Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.
Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.
For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. “
There was a man who wanted so much to be part of the air force in Australia. He was turned down and did a number of things over the years, including some petty theft. One day he bought a full officers outfit including some medals from an army surplus. He talked his way onto a base, getting a temporary pass. For the next 10 months he would visit the officers club and swap stories with other brass. Finally someone did a routine check and found no history of him previous to the 10 months – busted.
He looked the part, talked the part, but he wasn’t the real deal. There was no integrity to his position. During WW2 a man from Belgium sold 3 famous paintings to the Nazis for a lot of money. After the war this came to light and he was in serious trouble for collaborating with the enemy. He told the judge the paintings were fake and that he had painted them. The judge sent him to his studio with an escort of police and told him to paint another one – which he promptly did. The charges for collaboration were dropped, and then they charged him with forgery – busted. His integrity and those of his paintings were worthless.
The last 2 weeks we have been talking about what it means to be a follower of Jesus, about what Paul means when he says in Philippians 3:10 “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death”. Today we are going to look at that phrase at the end, “conformed to His death.”
This phrase does not mean I want to be literally crucified with Jesus. The verb “conformed” means to have a practical apprehension of the death of the carnal self. What was the Incarnation about? Philippians 2 5ff makes it abundantly clear that for Jesus it wasn’t about His self, it was about His Father’s will, it was for you and I. He died to self long before He was crucified. Being conformed to His death refers to allowing Jesus to control our direction. This does not mean that we turn our back on our family. It does mean we look at them with the eyes of Jesus, that they are part of our stewardship and we need to show them love, help them see Jesus in us. We don’t live in a country with persecution. Our turning to faith does not mean that we are cast out or under a death penalty. If someone denies us because of our faith, it is their ignorance and controlling spirit at work, and if we give up Jesus for that we have made a poor choice.
While I was at the Prayer retreat I was talking with Pastor Manoj from Winnipeg. He told me this story of a Muslim from another country that came to Canada and stayed illegally. He was talking to a lawyer about claiming a refugee status. The lawyer said you need a good reason, not just because you want to. So he said what if I said I was a Christian and would be killed if I returned. The lawyer said that might do it, but you had better study up on what Christianity is in case the judge asks you some questions. So he set aside 2 weeks. The first week he read and learned… and nothing happened. During the second week, however, he started to cry as he understood the grace of God, and he actually became a Christian. As he was going for his hearing, he no longer cared if he was successful in his bid to stay in Canada, because he had found a truth much deeper than anything he had ever known – something he was willing to put aside freedom and even life for.
So, what drives your life? Who sits on that throne, who controls your direction?
We have asked this question, and I trust you have dealt with it; that you have answered it by saying to God, “I surrender all.” What then? How does this new life work? I want to give you the process by which God works in and through us most of the time. Understand first that the goal of God now that He is in your life is to make you holy like Himself. You were created to be in relationship with God and the fundamental outworking of that is holiness. When we see God talking about purpose and why we were created we see this. Paul in the 3rd chapter of Philippians says that in gaining Christ he is looking for a righteousness that comes from God, not one derived from doing stuff. It is God at work that brings righteousness.
Romans 8:28-30 is used often by people who say God predestines some people to be Christians and others to not be Christians. This is not what these verses are saying. Listen to them closely: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” Do you hear it? It says “He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son…” When man comes to God, when that relationship is restored and sin is no longer a barrier, we are to become conformed to the image of Jesus. Our life is to reflect the life of Jesus. We are to live lives of love and acceptance and proclaim the grace of God. That is what Jesus did!
Now, I have mentioned this before, but the process is this:
Based on the decision of following Christ, our behaviour changes. Notice the change in behaviour happens as a result of the surrender to God, not the other way around. Don’t try to stop your anger or your swearing and think that will get you to God. Turn to God, confess your sin, ask Him for strength, claim the promises of the Scripture and go out and live as a new creation. Look at the following passages at home:
2 Corinthians 10:5ff
Consider these three things: 1) the decision (I surrender all), 2) what we stop doing (the “sin” stuff), 3) what we start doing instead (the “holy” stuff).
The stock market, we are told, is the best place to invest in the long term. When you look at it over decades it has a great record. The reality of life, though, is lived day to day. At the start of the Great Depression in 1929 many people killed themselves because of the crash. Life was hard. This past fall we have been taken back to those times and the economy is pretty rough for a lot of people. The Christian life is great, God is love, the ultimate victory is His, but the reality is we are citizens of 2 worlds – heaven and earth. The tension between these two is very strong at times. Being conformed to His death doesn’t necessarily mean our physical circumstances will change for the better. Israel cried out in bondage and slavery for hundreds of years before they were sent Moses to lead them out. Joseph, the only major character in the Old Testament where we see no sin, was betrayed by his brothers and almost killed, being sold into slavery instead. He was falsely accused by Potpher’s wife and thrown into the dungeon in Egypt. He was forgotten by the Pharaoh’s cup bearer for two more years as he languished in chains.
Understand that God’s blessing is rooted in the spiritual realm. This world is temporary and will pass away. The presence of God is eternal. We are guaranteed eternal life with God in heaven, not prosperity and health in this world. Does this mean God is of no use until we die? Don’t make that mistake, for Jesus is the answer for the world today. Being conformed to His death does mean that we can walk each step of this life, whether it be on a mountain top or in a dark valley, with our Creator. The One who knows us, who weeps when we weep as He watches His wonderful creation writhe in pain and violence as a result of sin. Read Psalm 23 in conclusion:
The LORD is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Don’t you want a Shepherd like that looking out for you?