The Amazing Race: Running For Your Life

Today we are going to define for you what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. This is a serious call to join the body of Christ as a fully devoted follower. This service is more about surrender than it is commitment. This service is for those who want to take their faith seriously and want to see it make a real difference in their lives.

I think it is important that every now and then we stop and pause long enough to take a spiritual inventory of our life. A man named Paul wrote a good portion of the New Testament epistles. He was devout follower of Christ with an incredible testimony of life change. He was totally against Christ and His followers but when he experienced a personal encounter with God he responded by becoming a follower of the One he hated in the past.

Paul went on the be one of the primary pioneer missionaries who helped spread the Good News of Christ’s message to the then known world. He was a Jew who once had lived a life of strict observance of Jewish law. In Philippians 3, he writes about those things he once thought were important and then in verse 8 he reiterates for the church at Philippi what he has found to be the basis for his theology, his relationship with Christ and the driving force behind his passion for ministry and service to others. He boils it all down to this. Anything less than Christ and His righteousness is worthless compared with knowing Him.

Let us take some moments today to hear the word of God as written by Paul:

“I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.

I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.

No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.

Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example.”
Philippians 3:7-17

If you are attending this church on a regular basis, I am going to make the assumption that you desire to be a serious follower of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul, who is credited with writing a lot in the New Testament, probably left us the greatest example of what it means to be a Christ follower by his own life and actions. He wrote a lot about following Christ and what it meant to be a disciple but in Philippians we find this incredibly personal testimony of surrender to Christ.

I would like to examine this a little deeper with you today. I am hopeful that you will take the next few minutes and allow God to speak to you as you examine your own spiritual health.

To do this I would like to look at four areas of a very personal nature with you. Connected with each one of these is a phrase from Paul’s writings that we just read together.

1. Identify your Desire:

“ that I could gain Christ and become one with him.”

Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him.

What is it that you desire in your life? What tops your list of things you want more than anything else?

We prioritize our lives around our necessities and our desires. Necessities include having a job and taking care of our families or loved ones. But I want to go a step beyond the necessities. What do you desire more then anything?

Paul leaves us an example here of what it means to be a surrendered follower of Christ. The thing he wanted more than a promotion or some earthly gain was to become one with Christ.

He wanted to know that every area of his life was surrendered to becoming and being like Christ. This would touch every relationship. This would touch all interactions with other people, even the obnoxious.

The question remains: What do you desire? Do you desire to gain Christ and become one with Him?

2. Intimacy with God:

“I want to know God...”

I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!

Intimacy with God can sometimes be a challenge. We are all busy with our everyday lives. We all have the same amount of time each day and we make choices with those hours. We prioritize those minutes and hours and choose what to do and when.

Most people who study modern Christianity would agree that there is a lukewarmness that has settled over most people who claim an allegiance to Christ. If you are going to be Jesus’ apprentice only one essential condition must be met: you must spend time with the person mentoring you. You can’t do discipleship at arms length or through distance learning. Most Christians don’t think in terms of this lifestyle of apprenticeship. The sad testimony of modern Christianity is that one can be a Christian without being a disciple.

So what is a disciple? A disciple is a person willing to be apprenticed by another person who learns what that individual is and does. The nice thing about this definition is that anyone can do it. It is learning from Jesus how to live our lives, our whole lives, our real lives. We are not learning from Jesus how to live his life. What am I working towards? What does this Jesus life, fully dedicated in every way unto Him, truly look like? How can we work at it with all of our hearts? Dallas Willard says, “I need to be able to live my life as he would live it, if He were I.” (4) 4. Dallas Willard. The Divine Conspiracy. HarperSanFrancisco, 1997, pg. 283.

The only way we can have that kind of intimacy is by meeting with Christ on a regular basis.

    a. Intimacy comes through prayer.

Praying is more than just asking God to do what you want Him to do for you and your family. Prayer is a key to being in relationship with God. We talk to God and He talks to us. We surrender our lives to Him on a daily basis and He takes our surrendered life and opens doors for service that our beyond our wildest dreams.

I want to encourage you to pray. I want to encourage you to carve out some time in every day that is set aside to spend with God. This should be a priority in the life of every Christ follower.

Could we just take a moment to pause and reflect on our time with God?

    b. Intimacy increases with study.

Another way we increase our intimacy with Him is by opening the word of God. There are people who will run from place to place looking for someone to teach them from the Bible and in some ways that is admirable but there is also a danger in it.

There is really no substitute for personal reading and study. The Bible is what it is. There are parts that are hard to understand but there is something to be said for self-feeding from the word of God. There are times when someone will say something about the sermons or teaching not being deep enough. Bill Hybels recently faced this at Willow Creek and he responded by saying in essence we don’t need deeper sermons we need to be more proactive in teaching people to be self-feeders!

Every person in this room can be more intimate with Christ by just picking up this book and reading it everyday. You don’t need to be on a marathon to see if you can read it in a year but you and I can find God in the pages of this book.

Let’s just take a couple of verses for a moment or two and see how this works:

If you were reading Philippians 3 in your private time of devotions here are the first and last verses you would have read.

“Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith.” Phil. 3:1

"But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.” Phil. 3:20-21

When I read these verses there are certain things that stand out and I can draw encouragement and strength from them. Let’ take these verses apart. . .

“Whatever happens...rejoice in the Lord.” “safeguard your faith.” “citizens of heaven.” “eagerly waiting” “Jesus is going to change our weakness and frailness with power some day!”

