It’s natural to want to fit in with the crowd. As Christians, however, we must be cautious about whom we follow. Warning against enemies of the cross who were infiltrating the Church to influence believers, Paul encouraged his readers to be discerning and follow his example as he followed Christ. As Alistair Begg explores Paul’s contrast between false teachers and the faithfully obedient, he challenges us to differ from our culture by resting in Jesus and living for what lasts.
We’re going to read from the seventeenth verse of Philippians 3. If you didn’t bring a Bible, you might want to reach forward in the pew and take hold of one of the ones that’s there for you. Follow along as I read from the seventeenth verse to the first verse of chapter 4:
“Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again … with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
“Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!”
Father, as we thank you for this reading from your Word, we pray that you will come to us in our need and be our teacher; that the Holy Spirit will take the things of the Bible, familiar to some of us and totally alien to others of us, and do what only you, O God, can do: bring them with express purpose to the circumstances of our lives, since they are known to you, and you are the one before whom we cannot hide and from whom we need not run. Speak, then, in the stillness, while we wait upon you. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
On this July Fourth weekend it’s surely appropriate that we would find ourselves focusing on these particular verses, and that not by human contrivance in any way. Those of you who are regular with us will know that we’re simply going through this brief study in Philippians. But it is interesting that we have the sentence there in verse 20, “But our citizenship is in heaven.” And there is no question that throughout the country today there will be many sermons preached that seek to combine the notions of land and nation with the issues of Christian living. And these will, in many cases, I’m sure, be very profitable, and it’s certainly something that we could engage in. However, I want simply to continue with the exposition of the text, and I hope that you will realize the wisdom and benefit of that.
Paul is here providing a dramatic contrast between his description in verses 18 and 19 and the description that then follows in verses 20 and 21. The contrast is between two groups: one whom he describes as having as “their destiny … destruction”—you can read that in the opening phrase of verse 19, “Their destiny is destruction”—and those who are described in the opening phrase of verse 20, “[Their] citizenship is in heaven.”
Now, amongst many things in the course of this study, we are confronted by a basic question that I would like for you to ask; pose it for yourself, answer it in the quietness of your own heart and mind, recognizing that you do so before the all-seeing eye of God. And it is this question: Where do I belong? Where do I belong? I may not say this very much in the course of the next few moments, but I would like for you to be constantly reflecting upon it and making it a point of application as we go through these things.
Paul, in the previous verses, had explained that he had a passionate longing to know Christ. He put it in the kind of terminology that may cause those less mature and less stalwart believers to think that they really had no faith at all—that his grasp was so tremendous that their puny hold on Christ was virtually worth nothing. And recognizing that, with skill and with the wisdom of a pastor, he had said in verse 12, “I want you to understand that I haven’t already obtained what I’m longing for; I’m not already perfect,” he said, taking a dig at those who were roaming around the church suggesting that perfection was a possibility in this life. Instead he says, “I do know this: that I have been called, I am being kept, and I’m endeavoring to press on.” And having said that, it’s therefore no surprise that he immediately, in verse 17, encourages his readers to “join with others in following my example.”
Why would he have an example worth following? Simply because he himself was following Christ. First Corinthians 11:1, he puts it expressly; he says, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” And therefore, the example that we are to one another has validity in the Christian life, providing we ourselves are following the example of Christ. If we are, then we have every reason to turn to one another and to say, “Now, follow my example.” Because being saved means being transformed into the likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ. When Paul writes that wonderful chapter in Romans 8, as he gets to the twenty-ninth verse, he talks about those who were known of God by his foreknowledge, and they were “predestined” to what? “To be conformed to the likeness of his Son”—that the purpose of God in redeeming a people that are his very own is to fashion us increasingly to the likeness of Jesus. Paul writes in a similar vein in 2 Corinthians 3 when he talks about “being transformed into his likeness.”
