου και κοινωνιαν παθηματων αυτου συμμορφιζομενος τω θανατω αυτου 11ει πως καταντησω εις την εξαναστασιν την εκ νεκρων 12ουχ οτι ηδη ελαβον η ηδη τετελειωμαι διωκω δε ει και καταλαβω εφ ω και κατελημφθην υπο χριστου [ιησου] (Philippians 3:7-12 WHNU)
The words translated as “I counted” in v7 is ηγημαι. In this context, Paul’s usage of ηγημαι here is “to esteem” or “to count” or “to consider” the value of something in contrast to something else. He has made a judgment call that in contrast to Christ, everything else is as nothing in value. In v8 he reiterates this by saying, “I esteem (ηγουμαι) all things (παντα) to be loss (ζημιαν ειναι) on account of (δια) the (το) superiority (υπερεχον) of the (της) knowledge (γνωσεως) of Christ (χριστου) Jesus (ιησου) my Lord (του κυριου μου), through (δι) whom (ον) all things (τα παντα) I suffered loss (εζημιωθην), and (και) esteem them (ηγουμαι) to be dung (σκυβαλα) that (ινα) I should gain (κερδησω) Christ (χριστον)! We must never forget that Paul was formerly Saul the Pharisee. He was an up and coming Jewish religious leader. However, something has radically changed the man. He now sees all of the religiosity he had attained himself as σκυβαλα (dung) in comparison to being in Christ, to have Him as His Lord.
In v9 we see that the religiosity he had prior to being in Christ had attained to him a righteousness of his own making that comes from law keeping. However, in Christ, he had attained a righteousness that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness (δικαιοσυνην) from God that depends on faith (πιστει). Think about this. This word δικαιοσυνην is justification before God based on the perfect righteousness of Christ not that which is imperfect that is the best anyone can do by attempting to earn it by keeping the law.
In v10-11 we see that the Christian has deep desire to know Christ and the power of His resurrection. He or she wants to be like Him. However, in v12 we see that even Paul knew that he had not obtained this yet, but he was driven to make it his own because Christ Jesus had made him His own. This should be our drive as well. We are called, no, we are commanded, in God’s Word to run the race with our eyes fixed on Christ (Hebrews 12:1-2) until we finally meet Him face to face.
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. (Philippians 3:13-16 ESV)
13αδελφοι εγω εμαυτον ουπω λογιζομαι κατειληφεναι εν δε τα μεν οπισω επιλανθανομενος τοις δε εμπροσθεν επεκτεινομενος 14κατα σκοπον διωκω εις το βραβειον της ανω κλησεως του θεου εν χριστω ιησου 15οσοι ουν τελειοι τουτο φρονωμεν και ει τι ετερως φρονειτε και τουτο ο θεος υμιν αποκαλυψει 16πλην εις ο εφθασαμεν τω αυτω στοιχειν (Philippians 3:13-16 WHNU)
In these 4 verses Paul gives us the example for us to follow and through this, he shows us that this is the drive of the genuine Christian. We are called to pursue Christlikeness, to mature as Christians, but it must begin with the realization of our need for it. Have you ever known professing Christians whose focus was everywhere, but on this? Sure, as have I. They have their fire insurance and that is all they care about. However, the regenerate Christian knows innately that they are far from the perfection of Christ. Paul tells us to forget the past, both good and bad and replace that focus with one on what lies ahead, εμπροσθεν, straining forward, επεκτεινομενος. This is looking at the promises from God and stretching out with all one’s strength and effort to attain them. In other words, the focus of the Christian is not the temporal, but the eternal and what awaits him or her there in Christ.
He tells us that the mature, τελειοι , must think this way. These are the Christians who realize that they are not mature or perfect or complete, but are, indeed, far from it and it breaks their hearts and drives them to pursue it with their all. He promises us in v15 that when true believers stray from this focus, God will deal with them to draw them back to the pursuit. He disciplines us so we are commanded to hold true, στοιχειν, or conform to this pursuit and never give up.
The genuine Christian is a new creation, not someone who is simply religious or a rule keeper. No, he or she will be marked with a certain knowledge of his or her lack of righteousness and their dire need for it. They will pursue it by pursuing Christ to be Lord of all they are and all they do. This is the high calling of God, to the upward call of Christ to not be satisfied with what this world has to offer, but to see all that is gained outside of this pursuit of Christ as nothing but σκυβαλα.
Soli Deo Gloria!