Dear radio friends,
The Reformed Witness Hour begins today a series of three messages under the title “Facing Death.” Death is a reality that can come for any one and at any time. And, as children of God, while our religion is not of gloom and despair but of life and peace in Christ Jesus, nevertheless, as children of God we must live conscious of death and of what God is saying to us in death.
To be sure, the sorrows of death are great in this life. And in those sorrows we have no place to turn but to our Lord Jesus Christ, who is able to comfort us, for He is the One who has conquered death and lives for evermore and declares that all those who are His shall not die but shall live forever with Him.
We will therefore have this series of sermons entitled “Facing Death.” And we begin with the wonderful and remarkable words of the apostle Paul in Philippians 3:8-12.
In Philippians 3, the apostle Paul is warning the Philippians against those who would teach that salvation is by the work of man. And he gives his own account of the fact that once he too believed that. And he boasts that if anyone was ever going to be saved on the basis of his own goodness or his own work, it would have been the apostle Paul. But he came to see himself as a sinner. And he came to see that his trust could be only in the Lord Jesus Christ. Then he went on, in verses 8-12 of Philippians 3, to say, “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.”
The main point that the apostle Paul is making in those verses is to explain and to express to us the surpassing excellence of Jesus Christ our Lord. Or, more specifically, that knowing Jesus Christ and laying hold of Jesus Christ by a true faith and being found by the wonderful grace of God in Jesus Christ is more valuable than any relationship in this world and more valuable than anything in the world. All else, in comparison to that, would be sheer loss. The apostle is saying that whether we live 10, 16, or 80 years, if we live, by God’s grace, based on this truth of knowing the surpassing excellence of Jesus Christ, then that life has eternal significance. Knowing Christ is more precious than anything else. This is our comfort as we face death. What is our comfort? The surpassing excellence of knowing Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.
Why is knowing Jesus Christ of surpassing value? First of all, the apostle explains, because of His righteousness—because of the righteousness that Jesus Christ gives to us (vv. 8, 9). The apostle says, “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” Jesus Christ is more valuable, He is surpassingly excellent, because He alone makes me righteous before God. That is why it is so wonderful to belong to Him. Knowing Christ and belonging to Him is more valuable than anything else because it is hopeless to think that we will ever be accepted to God through our own law-keeping. That is the point that the apostle Paul is making. He is making the point that it is hopeless to believe that by your own works you can gain righteousness with God.
He goes on in the chapter to explain that he had once tried to be accepted of God on the basis of his own works. But now his comfort was that he did not have his own righteousness, which is of the law, but a righteousness that was by faith in Jesus Christ. Paul knew, and you must know, that when you must give an account to God (which can be at any moment), then law-keeping (your works) will not suffice. You must know that. You must know that deep down if you are a child of God. You must know that of yourself, and upon the basis of your own works, you could not stand before God. But rather, you must cry out with the publican: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
If a loved one in Jesus Christ dies and must meet God with the record of his own law-keeping, he will perish. What will your claim be if God comes to you and touches you—touches you medically in such a way that all the skill of man cannot help you, cannot keep you in this life? Doctors cannot do anything but stand by and watch and say, “Death is inevitable.” What then, as you stand before God, will be your claim? There is no hope if you believe that your works, your knowledge, your deeds will commend you to God. The only hope is to be found in Christ. Not having my own righteousness, but the righteousness that is of faith in Christ; not on the basis that I am a nice guy; not on the basis of the works that I have done; but solely on the work and righteousness of Jesus Christ—what He did on the cross. My sin was nailed to the cross and I bear it no more.
And we receive that by the gift of faith, faith in Jesus Christ. This is salvation. There is no other. Our hope rests solely in Christ.
Righteousness that is accepted of God is a righteousness that is given to us through faith. That is what you must say. When you come before the Father in heaven, then you will confess, “Father, I have no right in myself to enter into heaven. But Thy Son, Jesus Christ, is the only one who has that right. He performed all righteousness for me, and according to Thy grace I renounce all self-reliance and all self-righteousness and all my works. And by faith I look to Christ, Thy Son, for righteousness, and to Him alone. That is my right to heaven.” To which God will answer, “Enter into the joy of thy Lord.”
Why is Jesus Christ surpassingly excellent? Because He makes me accepted of God, and in Him I know that I shall never be cast out. Ephesians 1:6, 7: “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved [in the beloved Son]. In whom we have redemption through his blood.” How precious is the dying of God’s children, the dying of young men or aged women or little girls—because God sees the righteousness of His Son in them and receives them into heaven.
But Jesus Christ is surpassingly excellent when we understand further what it means to be found in Him. The apostle says that it was his desire to be found in Christ. To be a Christian is to be in Christ. This is something that God does. I Corinthians 1:29, 30: “That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him [of God] are ye in Christ Jesus.” So being in Christ is something of God. It is not of yourself. It was of God—God’s mighty love and grace. To be in Christ means safety. Outside of Christ means that you must answer for yourself. You are exposed, you are defenseless, you have no safety. But if we are in Christ, then we sing (in Psalm 61): Thou hast been a shelter for me.
To be found in Him means that God sees you as placed in Jesus Christ, so that Christ is your covering, your protection, your shelter. That means that you have a new identity: This is who I am, I am in Christ.II Corinthians 5:17, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” In Christ means that you now love to have people see that Christ is your life. You live a different life. You live by faith in the Son of God, turning in repentance, turning your back upon a life of filth and sin and desiring to live a life that is pleasing to God.