Now, what this highlights for us is something very simple—namely, that the Philippians needed to see the gospel lived out in flesh-and-blood terms. Many of you are involved in a world in which you have the responsibility of training other people. These last few weeks, I have stayed in a whole succession of hotels in places that I can’t even remember. And almost without exception there have been courses going on in those hotels, and I have passed open doorways to see individuals sitting either in front of computer terminals with a teacher in front, or sitting as someone had an overhead projector or a large fiberboard, or whatever it was, and I sometimes would pause and just look in at them to try and get a feel for how they were feeling, and they were taking onboard vast quantities of information. One morning, there were big boxes lying outside one of these rooms, and I looked at the boxes and I said to myself, “I’m glad that I’m not going in there and having to listen to all of that.” And in one case they were trying to explain to individuals how they could successfully sell auto parts. And I thought to myself, “Well, I wonder how much will be achieved as a result of the instruction, and how much hands-on example will be necessary in order for these people to get a grip of this?”
Some of you have been trained or train or are training in the realm of medicine, for example. And there is a tremendous amount of book study; of that there is no question. There are charts and diagrams, there’s chemistry and biology, there’s a wee bit of physics. There’s all kinds of things that have to be memorized—the anatomy, physiology, all kinds of things. But most good doctors will tell you that it was at the point that they donned the white coat—it was on the occasion when they got by the elbow of the physician, who had given them not simply the instruction which they had responded to in their minds but who had established for them an example, so that the way that they take blood pressure even today is as a result of the example that was set; the way they give an injection is a result of that example; the way in which they make an incision as a surgeon is because of the way they learned by example at the hands of a tutor.
Now, it is imperative that, if we’re going to see the gospel transferred into life-changing impact in our generation, we do understand Christian doctrine, that we do learn the Bible, that we do begin to fashion it and fold it into our experience. But beyond that, we need to see it worked out in human experience. That’s where you get that little doggerel,
You’re writing a Gospel,
A chapter each day,
By the deeds that you do,
And the words that you say.
And men read what you write,
Distorted or true;
So what is the Gospel
According to you?
Because in the days that have passed, since we’ve been absent from one another, our lives have either told for or against Jesus Christ. They haven’t been neutral. Our conversation has either commended Christ or detracted from him. Our lifestyle has either drawn people towards a consideration of Christ or has given reason for people to say, “That fellow’s a hypocrite, that girl’s a disaster. I have no interest in listening to anything that comes out of their mouths.”
Now, isn’t it interesting—and this is not the focus of my study, but I want you just to notice it in passing—the opening phrase of verse 17: “Join with others in following my example.” The Christian life is not supposed to be lived on its own. You’re not supposed to live in isolation. And if you’re trying to live your Christian life in isolation, then you will be far the worse as a result of it. Because the whole pattern of existence is that we are knit together in the body of Christ, and we need the example and the encouragement of others.
So there is a friendship factor and there is a clear focus. And the focus of these individuals are “those who [are living] according to the pattern we gave you.” The word that is there for “pattern” is the word tupos in Greek, which also means a blow, or an indentation established as a result of a blow, or a dent such as you get on your car doors—unfortunately here, when you park your car at Parkside. I don’t know who it is that’s going around kicking their car doors open, but you really ought to stop that. Maybe you’re working for one of those people that fix cars or something, you know, and you go around, and you do that. But it really is a shame when you get all your doors dinged up by Christians, you know. Those are tuposes. Those are indentations that are undeniable.
That’s the word that is used here, only in a good way. He says, “These individuals have made marks. And you follow the mark that they have established. Theirs is the pattern. As they follow Christ, so you follow them. If you want to know where to look for examples, look amongst these people, and if you want to know how to set an example, then set it in this way. Live according to the pattern we gave you.” What was “the pattern [they] gave you”? It was the pattern of following the Lord Jesus Christ. And as he followed Christ, so that established the framework for their existence.
Now, having said that, he then goes on to introduce this great contrast in verse 18—these individuals whom he says may be marked by the fact that “their destiny is destruction.” It’s dramatic terminology. You will notice how he is concerned about this in verse 18. He says, “For, as I have often told you before and now say again…” In other words, this is not simply repetition for effect, but he is reiterating for his readers that which is absolutely essential. He says, “I love you,” in verse 4:1, “I long for you, you are my joy, you are my crown. I don’t want anything to happen to you. And because I am so passionately concerned for you, that’s why I am urging you to join others in following my example—not to spoil you, not to minimalize your life, but in order that you might know it in all of its fullness.” And his concern was born out of a heart not of condemnation but out of a heart of compassion: “For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears…”
Now, what is this? From time to time you see people on the television crying. And you get the distinct impression that they were practicing it, the way Ophelia may cry in the barrenness of the loss of the love of Hamlet, and she learns how to conjure up those emotions. Do you think that’s what Paul’s doing here? He says to his amanuensis, to his secretary, “Don’t you think this would be a good point to put in something about tears or crying? And then they could feel bad, you know? And that we could manipulate them with the thought of how we were tearful?” Could never be!
