Part 8 of The Rebel’s Guide to Joy
Pastor Mark Driscoll | Phil. 3:12-4:1 | December 02, 2007
Father, we begin acknowledging that Jesus is God and that he came to live on this earth, and as a result, he experienced exhaustion. God, we know that
he had to be physically fatigued. Scripture tells us. Emotionally fatigued. Scripture tells us. Spiritually just exhausted, God, and we thank you Lord Jesus for continuing with your earthly ministry through the cross where you paid for our sins and through the empty tomb where you purchased for us new life. And God we are thankful for men like Paul who writes the letter to the Philippians that we have the privilege of studying, though he’s in jail after living a very hard life: 30 years as a Christian, in prison, homeless, beaten, shipwrecked, left for dead, exhausted, occasionally working a part-time job on the side. In addition to all of that, he continues to press forward. So God it is our hope today that you would send us the Holy Spirit to enable and empower our lives to be marked by perseverance and sanctification and continued learning and forward progress, so that despite our exhaustion, it might be purposeful – that you might do something good in us and through us. So as we open the scriptures, we ask for your Holy Spirit that we may become like your son and in whose name we pray. Amen.
I’ll tell you what I’ll do theologically. I’ll set up Philippians 3, because the text that I’m dealing with today comes in the context of three major ideas theologically that Paul weaves in many of his New Testament letters. And he speaks of salvation in three terms – past, present and future – justification, sanctification, glorification. Justification answering the question, “How can we as sinners stand before a holy, good and righteous God and expect anything but the condemnation of hell?” The answer is, Jesus came. He’s God. Lived a life without sin. Died to pay the penalty for our sin and rose for our salvation, and as a result, if we trust in Jesus, he justifies us.
This is exactly what Paul says in Philippians 3:9 just prior to the section we’ll be examining today. He says of Jesus Christ, he wants to “be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law,” – Paul says, “To be justified,” – to be forgiven, connected to God, made a Christian, acceptable in God’s sight – “is nothing that we do.” Not by being a good person, a moral person, a religious person, a spiritual person, reincarnating and paying God back. None of those things, but rather “which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” So righteousness is a gift. Salvation is a gift. Forgiveness is a gift. We receive it from Jesus and we trust in his work, not our own.
And so our salvation was accomplished at the cross of Jesus and it was applied to us in the moment that the Holy Spirit regenerated us and gave us faith. It’s something we receive, and as a result, it’s effortless. We don’t do anything to become Christians. Jesus did the work, and by faith we trust in him.
Sorry for my voice. I’m sick and had to do the audio book for my book this week with the flu. My voice is just shot, so if I keep (clearing throat) doing that, I apologize.
“In the future,” Paul says elsewhere, “we’ll be glorified.” That just like Jesus rose from death, one day we’ll be perfected. We’ll rise from death. We’ll get perfect bodies to live forever with God in his kingdom. And that is spoken of in Philippians Chapter 3, verse 21. He says of “Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body.” There’s the glorification, and that too is effortless. Jesus does all the work. We’re dead in the grave and Jesus one day will reunite our spirit with our body and we’ll resurrect just like Jesus did to newness of eternal life.
And so glorification and justification are the bookends of salvation, and in the middle there is sanctification. And sanctification is not effortless. It’s exhausting. It’s a ton of work. That’s why most people just focus on justification and glorification – receive Jesus and go to heaven, right? – and they miss all the stuff in the middle which is your life – your life of sanctification where you repent of sin, you learn, you grown, you change, and that is great effort. It’s exhausting. That’s why Paul tell us in Philippians 2:14 and 15, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to do according to his good pleasure.”
So he says it’s work. God’s working in us, through us, on us. We need to join with God and it’s work. How many of you are experiencing sanctification in your life right now as a Christian and it’s exhausting? You’re like, “I’ve got to repent again? I’ve gotta learn again? I’ve gotta grow again? I’ve got to change again? Every time I learn something, I learn that I’m more messed up than I ever anticipated. The closer I get to Jesus, the more jacked up I realize I am.”
How many of you when you were a Christian – you became a Christian – you felt like, “I think I’m doing pretty good,” and then the more you read, you’re like, “What? I’m more jacked up than I even imagined.” That’s sanctification. You get closer to Jesus, look at him, look at you and realize there’s much work to be done, and so you work with Jesus to become more like him. That’s sanctification.
So we pick up that theme. Sanctification is the theme of Philippians 3: 12 and on through the remainder of the chapter. And here’s what Paul says about this issue of sanctification. “Not that I have already obtained this” – Chapter 3, verse 12 – “or am already perfect,” – there’s a huge statement. How many of you come from a church denomination or tradition where you’ve been told that it is, at least in theory, possible to become perfect? Not in the resurrection, but today in this life, you could become perfect. Any of you from those? Nazarene, Wesleyan tradition, Methodist tradition. And they love Jesus and there’s much that’s commendable.
