Truths That Transform
Do you have one single goal in life that consumes you, something that has become the primary force that stimulates and motivates you daily in everything that you do? Or do you feel like someone in a canoe whose objective seems to change with the various hazards he finds around every bend in the raging river as he is being propelled along trying to navigate white water, logs, and rocks. Life can be like that. If we are not careful, our goals and objectives are set for us by the demands of the everyday forces of life and by false belief systems.
Goals and objectives are tremendously important because they are dynamic and determinative of what we do with the life God has given us. It has been said, “Aim at nothing and you will hit it every time,” and “People don’t plan to fail, they just fail to plan.” Without defining goals and then the objectives needed to accomplish those goals, most people accomplish very little. Of course, we all have goals, even if we haven’t clearly defined them, and these goals determine a great deal of what we do.
Again, let me ask the question, if you could reduce your life to one primary goal, what would it be? On a day-to-day basis, what are you actually focused on and seeking to accomplish? Don’t answer this question with what you think the answer should be, like, “My chief aim in life is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever!” Or, “My goal in life is to please the Lord in everything I do!” Be honest. Think about what was on your mind every morning this week when you woke up or as you faced the varied circumstances of the week.
Were your thoughts on how you might change your spouse who doesn’t treat you the way you want to be treated? Or how you might handle your boss who is a bully and unfair? Perhaps your focus was on your car which keeps breaking down, or on some home appliance that would make life easier. Perhaps your objective is to get through school with a 3.5 grade point average. Or maybe your goal is simply to keep your head above water in your job.
The world has a way of intruding like a thief into our lives to steal from us what should be our focus or the major objectives of life. These intrusions have a way of disturbing us, even though we may not realize the source, because in losing sight of God’s purpose or goal we fail to see the problems of life in accord with God’s overall purpose and consequent objectives.
You keep completely safe the people who maintain their faith,
for they trust in you. (Isaiah 26:3)
God doesn’t expect us to be oblivious to the problems and needs of life, but when our goals are God’s goals we are better able to look through our problems to the Lord and His supply. When our focus is the Lord, something wonderful begins to happen in us: God begins to change us and make us like His Son “For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, …” (Heb. 12:2).
Joy and Peace:
Consequences of God’s Purpose
Isaiah 26:3 The steadfast of mind Thou wilt keep in perfect peace, Because he trusts in Thee (NASB).
One of the consequences of having God’s purpose, as we see from Isaiah 26:3, is a life of peace even in the midst of trials. To prepare His disciples for His departure and absence, the Lord instructed them concerning their purpose in the world (John 13-16). In the midst of this instruction, just a few hours before the Lord Jesus went to the cross to die that we might have peace with God and know the peace of God, He made this very illuminating statement: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; I do not give it to you as the world does. Do not let your hearts be distressed or lacking in courage.” (John 14:27, emphasis mine).
Then, in Galatians 5:22, we are told that two character traits of the fruit of the Spirit are joy and peace. These verses teach us that when we are experiencing His life within ours (the Christ-exchanged life) we are going to experience joy and peace along with other Christlike qualities even in the midst of pain and suffering.
Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Many Christians, however, seem to have little joy or peace. One of the reasons is found in the Lord’s statement regarding peace. We too often seek our joy and peace from that which the world gives rather than from the Savior who provides peace and joy in a very different way and from a very different source.
I am not at all suggesting that the goal of the Christian life is to be a self-centered focus like joy and peace. Joy and peace, however, do constitute part of the fruit of a life that is experiencing God and the spiritual transformation that He works within at the core of our being when He is truly the source of our trust. Joy and peace become barometers of how well we are resting all the various facets of our life on Him (Isa. 26:3). It’s like taking our temperature. As a fever is indicative of an illness, so the absence of the joy and peace Christ gives is an indication something is wrong and we need the prescribed remedy of God’s Word and healing touch of the Great Physician.
Psalm 56:3 When I am afraid,
I trust in you.
Psalm 32:3-4 When I refused to confess my sin,
my whole body wasted away,
while I groaned in pain all day long.