If this was dictated, as it most likely was, Paul has someone at his side. He may be standing or he may be sitting, but he gives him the seventeenth verse. He says, “Write this down: ‘Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.’ Do you have that?”
“I’ve got it.”
“For as I have often told you before and now say again…”
Then there’s a long pause. And the amanuensis looks across at Paul. And she says, “Oh, he’s gone again.” And when she looks across at Paul, his head is in his hands, and his eyes have filled with tears, and they’re just falling down onto the desk or the floor in front of him. And she waits, and eventually he says, “And you should add, ‘I now write to you again, and with tears.’”
You see, this is very, very important. Because the things that he is about to say and the descriptions he is about to give of these individuals have a sting to them. There is a vibrancy to them. There is something which, in an age of tolerance, is very unappealing with the terminology that he gives. And therefore, it’s very important to recognize that it comes out of a heart not of condemnation, but a heart out of genuine compassion. He longs for the preservation of the saints, and he longs for the conversion of the sinners. And he recognizes that his brothers and sisters in Christ in Philippi are going to be exposed to all kinds of teachers. He’s not present; that’s why he’s writing a letter. And in the same way as a father or a mother would care for their children and warn them against that which is the influence around them, so he does that. And he says, “You need to understand, dear ones. I’ve told you before, I’m telling you again; it breaks my heart. But there are many”—notice that word—“many who live as enemies of the cross of Christ.”
Now, notice, he is referring here to individuals who are the teachers coming around. This is not the general run-of-the-mill population of paganism. No, these are people who, with high-sounding terminology and with dramatic giftedness, are seeking to infiltrate and to influence the believers in the church at Philippi. And he says, “Many of them are enemies of the cross of Christ. And the way you will be able to detect this,” he says, “is by checking their integrity. And the way you will be able to understand their integrity is by finding out whether the example they set is in accord with the things that they say. Don’t,” he says, “inherently be overawed by their giftedness. Don’t assume that eloquence is godliness. Don’t assume that the capacity to do things—even miraculous things, even to cast out demons—is an evidence that the fact that these people are truly in Christ.” He says, “Don’t be hoodwinked by any of that.”
Now, when we’re tempted to think that that may be somewhat dramatic—overly dramatic—on the part of the apostle Paul, we need only to turn back to the Gospel of Matthew and listen to the words of Jesus speaking to the people in his day, in Matthew 7:15: “Watch out for false prophets.” False prophets. Do false prophets come into town wearing baseball caps that say, “I am a false prophet”? No. Is the road to hell marked “hell”? No. Is error identified as error? No. The road to hell is marked “heaven,” error is identified as truth, death is positioned as being life, and false teachers look as close to the reality of the true so as to deceive all but the most perceptive. “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s cloth[es]”—so, outwardly you wouldn’t be able to detect it—“but inwardly [they’re] ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.” Not by their gifts, not by their words, not by their wisdom. Not by how dramatic they are, not by how influential they are. Not by how many people come to the services, or how many services there are, or whether they have a building, or one building, or two buildings, or nine buildings. None of that stuff!
He says, “Let’s just think about it horticulturally for a moment. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes? Figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree can’t bear bad fruit, a bad tree can’t bear good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t bear good fruit’s cut down and thrown into the fire.” People are going, “I’m tracking with you all the way down the line, Jesus. Got your example.” And people are turning to one another, looking at one another, knowingly saying, “You know, that’s why we took that tree down just last week.” They look at one another and go, “Got that!” Then Jesus says here, “Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” By their fruit you will recognize them! They came to you with the offer of life? Check their lifestyle.
And then, here, listen to this—and if this doesn’t chill your bones, I don’t know what does: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Not all who profess will go to heaven. Not all who profess faith will continue to the end. The Bible teaches that. There will be spurious professions of faith. There will be individuals—teachers, preachers, pastors—with all the right language and all the apparent identifying features of success, and in the day when heaven is settled, they will not be there. That’s why Paul says, “It is such a passion in my life,” he says, “lest, having preached to others, I myself should be a castaway; lest, having thought that I had built my ministry with gold and silver and precious jewels, I were to get to heaven and find that it was wood and it was hay and it was stubble, and I get in like a shipwrecked sailor with the seat of my pants on fire.”