Paul goes on to explain in verse 10 of Philippians 3 what it means to be in Christ: “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.” The fellowship of His sufferings, that is, sufferings for Christ’s sake, come to those who are in Him. Because you are in Him, you will suffer even as He suffered the ridicule and rejection of the world. You will be made conformable to His death. You will be more and more, by the grace of God, dead to sin, to your own sins, and alive unto righteousness. To be found in Christ is precious. No more in sin, in darkness, in deceit, in hate, in jealousy, in envy, in lust. But in Christ to live even as He lived, and to be as He was. My safety, my identity is in Christ.
Why is Christ surpassingly excellent? Because in Him is fullness of joy, peace, blessing, life, safety.
But still more. Jesus Christ is surpassingly excellent because of the power of His resurrection. In verses 10 and 11 the apostle Paul says that he experiences that power. The power of His resurrection is first of all felt in the spiritual rebirth celebrated in Scripture as “regeneration.” What mighty power of Jesus Christ to come to a dead heart, to come to a rebellious, hating heart, and to subdue that heart and to create a new life, the life of obedience to God. The apostle Paul says, “I want to know Him and the power of His resurrection.” The power of His resurrection is the power of the new life of Christ within the Christian, bringing us to repentance, and to faith, to love and to joy. This is exceedingly precious. This is the all-surpassing excellence of Jesus Christ—that He raises us spiritually from the dead. He emancipates us from a life lived in the bondage of sin. He gives us a new life of repentance.
But more. The power of His resurrection is also His power to take our soul into glory in the moment of death. The power of His resurrection means that He has defeated death and changed death into the portal, the avenue, whereby the soul of the believer is brought into the conscious presence, the joyful presence, of his Lord! “Ye shall see me and be with me where I am.”
And still more. The power of His resurrection is seen when He raises our bodies out of the earth and transforms them to be like unto the glorious body of Jesus Christ, where we will make merry. We shall rejoice in Jesus Christ in the new heavens and in the new earth.
The final goal that the apostle Paul had was not that he would float as a bodiless spirit throughout all eternity, but that his body would be raised. He would stand in the presence of the Lord glorified, there to worship and there to praise God forever.
Why is Christ so surpassingly excellent? Because (1) we are accepted of God in Him; (2) we are safe in Him; (3) we have been raised to a new life, soul and body. Christ is precious, beautiful, good. He is our complete satisfaction.
Finally, belonging to Jesus Christ is surpassingly beautiful and excellent because He has laid hold on us. The apostle concludes in verse 12, “Not as though I had already attained [or obtained], either were already perfect: but I follow after [or I track down, I press on to make it my own because Jesus Christ has made me His own.” I press on, why? Because Christ has made me His own.
We read in I Corinthians 6:19, 20: “What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, … and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price.” We read in Romans 14:8, “For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.” Paul does not say, “I rejoice in Jesus Christ and I believe that I am eternally secure and therefore I coast along mindless and careless in sin.” But Paul says, “Christ is precious, I am secure by His grace in Him. I am eternally secure and therefore, because Christ has laid hold upon me, I press on that I might be conformed to Him.” Because Christ has taken hold of us by His grace, we press on, taking hold of Him.
The apostle is longing for perfection. He is dissatisfied with his present state. We know that right now, in Jesus Christ, we have every spiritual blessing. But we also know that our experience of these blessings now is not full. And it is not as it shall be. And still more, we struggle against our own sins and sinful flesh. So the apostle says, “There is more ahead for me! I press on.”
And thus he prays. He prays that he might finally enter into that perfection of glory. The more you see of Christ, the more you know of His love, the more you taste of His excellency—that He has taken hold of you—the more you shall desire of Him, the more you shall desire to live to His honor and praise, and the more you shall desire that as He is holy, pure, and compassionate, so shall you be now. And one day you shall be before His face in glory.
Knowing Jesus Christ is something that surpasses everything else. The evidence of knowing Jesus Christ is to say, “He is everything to me. He is all that I want. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. Having Him, I do not have a lack. He is everything to me. He is my righteousness. He is my safety. He is my resurrection. He holds me firmly. He will never let me go. He makes me sincerely willing henceforth and ready to live unto Him.”
Death, then, is gain for a believer because he shall be with Christ. There is so much more of Him to know. His wonders are inexhaustible, unto all eternity.
So why does God sometimes come so suddenly and so shockingly and take a dear loved one unto Himself in glory? Why would He create such great grief in the hearts of those family and loved ones left behind? Why does He do that? One reason is this: because Jesus Christ is everything. He is everything to you now. And having Him, you shall never die.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word, for Thy Word is truth, and Thy Word is our comfort. As we go through this world we experience the reality of death, sorrow, and grief. But He is our Light. He is our Hope. None who, by Thy grace, place their trust in Him shall ever be desolate. Make the words of the apostle Paul our own words today. Let our chief comfort and chief joy in life be that we are found in Christ, that His righteousness is ours—a spotless and eternal righteousness, that we may know that we are safe in Him throughout all eternity, that we may know the power of His resurrection life within us, and that we may live in the comfort that He holds us firmly and directs all things in our lives. And grant us His peace. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.