4 For day and night you tormented me;
you tried to destroy me in the intense heat of summer. (Selah)
Hebrews 12:15 See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God, that no one be like a bitter root springing up and causing trouble, and through him many become defiled.
Two key notes are sounded in the book of Philippians: “ Joy” is found seven times, and “ peace” is found only three times, but it is still a very important concept in the theme of the book (Phil. 4:6-7).
Philippians 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Two other books which were written in the same year as Philippians were Ephesians and Colossians. These are companion or sister epistles and there is an interesting relationship that can be observed between these three epistles that is pertinent to the issue of joy and peace, and the transformed life.
Ephesians gives us the truth stated—in Christ ascended, in the heavenlies, blessed with every spiritual blessing. It declares the sublime truth of the believer’s new position and identity in Christ. All believers are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the realm of the heavenlies in Christ.
Ephesians 1:3 Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ.
Colossians gives us the truth guarded—in Christ complete, sufficient in Christ. It protects the believer’s new and glorious identity and what it should mean to his faith as the walk of faith is confronted with all sorts of religious systems claiming to be the answer for the spiritual life. Colossians shows that, since believers in Christ are complete in Him (2:10) in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (2:3), they need nothing more for transformed lives than Jesus Christ. He is our hope of glory both for heaven and for transformed living. We don’t need the joy/peace killer of legalism nor the futility of any of man’s religious or philosophical systems. As we have received Christ alone by faith in the message of the Gospel (1:4-5), so we are to continue to walk by means of His life by faith in the truth of God’s Word (2:3-10).
Colossians 1:4-5 since we heard about your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you have for all the saints. 5 Your faith and love have arisen from the hope laid up for you in heaven, which you have heard about in the message of truth, the gospel
Colossians 2:3-10 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this so that no one will deceive you through arguments that sound reasonable. 5 For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your morale and the firmness of your faith in Christ. 6 Therefore, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and firm in your faith just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. 8 Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.
Colossians warns us against accepting man’s substitutes for either justification or for sanctification (transformed living) because man’s substitutes, or those of the world, are always faithless in our complete position in Christ and futile to our sinful condition.
Colossians 2:16-23 Therefore do not let anyone judge you with respect to food or drink, or in the matter of a feast, new moon, or Sabbath days— 17 these are only the shadow of the things to come, but the reality is Christ! 18 Let no one who delights in humility and the worship of angels pass judgment on you. That person goes on at great lengths about what he has supposedly seen, but he is puffed up with empty notions by his fleshly mind. 19 He has not held fast to the head from whom the whole body, supported and knit together through its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God. 20 If you have died with Christ to the elemental spirits of the world, why do you submit to them as though you lived in the world? 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” 22 These are all destined to perish with use, founded as they are on human commands and teachings. 23 Even though they have the appearance of wisdom with their self-imposed worship and false humility achieved by an unsparing treatment of the body—a wisdom with no true value—they in reality result in fleshly indulgence.
Philippians gives us the truth practiced—in Christ satisfied, joy and peace in Christ. In a number of ways this epistle promotes the application of the messages of Ephesians (blessed with every spiritual blessing) and Colossians (in Christ complete). Philippians shows us how to know joy and peace as we walk down the path of life with its many ups and downs, its blessings and afflictions, and its pleasures and pain. Knowing we have such a glorious identity in Christ is obviously a cause for great joy and the source of true peace, but so often Christians fail to experience true joy and peace. So enters the book of Philippians, which has much to say about joy and peace in Christ.
Philippians 1:4, 18, 25 I always pray with joy in my every prayer for you all…18 What is the result? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is being proclaimed, and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,…25 And since I am sure of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for the sake of your progress and joy in the faith,
Philippians 2:28-29 Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you can rejoice and I can be free from anxiety. 29 So welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him,
Philippians 3:1 Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! To write this again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.
Philippians 4:1 So then, my brothers and sisters, dear friends whom I long to see, my joy and crown, stand in the Lord in this way, my dear friends!
Philippians 4:4,7-9 Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice!…7 And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. 9 And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you.
Right in the middle of the book (Philippians 3) is an extended passage which points us to the heart of the issue being discussed here—experiencing Christ’s joy and peace. Biblically, joy and peace are related to the pursuit of the right goal, one that is to become the all-consuming goal of a Christian’s life. Please note especially verses 8-15.