If knowing Christ is your desire get to know Him through His word.

    c. Intimacy is fostered by obedience

Jesus invites us into a life of obedience. There are those who would teach that this is impossible but I find it interesting that those same people have the will power to obey man made laws that keep them out of jail.

When I was young I got in a lot of trouble with my parents. Most of this was just due to disobedience. Were not talking juvenile delinquency just disobedience. There is not a worse feeling then knowing you have done something wrong and living under the guilt of that issue.

Jesus teaches us follow Him in every area of your life and those issues of disobedience will become less and less as you surrender yourself completely to Him. There is no substitute for clean and holy living. There is no substitute for saying no to the things of this world that will drag us down and saying yes to the things of God which are righteous and holy and pure.

Do you know that in this same book of Philippians chapter 4 Paul writes these words:

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Phil. 4:8

3. Integrity in life:

“But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.”

Integrity is just simply doing what you say you are going to do. It is simply being real and honest and an open book. There are two key words here: perfection and possessed. People will get hung up on the word perfection but if Christ posses you it opens the door to the perfecting that Christ desires to place in us.

        a. Righteousness is a gift.

Our own righteousness is as filthy rags the Bible says. God place in us the gift of righteousness when we are born anew accept Him as our Lord and Savior. In one sense there is nothing you and I can do to earn anything from God but that doesn’t mean we should surrender our lives into a pathetic form of living that just gives up and embraces sin as a normal part of the Christian existence.

        b. Right living is a goal.

Right living should be the goal of our lives if we desire to know and become one with God. Why wouldn’t a person want to live right?

Listen very carefully. Sin is the opposite of godliness and righteous living. Sin will do nothing but leave you in desperation and with a sense of loss. It is hard to ignore the tragedy that has unfolded in some of the young and famous. You know what I take away from all of that? There is only one thing that will bring you peace and true joy and that is living in a real relationship with Christ and others who are following Him. Notice I didn’t say going to church would give you joy or be baptized or joining the church as an official member. An authentic relationship with Christ is the only thing that will fill the God shaped void in your life.

What is it that you want to hang onto more than pursuing Christ?

Men who trap animals in Africa for zoos in America say that one of the hardest animals to catch is the ring-tailed monkey. For the Zulus of that continent, however, it’s simple. They’ve been catching this agile little animal with ease for years. The method the Zulus use is based on knowledge of the animal. Their trap is nothing more than a melon growing on a vine. The seeds of this melon are a favorite of the monkey. Knowing this, the Zulus simply cut a hole in the melon, just large enough for the monkey to insert his hand to reach the seeds inside. The monkey will stick his hand in, grab as many seeds as he can, then start to withdraw it. This he cannot do. His fist is now larger than the hole. The monkey will pull and tug, screech and fight the melon for hours. But he can’t get free of the trap unless he gives up the seeds, which he refuses to do. Meanwhile, the Zulus sneak up and nab him. Charles Swindoll, Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, p.150ff

4. Intensity in discipleship:

“I press on to reach the end of the race...”

There is one other area of our personal spiritual life that we need to examine. Let me phrase it like this?

Are you in the race?

This evening 40 plus drivers will race in a NASCAR race in Fontana California. There were more that want race each weekend but only so many qualify. Those that don’t qualify will watch from the sidelines. They may even attend the race and walk around in the garage and pit area. They may even stay in a motor home parked beside other drivers motor homes, but the bottom line is they are not in the race.

Are you in the race? Are you pressing on to reach the end?

        a. Strength and stamina

Let me go back for a moment to something Paul wrote and we looked at a few moments ago:

I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!

This life will be filled with challenges that threaten to detour our faith. I have watched people go through something very tough and instead of embracing their cross and understanding it in the context of Christ’s suffering, they become angry and bitter people.

All of us may have a sense of disappointment at times even with God but maturity in our faith will not let us stay there long. We will find the strength and the stamina to press on. We will find the courage to pick up our crosses and follow Him pressing through the pain and hurt to find in Christ love and support during our hours of crisis.

        b. Surrendered to the Holy Spirit.

There is an experience that has been called a lot of things through the last couple thousand years. Some call it holiness, sanctification or being filled with the Spirit.

Let me just tell you that there is nothing like full surrender to God in the form of His Spirit.

What does it mean?

Let me give you some scripture to think about:

Ephesians 4:30 “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

Romans 8:13-14 “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

2 Timothy 2:21 “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work”

1 John 1:6 “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”

Psalm 119:104 “Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.”

1 John 5:3 “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”

James 1:22 “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

Galatians 5:16 “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh”

Philippians 2:12 “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,”

I wonder what would happen if we applied the same standards of loyalty to our Christian activities that we expect from other areas of our lives?

If your car starts once every three tries, is it reliable? If the postman skipped delivery every Monday and Thursday, is he trustworthy? If you don’t go to work once or twice a month, are you a reliable employee? If your fridge stops working for a day or two every now and then, do you say, “Oh well, it works most of the time.”? If your water heater provides an icy cold shower every now and then, is it dependable? If you skipped a couple of electricity bill payments do you think AEP would mind? If you fail to follow Christ with passion and consistency would you expect to be called a faithful Christian?

We expect loyalty and reliability from things and other people - isn’t it reasonable then that God just might expect the same from us.

Perhaps C.S. Lewis puts in language that we all can understand:

"If you have really handed yourself over to Him it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you." C.S. Lewis, *Christian Behavior* p.66