A man named Wesley, in fact, preached a sermon on Philippians 3 saying that you could in fact become perfect in this life. Now that’s not true. Outside of scripture, other than Jesus, who would you guess – if anyone could be perfect, who would you vote for the most likely candidate? Paul. At this point he’s been a Christian for 30 years. And what has he accomplished? Well apostle to the gentiles, wrote the Bible. I mean that’s huge really. That’s a big deal. If you had that on your resume, we’d all be fairly impressed. “You may want to read this book I wrote.” You’re like, “Hey, that’s pretty cool.”
But what he says is, “I’m not perfect,” after writing the Bible and having been a Christian for 30 years. Now you can take this one of two ways. You can be very discouraged. “What, after 30 years, even if I wrote the Bible, I’ve still got to repent and learn and grow? Man!” Or you can be very encouraged. “Well, there’s always something to learn. There’s always new lessons to be applied. There’s new truths to be understood. You know what? Tomorrow there’s change. The day after that there’ll be change.” That the Christian life is about ongoing learning, repentance, humility and change. You never reach a point where you say, “That’s it. I’ve arrived. I’ve gone varsity. I don’t need to repent or learn anymore. I’m now mature.” It’s not what he
says. No one gets perfect in this life. That’s glorification.
How many of you struggle with this? How many of you are very perfectionistic is your orientation? How many of you are married to those people? I’m so sorry.
You who are perfectionistic, if you want to check off in the box “sanctification” – if you hope to check that off in this life – fully sanctified. “Now I move onto glorification.” You will be perennially frustrated and the result will be you will lose your joy because you will think that perfection is something you can obtain. It’s something we aspire to, just like every athlete wants to hit every shot, but it’s nothing that we expect that we will actually accomplish in this life. It’s something we can grow in; we can mature in. We can make progress spiritually and we should if we’re true Christians experiencing sanctification. We should find comfort when Paul says, “I’m not perfect.” That should allow you to be gracious with one another – a little more patient, a little more humble – when someone does something that’s wrong or says something wrong or sins or errors. We shouldn’t walk up and go, “I can’t believe you said that.” Say, “You know what, I expect that.
You’re wicked. I’m wicked. We’re both works in process. You be patient with me. I’ll be patient with you. You hold me accountable. I’ll hold you accountable. We’ll work this out together as friends.” We don’t expect for perfection from anyone, but if they’re Christians, we expect progress.
He says, “But I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” He says, “You know what? To be a Christian means I belong to Jesus, and since I belong to Jesus, I want my whole life to be about Jesus. I want to live like Jesus. I want to live for Jesus. One day I want to see Jesus. And anything that’s not pleasing to Jesus or like Jesus, wanna learn how to get over that. I want to repent of that. I want to confess that. I want to change that so I can keep learning and growing.” That’s the mark of a true Christian.
He goes on then in verse 13 talking further about sanctification. “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. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.” What we’ve achieved positionally through justification. We work out practically through sanctification. “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.”
Now at first glance, this can seem rather arrogant. Paul says, “I’m very mature, so imitate me.” Now at first, that can seem very proud, but if you look at the way he is saying it, what he’s saying is this – “I’m not perfect.” Maturity is by definition being cognizant and aware of how sinful you are. That’s the definition of maturity, and what Paul is saying is, “Follow my humble example of acknowledging and confessing your own sin and having a posture as a continual student to always be one who is learning, growing and changing.” So in saying, “Follow my example,” what he is saying is, “Follow my example of humility and learning and repentance and acknowledgement of one’s sin.”
Now what does it mean to be mature? He says here, “Let those of us who are mature be examples for others.” Someone who is mature is by definition one who is well aware of their sin; well aware of their need to grow, their need to learn, their need to change. The key to becoming mature is acknowledging that you’re not perfect.
Now how many of you would really say, “I’m perfect.” I’m doubting any of you would say that. None of us would say, “I’m perfect. You follow me because I’ve figured it all out. If you have any questions, ask because I have all the answers.” But some of you act as if you were perfect. Let me explain this to you. When confronted with sin, do you listen or do you defend yourself? When you have sin, do you repent and apologize to people and God, or do you shift the blame? Do you blame it on someone else? “Well I cussed you out because you made me cuss you out. It’s kind of your fault.”
“Really? I took your lips and made naughty words? Like, that’s on me? I did that?”
Or we make excuses. “Well you know, my dad hit me as a kid, so you know, I get to hit people. It’s just it’s a thing – it’s a thing we made up. You know what? Growing up, my parents didn’t love me so I get to be a jerk for the rest of my life. I’m a victim so I get to victimize others.” Or we blame it on our personality. “I took a test and I’m in this very small minority of obsessive people who are violent and Godless and can’t find their pants and violate commandments. That’s my personality, so you know, I’m a victim to my genetics. I had a grandpa like that too.”