Well then, if the people who say, “Lord, Lord,” and many of them won’t go into heaven, who will go into heaven? Listen: “Only…” That’s definition, right? Those of you who are mathematical? “Only he who does…” Does.
You say, “But I thought you didn’t have to do anything to go to heaven? I thought you just trusted in Christ?” Absolutely! And having trusted in Christ alone for salvation, the evidence that what has taken place there was actually a divine transaction—rather than a human initiative whereby somebody had a funny feeling in the pit of their stomach, or felt sorry for something that happened the previous week, and wanted somehow or another to get out of their predicament, and so put up their hands, or walked an aisle, or said a prayer, or whatever it was, and it never made one blind bit of difference in their lives—in contrast, those who have been regenerated by the Spirit of God will be identifiable by the fact that they do the will of God.
Now, not a hundred percent perfect. But they’ve been completely recalibrated. Previously, they did their own thing. Previously, they didn’t care. Previously, they pleased themselves. Their whole orientation in life was, “I don’t want to deal with this. I don’t want to experience this. This is what I want to do.” And then God broke into their lives by his Spirit, and his Word came alive to them, and they were born again of the Spirit of God. This was something that God did. It was apparent to them. They weren’t seeking him; he came seeking them. They were lost, and he found them. They were dead, and he made them alive. And as simply as an apple tree produces apples, so their lives began to produce fruit. And it began to produce the fruit of the Spirit, and they began to do the will of him who sent him, who sent Christ.
And then he comes back to it, he says, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’” In other words, “Weren’t we the bigshots?” “[And] then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you [bunch of] evildoers!’”
You see, Paul was far too sensible to assume that everyone who professed to be a teacher was faithful to Christ. And he was far too sensitive to address the issue without the deep feelings that he describes via his tears there in verse 18.
Who are these people, then? These “enemies of the cross of Christ”? Some commentators say that they must be different from the Judaistic legalizers. Because, after all, the Judaizers were concerned about being very legalistic and doing everything properly, whereas these individuals that are described by Paul appear to be at the very other end of the spectrum. One group is saying, “You must do this and you must do that,” and this group over here, by their lives at least, are doing none of that.
I think it’s the same group. I think it’s the same group. Legalism is an attempt by external means to quell and quench the lustfulness of the human heart. And it doesn’t work. That’s why Paul, in the Colossian letter, says, “These things—‘Do not handle! Do not touch!’—they all have an appearance of wisdom, but they have no capacity to prevent an individual from doing that stuff.” And that’s why legalists often have such lustful hearts. How can individuals propound such things from the television, and then be found out in these dreadful circumstances? Telling all these people, “You must do this, and you must do that, and you must keep this, and you must do that, and you’ll never be a proper Christians unless you do, do, do, do, do all those things”—you get the feeling they must be preaching to themselves.
It’s the spirit of the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son. Party time, the boy comes back. Older brother says, “He doesn’t deserve a party; I deserve a party! I’ve been slaving around here.” Servant says, “Well, the party’s on! Come on in!” Brother says, “I’m not going in.” Father comes out and says, “Hey, what’s up? Your brother came back! It’s fabulous.”
Now, you remember, earlier in the story Luke had told how the boy took the stuff that was allotted to him and he went “into a far country” and he “wasted his substance with riotous living.” That’s the kind of catchall phrase. He went away and he had a blast. He had a riot. He lost his money, he lost his self-respect, he lost his friends, he lost the whole shooting match. He came to his senses and he came back. God’s always there for the individual who will come to their senses. Always.
But you won’t get a welcome from the elder brother. No, the elder brother says, “When this son of yours, who went away and wasted all your money with prostitutes…” Who mentioned prostitutes? Where did that come from? It came out of his own dirty, legalistic mind. ’Cause Pharisees will always condemn most vehemently the things that they struggle with most in their personal existence. You will never hear anybody uttering such condemnation of these things as is tied up in pornography on the internet, because he is trying to exorcise his demons, and he thinks if he shouts loudly enough about it and tells everybody else to stop it that somehow or another he will vicariously be stopped. And it will never happen. It doesn’t work. And those individuals are enemies of the cross of Jesus Christ. Because the cross of Jesus Christ says, “I died here for people who will acknowledge that they cannot do it. I died here for people who acknowledge that they have no hope. I died here for individuals who recognize themselves to be in the need of a Savior. But I didn’t die here for smug, bombastic legalists who want to spend their lives explaining to everybody about the fifty thousand rules they need to fulfill.” And if that’s your Christian life, I feel most sorry for you. ’Cause it’s hopeless.
