Slip sliding away
If you have your Bible with you, you might like to turn to Philippians chapter 3. In my youth (and this will date me!) I used to listen to music by a guy called Paul Simon – I still remember the words of some of his songs, well over 30 years on. One of his not so well known songs had a chorus that went: “Slip sliding away, Slip sliding away; the nearer your destination, the more you slip sliding away” – rather depressing words. It was about how we pursue things; seek after goals, only to find you’ve missed it completely. It seems people are very keen on goals these days: my banker asks me what my goals are, at work for my performance review I have to set goals. Some people have a big goal, one thing that they are pursuing – they direct their whole life and energy to it: being prime-minister, being an all-black, getting a certain job, or house, winning an Olympic medal. What a terrible tragedy to pursue something with all your energy, talent, time, enthusiasm, dedication, skill, and intellect; only to find that it was the wrong goal! [P] The final verse of that song went something like this: “We go to our jobs; we collect our pay; think we’re gliding down the highway, when if fact we’re slip sliding away.” – and don’t we do that? We get on with our life, go to work, have these dreams we want to accomplish, think we getting closer and closer to our goal. But what if it is the wrong one?! Get half way through your life and find you have been going the wrong direction?! I don’t know if you remember when Robin spoke the last time we were here – he spoke about a man called Saul, more often known as Paul. This is exactly what happened to him. Robin outlined a bit of his life: he was well connected, well educated, a bright and promising bloke. He was born a Roman citizen which gave him great privileges in society in those days. He was a Jew who was educated under one of the most renowned rabbis of the time. He sought after God. Surely he was on the right track. He was extremely dedicated and zealous in his faith; he belonged to one of the strictest sects who were meticulous in their observance of the Law given in God’s word. He looked set to become a great religious leader, a man of God – in the Jewish nation he looked like the man most likely to succeed. He was pursuing that high road to God with all he had. Until one day he met up with Jesus! There he was going to the capital city of the neighbouring country on an official mission authorized by the chief priests. He was setting out to put the followers of Jesus there into prison. Then, on the road, a light shone from heaven leaving him blind, and Jesus spoke to him! Suddenly he came to realize the whole way he had been going was wrong! Here he was an exemplary Jew, fulfilling all the required ceremonies and rituals – then he met Jesus! That is my prayer for each of you – that you will meet Jesus – have a personal encounter with the person of Jesus the Messiah – you will never be the same. Paul thought that he was getting closer to God, doing His will, but in fact he was set directly against Him and was persecuting Him! You see Paul was doing all the ceremonies and the rituals that were required – and some of you may have a religious background, been christened or baptized, been a member of a church, taken communion, but those ceremonies in themselves are meaningless …. unless you know Jesus. Paul had been so proud of his religious heritage; put all his faith in it. Now he encountered Jesus he realized that it was all useless. Listen to what he said: and as I read notice how often he uses the word “I” – he starts talking about all his self effort: [Philippians 3:3-6 We do not put any trust in external ceremonies. I could, of course, put my trust in such things. If anyone thinks they can trust in external ceremonies, I have even more reason to feel that way. I was circumcised when I was a week old. I am an Israelite by birth, of the tribe of Benjamin, a pure-blooded Hebrew. As far as keeping the Jewish Law is concerned, I was a Pharisee, and I was so zealous that I persecuted the church. As far as a person can be righteous by obeying the commands of the Law, I was without fault.] Faultless – if anyone could make it by doing it – it was Paul. But now he realized that that was totally the wrong way! You may think that to know God, to be accepted by Him that there are all sorts of things that you have to do. If you do, then may I respectfully say that you are going the totally wrong way! You can’t get to God by doing! To know God, to reach Him, you must be righteous. And the Bible is quite clear that you can’t be righteous by your own efforts. You can’t get there by doing! None of us can make the grade – we all fall short of His standard. Paul couldn’t, and he did it better than most. Paul was getting nearer the destination, but was in fact slip sliding away – he was going the wrong way. Chasing the wrong goal! You see, if it is by what you do, you get the credit, the glory – it leads to pride. And Christianity excludes pride – you get there by humility, not by accomplishment. Every other religion is based upon what you do, what you accomplish – Christianity is unique. It doesn’t depend upon what you do but upon what Jesus has already done! [P] He is righteous, He the just died for the unjust, He who knew no sin became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. There is no place for pride, for our own efforts in the Gospel. An old saint said that he used to picture God’s gifts as displayed on shelves with the best on the highest so that you had to reach for them. Then he found that the best were on the lowest, that you had to stoop down low in order to find them. Paul went on to say about those things he pursued and accomplishments he was so proud of: [Phil 3:7-9 But all those things that I might count as profit I now reckon as loss for Christ’s sake. Not only those things; I reckon everything as complete loss for the sake of what is so much more valuable, the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have thrown everything away; I consider it all as mere refuse, so that I may gain Christ and be completely united with Him.] There are many goals you can pursue, many things you can chase after – but there is only one thing worth seeking – KNOWING JESUS! [P] You can waste yourself on a host of things, you may have already squandered away a lot of your life – here is the only thing worth having: Jesus! Paul found Him on the road to Damascus, and you can find Him here tonight! You might have thought that now that he had met Jesus Paul might keep those things that he had attained to add to what he found in Jesus – surely those accomplishments would make him a fine Christian. No, it doesn’t work – what