And what we can do, we can have genetic excuses. We can have cultural excuses. We can have blame shifting. We can have others that we blame for that which is our own responsibility. We could say things like, “I know it was wrong, but it’s not as bad as what you did to me that one time. Let’s not talk about you and shift the subject off of me.” Sinners have all of these diversionary tactics. Maturity is to not act as if you were perfect. Maturity is to say, “Okay, I’ve sinned. You’re right. I repent. I apologize. I will change. I appreciate you bringing that to my attention. You know what? No one’s ever had the courage to confront me like that. I appreciate that because I think you really do care.”
None of us would say, “I’m perfect,” but many of us act as if we were. And when confronted, we’re hard hearted, stiff necked, rebellious, foolish, proud, obstinate, disobedient, self-righteous, blame shifting, justifying. That’s how we respond. And what Paul is saying, “I’m mature.” What he’s saying is, “You can teach me something. I’ll learn. You can rebuke me of something, and if it’s true, I’ll repent. You can point out a flaw in my life and I’ll work on it.” And he said, “I would encourage everyone to imitate my example because maturity is humility that wants to be like Jesus and doesn’t think that one already is.” Does that make sense?
So he says there are two keys to becoming mature – forgetting what lies behind and then pressing forward. Now let me say that this verse in Philippians 3 is widely misunderstood, misapplied, by Christians. I have seen some Christians use it as an excuse to not deal with sin – either sin they’ve committed or sin that’s been committed against them. We have sinned in our past and some people say, “Well, I’ve become a Christian forgetting what lies behind.
I move forward. I don’t pay back people I stole from. I don’t confess the sins I’ve committed against people and ask their forgiveness. I don’t seek reconciliation. I don’t try and write my wrongs, because forgetting what lies behind, I press forward. My Christian life has no rearview mirror. I don’t look back.” They’ll quote the verse. That’s not what it means. It’s not what it means at all.
I had to – recently I was teaching at a men’s conference, the one in Scotland. I had a man come up to me in between sessions say, “I feel God’s calling me to plant a church and I want to go into ministry, and I know he has great things for my future and I’d like you to pray for me.” I just got this jack in spirit from the Holy Spirit and I just said, “Is there anything in your life that would morally disqualify you? Is there anything in your past that you’ve not dealt with that would disqualify you from planting a church in your future?” I looked him right in the eye. He said, “Well I committed adultery on my wife and I haven’t told her.”
I said, “That would count. That would count.” He said, “But don’t you feel like, you know, I told Jesus I’m sorry and I just need to move forward?” I said, “No, you also sinned against your wife. You need to go tell her, ask her forgiveness. The two of you are going to need some biblical counseling. I mean you’ve violated your marriage covenant. You’ve done a grievous thing. You’ve broken one of the Ten Commandments. You can’t just wake up and say ‘Sorry. Alright, I’ll be a pastor now.’” I said, “Jesus died for your sin justification, but now sanctification needs to happen. You need to work on that.”
And this is true of sin that’s been committed against us as well. Maybe you’ve been raped, abused, molested, abandoned, cheated on, lied about, betrayed. I don’t know what has happened to you. You can’t just say, “Well, forgetting what lies behind, I press forward.” You need to go back and deal with that. Deal with that with Jesus and people who know the Bible and can help you. Work through it. Heal from it – biblical counselor, pastor; get in a community group, pursue relationships, grace groups, recovery groups, purity groups – not just turn your back on it and march forward. So we say, “But isn’t that exactly what he says? ‘Forget what lies behind and move forward.’” That’s what he says, but what is the context in which he says it? What he doesn’t say is, “I don’t remember my past. I don’t even think about my past. I’ve totally forgotten my past and my past has nothing to do with my future.”
What has he just spoken of in the previous verses of Chapter 3? His past. Forgetting what lies behind doesn’t mean you don’t remember it. It means that you’ve confessed it to God and others. That you’ve gotten help biblically. You’ve pursued accountable community relationally. That you have let Jesus teach you through it. Sanctify you by it.
How do you know that you’ve forgotten your past? Answer – you can talk about it. If you say, “I don’t want to talk about that,” you haven’t forgotten your past. “That’s in my past. I don’t want to go back to that.” You haven’t forgotten your past.
The person who says, “I cheated on my spouse. It almost or did destroy our marriage. Here’s what God taught me. Here’s what I learned through it. Here’s why Jesus died. Here’s why I don’t do it anymore. I’m being sanctified.” That person is in the process of rightly forgetting what lies behind. The person who was raped, abandoned, abused, molested, that can talk about it in a safe setting – biblical counselor, pastor, the right kind of Bible study group – if they can talk about – say, “Here’s what happened to me. Here’s what God’s taught me through it. Here’s how Jesus has used it to sanctify me and here’s how I’ve changed in a good way because Jesus has helped me work this through.” That’s the person who’s worked it out.
I’ll prove it to you. Here’s Paul talking about his past. So don’t just read the words “forget the past”. Read the words where he talks about the past that set up the discussion of how to move forward in the future.