It’s like the book my granny used to give me on old freezing cold Saturday afternoons in Glasgow. I don’t know where she kept it, but she would bring it down with regularity; it was called A Thousand Things a Boy Can Make or Do. And I would see her reaching for it, and I would go, “Oh no, don’t, please don’t. Do not bring it down again, please.” I had said something like “I’m bored” or whatever; she’d go, “Oh! I have an answer for that!” “Oh, yeah. Yeah, I know. I’ve seen it, at least a thousand times.” And I used to leaf through its pages. I couldn’t find one jolly thing that I could either make or do—except maybe take the book and bang her over the head with it.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. You just heard my emphasis on he who does the will of God. I’m not teaching antinomianism. I’m not saying you trust Christ and do what you like. But in between the corrie of legalism and the corrie of license—and corrie is a Scottish word for a small valley on either side of a narrow ridge in a mountain range—in between the corrie of legalism and the corrie of license there is the narrow striding edge which James describes as obedience to “the perfect law of liberty.”
Make me a captive, Lord,
And then I shall be free;
[And] force me to render up my sword,
And I shall conq’ror be.
I sink in life’s alarms
When by myself I stand;
Imprison me within [your] arms,
And strong will be my hand.
This is the great paradox of Christian living: the things to which we feel it is imperative to hold on are the things which will destroy us, and the fearfulness of letting go and trusting in Christ are the very things that will make us.
Well, let me just note with you the way in which these folks are described. They’re described, you will notice in verse 18, as “enemies of the cross of Christ.” The cross is the touchstone of true doctrine and right behavior. If you want to check out a teacher, check out what he says about the cross—the doctrine of the atonement. Does he, for example, say as Schuller does: that in the cross you see how much God loves you and how wonderful a person you really are, and it’s because God has fastened onto how wonderful you are that he has been prepared to be as dramatic as he has in the expression of his love? That’s what he says about the cross, which turns on its very head what the Bible says—namely, that the cross is not as a reward for how wonderful we are and how much potential we have, but the cross is there because of the depth of our human depravity and the extent of our predicament in the fact that we cannot unearth ourself from the hopelessness of our human existence. Want to check a teacher out? Check him on the cross.
Also, “Their god is their stomach.” What does this mean? It’s a graphic picture. Imagine having your stomach as a god. You mean he worshipped his tummy? Well, the word can be used on a broader basis. I think J. B. Phillips has it perfectly when he says, “Their god is their own appetite.” “Their god is their own appetite”—in other words, instead of teaching and living out the doctrine of the cross, they live out their lives, which are marked by self-indulgence.
And consequently, and thirdly, “Their glory is their shame.” In other words, the things of which they should be ashamed, these things become the occasion of their boasting. And, at the end of verse 19, “Their mind is on earthly things”—possessions, reputation, position. This world is the limit of their horizon. And consequently, in the phrase that I’ve stepped over at the beginning of verse 19, “Their destiny is destruction.” “Their destiny is destruction.”
Again, back to Matthew chapter 7, Jesus says, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Ask yourself the question, Where do I belong? Where do I belong? If it’s very important for you always to be with the majority, and that’s how you vote; if it’s very important for you always to be with the majority, and that’s how you establish friendships; it’s important for you always to be with the crowd, and to go with the flow, then the chances are you’re absolutely on the wrong street.
So Jesus says, enter through narrow the gate; it leads to life. There’s only a few find it, and the few that find it are described not as those whose “destiny is destruction,” but as those whose “citizenship is in heaven.”
