Summary: What’s the cure when we get apathetic about God and are on fire for ourselves?
In all your reading of the New Testament, have you ever seen the Apostle Paul so emotional? Paul was in tears as he wrote his letter to the Christians at Philippi, because they were living as if they were pagans. They were living as if earth was their true home, not heaven.
Paul wrote, “I have often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” He was saying, “Why are you living as citizens of this dying world instead of the citizens of heaven? Why is your mind fixated on things earthly?”
Paul had noticed that the Christians there were tossing away their eternal citizenship. Think of someone who once couldn’t stay away from church to receive the gifts of Jesus, who now doesn’t even give a flip about church and what happens here. He may even be exchanging his destiny of life in heaven for a destiny of destruction in hell. It can happen so quickly to any of us. That’s why Paul was weeping.
What happens? To use Paul’s own words, our stomach becomes our god. He wasn’t just talking about overeating. He was using an expression. Having our stomachs as our god means that we live trying to satisfy our every whim and desire.
When we live based on what seems fun, what feels good, what turns us on, what our sinful flesh craves--even within Christ’s Church--then our god is our stomach. When you start thinking, “I’ll do whatever it takes to get what I want out of life, to do whatever I want,” then your god is your stomach. That’s having your mind on things earthly and not living like a citizen of heaven.
“All right,” you say, “so what’s the cure when we get apathetic about God and are on fire for ourselves?” Many Christians say, “You need to work harder at living like a citizen of heaven.” And our current-day, American Christianity always seems to offer some fad to help you do that. About 15 years ago, we had Promise Keepers to whip us men into shape. Then “What Would Jesus Do” came along.
With that you were supposed to ask, “What would Jesus do?” and then do it. But often we would have no idea what Jesus would do. And so that thinking resulted in such ridiculous ideas like, “What car would Jesus drive?” A few years ago, everybody was raving about The Purpose-Driven Life.
Promise Keepers says you need to keep your promises. “What Would Jesus Do” says you need to do what Jesus did. The Purpose-Driven Life says you need to take these steps to have a more-meaningful life. They all tell you what you need to do to change your life, to please God in some way, to make Him smile on you.
Do you see what’s wrong with all that? They all get you to take your eyes off Jesus. When that happens, when you no longer fix your eyes on Jesus, the founder and finisher of your faith, you go awry. You then try to please God by your behavior instead of recognizing that Jesus did and does it all.
Here’s the huge problem with all those Christian fads: nothing you do will change your life enough to please God. Nothing you do will change your life enough to please God! Promise Keepers, “What Would Jesus Do,” The Purpose-Driven Life, or whatever other Christian fad you can think of only changes people on the outside. But they don’t take away our sin on the inside. And that’s the problem.
If we’re going to remain heavenly citizens, what we need isn’t a better outside--we need a better inside. We need forgiveness. That’s why Jesus commissioned His Apostles to be in the forgiveness business--not the Pharisee business!
Jesus told His apostles before He ascended into heaven to focus on these four things: disciple by baptizing and teaching (Mt 28:19-20), forgive and retain sins (Jn 20:21-23), preach repentance into the forgiveness of sins (Lk 24:47), and the Lord’s Supper (Mt 26:28). And what do they all have in common? The forgiveness of sins! For even Christians still need Jesus to be their Savior from sin.
And that’s just what Jesus came to be--your Savior. Jesus came to die on a cross in your place and rise again. Jesus came to suffer on earth so He could buy your citizenship in heaven. And He comes to you today in Word and Sacrament, to distribute and continue to give you His cross-won forgiveness. [pause]
Paul begins our Epistle text by saying, “Join with others in following my example.” Doesn’t that even sound worse than, “What would Jesus do?” That sounds like we’re supposed to ask, “What would Paul do?”
Ah, but you see, Paul isn’t asking you to mimic his morality--or even Jesus’ morality. He’s telling you to do what he did. And what did he do? Paul threw in the trash heap every idea that we can do something to improve our standing with God.