Knowing Christ

“The goal of the Christian life is not to become perfect but to know Jesus as a close, personal friend. The depth of this relationship is fully dependent on our personal trust in the Lord. The greater the trust, the closer and more powerful the relationship.”

The goal of the Christian life is not to become perfect but to know Jesus as a close, personal friend. The depth of this relationship is fully dependent on our personal trust in the Lord. The greater the trust, the closer and more powerful the relationship. As with any friendship, there are certain events that cause this friendship to grow stronger. Usually it is difficulty that causes our human friendships to grow in trust, and this is true of our relationship with the Lord.

Michelle and I spent our first year of marriage in Virginia Beach. I was working as the Conference Coordinator and Graduate Assistant for the missions department while Michelle worked at the Christian Broadcasting Network. Toward the end of that year as we were planning to take our next step and move to Washington D.C. to work with the SDB church there, a friend of ours pulled us aside and said that she had a “word” from the Lord for us. During that time I was learning a lot about the spiritual gift of prophecy and so I was very excited to hear what the Lord was saying to us. What she told us, however, was not exciting. She said that the Lord was leading us into the desert.

Now to understand prophecy we need to know that the scripture teaches that prophecy today is not authoritative like the prophecy in the Bible. In addition the scripture teaches that when a person gives a “word”, if it is from the Lord, he will confirm it. The confirmation is ultimately that it comes true. This is how we know that a word of prophecy is from the Lord. For Michelle and I this word from the Lord came true in a huge way. For the next 4 years we felt as though we were in a spiritual desert. At times it was excruciatingly painful.

We look back on that time and refer to it now as the desert. Yet, in the desert the Lord was doing a work in us that could never be accomplished anywhere else. He was forging in us a relationship that would stand the tests of this world. As we agonized and stressed about our situation, we learned to turn to each other and to the Lord in ways that we never had done before.

I begged the Lord to move us on from the church we were serving. For a year and a half I begged him almost daily. Then the Lord’s word came to me, “When it’s time to go, I’ll let you know.” From that point on, even though it was still not fun, I started to become patient. I began to trust that the Lord knew what he was doing on our behalf. He didn’t take a vacation. He didn’t forget about us. He had us right where he wanted us.

It’s easy to trust the Lord when the pressure is off, but unless a relationship goes through the fire, that trust will be superficial at best. All relationships are based on trust. The Lord’s hope is that we have a close relationship with him, and so our personal trust and reliance on him must grow stronger.

In order to grow in trust we must first entrust our secrets to each other. How can we do that with the Lord who knows everything? We do it by being honest with him. We bring all of our self to him. All of our fears, desires, hopes and dreams, all that we have done well and all that we have done badly. Before we come to him, however, we need to believe that he exists and that he hears us and answers us. Then we must believe that it is a good thing to know him.

We must believe that he is more concerned about us as a person than about punishing us for our sins. This is hard for many people because the world they live in is full of blame, guilt and shame. It’s hard because that’s all that they know, so they are afraid that God is like that too. Most people probably don’t even put all that together. They just have a picture of God as a being that wants to strike them down. In their human logic they think that if they just avoid God as best they can, they can avoid the blame and guilt and shame. It never works like that.

When it comes down to it, all of us have to take a step of faith to come back home to the Lord. Just like the prodigal son. He came back home because home was far better than the world he was living in. He had no expectation that his father would take him back. He just hoped that his father would hire him as a servant. In the son’s twisted logic, he still thought to earn the right to live his life. He was clueless to the truth that his father was always and only about a relationship with him. The father wouldn’t allow his son to work for him for wages because his relationship with his son was never about earning the right to know him. Besides the father’s perspective was that everything he had belonged to his sons. Everything.

This is the mindset of our heavenly Father. He wants us to know that we cannot work to gain anything that is of ultimate worth from him. Instead he wants to give it all to us. Yet the “all” is really just knowing him as a close friend. Nothing else comes close to being as precious and valuable. This is what the apostle Paul, the writer of the book of Philippians, learned. This is the mindset reset that the Lord did in him. Paul’s words to us today are just as true as when he wrote them in about 60 AD.

“that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”

Philippians 3:10-12

Knowing the power of his resurrection.

To know Jesus more means that we know what his resurrection did for us. There is a guarantee for us in the Lord’s resurrection. It gives us assurance for our own future eternal life. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead then we would have zero hope for our own future.

His empowering presence in us (by faith) also gives us hope for our own transformation into the likeness of Jesus.  Because he lives in us it means that we can know him in all circumstances, whether that’s the highs or the lows, whether we see his supernatural power or we go through suffering. In all these things this relationship which God initiated, he is powerful enough to grow it to be stronger, more life-giving, more joy-filled, more fulfilling and purposeful.

Sharing in his sufferings.

Suffering on behalf of Christ is the ordinary lot of believers. We follow Christ in all things including his journey to the cross. We have our own cross to bear. The Lord Jesus said that we need to carry our cross “daily.” (Luke 9:23) Although we do our best to avoid suffering and carrying our cross, Paul has a completely different mind on the matter. He connects knowing Jesus with sharing in his sufferings.

Here’s the deal: unless we recognize how valuable this gift of knowing Jesus Christ is, we are going to miss knowing God’s love for people. We can’t know how valuable it is without ourselves knowing the cost. This doesn’t mean that Jesus needs us to suffer in order to save people. Absolutely not! He does all of the saving! Listen, no one is going to suffer for something that they don’t value. They will just walk away. But we know Jesus in a powerful way when we face suffering, for his sake, and we realize in those moments that any pain we experience pales in comparison to the gift of knowing the Lord.