What a wonderful picture this is! Now, I’ve been enjoying the World Cup; I hope a few of you have as well. I haven’t enjoyed any game more than yesterday afternoon when Croatia beat Germany—not because I wanted Germany to be beaten, but because I wanted Croatia to win. And I couldn’t have Croatia win without Germany getting beaten, so, you know, they had to be beaten. But here, in the last World Cup, there was no Croatia. So they reemerge as Croatia, and they walk onto the world stage of soccer, and they play their hearts out. And if I’d known the national anthem of Croatia yesterday afternoon, I would have jumped up on the couch and I would have sung it out loud, and I’m not even Croatian. I was so pumped! And vicariously, I drew energy from those guys—many of them, in their Catholicism, looking up into heaven, others of them crossing themselves in a posture of prayer, lying down on the grass, kissing and smothering one another. And I said, “Oh, I’d love to be a Croatian right now! It seems so good! Give me a bite of that! Give me a hug! Give me a kiss! I’m a Croatian!”
“No, you’re not; you’re a stinking Scotsman! You got blown out in the first round! You stunk!”
“Yeah, I know. I know.”
See, they’re aliens, these people. They understood it. They were from Roman authorities; they were a garrison town in Philippi. They lived by Roman laws, they wore Roman clothes, they wrote their documents in Latin, their architecture was Romanesque; the whole place looked like Rome, but it wasn’t Rome. And the individuals were living the Roman life absent from the Roman capital. That’s what it is to be a Christian. We’re living the Christian life absent from the Christian capital—which, of course, you will be relieved to know, is not and never will be London or Washington, DC. The capitol steps are far higher and far grander. And when we live as aliens and as peculiar people, we’ll make an impact.
Do you realize the potential that you have? And are you living it out? Have you focused on where you belong? And are you letting the people around you know that you come from another place? That you’re unprepared to let them swallow you up in the morass of contemporary culture? That you’re prepared to say, “I am different. I come from a different place, I march to a different drum beat, I serve a different commander, I am constrained by different impulses”?
You see, the great potential of Parkside Church is as you get ready to walk out into another Monday. And just go out and be peculiar, like you are. I’m peculiar, but I’m doubly peculiar. And peculiar number one works against me, because people—my neighbors—think it’s peculiar that I would do what I do. And therefore, I’m already one stage removed from reality. You don’t suffer that sling and arrow. You’re pretty much the same, you know. So you can do a far better job of being peculiar. And if your citizenship is in heaven, you won’t have to work at it. ’Cause people will say, “Hey, I can tell by the way you walk that you got soul, baby. I can tell by the way you talk that something has happened to you.” See how different this is?
Our citizenship is in heaven. They have a god that they have to feed. Their worship goes down and in; our worship goes up and out. There’s the contrast: “Your destiny is destruction; my citizenship is in heaven. I come from a different world. You worship downwards and inwards; I worship upwards and outwards. Your god is going to pass away, it will disintegrate; my God is Jesus, he’s the resurrection and the life.”
Let me ask you again, where do you belong? Are you asking yourself that question, Where do I belong? Where do I belong in this picture? Where am I?
And let me ask you this: What future is there in the object of your devotion? What future is there in the object of your devotion—the thing that makes you tick, the thing that drives your existence? If it is your body, then I got news for you, Mr. Muscles: Atrophy is setting in. Gravity is taking over. Pretty soon, you’re going to look like… me! Now, there’s a dreadful thought! But I’m never going to look like you. I’m going to look better than you! Why? ’Cause I’m getting a new body. And I’m pretty darn certain it’s not going to look like this one. I’m going to get a proper one. But if that’s what gives you it, you know: Buy those mirrors and everything. “Oh-ho! Here I am!” That big leather belt. Don’t give me that leather belt stuff! What is that leather belt? You showoff! I saw you picking stuff up. I got salt blocks in my basement in my previous house were heavier than some of that stuff you’re picking up. … Hey, I applaud your commitment. Is that what you’re putting your life in? You’re in deep trouble.
Is it a portfolio? How did it do last week? Do you think it will do better this week? What if you die before you bring it out?
You living for passion, party, do your thing? Let me tell you something: you can have a lot of fun doing that. ’Cause the Bible says that you can “enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season”—“for a season”—but they’ll eat you up. They’ll shut you down. They’ll squeeze the life out of you.
Where do you belong?
What are you living for? In the ’60s the Kinks posed that question in a song. I can only remember two lines from it—disparate lines from two different verses—but they ask the question in the chorus, “What am I living for?” And then the one answer was, “Two-roomed apartment on the second floor.” And then, in the other verse that I couldn’t remember, the rest of it said, “What am I living for? A pint of bitter and the girl next door.” In other words, beer and women.
