The 21th Sunday After Trinity October 16, 2005
20, 366(1-4), 660, 448(1)
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind. Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame; who set their mind on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.
Dear friends in Christ:
When I first moved to Markesan I was asked quite often, “Where are you from?” There were a number of ways to answer that question because I consider myself from four different places: Washington, South Carolina, Wisconsin, and South Dakota. It’s a little hard having roots in so many places. We do like to have a place to call our own.
Many of you have had the luxury of living in the same area, perhaps even in the same neighborhood or property your entire life. We do like to have roots, and we do like to take pride in our town, our state, and our nation. In a spirit of patriotism we call America our home even if we are traveling overseas. We are citizens here. This is our homeland.
Or is it? We’ll learn something today that contradicts that thought. You’re going to hear that even though you were born and raised in America, even now you are a citizen of heaven. I. Look forward to going home and II. Live as going home.
Through Christ you belong in heaven. You have a home waiting for you there, and since that is true you can look forward to going home there. The best is yet to come. Your glory and your hope are in the future, far away from here. Your glory and your hope are not found in a yearning for the past. “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead.” [v.13]
There are times when we desire to return to the “good old days,” but there really is no such thing. Whatever time period you consider the “good old days” those days did not always look so good when they were the present. At any given time of our lives we can often be found looking for something different and better. The fact is that you will never find complete satisfaction on earth. That is true whether you’re married or single, rich or poor. Sin is always going to get in the way of complete satisfaction.
There will always be a tendency to look back in the past to what seemed to be a better time. There’s nothing wrong with nostalgia, but there is a problem when we look back with fondness to wild years as teenagers or young adults when the fun times were often defined by sinful activities.
The lack of fondness for the present and the restlessness that we have should not be surprising because we are away from home. Even the very body you have is temporary housing—a tent compared to a mansion that you will possess in the life to come. As a Christian you can be happy and can find satisfaction (to a degree) in the life that the Lord has given you, but know well that it will get much better.
It is impossible to imagine just how good it will be because we just cannot comprehend what life will be without sin. Revelation 7:16-17 gives us an idea of what life will be like in heaven by telling us what will not be there. “They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Without sin there will be no pain, no sadness, no strife, no bad feelings at all.
But how do you get there? “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” [v.12] Eternal life with God is a prize that has been won for us by Christ. Christ went the way of the cross, lowering Himself that we may one day may be lifted up. In His obedience of the Law He took away the power of sin. By His death on the cross, through which He removed our iniquity, He took away the power of Satan. In His resurrection He defeated death. The prize for all those conquests is everlasting life which He so freely shares with us, who without it could not live eternally. Nothing is more valuable than the prize of heaven because it lasts forever. God has given you a place to call home, where you will live with Him for eternity.
Going home, then, is the goal for which we are all striving. As Paul states in our text: “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” [v.14] Jesus has put the prize of heaven right in our sights to show us that something better awaits. As one grows older or as problems arise, this truth is easier to see. But even if a person is in the prime of his life the goal of heaven is there. The earth is like fool’s gold—glittering with the appeal of all sorts of possibilities, but basically worthless. It will, after all, one day be destroyed.
Recall how Abraham’s nephew Lot settled near the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Eventually he moved into Sodom, and this weakened him spiritually. God decided to destroy Sodom because of its wickedness, but sent two angels to rescue Lot and his family. Even though they knew the city was going to be destroyed, the angels had to literally pull them out before the fire and brimstone came. They were that tied to the city. Lot’s wife, in disobedience to the angels’ instructions, looked back at the city and was turned into a pillar of salt. The longing for that wicked city, even though a better place awaited her, proved to be her downfall.
God in His grace has rescued you and put you onto the path to heaven. He has changed your direction so that now you have a future with Him instead of without Him. Now you know that the earth is not your true home, but you have a home in heaven. When God sees fit, He will bring you home.
You are on the right path, but the key is staying on that path all the way home. An unconverted sinner has no choices—sinful nature wars against God. As believers, the Holy Spirit has created a new man within you who wants to follow God’s ways. This is in contrast to your sinful flesh which does not. There are going to be choices every day as to how you’re going to spend your time, with whom you’re going to spend time, and what exactly you’re going to do. This will be a constant struggle for you.
There are enemies of the cross of Christ, as our text says, who intentionally or even without knowing it, will lead someone off the path of righteousness. It’s bad enough when the obvious temptations confront us. It’s even worse when there are those cloaked in Christianity who would lead you astray. When there are clergy who have scandalous conduct, from Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggert to even local ministers that you know or have known; when men preach one way of life, but live another, this can lead a person to think that sin is harmless and is really all right. We are encouraged, “Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.” [v.17] Paul uses himself as an example, and we too can look to fellow Christians for a pattern to follow. More often than not we like to use fellow Christians for an excuse, imitating their sinful behavior. But we can look also to see how a person handled a situation properly. Best of all, of course, is Jesus’ example.
When you are faced with choices in behavior of lifestyle, you will find your guidance in the Scripture. Now of course God does not address every specific situation. However you will find that in situations which you’ll encounter that God has given you principles which you can apply and put into practice. These principles are laid out clearly for us in the Bible, and God will point you in the right direction.
Remember your goal of heaven and life with Christ and then live as one who is going there. Your path should match the goal. In verse 19 we see the end—the goal—of these enemies of Christ: “Whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame; who set their mind on earthly things.” [v.19] Destruction is the final result of their action. That is their goal, intentional or not, and their path matches it. Their god is their belly — they are concerned first and foremost about themselves and their own satisfaction. Their glory is their shame — taking pride in what God finds detestable, and don’t think that this hasn’t been done by each of us at one time or the other. They set their mind on earthly things, believing that this is their home, and that the “be all and end all” to their life is right here in time.
The key is to remember where you truly belong. It’s not here on this earth. Your citizenship is in heaven, and as such your walk here in time will be completely opposite to those who are tied to the things of the earth. You are in the world, but not of the world. Heaven is your true home.
When one of our sister congregations was forming and trying to find a name, the choice that came in second place was Pilgrim Lutheran Church. The name would be appropriate for any Christian church because as Christians we are wanderers, pilgrims in a foreign land. We’re not truly home until God takes us there, and He will make this change for us. “Who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.” [v.21]
On the day that Jesus returns, or when He says that “it is time” one by one, we will go home to heaven. That is where your citizenship is. You’re just on a visit here. One day your body will go where your citizenship already is. You can look forward to that day with great joy and anticipation. In the meantime, live as one whose home is above. Have the attitude which we read in our text: “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” [vv.13-14]
Press on toward the goal fellow Christians, the best is yet to come! Amen.
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