Chapter 3, verse 4 – “though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also.” What he’s done. His religion. “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh,” – what he’s done – “I have more:” – here’s his past – “circumcised on the eighth day,” – he starts off with his birth. He says, “Oh here, we’ll start here. Here’s my circumcision picture.” You’re like, “Really? Boy, you’re going way back, aren’t ya?” – “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;” – he actually murdered a guy named Stephen who was a deacon – “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,” – explained that to you a few weeks ago. It’s a pretty exciting word. We’ll just keep going at this point.
But what he says here is this, “Here’s my background. Here’s my family, my religion, my upbringing, my education, my religion, my morality, my politics, and I also am a murderer.”
How do we know that Paul has dealt with these issues? Answer – he can talk about them openly and freely. As a result, he’s worked it through with Jesus and God’s people; therefore he can forget what lies behind. Meaning, “What I used to do, I’m not doing. I’ve changed. I’ve met Jesus. I’ve been sanctified. I’m not doing that anymore. My heart’s changed. My life’s changed. My mind’s changed. So I can talk about that because that’s not who I am now. But I can talk about what I was like and how Jesus has made such a great difference in my life.”
Does that make any sense to anyone? If you go up to someone, say, “Tell me about your past,” and they don’t talk about any of their sin or sin that was committed against them, they really haven’t dealt with it. They misapplied Philippians 3. They misapplied Philippians 3.
If you came to me and said, “Well tell me about your past.” “I don’t want to talk about it. That’s in the past.” Well then obviously I haven’t fully repented. Obviously I haven’t really worked it through. Obviously I haven’t been sanctified fully through it if I can’t talk about it. Does that make sense to you?
So much of us are gripped by fear and shame and embarrassment. Jesus died for it. You can be forgiven. Jesus sanctifies you. You can stop doing it and you can be a new person with a new life. The result is that you can work with Jesus and his people through your past so that you can actually forget it. Not that you don’t remember it, but it no longer haunts you, and then you can move on with the rest of your life changed not doing it anymore.
This is a wonderful life, by the way, that Jesus gives. It’s amazing. And Paul as a pastor knows that not everyone experiences this kind of life – sanctification. Change – real change. And so we pick up the fact that there are two kinds of people in the church, just as there are two kinds of people that are gathered together for this service and two kinds of people who will listen online through vodcast and podcast. There are real Christians who have been justified, are being sanctified and will be glorified. There are people who really aren’t Christians. They’re just sort of religious and spiritual. They’ve not been justified. They’re not being sanctified and they won’t be glorified.
Paul speaks of this differentiation, and in so doing, you need to see he’s not a legalist and a moralist. He’s not a man who’s trying to judge people unnecessarily. What he’s doing is he’s showing that there really are two kinds of people, even in a church. Even in church membership. Even in church leadership. And some of you would say, “But Mark, you have no right to judge me,” and I would say, “You’re right. I don’t judge you. Jesus does.” I don’t know your thoughts, your dreams, your hopes, your fears. I don’t know your secret sin, your private sin, your private life. I don’t know that, so I won’t judge you. But you’re in the best position to judge yourself, just as I’m in the best position to judge myself. I know everything that I do and think and don’t do. And what Paul does is he lays out a criteria so that you can judge yourself and I can judge myself so that when we stand before the judgment of Jesus, we need not be afraid or ashamed.
He says it this way in verse 18. “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears,” – this is not a man who is self-righteous and judgmental. This is a pastor who loves his people, just like I love you. He’s given his life to them, as I’ve given my life to you. What he says is, “There is something that deeply grieves and burdens those of us who are pastors, and that is people who are in the church but are not in Christ.” People who hang out with Christians, but they themselves don’t demonstrate the fruit of being Christians.
I’ll be honest and tell you there are certain people who even come to mind when I read these words. People that, if I’m honest, in prayer, I have shed tears for. Saying, “I hope they’re Christians.” I mean I hope they’re connected to Jesus, and I’m concerned though because I don’t see sanctification. I don’t see them learning and growing and changing. I see ‘em kind of the same as when they walked in the door. They’re not humble. They’re not repentant. They’re not sorry. They’re sort of stiff necked and rebellious and foolish and proud and stubborn. And, “I’m gonna do it my way and no one’s gonna change my mind even though they’re wrong.”
So Paul says it this way – they “walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is in their belly, and their glory in their shame, with their minds set on earthly things.” Those are people who are in church but not in Christ. He says conversely for those who are in church and in Christ, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body,” – there’s glorification – “by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for,” – he hasn’t seen them in four years – “my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.”
Now you see this in the life of Jesus, right? In his ministry, he had 12 disciples. There were 11 who loved him and one that did not. It is possible to even be a Christian leader – it is possible, apparently, to be discipled by Jesus for three years and still not be a Christian. Judas never loved Jesus. Was stealing from him the whole time and betrayed him in the end. We see the same thing in the words of Jesus where he says in the end, people who stand before him and say, “Lord, Lord, here’s our resume. We cast out demons. We did miracles. We went on mission trips. We gave ten percent. We were a member of the church. We were ushers and greeters and community group leaders.” Jesus says, “But depart from me. I never knew you. We didn’t have a relationship. You never came to me for forgiveness of sin. You didn’t allow me to work with you on the sanctification of your life. Depart from me. I never knew you.”