We also share in his sufferings so that the significance of Christ’s death is manifested to the world. All of the apostles except John were martyred rather than renounce the idea that Jesus was God in the flesh, resurrected and returning again to forever be with the people who by faith know him. Even death is more preferable to a true Christian than renouncing Jesus, and this is a powerful message to the rest of the world. So then, sharing in his sufferings causes us to know him more, his glory and wisdom and purposes.

Becoming like him in his death.

In his death the Lord was conformed to the will of God his Father. Likewise, our transformation into being like him follows the same pattern. The pattern is death to our own will and desires. Life, even as God teaches us through nature with seeds having to die before they sprout, comes after death.

In his death the Lord had to endure suffering. Likewise we also endure suffering for his sake. We count it all joy because we know what the Lord is doing – he is forming in us perseverance so that, as James says, we may be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:4) The Father is transforming us into the likeness of Jesus. Nothing can be greater in worth than to know Christ, and to know Christ means both the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings.

Attaining the resurrection from the dead.

Although it appears that the future resurrection may be in doubt by Paul’s phrasing, this is not the case. The means of resurrection for Paul is either in transformation (ie. Conformity to Christ’s death through his sufferings) or in resurrection (ie. Jesus comes back to earth in his second coming and Paul won’t experience a physical death). Either way is good for Paul.

This is Paul’s way of moving the Philippians towards standing firm in their faith regardless of their present sufferings which they faced on behalf of Jesus. While they stand firm in the present they must not lose their focus and anticipation of their future resurrection. The complete knowing Christ is not yet and only will happen at the final resurrection at Christ’s return.

Pressing on to make it our own.

So to know Christ in the present means to be conformed to his death. Paul says he hasn’t yet made it, he’s not complete in knowing the Lord, but he presses on, through the trials and suffering, because nothing else is of greater value than knowing the Lord Jesus Christ.

Whether in this life or in the life to come the goal is to know Christ. The gospel is not fire insurance so that we can be rescued from sin in order to do whatever we want. The gospel is the means by which we clearly see that Jesus is life, and to know him is the purpose for which we were created. Anything else falls short of the glory of God.

This pressing on to make it his own happens only because Jesus has made Paul his own. Thus even the pressing on only happens because the Lord has grabbed a hold of him. It is therefore not dependent on human effort, instead on God and his purposes.

“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.”

Philippians 3:13-16

Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.

What is the goal? What is the pursuit? It is Christ – to know him. To know him is the prize. The pressing on does not center on “gaining” Christ. That has already happened. There is no danger of losing a relationship with the Lord in Paul’s words.

A mature Christian understanding knows that there is more of the Lord to discover. Instead of pressing on, however, many Christians become content with their past experience of the Lord. They settle for the past instead of looking forward to the future. Because of fear or hurts they lack the faith to trust that there is more of the Lord to know.

When Paul says to forget the past, this does not mean that our understanding of the Lord is wrong and needs to be discarded. He encourages us to hold on to what we have attained. Instead, we need to let go of the mindset of the good old days in our relationship with the Lord. Yes, we may have had a tremendous time of growth and faith in the Lord in the past. But if the Lord is leading us to walk through the valley of the shadow of death it is because there is greater glory on the other side.

“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 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, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

Philippians 3:17-21

Imitating Paul

If we are to maintain our focus on the prize (Christ) then we must follow the example of others who are also pursuing Christ as Paul did. This requires that we seek out relationships of encouragement and accountability as well as seeking examples in the greater Christian community of those who are pursuing the Lord.

The reason why we need to do this is that there are many examples all around us of those who do not pursue the Lord. In fact, even without realizing it, they can be enemies of the Lord. How is that possible? Because their minds are not reset on Christ. Their minds on focused on earthly things.

There are lots of “good people” whose minds are focused on earthly things. Yet, instead of being taken hold of by the Lord, they are taken hold of by their own desires. Paul uses the metaphor of their “belly” as their god. It refers to not just food as the director of their lives but any kind of desire of the body.

The reason why they are enemies of the “cross” is because they have not embraced their trials and sufferings as the means by which they come to know the Lord. The Christian or Christ-like life is a life of death to self instead of a life of self-indulgence. Self-indulgence is not just giving into food, or accumulating possessions, or doing drugs or living in the grip of alcohol or things like these, it is also simply living by what self wants instead of what the Lord wants.

We may be an enemy of the cross because we have not yet submitted our life to what God wants. There is hope for us. It comes by confessing our sin of being in charge of our life. It comes by turning to Christ and submitting to his direction. This is not about being good enough. It’s about cutting off the mindset that we are in control of our lives.

Setting our minds on heavenly things

Although we are waiting in anticipation of a new world where we will experience fully the glory of God, in this world we must learn to live as citizens of the future world. In time we will be transformed. Our physical bodies will be changed for bodies that don’t wear out. Our spiritual bodies will be glorious and no longer subject to the temptations of this life. Though we are not yet there, if we think of ourselves as citizens of heaven, our lifestyles will be the kind that will be examples for others to follow as they pursue knowing the Lord.

Last week I encouraged you to seek out relationships that will encourage you in the Lord and keep your mindset where it should be. I encourage you again this week to seek the Lord for this. We must stand together in the Lord or we will all fall separately. Are you in a Bible study? How can you press on to know the Lord if you are not pursuing the very means that he gave you to know him?