Philippians 3:8-15 More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things—indeed, I regard them as dung!—that I may gain Christ, 9 and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness—a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness. 10 My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already attained this—that is, I have not already been perfected—but I strive to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, 14 with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Therefore let those of us who are “perfect” embrace this point of view. If you think otherwise, God will reveal to you the error of your ways.
What’s the thrust of this passage? Notice verse 14. Paul says, “I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” This focuses us on the ultimate goal of the passage—possessing and pursuing God’s goal for one’s life. That goal is an upward, heavenward call. Included in that call is spiritual transformation through knowing Christ intimately and the power of His resurrection that we might be made like Him being conformed to or perhaps even, by His death—passing through death into new life, and at last to capture the coveted prize, being in Christ’s presence at the Judgment Seat, or Bema, to receive the awards that will be given on that day (see 2 Tim. 4:6-8). Paul was living not to gain heaven by his works, but to receive the prize of knowing the power of Christ’s life in his daily life with a view to the eternal rewards that would follow. The goal of the apostle was to live daily in view of the resurrection (literally, “the out resurrection from among the dead”) as mentioned in 3:11. Speaking of this same hope, John wrote, “And everyone who has this hope focused on him purifies himself, just as Jesus is pure” (1 John 3:3).
Pressing Toward the Goal
Philippians 3:14 with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Explanation of the Text
“I strive” is the Greek word, dioko, meaning “to pursue, chase, to press on.” It is used figuratively of one who runs swiftly in a race to reach the goal in order to obtain the prize. The verb is a present of continuous action which shows this pursuit is to be the pattern of the believer’s life on a daily basis.
“Prize” is the Greek, skopos, which refers to an observer, a watchman, or the distant mark on which to fix the eye, the goal or end one has in view. For emphasis, the text literally has, “I strive toward the prize” which highlights the concept of fixing one’s eyes on the goal.
“Prize” is the Greek, brabeion, which refers to “the award given to the victor in the ancient Greek games.” In this context, may I suggest that it refers to two things: (1) primarily, Paul’s focus is on the return of Christ for the church because that will mean (a) glorification and translation into heaven either by resurrection for believers who have died, or transfiguration of those believers who are alive at that time (1 Thess. 4:13-18), (b) examination before the Bema for eternal rewards (1 Cor. 3:12-15; 2 Cor. 5:9-10), and (c) compensation, the bestowal of the rewards that await believers for faithful service. “The upward call of God in Christ Jesus” further defines the goal which is also the prize. But I believe this upward call also includes (2) the heavenly reward of Christlike character, transformed lives. In other words, living in anticipation of the awesome event, or with this as the focus of life, should have a transforming impact on the way we live moment by moment (see also 1 Cor. 9:24-27).
This takes us back to the thought of verses 10 and 11, resurrection life, dying and rising with Christ in transformed living by the power of God through faith (cf. vs. 9 for the faith emphasis).
While there is some disagreement about the meaning of the words, “resurrection from the dead,” in 3:11, Paul probably has in mind his hope in the imminent return of Christ with all that event will mean for believers as mentioned above. This is supported in the context with 3:20-21, and by the factor of the doubt and uncertainty expressed in this verse. For instance, the NASB has “in order that I may attain,” but in the margin, it has the more literal translation, “if some how” in place of “in order that.” The KJV has “If by any means.” The Greek text has ei pws (“if by any means”). This construction is found in only three other places in the NT (Rom. 1:10; 11:14; Acts 27:12), and in each case an element of doubt is expressed. This idea of uncertainty is further supported by the use of the subjunctive mood which expresses contingency, potentiality, anticipation, but not certainty, an element reserved more for the indicative mood in Greek.
Was Paul questioning the fact of the resurrection? Of course not, and that is evident from 1 Corinthians 15:1-34. I believe Paul is speaking of not the fact, but the when. He had in mind something he might experience in his lifetime, the rapture of the church, his translation and consequent reward.