This is to sober us, right? To work out our salvation with fear and trembling. To ask, “Have I been justified? Am I being sanctified? Will I be glorified?”, because not everyone who is in church is in Christ. We’re glad you’re in church. We also implore you to be in Christ – to love Jesus, to know Jesus, to trust Jesus, to follow Jesus. He says that those who are true Christians live exemplary lives. Not that we’re sinless and perfect, but that we’re humble and repentant. We know we’re not perfect, and so when there is sin, we apologize and change. He says that non-Christians live shameful lives. They’re not humble. They’re not repentant. They’ll say they’re not perfect but they don’t ever really repent of any specific sin and you don’t see a lot of change, if any, in their life. He says that real Christians are servants of the cross. “Jesus died for all my sins to give me new life. Well then I’m gonna serve Jesus and go live a new life.” He says non-Christians live as enemy of the cross. “I don’t have any sin to repent of. I don’t need Jesus’ help. I don’t need to change. I
don’t need to learn. I’m doing fine. I’m doing what I want to do. I’m not gonna serve Jesus.”
He says that real Christians have a heavenly focus. They know that this life is short and that eternity is with Jesus, and they’re looking forward to being with Jesus and they’re preparing themselves to be with Jesus. And all the language he uses is like a run or running a race – that our finish line as it were with Jesus, we just keep running ‘til we see him and then we rest forever in his presence. We enjoy his kingdom. He says that conversely, those who really are Christians, they have earthly appetites. Their God is their stomach. They care more about breakfast, lunch, dinner. They care more about their favorite drink and their favorite dessert than they do Jesus. Not that eating and drinking is a sin, but when it becomes your God, your functional Savior – when getting high or sexual joy or drugs or alcohol, or whatever the desires of the flesh are, when they become the places that we run for comfort
and help – when we’re hurting, we run there; when we’re happy, we run there – they become functional saviors. They become false Gods. Paul says, “That’s not it. We’re supposed to run to Jesus and enjoy the gifts that he gives, but not in a sinful way where we worship them.” Some of you have earthly appetites. You’re not hungry for Jesus and holiness. You’re hungry for Satan and sin.
He furthermore goes on to say that real Christians are waiting for Jesus. Well people who really aren’t Christians kind of ignore him. You can walk up to a real Christian and say, “You know what? You belong to Jesus and you’re here to grow to be more like him, and one day you’re gonna stand before him.” And they’ll say, “You’re right,” and they’ll start making changes in their life. Someone who’s not really Christian, they’ll say, “What’s all the God talk? What’s the big deal? You keep talking about Jesus. Why do you emphasize that so much?” For the Christian, it’s obvious. “Well everything’s about Jesus.” For the one who’s just religious or spiritual, or likes attending church or being around religious people, Jesus is not such a big deal. So the real Christian keeps growing. The non-Christian keeps sinning. The real Christian ends up in salvation, eternity and heaven with God forever. The non-Christian ends up in damnation, separated from Jesus in conscious eternal torment forever.
And so we would ask you to examine yourself. Have you been justified? Have you confessed your sin to Jesus and received his forgiveness through his death on the cross? Are you being sanctified? Is Jesus at work in your life, and you’re humble and repentant and learning and growing all the time? Even Paul after 30 years says, “I’m still learning, changing and growing,” so none of us has an excuse to ever stop. Are you looking forward to being glorified like Jesus’ resurrection – one day you rise to live forever with him free of sin in death forever in the world as the person that God intended?
One of the ways that Paul says we can help ourselves grow in these things – he says it in Chapter 3, verse 17 is this – “Keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” What he says is find people who have been justified and are being sanctified, and hang out with them. Learn from them. Watch them. Ask them to speak into your life if you speak into their life, alright. If you have certain sin in your life, find people who used to do that and they’ve stopped, and hang out with them and ask them what Jesus taught them which would be helpful for you. That’s why we say “pursue accountable relationships”. Pursue Christian friendships. Pursue community group participation – grace group, redemption group, purity group. We do all these groups so that you can find people that have worked things out so that they can walk with you.
And the other thing I would recommend is read biographies. That is in part what we’re doing here with Paul. We’re reading the legacy of his life in print. Read dead people. Living people could still blow it in the end, right? Dead people, they finished well, you’ve got a pretty good idea that they really made it through. So read biographies and read about dead people who loved Jesus and finished well.
Now in that vane, this is my transition. What I’m gonna do now, I’m gonna tell you about my recent trip to Scotland, because what happens is, when – you know how it is with your friends. They go to a country. They take a bunch of photos. They come back and they bore you to tears and make you watch all of them, and they tell you stories that you don’t care about, but you listen because you’re their friend. And you’re my friend, so I brought some photos for you. I’ve got two weeks in Scotland – 11 days with my family.
