Remembering who we are

It’s easy to forget who we are. We’re often surrounded by people who define themselves by how much stuff they’ve got, how much fun they have, or how good they look.

We’ve got a different identity.

We’re motivated by different priorities.

Paul reminds us of that here: “Only let us hold true to what we have attained” (Philippians 3:16).

A few other translations might help.

“However, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained” (NASB).

“Only let us hold fast . . .” (NRSV).

“Only let us live up to what we have already attained . . .” (TNIV).

I think Paul is saying this:

Remember who you are.

Remember who saved you, and who’s promised to resurrect you.

Don’t let the world pressure you into sinking to their standards.

“Live up to” the saved person you are.

“Hold true” to the standard of righteousness God gave you.

In your devotional time today, ask God to remind you of your identity in Christ.

You’re not an American, or a certain ethnicity, or a gender, or a lower-, middle-, or upper-class citizen.

Not primarily. Those are secondary designations.

You’re a Christian . . . a blood-bought, saved, redeemed, and sanctified child of God in whom his Spirit lives.

Paul’s saying that as Christians we ought to live like the people we are.

There are many reasons why we ought to walk according to God’s standard, but the biggest one is simple: we’re Christians.

God doesn’t do things halfway

It’s a cliché, I know, but it became a cliché because it’s true.

Don’t live in the past.

Is that you?

Are you beating yourself up over something you did years ago?

I think the apostle Paul struggled with that.

In some of his letters he referred to his abuse of Christians years earlier, calling himself the “worst” of sinners and the “least of the apostles” (1 Timothy 1:15; 1 Corinthians 15:9).

It bothered him. I’m guessing that every day of his life he saw in his mind the faces of some of the Christians he’d hurt.

But he also recognized that those things no longer defined him.

Listen to what he says here:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14).

He wasn’t a boastful Christian. He knew he wasn’t where he wanted to be or even where he ought to be, and that led him to look in the right direction.

Ahead.

He strained forward and kept his eyes focused on the finish line.

Humanly speaking, of course, he couldn’t completely forget the past, but he disciplined himself to press on toward that “upward call.”

Maybe that’s a word you need to hear today.

If you’re living every day with the guilt of the past, it’s holding you back. You think more about what you’ve done to hurt God than what he’s done to heal you.

Think about Paul’s words today.

Thank God for forgiving you and redeeming you and saving you.

Remember . . . when God does something, he does it right, and that includes forgiveness.

There’s no such thing as a partially forgiven Christian.

A cut-flower civilization?

Earlier this year The Telegraph—a United Kingdom newspaper—printed an article with this title: “Killing babies no different from abortion, experts say.”
The author, Stephen Adams, comments on an article that was published in the Journal of Medical Ethics that suggested newborn babies are not “actual persons” and do not have a “moral right to life.”

The journal article itself was entitled, “After-birth abortion: Why should the baby live?”

The central argument was: “The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus in the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life in an individual.”

Their conclusion: “. . . what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.”

Is your stomach turning yet?

The authors prefer the phrase “after-birth abortion” rather than “infanticide” to “emphasize that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus.”

These ethicists have apparently been influenced by the thinking of Peter Singer, an Australian moral philosopher who believes that a fish or two-year-old chimpanzee has more moral standing than a human fetus.

I suppose we might have many responses: outrage, sadness, fear. As if abortion weren’t bad enough, some people seem willing to take the next step.

Read this statement from E.D. Trueblood, written in 1944 but still incredibly relevant:

“The terrible danger of our time consists in the fact that ours is a cut-flower civilization. Beautiful as cut flowers may be, and much as we may use our ingenuity to keep them looking fresh for a while, they will eventually die, and they die because they are severed from their sustaining roots. We are trying to maintain the dignity of the individual apart from a deep faith that every man is made in God’s image and is therefore precious in God’s eyes” (The Predicament of Modern Man, 1944, pp. 59-60).*

We might be tempted to think that the so-called “after-birth abortions” are the theoretical musings of academicians across the Atlantic.

But as one of my professors said, “The ideas of the academy slowly but surely find their way into mainstream thought.”