Jesus has to offer can only be obtained when we let go of what we have ourselves. There can be nothing of what we do – it has to be all what Jesus has done, and that alone. Do you remember before the days of rubbish transfer stations, there were dumps – what great treasures you could find down at the dump! Picture yourself with your arms loaded with stuff from the junk yard, so full of the “treasures” you got there that you can’t hold anything more. Now, I come with a chest full of real treasure, gold, jewels and offer it to you. You cannot take hold of it all the while you are holding on to that junk. You have to put down what you are holding before you can grasp the true treasure. The trouble is we are holding junk but think it is treasure. Often we know we have done wrong, not gone God’s way, we may not want to hold on to that bad, but we hold on to what we consider to be good. The Bible talks of repenting – turning from our own way, but it is not just from our own evil but our own goodness. Because our goodness is junk! There is none good but God alone! The Bible calls the very best we do, our righteousness: “filthy rags”! All the time we cling to our own righteousness, we will never receive true righteousness – because that righteousness is not earned but given. Paul discarded his finest efforts and goodness away as rubbish, he no longer held onto his own righteousness: [Phil 3:9 I no longer have a righteousness of my own, the kind that is gained by obeying the Law. I now have the righteousness that is given through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God and is based on faith.] He had put all his effort into making himself righteous, then when he met Jesus he found that it was the totally wrong way – he discarded the righteousness that is gained (earned by doing by effort), his own righteousness (filthy rags); for God’s righteousness (perfect, faultless) that is given – it is free, you don’t do anything you just receive it. Receive it by faith [P]. It comes from God and is given to the one who believes, has faith in, His Son – in the death of the One sinless one and His resurrection from the dead. Not earned but given, not through what we do but through faith. Let me tell you plainly, despite what anybody else may tell you, there is nothing good in your life. The only solution is for it to end and to have new life – not your life but Jesus’ life. We have to die – that is the only solution. We die with Christ – His death is our death. He was raised to life and we are raised to life with – that is putting your faith in Jesus and His resurrection – you need the power of His resurrection life in you [P] [Phil 3:10-11 All I want is to know Christ and to experience the power of His resurrection, (being raised a completely new creature! There were things in my life that I tried with all my effort and discipline to overcome, and could not. But when I was baptised, buried with Christ, new life came in – resurrection life. Instantly those bonds were broken! That is the power of His resurrection!) to share in His sufferings and become like Him in His death, in the hope that I myself will be raised from death to life.] Our hope is the resurrection, being raised from death to life with Christ. Now Paul’s goal had changed – he was just as zealous, probably more so – but it was a different goal. He pressed on toward another goal – not seeking his own life, his own goals, but the prize ahead to which Jesus had called him. No longer Paul living, but Christ living in him. Not trying to earn righteousness but serving His new Master, doing what He had called him to do: [Phil 3:12-15 I do not claim that I have already succeeded or have already become perfect. (that is true, although I have seen miraculous changes in my life, there is still a lot to be done) I keep striving to win the prize for which Christ Jesus has already won me to Himself. (see Christ already had won him, but there was still a race to run for his Lord down here) Of course, my brothers and sisters, I really do not think that I have already won it; the one thing I do, however, is to forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what is ahead. So I run straight towards the goal in order to win the prize, which is God’s call through Christ Jesus to the life above. All of us who are spiritually mature should have this same attitude.] There is a new goal, a life above, no longer a goal here on earth but an eternal life above. There is a prize ahead and God is calling you to it. Now you, like me, have things in your past, things that are behind you, things that you have done – and they cannot be undone. When I came back to the Lord I was acutely aware of how much time I had wasted – wasted on useless things – time which could never be recovered. If you focus on that, regret will paralyse you. Paul had pursued all these things that were useless, that wasted time and effort has to be forgotten. Now is the time to reach for what is ahead. Don’t deviate; be distracted from what God is calling you to – life in Him above. If you have spent your time pursuing things on earth, you may get near your destination, but you are really slipping away – tonight I appeal to you to turn from that wrong goal. Paul goes on to talk about those pursuing their appetites, their lusts: [Philippians 3:18-21 I have told you this many times before, and now I repeat it with tears: there are many whose lives make them enemies of Christ’s death on the cross. They are going to end up in hell, because their god is their bodily desires. They are proud of what they should be ashamed of, and they think only of things that belong to this world. We, however, are citizens of heaven, and we eagerly wait for our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, to come from heaven. He will change our weak mortal bodies and make them like His own glorious body, using that power by which He is able to bring all things under his rule. ] – he says that they are going to end up in hell. They are proud of what they should be ashamed of. They think that this world is all that there is. But God is calling you to be a citizen of a different realm, an eternal one. Don’t make yourself an enemy of Christ’s cross by continuing to follow your own lusts. God is offering you His own righteousness tonight, if only you would lay aside your own efforts, trying to do it yourself, and accept what He has done for you by dying instead of you on the cross. He has done it, accomplished, finished perfectly. Jesus is righteous and will freely give that perfect righteousness to the one who puts his faith in Him and His death and resurrection. Who finds resurrection life in Him and lives for Him alone. That is the only goal worth pursuing, one that will never slide away.