So here’s what happened. We got this invitation – I got this invitation to go preach in Scotland. Two churches, men’s conference, pastor’s conference, Bible college. A lot of preaching. I said, “Well I’ll come if you bring my family – my wife, my five kids and grandma – so we can get a little vacation and see the great city of Edinburgh, capital city of Scotland.”
Did I tell you the Starbucks story? I mean I’m hopped up on cold meds, so I’m gonna check occasionally, ‘cause I’ve already done this three times. So here’s my Starbucks story. It was so weird. I was sitting in Starbucks in Edinburgh, Scotland with my wife and kids and they’re drinking hot chocolate. I’m drinking coffee and I’m talking to my kids, and this guy walks up to me. He says, “Are you Pastor Mark?” I was like, “What the heck?” He says, “I recognize your voice from the podcast in Edinburgh, Scotland.” It’s like, “This is weird. I’ve got to watch what I say. People are actually listening.”
So here’s what we did. We loaded up five kids all with backpacks. We’re like an army marching off to war. A two-year-old, four-year-old, six-year-old, eight-year-old, ten-year-old – every other year, somebody with my last name shows up, and so I’ve got ‘em all packed up. They’ve got their backpack filled with Game Boys and Dora the Explorer and candy and they’re ready to go, and we thought we’d take the redeye flight to London and then go to Scotland and thought they would sleep on the plane, and they didn’t. But you guys prayed for them so they were really well behaved, so thank you for praying. It was a miracle. But you could tell that people were frightened when we started the flight, because as we’re sitting there with our five kids on the redeye flight, everyone’s looking at everyone else and you could tell what they’re all thinking – “Put them in the overhead bin.” That’s what they’re all thinking. But my kids were very well behaved. They’re good kids. They’re being sanctified, as am I.
So we’re flying. It’s really funny because they love the big socks. They always give you socks. So my four-year-old daughter, I look over at her. She’s got her sleeping mask on her head. She’s got her – she keeps hitting the button. “I’ll need more juice.” She loved that. Ding – they bring you things. Ding, ding, ding, ding. So they loved that, and they’ve got their remote control with their private TV, and she takes her little socks and she pulls them all the way up and they’re like leggings on her. And she’s got her chair kicked back, and I look over at her and she just gives me the big thumbs up. She’s
loving the flight.
So we’ve traveled well. We landed in London, then had our flight over to Scotland and got off in Scotland, and we had the most amazing time. And one of the things I learned about was the history of the Scottish reformation and this man named John Knox. I’m gonna take a few minutes, tell you the story of John Knox, because I think he in many ways fulfills many of the attitudes and exemplary practices that Paul is telling us to immolate the people who do that sort of thing. He, forgetting what lies behind, pressed forward.
He was born about – was it 15? 14 or 15. Little debate on his age. He was born outside of Edinburgh, Scotland, the capital city. He was a contemporary of Luther and Calvin and Zwingli. Friends actually with Calvin. Discipled by John Calvin. He existed – he lived at the time of the Catholic Council of Trent – big conflict between Protestants and Catholics over justification by faith alone, through grace alone, in Christ alone. Big debate in that day.
He was a big guy. About 6’2” is what they say. Could handle a two-handed sword. There’s two sizes swords. There’s a one-handed sword for little guys and then there’s the huge man sword two-handed sword. Takes two hands to carry. And he was a bodyguard. That was his job before he was a pastor – as Jack Bauer for awhile with a sword. And then what happened was, he was a Catholic priest, but then he met Jesus. Some Catholics love Jesus. He didn’t. Became a Christian. Started studying under a guy named George Wishart, until George Wishart was burned at the stake – his mentor. And then he felt a call into ministry and accepted it.
How many of you would be like, “They burned my mentor at the stake. Hey, I want to go into ministry.”? I mean not a lot of you would sign up for that. So he felt God’s call into ministry, became a Protestant pastor, and soon thereafter, if not immediately, he was arrested as a slave and he was put in the hole of a galley ship on an oar for two years. Two years in a maggot infested, disease infested, disgusting lower hole of a slave ship. That’s John Knox.
Amazing story. I’ll share a few details about his life. The first is, this is the general assembly headquarters of the Church of Scotland which exists in his legacy and wake. Every year, the ministers gather there to vote on certain issues. You can pray for the denomination. It’s gone pretty liberal. I had the privilege of actually preaching there for a men’s conference. It was a really cool building and room to preach in. Just outside of the main entrance is this statue of John Knox. As far as my research indicates, it may be the only memorial to John Knox that is standing in all of Scotland. As well, this is Saint Giles Church, and it’s appearance is on something called the Royal Mile. At the top of the hill, there’s the castle. The bottom of the hill, there is Queen Mary’s palace. In the middle is Saint Giles Church. It was John Knox’s home as well, which we got into. He and Mary were always fighting – declaring death sentences on one another. She was devout Catholic and slept around quite a bit, and he was a stern Protestant who believed in the sword. And so his church at one point actually put out a bounty on the head of the queen. (I’m not saying he’s a sinless guy or that he never made a mistake.)