In so many ways, we live in scary times. Because we trust in a sovereign God, we never lose hope. We know that he’s in control, and we submit everything to his providential care.

But at the same time, we ought to pray hard for our world and hope that what Trueblood wrote almost 70 years ago isn’t being realized in our own day.

Just as a flower that is cut from its roots will eventually wither and die, so a country that severs its connection to God will inevitably lose its respect for human life.

In your devotional time today, please pray for our world and for our country and its leaders.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior (1 Timothy 2:1-3).

*The idea for this devotional thought, including the connection between Trueblood’s statement and the article on “after-birth abortion,” comes from Dr. Graham Cole at Beeson Divinity School.

Looking forward to the resurrection

One day we’ll all be resurrected.

There’s a sense in which we’ve already been raised, of course. When we identified with Christ in baptism, God raised us from our spiritual graves.

We were dead, and now we’re alive. We were lost, and now we’re found.

But the resurrection isn’t finished yet.

Sometimes my body aches and my head hurts (“in this tent we groan,” 2 Cor 5:2).

I struggle with sin way more than I should.

I look around and see a messed-up world.

And it all reminds me that there’s a bigger, better resurrection coming.

We’ve been resurrected, but we can’t wait to beresurrected—completely, finally, and irrevocably.

I think that’s what Paul’s talking about here: “that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:11).

He’d been saved, of course, but he knew all too well that God was still working on him. He had a clear future focus—he was excited about what God had done for him, and about what the Lord was still doing in him, but he couldn’t wait for what lay ahead.

Maybe you need that reminder today. You feel like you’re being swallowed up by life’s pressures, demands, and stress.

Pause a few minutes and look ahead. The daily grind will still be there, but for now think about that future resurrection from the dead.

Jesus promised that he’s coming back to this world to take you where he wants you and where you want to be.

He’s already saved you from all your sins, and he’s given you his Spirit as a down payment.

But as with all down payments, the Spirit is just a small taste of what’s coming.

He’ll change your body into an incorruptible one . . . a body that doesn’t hurt, moan, groan, or age.

He’ll redeem this world from all of its corruption and decay and create a new dwelling place for his people.

And he’ll take away every vestige of sin.

We will, by his grace, “attain the resurrection from the dead.”

That’s what gives us a different perspective from the folks around us who don’t know Christ.

32%

About 32% of the people in the world call themselves Christians, which is about 2.2 billion. I have no idea how many of those truly walk with Christ—God does, of course—but it seems that if there were more than 2 billion dedicated Christ-followers in the world, some of our problems wouldn’t exist.

Right?

What’s the issue?

Part of the answer is obvious—there’s a difference between what we call ourselves and what we actually are.

There’s a difference between checking a box on a questionnaire and living out the implications of faith.

Perhaps you’ve heard this distinction before: some people know about Christ, and some people know Christ.

Which group are you in?

Notice Paul’s emphasis here: “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10).

That I may know him.

That’s what it means to be a Christian, and I believe that’s what so often frustrated Jesus.

Often in his ministry the crowds around him swelled. He’d perform a miracle—feed a hungry crowd, heal a blind man, raise someone from the dead—and the numbers would go up.

They were curious, intrigued, often amazed.

But not committed.

Inevitably he’d stop and face them and say something like this: “If you’re not willing to die with me . . . if you’re not willing to commit everything to me, you can’t follow me.”

There’s a difference between being in the “Jesus crowd” and being a Jesus-follower.

So again: why the disconnect between the hundreds of millions in the world who claim Christ and all of the sinful stuff that’s going on?

It’s obvious that some of the 32% don’t really know Christ.

But as always, our concern is a little closer to home.

Do you know him? Are you following him or just interested in him?

Does he intrigue you or lead you?

There’s a huge difference.

Let’s pray about it today.

Let’s ask God to deepen our commitment, grow our faith, and convict us when we’re tempted just to shuffle along with the rest of the interested-in-Jesus crowd.

Let’s beg God to help us truly know him. That’s what it means to be a Christian.

