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But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
— Titus 3:4–7
I am a blessed man. Having accomplished almost every goal I have ever had, I am a published songwriter being recorded by some of Nashville’s best in the field of southern gospel. My work as a bassist is found on multiple recordings in gospel and country music. I have provided backup vocals for many lesser-known artists and had my works reviewed by such musical greats as Barbara Mandrell. I have shared the stage with music legends such as J.D. Summers and traveled many miles with my family performing before audiences, large and small. I hold degrees in biblical studies and have been certified in several other professional fields, yet no one truly knows me.
Then what good are the accolades men might bestow on me? The record albums I could hang from my wall, the number of diplomas decorating my office, or the number of letters appearing at the end of my name? Do these things earn favor with God? Can they add an extra minute to my life or inch me one step closer to entering heaven’s gates than the needy men and women I often see panhandling on busy city street corners? No, not at all. I have little doubt a good number of those wearisome faces and raggedly clothed bodies will receive God’s welcome too, and perhaps be moved to the front of the line ahead of me on that day.
So then, what have I profited from these accomplishments? Or as Jesus would ask:
“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”
— Mark 8:36
As fairly and accurately explained by Pastor David Griffin and so many ministers who have lived and proclaimed the gospel before him. My achievements, regardless of how meritorious. My efforts, regardless of how well meaning. My accomplishments, whether acted out in the human interest, or performed in religious servitude with the name of Jesus attached to them will not impress God and will not cause him to one day say to me:
‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’
— Matthew 25:21
Having come to faith in Christ, I realized that all my crowns, no matter how jeweled I think them to be or how tarnished they actually are, will be lain at his feet in recognition that it was his works, his achievements, his accomplishments, his life for my life that has opened heavens gates, allowing sinners such as me to pass. And by faith alone in his finished work on the cross, that Jesus died in my place and was resurrected the third day, I have passed from death to life and will reign with him forever. You can too.
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
— Philippians 4:6–9
While attending Baylor University, I was fortunate to take a class designated as “Packard Physics.” Dr. Packard’s liberal grading scale made it a hugely popular class (even for the athletes that were simply looking for a passing grade). However, what made it memorable was that Dr. Packard rarely let a class go by without some sort of experiment. He often appeared as a bit of a mad scientist, but ask anyone who graduated from Baylor before 2000, and they likely know the legend.
One day when explaining density, Dr. Packard filled a beaker with a brown gas. (I believe it was called Bromine.) He then asked a volunteer to try to get the Bromine out of the beaker, which seemed all but impossible as the gas hugged the sides of the flask without any sign of relenting. It turns out that the solution was simple. When Dr. Packard poured water into the beaker, the liquid’s density forced the gas right out.
I share this story because I believe this is the analogy that best fits the “whatever”s found in the passage above. When we focus on the things of God (and more importantly on the God who gave his Son to die for us, which is, of course, the best example of excellent, praiseworthy, pure, honorable, true, etc.), then we force out those lesser anxieties that are clinging to the walls of our brains and hearts.
Don’t let anxiety and heavy burdens occupy your thoughts. Remember that whenever your mind gets stuck on repeat, there is only one escape. You must force it out with weightier, spiritual thoughts. The things of God and the work of Jesus are the antidotes to toxic thinking. Hang in there and fix those spiritual eyes, and your mind, on Jesus. Trust me. It’s an experiment that you won’t ever forget!
As Christians, we often put our faith in things that are not God. When we put our faith in non-perfect things, we get non-perfect results. Whether it is a political party, a relationship, or a job, it will fail if it’s not God.
No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.
— 2 Timothy 2:4
We Christians frequently say, “I have faith in God, but…” almost as if Jesus doesn’t know what he’s doing and doesn’t have a plan.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
— Jeremiah 29:11
This is where we put our faith. We put our faith in the God that sets us apart and has a plan for each of us. It says in scripture that he knows the number of hairs on our head, and he will never lead us astray. We serve the true and faithful God, the God who leaves the 99 for the one, the God who split the sea for Moses, and the God who sent his son to die for us so that we may dwell with him for eternity. Our faith is not in things of this world, but rather the one who created the world.
Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.