This is Saint Giles Church, which is where John Knox preached. This church was founded in 1854. It didn’t originally look like this. It’s been added onto after some fires and such. It’s been expanded. But what is curious, John Knox preached there when he wasn’t in exile. And right there is a monument. That was the centerpiece of the town where they would put to death the criminals, including the Protestant pastors who preached the Bible about Jesus, which meant on Sunday, if you were the congregation walking into church, you would be walking over the bloody cobblestones of fellow gospel preachers who got murdered that week. You had to be really committed to go to church in that day.
Furthermore, this is the plaque outside of the Magdalene Chapel. It was built in 1541, and this was ground zero for the Protestant reformation in Scotland. And I’m not anti-Catholic. I was raised Catholic, went to Catholic school, alter boy. A lot of my relatives are born again Catholics – love Jesus. I wasn’t one of ‘em, like John Knox. I got converted later. And Protestant and reformed in orientation. But in that day, the church was very, very corrupt in Scotland because the government ran the church. There was no separation of church and state, and so the government would appoint the Christian pastors in the churches.
And you think about that. Imagine if the state of Washington appointed who would teach the Bible. Have a good chuckle and then be terrified just contemplating that possibility. What you didn’t get then were pastors who were committed to Jesus as King. They were committed to the king of the nation and they weren’t necessarily fully committed to the cause of Jesus’ Kingdom. They were more concerned with national politics, and they kept their job as long as they supported the political rulers. So this is very unhealthy.
So what happened was John Knox pulled together some other pastors from Protestantism. They wrote up the Scott’s Confession of Faith, which I think predated the Westminster Confession, and they came up with their covenant that they signed explaining how they would start a new church in Scotland that would be based upon the scriptures, the doctrine of the reformation, the teaching’s of Jesus, and as a result, forgetting what lies behind. They had to resign their post as priest. They had to give up their homes, their churches, their incomes. They had to give up their benefits and start from scratch. And shortly after they started, they were declared enemies of the state. A death bounty was put on their head.
And it’s a small room. We got to go it in. Still standing there. Only seats 50 or 60 people. The men, the pastors met for about a month. We got a cool tour and lecture by the head of the Scottish Reformation Society. It was a really great gift. The whole tour too, this really cool guy – he loves Jesus; he’s a tour guide – he gave my family a personal tour ‘cause he’s a podcaster, and he brought along with him a buddy dressed up like John Knox in this big black robe with this huge beard. And so we’re walking around, and at times he’d just stop and say – and he’d just preach whatever John Knox preached there at the top of his lungs. We looked like absolute freaks, but it was very insightful. The first time he did it, he scared my kids to death because he came out of nowhere in this big black robe screaming with an accent. But this is where the reformation started. And shortly thereafter, persecution happened and you could walk around the church.
Within walking distance, there’s these various graveyards where the Christians and the Christian pastors were put to death. This one includes the monument to Bloody Mackenzie. And there’s a place back in the right hand corner where 120 pastors were chained – literally held for six months out-
of-doors in prison for preaching the Gospel.
120 guys, for preaching the gospel, arrested, locked up in a cemetery out-of-doors. Meaning their congregation, if they wanted to visit them, would have to have church outside of the graveyard. The men would need to preach over the wall. If you wanted to feed your pastor – give him a coat since he was living outside during hard Scottish winter – you’d give it through the gates. After six months, they were exiled to America and their ship sank and they died.
These are guys who were exhausted. Their people were exhausted. They’d lost everything and started over for the sake of Jesus. And Paul’s word, “They pressed forward.” He says, “One thing I do, I just keep going until I see Jesus.”
And so it wasn’t just the pastors. It was also the Christians. You could kill the pastor, and somebody else would be the pastor and they’d keep going. And so basically the church membership kit in that day had there components. One, you get a Bible. This is about the size of it. It’s actually a replica of the Genevian Bible, which Knox’s English speaking congregation that he pastored while in exile actually created the Genevian Bible, which is one of the most important Bibles in the history of the English speaking world. Also what you hauled to church with you was a three legged stool, ‘cause there was no seating. So you think about it. You’ve got to either walk or ride your horse or in your carriage. You’ve got to haul your Bible. You’re outside in the rain and you’ve got to take your own seat, ‘cause there’s nowhere to sit. And it’s curious because if people didn’t like the sermon, they would pick up their stool and chuck it at the minister. Imagine that.
There are certain chapels we visited, they have these on display in memorial. Like there’s this one tribute to this one lady who chucked a stool at the pastor and hit him, so she apparently had a great arm. Not encouraging that, but it’s like the prototype of a honky-tonk bar in the 1500’s.
And the third thing you would have as part of your Scottish membership kit is a sword. Literally this is a Scottish sword. It’s handcrafted in Scotland.