When to brag

Maybe there’s a little bit of a my-dad-can-beat-up-your-dad spirit in many of us, but most of us also recognize it’s not much fun being around someone who’s always one up.

Is there a braggart or two in your world?

It might actually intimidate kids on the playground, but it’s wise not to try it in God’s house.

Read Paul’s boasting below, but don’t miss his point:

For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 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 (Philippians 3:3-9).

It sounds like he’s bragging at first, doesn’t it?

You guys want to brag about everything you’ve done? Well try to top this resume . . .

But it’s actually the opposite. He’s saying that all those credentials, accomplishments, fleshly things . . . they’re nothing more than a pile of garbage, refuse, dung.

He doesn’t want us to miss his point:

  • “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ”
  • “I count everything as loss”
  • “I have suffered the loss of all things”
When the Lord caught his attention on the road to Damascus, Paul turned his back on all of his legalistic deed-counting and works righteousness.

He realized that standing upright before God wasn’t based on his religious right-doing.

It wasn’t tied to how good he was or how many nice things he did.

That’s an important point for us.

To use Paul’s words, we don’t have a righteousness “of our own” . . . the righteousness we have “comes through faith in Christ.”

It’s his righteousness, not ours.

Sometimes we forget that. We’re tempted to do a little chest-thumping before God, hoping he notices all the good things we do, all the sacrifices we make, all the prayers and songs and sermons we offer him.

And he notices them, of course, but he wants us to know that they don’t earn us favor or make us righteous or save us.

Favor with God is unearned and undeserved, and it comes through faith in Christ and the faith of Christ.

There’s no place for religious boasting, unless we’re bragging about all that the Lord has done . . .

A serious matter

It’s pretty easy to develop a cavalier attitude toward sin.

We’re saved by grace anyway, right?

“Everybody’s got sin problems,” we say, and, “After all, nobody’s perfect.”

And a few other platitudes like those make us feel better.

But they shouldn’t.

We shouldn’t ever become relaxed about sin.

The Old Testament has a lot of scary passages, and we’ve got to be careful when we apply them to our time.

But they’ve got something important to say to us.

Here’s one of them:

If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter or the wife you embrace or your friend who is as your own soul entices you secretly, saying, “Let us go and serve other gods,” . . . . you shall kill him (Deuteronomy 13:6,9).

Yes, you read that right. If you lived in Moses’ day and someone you loved tried to get you to worship other gods, you would execute him. If you read the rest of the chapter, you’d discover that you would be the one who threw the first stone (at your spouse, sibling, child, or best friend).

Harsh? Absolutely.

But necessary? According to the Law, yes. It was essential to the identity of God’s covenant people that they keep themselves distinct from the nations around them.

Because the Law of Moses advocates capital punishment in this situation and many others, we tend to avoid it.

“Good thing we don’t live under that Law now,” we say with a sigh of relief. “That must’ve been terrible.”

And we miss the whole point.

There’s a principle there that’s as relevant now as it’s ever been.

The passage reflects the main point of being in covenant with God—serving him above all else.

I suspect some of the Israelites may have wondered if God was that serious about what he said.

God’s answer was emphatic. Anyone who led people away from him—even someone you love more than anyone on earth—received no mercy.

The putting-to-death part of the commandment doesn’t apply to us, of course, but what is extremely relevant is that God says we must take sin seriously.

It has always mattered to God, and it ought to matter to us.

Bible Thumpers

I stopped at Chick-fil-A last week, and I was surprised to see an open Bible lying on the main counter beside the newspaper rack. At first I thought a customer must’ve left it there, but then I realized that someone in a position of authority was displaying it.

It was weird seeing a Bible in a public establishment like that.

In our increasingly secular world, it’s become unfashionable to take Bibles into public places. Do it too much and you’ll be called a Bible Thumper, Bible Banger, or worse.

Long before it even became possible to carry around books like the Bible in public, God told his people to take these very important words—“Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and might”—and put them in a prominent place:

You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6:8-9).

God almost certainly meant that metaphorically, but years later some people took him literally. They created phylacteries—small boxes that contained select verses from the Law of Moses—and wore them on their heads and forearms on special occasions. You still see this in some sects of Judaism today.