Watch the World Cup. Watch the commercials for Budweiser. Oh, yeah, they’ve got some nice ones in there—the cozy ones with the Clydesdale horses. … Nice little horse. They’ve got one horse winking to the other horse. Totally bogus! It’s how they suck in—you know, they make it the grannies and everybody feel comfortable with that. Then they cut to the scene with the four girls sitting in the room, and one says, “I hear they think about it once every eight seconds.” And the four guys are looking over their shoulder. It’s a complete titillation, in recognition of those whose god is their stomach and who will never find satisfaction down that street.
Now, in contrast—and our time is gone—the Christian lives with expectation. The Christian undergoes a transformation. We’re going to have new bodies; they’ll be “like his glorious body.” These came from the dust; those will be heavenly bodies. These are weakened by sin, by desire, they’re subject to breakdown, to disintegration; but we’re going to get a whole new deal. And then he applies it—4:1: “Therefore,” he says, “in light of this, let me tell what to do: live for the things that will last. Live for the things that would last. This is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends. Live for the long term. Don’t live for the short-term satisfaction.” Indeed, to live for immediate gratification and short-term satisfaction will always, ultimately, to be finding none.
That’s why, again in the ’60s, Mick Jagger cries out his sorry refrain and gives voice to the hearts of a generation: “And I can’t get no satisfaction. And I’ve tried, and I’ve tried, and I’ve tried, and I’ve tried.” Remember that strangulated cry? But I never found it funny then, and I don’t find it funny now. ’Cause you look into the eyes of the people that are shoving those carts next to you in the grocery store—and the other night, as Mark and I walked round Annapolis in the dying embers of the day, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of teenagers and young people milling around, just lost and vacant and empty. They’re not coming to the average church. There’s not a thing that we could dream up to do that would make it appear likely that they should come, for any of those kids. I don’t blame ’em for five seconds. I wouldn’t come either. But you know what? Maybe if you were my friend, and I discovered that you had a citizenship in heaven, and that you served a living God, and that you were looking forward to a day when your life would be suddenly transformed and changed—then you know what? I might just snuggle up close to you and ask you to give me a reason, give me an answer for the hope that you have.
These are urgent and pressing times, for the church in general and for our church specifically. The impact of the gospel in the city of Cleveland, under God, is directly related to your willingness to be peculiar. And I’m telling you this because it’s true. Because Christ will return, and the day of opportunity will have passed. Ask yourself, Where do I belong?
Father, out of all of these words, speak into our lives, I pray—as a church, as individuals. Whatever is unhelpful, whatever is untrue, let it be forgotten. Whatever is of yourself, may it find a resting place.
Grant us no satisfaction to our restlessness, save the satisfaction which comes from finding, as Augustine said, our rest in you. As we move around under the influence of those who are the enemies of the cross, whose god is their stomach, whose minds are on earthly things, whose destiny is destruction, save us from a spirit of condemnation. Grant to us a spirit of compassion, genuine concern. Grant the fact that we realize the wonder of our citizenship being in heaven and of awaiting a Savior from there, even the Lord Jesus Christ, that it wouldn’t make us smug, but it’d make us sensitive, sensible, so that we might live to see unbelieving people become committed followers of Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
 Philippians 3:12–14 (paraphrased).
 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NIV 1984).
 Matthew 7:16–19 (paraphrased).
 1 Corinthians 9:27 (paraphrased).
 1 Corinthians 3:11–15 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 7:21 (NIV 1984).
 Colossians 2:21, 23 (paraphrased).
 Luke 15:25–32 (paraphrased).
 Luke 15:13 (KJV).
 Luke 15:30 (paraphrased).
 James 1:25 (KJV).
 George Matheson, “Make Me a Captive, Lord” (1890).
 See Robert H. Schuller, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation (Waco, TX: Word, 1982), 14–15, 66–67.
 Matthew 7:13–14 (NIV 1984).
 Johnny Nash, “You Got Soul” (1968). Paraphrased.
 Hebrews 11:25 (KJV).
 Ray Davies, “Dead End Street” (1966). Paraphrased.
 Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (1965).
 1 Peter 3:15 (paraphrased).
 Augustine, The Confessions 1.1.
Copyright © 2021, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.