Others believe that he is not speaking about the resurrection of the body or questioning it as a fact for the believer, but means he wants more and more to realize in his daily walk what it means to have been co-identified with Christ in His death and resurrection. He has in mind experiencing the truth of Romans 6:4-14 and Galatians 2:20. But ultimately, both concepts are in the apostle’s view as part of the goal with the imminent hope of Christ’s return being one of the motivations that constrained or controlled the life of Paul.
Application of the Text
We Need the Right Goal in Life
Our goals not only say a great deal about us but they also, from a Christian perspective, have everything to do with spiritual change and with our experience of joy, peace, and other Christlike qualities. Lying close to the bottom of all we say and do are our basic aims, whether we are seeking to protect ourselves, meet our perceived needs or desired pleasures, or whether we are seeking to protect someone else. The point is simply that goals are dynamic and determinative. They will strongly affect how we live.
Goals Are Determined by Our Objects of Faith
This includes the concept of motives. Equally important with our goals is the question, why do we have the goals or objectives we pursue? The answer is, we all have certain goals because we believe these goals will somehow meet our perceived needs. We think they will give us joy and peace, security and happiness, significance and meaning. Behind our pursuits are often a variety of motives and false belief systems.
Robert McGee writes:
Many of us tend to approach Christian living as a self-improvement program. We may desire spiritual growth, or we may have one or more fairly serious problems from which we desperately want to be delivered. While there is certainly nothing wrong with spiritual growth or desiring to be rid of a besetting problem, what is our motivation in wanting to achieve goals like these? Perhaps we desire success or the approval of others. Perhaps we fear that God can’t really accept us until we have spiritually matured, or until “our problem” is removed. Perhaps we just want to feel better without having to struggle through the process of making major changes in our attitudes and behavior.
Motivations such as these may be mixed with a genuine desire to honor the Lord, but it’s also possible that deep within us is a primary desire to glorify ourselves. When self-improvement becomes the center of our focus, rather than Christ, our focus is displaced.
It is important to understand that fruitfulness and growth are the results of focusing on Christ and desiring to honor Him. When growth and change are our primary goals, we tend to be preoccupied with ourselves instead of with Christ. Am I growing? Am I getting any better? Am I more like Christ today? What am I learning?
This inordinate preoccupation with self-improvement parallels our culture’s self-help and personal enhancement movement in many ways. Personal development is certainly not wrong, but it is misleading--and it can be very disappointing to make it our preeminent goal. If it is our goal at all, it should be secondary. As we grasp the unconditional love, grace, and power of God, then honoring Christ will increasingly be our consuming passion. God wants us to have a healthy self-awareness and to periodically analyze our lives, but He does not want us to be preoccupied with ourselves. The only One worthy of our preoccupation is Christ, our sovereign Lord, who told the Apostle Paul, My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).31
An Adequate Goal
The only adequate goal for the Christian is knowing Christ (Phil. 3:8-10) and Christlike transformation (Phil 3:11-14). This means pursuing Christ which will result in growth in the experience of the character of Christ—his love, grace, mercy, endurance, values, priorities, pursuits, etc.
Since growth and maturity are the subjects of this series of lessons, let’s take a short overview of what Philippians 3 teaches about having the right goal.
(1) As to its Source: Having the goal of knowing Christ and Christlike maturity is a matter of spiritual insight or knowledge of the surpassing value of Christ over anything man or the world has to offer. Faith in Him is the product of that insight (cf. Phil. 3:8-9). But the text reveals several elements that are critical for a faith that has this goal.
Philippians 3:1-15 Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! To write this again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh! 3 For we are the circumcision, the ones who worship by the Spirit of God, exult in Christ Jesus, and do not rely on human credentials 4 —though mine too are significant. If someone thinks he has good reasons to put confidence in human credentials, I have more: 5 I was circumcised on the eighth day, from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews. I lived according to the law as a Pharisee. 6 In my zeal for God I persecuted the church. According to the righteousness stipulated in the law I was blameless. 7 But these assets I have come to regard as liabilities because of Christ. 8 More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things—indeed, I regard them as dung!—that I may gain Christ, 9 and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness—a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness. 10 My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already attained this—that is, I have not already been perfected—but I strive to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, 14 with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Therefore let those of us who are “perfect” embrace this point of view. If you think otherwise, God will reveal to you the error of your ways. 16 Nevertheless, let us live up to the standard that we have already attained.