I doubt that’s what God meant, but there’s an interesting principle here.

The word of God—particularly what it says about God’s place of priority—should be the focal point of our lives . . . so much so that we do whatever it takes to remember it.

We’ve got so many distractions, don’t we?

There’s always an email or text to respond to, a quick YouTube video to watch, our favorite reality show to catch up on.

If we don’t make time for the word, it won’t happen.

Something, many things, important, urgent things, will always squeeze it out if it’s merely something “we’ll try to do later.”

It’s not that the Bible isn’t available, of course—I’ve got 50 translations on my iPhone. The problem might actually be that the Bible is so readily accessible that we’ve become used to it.

Whatever the cause, we need to put the Bible back in its place: the focal point of our hearts.

We need to read it, study it, meditate on it, pray over it, live it, love it, learn it, and share it.

In our distraction-filled world, this discipline might take something drastic.

Maybe phylacteries weren’t such a bad idea after all.

Remember to read your Bible today.

Thinking about the kids

Our culture has a lot to say to our kids.

If you can run a 4.4 40, throw an accurate 95mph fast ball, or consistently sink 18-foot jump shots, you’ve got potential.

Or . . . what counts is having a 4.0 GPA with a 30+ ACT and acceptance letters from schools that reject more than they welcome.

Or maybe . . . if you look like this and dress like that and have a body shaped like her, that’s what matters.

Except it’s not, of course.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of those, but when our children embrace those priorities above what really counts, they’re missing out on life’s most important lesson.

God told his people to love him with all of their heart, soul, and might, and then he said this:

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).

What really counts?

Loving God.

I fear that sometimes we buy into the world’s lie, that we overemphasize playing well and looking good, that we think success is getting out of college with a marketable degree and living the American dream.

That’s not success, not really.

Loving God with everything you’ve got is what matters, and we’ve got to take that job seriously as parents.

Our kids won’t learn it in study hall, on the playground, or on the beauty walk.

They’ll learn it from us.

They’ll learn it from what we do, say, live, and emphasize.

They’ll learn it from a million conversations and choices and priorities.

But when they learn it, it’ll be worth more than all the medals and crowns they’ll ever get.

They’ll live life to God’s glory and one day bow before him as he puts the eternal crown over their heads.

The great command

There’s a lot I don’t understand about matters of faith, but one thing I get: there’s only one God, and he deserves (and expects) top priority.

You’ll find this thought in pretty much every book of the Bible.

God stated it emphatically at the beginning of his covenant relationship with Israel:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).

If you read the surrounding chapters in Deuteronomy, you’ll read scores of reminders of the blessings of obedience and the curses of rebellion.

You’ll hear God’s chastising them for disregarding his law.

You’ll hear dire warnings of coming wars and captivities and punishments.

And if you keep reading you’ll read about how quickly the people disregarded every warning.

They kept on forgetting that he was the one and only God, that there was none like him.

I sometimes become a little haughty when I read what the Old Testament Israelites did—worshiping their golden calves, building their idolatrous “high places,” mimicking their pagan neighbors.

How could they?

Why did they ignore God’s specific warnings?

But then of course God reminds me that human nature hasn’t changed too much in the last three thousand years.

We often forget that he’s the one and only, don’t we?

Our distractions are different . . . I’ve never been tempted to melt a pile of gold and create a golden image for me and my family to worship.

You’ve probably never constructed an altar in your back yard for your Friday night Baal service.

We’re much too sophisticated for those primitive rites, aren’t we?

But again the Lord convicts us.

We’re tempted to do the same thing, but we’ll dress it up differently.

Their golden calves may be our fancy cars, expensive gadgets, and luxurious homes.

Their high places might be our football stadiums or shopping malls.

Their Baal worship might be our total commitment to a career or hobby.

We need to be reminded often of the most important thing there is about faith: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

There’s never been a time when that wasn’t true, and there will never be a time when God will expect anything less than all of our heart, soul, and might.

The Israelites messed that up repeatedly, but their mistakes are opportunities for us to learn.

What is there in your life right now that you’re putting on the altar where God ought to be?