12th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace mercy and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ: “Where are you going?” I’ve heard that question more than once in my life. Just last Monday I was driving my family to Wes and Maggi Newell’s to see their newborn girl and, of course, the easiest way to get there is to go across the 15th Street bridge, which I thought was open after that truck hit it a couple weeks ago. Well, it wasn’t. So, instead of turning around and taking the by-pass, I only turn around if I absolutely have to, I ended up going the opposite direction only to hear my wife say, “Where are you going?” But trusting in my 2 years-worth of experience in driving around Bemidji I was convinced I could find a nice short cut to get there- mind you, going in the opposite direction! Well after driving all over the place, downtown Bemidji, residential roads, and avoiding a number of streets under construction, we finally got there. A trip that probably should take only 5-7 minutes took us probably over 20 minutes because I went the wrong way.
I’m guessing that I’m not the only one who knows what it’s like to go in the wrong direction, am I? As frustrating as it is to go in the wrong direction when you’re driving in your car, how much more frustrating it is when you find yourself going in the wrong direction in your life! What do I mean? Maybe after a few years in college you decide that your major is not something you’re all that interested it. Maybe the career that you chose just isn’t all that it was hyped up to be. Maybe the dream house that you bought isn’t quite what you hoped for and now you want to move. There are times in our lives when we think we’re going the right way, think we’re going in the direction that we want to, but it’s actually the wrong direction. And that can put setbacks in our lives, affect our mood, frustrate and upset us.
Well, we’ve been working our way through the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians and it seems that the Philippians were being threatened to go in the wrong direction. There was a certain group growing among Christian churches that claimed to believe in Jesus as the Savior, but also claimed that every Christian then had to obey the OT laws in order to be saved. Paul confronted this error head on. Paul himself knew what it was like to be going in the wrong direction in life. In his earlier life he was a devout Jew, he was circumcised on the 8th day like every pious Jew, he could trace his Jewish lineage back to the tribe of Benjamin (very few actual Jews at that time were able to do that), he was a strict Pharisee, he kept the OT laws flawlessly (at least outwardly), he even persecuted the Christian church because he thought that’s what God wanted. If anyone could have earned heaven by who he is or what he did in life, surely it would have been Paul! He thought he was going in the right direction in life. Thought he was heading to heaven, but the reality is he was headed to hell.
But then something happened, Jesus appeared to Paul on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians. Jesus brought him to faith and completely changed him. “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish – dung, filthy garbage, waste- , that I may gain Christ.” All those things that he thought were to his advantage, those things that he thought were to his benefit, were actually to his disadvantage, they got in the way of him knowing Christ. When he thought he was sufficient on his own to earn God’s favor by who he is and what he did, then he had no need for a Savior, had no need for Christ. But when God set him in a new direction, anything that was to his credit, any confidence he had in himself, all that was garbage and filth.
There are many people in the world today who think they are going the right way but are actually headed in the wrong direction. They are going in the same wrong direction that Paul was before God converted him. They say, “It doesn’t really matter what faith you are part of, what God you worship, or if you have no faith at all – just as long as you lead a good, moral, decent life then God will be happy. What more could God ask then to lead a moral and decent life? I’ve done pretty good, led a pretty good life. At least I’m not as bad as some people.” But that’s not the direction to heaven, but to hell. And perhaps it’s easy for us to go down that wrong direction as well. I could easily start saying to myself, “Aaron, you’ve done pretty good, I can’t think of one weekend where I haven’t gathered with fellow Christians to worship God, I’ve had 21 years of Christian education in my life, I’m a pastor in God’s church, why, if anyone should end up in heaven, it has to be me!” Saying such a thing is not the direction of heaven, but to hell. Or, if we were to say, “I’m a pretty good person, I support the church, I normally help people when they need it, I volunteer, I’ve never been in prison, never hurt anyone, I’m a pretty good person, God would be silly if he didn’t accept me!” Finding our sufficiency before God in who we are or what we’ve done -that’s not the direction to heaven, but to hell. And then even in our lives when we make decisions about college, our careers, or where our lives are headed, if they lead us in any way away from Christ, away from knowing Him better, or lead us to find confidence in ourselves, or in this world or the things of this world like popularity or money or things, and lead us to find less sufficiency and dependence on Christ, then we’re going in the wrong direction. And it’s often success in life that can easily lead us in the wrong direction, lead us to pat ourselves on the back, lead us to think highly of ourselves, and less about Jesus. Where is your life going? Are you headed on a path that makes you want to know Christ more and more? Or are you headed down a path of self-sufficiency, self-confidence, and away from Jesus?
Now it certainly wasn’t evil in itself for Paul to be an Israelite or for him to have kept the OT laws, the problem was that he was finding his confidence before God in those things. Likewise, it’s certainly not bad that you or I have been faithful in attending church, support the church, that we lead moral and upright lives, or when God grants us success, but what IS bad is if we think we deserve something from God for who we are or what we’ve done. To think that, “Yes, Jesus is my Savior, but I’ve still done my part” –that’s a damnable thought and leads to hell, not heaven.
That was Paul’s thinking at one time, but God changed it. Rather, all those things he thought were to his credit were actually rubbish that he may “gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ- the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” The only way anyone can have a good standing with God is only when they are clothed in Christ’s perfect righteousness through faith. Only those who trust not in themselves or their own good behavior, but trust in Christ alone – in His blood bought payment for all sins and His substitutionary death and resurrection- only then enjoy a good standing before God. Only when one considers their own good works, their own good standing, their own uprightness as worthless, filthy garbage, then they will enjoy the righteousness that is by faith in Christ. And that makes a Christian want to know Christ: I want to know Christ more and more, to know the power of His resurrection, to know what it means to share in his sufferings, to attain to the resurrection of the dead. Heaven has already been won for us, the prize awaits us at the end of our life, but we don’t hold that prize in our hands yet, we don’t enjoy the full glory of heaven yet, and that prize could be lost – either by falling into despair over past sins or thinking we don’t desperately need Christ’s blood to cover every single inch of our lives for every second of our lives – we could forfeit the prize. So we press on, leaving behind anything that could distract us from Christ our Savior or jeapordize the prize of heaven.
So where are you going? Many people go in new directions in life in order that they might have more peace, more happiness, more fulfillment in life. But it is an endless search in the wrong direction. True peace, true joy, true fulfillment in life is not found the rubbish of this world. It is found in knowing Christ, in trusting in Christ, in being found clothed in His righteousness, in knowing that heaven is your destination.
Knowing Christ means your life won’t go in the wrong direction. Many spend their lives searching after an illusive concept of happiness thinking that if only they go in a new direction, if only they meet someone special, if only they get a new job or new career, if only they take their lives in a different direction, then they would be happy. However, true Christian joy is found in knowing Christ Jesus. Knowing that everything in this world that might distract me from knowing Christ is worthless garbage. It’s knowing that I am found in Christ wearing not my own righteousness, not my own “righteous” deeds, but I’m clothed with Christ’s righteousness, It’s knowing that I stand before God as justified, cleansed of my sins. It’s knowing that because of Christ my walk through this life is always heavenward. So I press on, not letting the sins of my past drive me to despair- I’m forgiven, I press on, not letting the illusive dreams of happiness this world has to offer distract me from Christ, I press on to win the prize of eternal life, the prize Christ has already won for me. Joy is knowing where you’re going in life and because of Christ, His blood and His righteousness, your walk is heav’nward all the way. Amen.