A Scottish church planner gave it to me. He was like, “You want this?” I was like, “Yeah, but I’m not sure how I’m gonna take it on the plane.” You know, I was like, “Is this gonna be a problem?” “Could be, yeah.” Thing’s sharp as can be. I don’t know if they use these for church discipline in Scotland or what. But this would be a one-handed sword. But literally, this is what a man would need to carry to church with him, because on the way, as a Protestant, you could get attacked and killed. Your church could be attacked while services were happening. So to be a member of the church meant that as a man, you’re also part of a militia and you could at any point be involved in civil war.
I mean it’s amazing to me looking at the cost. I mean in our day, the church growth experts say, “Well unless you have sufficient parking and light enough projectors, people won’t come, ‘cause that’s too much to ask.” In that day, it’s like, “Well we’ll have coffee hour after civil war is done. Feel free to break out your swords and behead your enemies and then you get a donut.”
I mean it was just a different commitment level. And the stool chucking thing beats blogging. It’s like, “I threw it, hit him in the head, we’re even. I feel better. you know” It just was simpler times.
And what I find is just so curious is that John Knox is a guy, died at about age 57 or 58. He’s a man who died at home. His first wife passed away. He died in the arms of his second wife. She read 1 Corinthians 15 to him on the glorification of the body, and she read John 17, Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer’s conversion text. She read commentaries and sermons from Ephesians by John Calvin and then he died.
Today there are 600,000 Presbyterians in Scotland that are in his wake. There are over three million Presbyterians in America who trace their spiritual lineage back to John Knox. And you and I today are enjoying a privilege, called the Separation of Church and State, as a result of John Knox. That’s part of his legacy. That’s what they went to war for, and that idea found its way into the framing of our constitution. Some would say they have freedom from religion. That’s not what it says. We have freedom of religion so that you and I can get together, study the Bible, learn, worship, pray, spread the good news of Jesus, without being controlled by the state – freedom of religion.
So you would think in light of that, John Knox would be widely honored. And he wasn’t a sinless guy, but he has been widely disrespected. Next door to his church is a huge statue of David Hume, the great atheist who was declared to be the greatest thinker in the history of Scotland, and on the other side of the church is this. That is where John Knox is buried. He was buried in the church graveyard. Apparently when it came to the invention of the automobile, they needed parking, so his church chose to pave the parking lot and he is buried under stall 23. This little plaque has nothing written on it. Doesn’t even say “John Knox”. Had I not had a really good tour guide, I would have had no idea that was to remind me of the burial place of the great John Knox, which means that the resurrection of the dead, he will bump his head on a Kia. On a Kia!
I mean a Kia. At least it’s got a plastic bumper. I guess that is God’s providential kindness to John Knox.
Isn’t that amazing? What that tells us is that in this life, you’re probably not gonna get the “attaboy” and “good job” and the encouragement and motivation to keep going when you’re exhausted and frustrated and don’t want to continue being obedient and serving God and giving and caring and trying. But, you wait for the glorification. You wait for the day you see Jesus. You keep running until you see him. Just keep going.
I was thinking about it. I was going on a prayer walk of Edinburgh. I passed by Saint Cuthbert’s Church. It’s 1,300 years old – the church. Still meeting there. Not the same people, but still going, you know? And I thought, “Man, we come from a young country. We come from a young state. We come from a young city. We are a young church. I’m a young pastor.” Many of you are young people and you’re young converts. Do you know what that means? There’s a lot of sanctification to be done for you and I and us all. And we’re in one of those great opportunities of sanctification, because we can get to the place when we’ve been a Christian for a few days. We’ve learned a few verses. We’ve read a few books. We’ve overcome a few sins. We’re in a big church. It’s growing and it looks sort of cool to some to think, “Hey, we’re really something.” Paul’s words are, “I haven’t obtained anything. I haven’t achieved anything. I haven’t finished anything. I need to learn from the past. I need to repent of my sin, be humble and grow and press forward with what God has for you, for me, for us.”
So my word to you today is this – it’s an encouragement to become a Christian, if you are not, by giving your sin to Jesus and trusting in him. And if you are a Christian, to be humble and teachable; to be mature, which is acknowledging how imperfect you are, and by joining me in this great process of sanctification. My hope is that God would use us as he used those in the reformation of Scotland. Our city and our nation needs it as desperately, but it begins with people who are willing to be humble and teachable and repentant and sanctified, and to just keep going, despite how exhausted they are, until they see Jesus face-to-face.
Are you tired? Weary? Worn down? Burned out? Are you sick of all the positive thinking naturally organized highly competent cheery high energy types who keep telling you to put on a smile and think happy thoughts when all you want to do is take a nap? Then you’ll enjoy Pastor Mark Driscoll’s sermon on Philippians 3:12-4:1 where the tired, lonely, flat broke Paul who was sleeping on a dirt floor after getting kicked around like a hackey sack gives us the rebels secret to a joyous heart in an exhausting life.