- We must repudiate our former confidences or sources of trust as meaningless and useless. None of our former confidences can provide salvation in any sense (Phil. 3:1-8a, quoted above). But how do we come to such a place?
- We must come to the place where we recognize the surpassing value and total sufficiency of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Knowing Him and seeing the value of His person and work replaces all our former confidences or objects of faith—the things we trusted in for peace and joy, for salvation and spirituality, for significance and meaning, etc. (Carefully read Philippians 3:8b-9, quoted above).
- We need to rest in his life as the source of ours rather than in the strategies people typically depend on for security, happiness, significance, or for salvation and sanctification.
(2) As to its Value: As seen in verse 14, the apostle saw the goal as itself the reward, the prize worth the pursuit of all his being. In addition to the glory this brings to God, nothing is more rewarding, exciting, or causes more joy or peace than to experience fellowship with the Lord Jesus and the character of His life reproduced in ours. By contrast, compare this with the frustration, disappointment, the sense of futility and guilt that people face when they place their trust in any other pursuit.
(3) As to its Attainment: For the Christian, the one who has placed his trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the pursuit of this goal is a process that never ends in this life because no one ever reaches perfect maturity. This is another principle taught in Philippians 3. Other than the Lord Jesus, who could have been more mature than the Apostle Paul? But Paul clearly declared that, though mature, he had not arrived at complete maturity or perfection (Phil. 3:12-15). There will always be room for growth.
(4) As to God’s Will: One question Christians (especially new believers) often ask concerns knowing the will of God. What does God want me to be? What does He want me to do? Usually these questions are aimed at the issues of vocation or occupation or some of the other details of life—marriage partner, geographic location, school, ministry in a church, etc. While these are important matters, they are issues that are resolved from the pursuit of the one great goal of this passage. God’s will is much more basic and is expressed in the words, “but I strive to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me.” (emphasis mine). God’s goal in saving us, and that of Christ Himself, is not just heaven. Though heaven is assured for believers through the finished work of Christ, God’s desire is to make us like His Son. He wants to conform us into the image of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Growing and reaching greater levels of maturity (another word for Christlikeness) is God’s primary will for all believers. As that occurs, all the other aspects of God’s will fall into place to the degree we are experiencing His life in ours. The need and goal of growth and maturity are expressed in a number of New Testament passages (cf. also 1 Cor. 2:6-3:3).
Ephesians 4:11-16 It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God—a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature. 14 So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes. 15 But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head. 16 From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love.
1 Peter 2:2 And yearn like newborn infants for pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up to salvation,
2 Peter 3:18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the honor both now and on that eternal day.
Hebrews 5:11-6:1 On this topic we have much to say and it is difficult to explain, since you have become sluggish in hearing. 12 For though you should in fact be teachers by this time, you need someone to teach you the beginning elements of God’s utterances. You have gone back to needing milk, not solid food. 13 For everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced in the message of righteousness, because he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, whose perceptions are trained by practice to discern both good and evil. 6:1 Therefore we must progress beyond the elementary instructions about Christ and move on to maturity, not laying this foundation again: repentance from dead works and faith in God,
1 Corinthians 14:20 Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking. Instead, be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.
The need for growth and maturity or spiritual transformation is in essence a call to holiness or sanctification. This is a call to wholeness as believers become more and more set apart to God and experience His life in theirs through the work and ministry of the Spirit of God, but always in the light of the Word of God, the Bible. The Word is our foundation and the light that illuminates our path.
1 Peter 1:14-16 Like obedient children, do not comply with the evil urges you used to follow in your ignorance, 15 but, like the Holy One who called you, become holy yourselves in all of your conduct, 16 for it is written, “You shall be holy, because I am holy.”
Hebrews 12:10 For they disciplined us for a little while as seemed good to them, but he does so for our benefit, that we may share his holiness.
31Robert S. McGee, The Search for Significance, Rapha Publishing, pp. 128-129.