— Philippians 3:1
As we have walked through the Philippians series over the last several weeks, it’s not lost on me that all of Paul’s writings were created from the floor of his jail cell. I continue to marvel at how much strength it must have taken for Paul to continue to be an encourager when, in fact, he was not in a very encouraging position himself. Over and over, he encouraged those he was writing to find joy and to rejoice in the Lord.
It is also not lost on me that, as Christians in the present day, we are in a similar position as Paul. It’s as if Satan isn’t even bothering to hide anymore. He is out in plain sight, and still, many cannot see him. As Christians, we are called to live a life reflecting Jesus himself. The world should know us by our love. However, I don’t think I have ever in my life felt so persecuted as a Christian as I do in the present day. To clarify, I have not been personally attacked, but I do feel as if Christianity is being lumped on top of everything else when, really, it should not be lumped. Instead, it should be set apart. Those that use Christianity and scripture to further their worldly causes give all of us a bad name and put a proverbial target on all of our backs.
Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.
— Philippians 3:2
So what are some of the lessons we can take from the floor of Paul’s prison cell and apply to present life to encourage us to always rejoice in the Lord?
First, simply to do just that! Rejoice in the Lord in all things, every day. Paul tells us that he is a bit like a broken record, repeating it over and over. He knew it was a place of safety. Rejoice. Worship the Lord, every day, in all situations.
Second, guard against those that would make you look to worldly things for your worth and satisfaction. Guard against, and never put your confidence in, the flesh. Find your joy in the things of the Lord, for the things of this world will soon enough be very dim in the light of heaven.
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.
— Philippians 3:7–8
Third, consider your accomplishments as loss. This is a hard one for a personality like mine. It is easy for me to sit back and logically realize that my worth is not in my accomplishments, but instead in my relationship with Christ. However, when caught up in the moment, I want to claim the glory for myself at times. In worldly times like the ones we find ourselves in now, we must be clear on who we are IN CHRIST, what we stand for IN CHRIST, and how we want to live our lives IN CHRIST. Paul never tired of reminding us, and we should not tire in giving all honor and glory to God–no matter what the world tells us we should do.
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.
— Philippians 3:9–11
And finally, we should stand firm on our relationship with Christ. I have a dear friend and mentor who always taught me to remember, “You never see a hearse with a U-Haul behind it.” In other words, we cannot take anything of this world with us when our time comes. But we will take the worth of knowing Jesus as our Lord and Savior. It is the only way into the kingdom of God.
As we go through life, let us never get tired of receiving this message from Paul. I pray that in all things, on all days, in all ways you will find your reason to rejoice in the Lord!
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.
— Philippians 3:7–11
I grew up in a Christian home. I’m immensely grateful that the first song my parents taught me to sing was Jesus Loves Me. And the fact that I was baptized before I knew how to do long division means I’ve had the luxury of maturing in my faith for about as long as I’ve had time to practice tying my shoes. But let’s entertain a sinister question for a minute: how much of my faith is my parents’?
Paul was a “Hebrew of Hebrews,” and by the old covenant of Jewish faith, he was clean. Paul was a good Jew, in large part because of his family. He was born with Hebrew blood in him and raised with Hebrew traditions. Paul knew that the traditions of his family and his ancestors made him a “Hebrew of Hebrews.” He also knew that these practices meant nothing in his new faith.
Some of us might feel like modern-day Pauls. We grew up in church, our parents dedicated us while we were still spitting up on our Sunday clothes, we went to every church camp and Wednesday-night church service. Those things didn’t save me. They didn’t save you. The perfect love of Christ Jesus did. Like Paul says, righteousness comes from faith, not the law. Those of us who grew up this way should be very careful not to fall into the lie that salvation can be earned. You cannot know God by your parents’ faith.
Conversely, if you did not grow up a gold-star Christian, that does not invalidate your faith. In fact, Paul suggests that your new faith is its own form of blessing. It can be intimidating to walk into a crowd of Christians that have practiced being Christians their entire lives. Don’t let them make you feel like an imposter. I am immensely lucky to have grown up in a church, but if you are new to Christianity, you are lucky to know that your path to salvation was built entirely by the God of mercy.
Don’t equate spiritual maturity with salvation. The God of grace, the God of second, third, fourth, and fifth chances, the God of forgiveness, is your salvation.