December 6, 2013

Pressing on to Holiness

by Mike Riccardi

“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”
– Philippians 3:20–21 –

Citizens of Heaven_T_NVPaul has been exhorting the Philippians to follow his example (Phil 3:17) in pressing on in the race of pursuing sanctification (Phil 3:12–14). In these verses, he gives two reasons, or motivations, that the believer in Jesus should be pressing on with all our might in our fight for holiness.

Our Present Position

The word “our” in that opening phrase is thrown all the way to the very front of the sentence in the original in order to show an emphatic contrast. Sensuality, shamelessness, and worldliness characterize the enemies of the cross (Phil 3:18–19). But as for us, Paul says, our citizenship is in heaven. And because of our present position as citizens, enrolled on the register of the Heavenly Kingdom, our lives must be ruled and governed by the laws of that blessed realm.

And the Philippians would have understood this imagery of “citizenship” immediately. According to Acts 16:12, Philippi was a Roman colony. And the historical sources tell us that Philippi enjoyed an elite status in the Roman empire called the ius Italicum—which is to say that it was governed as if it was on Italian soil. Philippians enjoyed the full rights and privileges of Roman citizenship as if they had been born there themselves. And they were proud of that status. They spoke the Romans’ language, they copied the Romans’ architecture, and they even adopted the way the Romans dressed. Everything about their way of life was governed by a kingdom which they were citizens of but were not presently living in.

And so Paul latches on to that reality and says, “Brothers, you may glory in your Roman citizenship. But you must recognize that you are citizens of an infinitely greater kingdom: the Kingdom of Heaven itself! You have your birthright there, for you were “born from above” (John 3:3). And though you remain on this earth, you are nevertheless enrolled on the heavenly register as citizens of that realm. Your names are in the book of life, Philippians chapter 4 verse 3. And you are, presently, seated in the heavenlies with Christ (Eph 2:6)! Your imperishable and undefiled inheritance is reserved in heaven (1 Pet 1:4). Your great and final reward is in heaven (Matt 5:12). Your treasure is stored up in heaven (Matt 6:20).

And so there may be people who have abandoned the pursuit of holiness (Phil 3:18–19), but they belong to the realm in which sin rules, and so their conduct is determined by sin. But our citizenship, friends, is in heaven—the realm where Christ Jesus rules as Lord. And so your conduct must be determined by His Lordship.”

And so the point is: if we presently belong to a kingdom that is distinguished in every way by holiness, we ought to live holy lives as citizens of that kingdom in this heavenly colony here on earth that we call the Church.

Our Future Hope

But not only does Paul spur us on to pursue holiness because of our present position. We are also motivated to pursue Christlikeness because of our future hope. Paul goes on to say, “…from [heaven] also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” And when Christ appears, what is it that Paul emphasizes that He’ll do? He will “transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory.”

And if you are in Christ, friends, you know what it is to groan (2 Cor 5:1–2, 4; Rom 8:23), being burdened by the weakness of our flesh as a result of sin. Our bodies are not inherently sinful; they are not merely a prison which we long to escape. Adam and Eve were created perfectly in the image of God and they were both soul and body. But ever since Adam fell our bodies have reaped the corruption of that seed of disobedience and rebellion. It is because of sin that our bodies decay, and are beset with sickness and infirmity, and will finally succumb to death.

ResurrectionAnd of course, we groan not only under the physical weakness of our body, but we groan in a body that is still beset with sin itself. And so we eagerly await the coming of our Savior, because He will transform our bodies so that they are conformed even to the body of His own glory. He will literally banish sin from our bodies! The answer to Paul’s cry in Romans 7:24—“Who will save me from the body of this death?”—is answered in this text. We eagerly await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Just as Christ’s resurrection is the guarantee of our resurrection, so is His resurrected and glorified body the guarantee of our resurrected and glorified bodies. As we have borne the weakness and the infirmity of the image of the earthy man, we will one day bear the power and the glory of the image of the heavenly Man, the last Adam (1 Cor 15:42–49). The very nature of our Savior’s final work of salvation at His coming will be to transform our sinful bodies into sin-free, glorified bodies! This is the very work He’s coming to do! To finally purge us from all sin!

And if we eagerly await that, Paul argues, how can we do anything less than fight sin with all our might here and now? If that is the great destiny of my body as it experiences such consummated salvation in Christ, how can I presently yield my body and its members as instruments to unrighteousness?

May it be that our present position as citizens of heaven, and our future hope of glorified, resurrected bodies, cause us to press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth
in which righteousness dwells.
Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these,
be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.
– 2 Peter 3:13–14 –

 We know that when He appears, we will be like Him,
because we will see Him just as He is.
And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him
purifies himself, just as He is pure.
– 1 John 3:2–3 –

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.
  • Brian Morgan

    Another good post. I appreciate the recent articles on our practical holiness. So many in the theologically conservative circles have placed such an emphasis on the positional sanctification, that I fear we have diminished the call to the practical sanctifying work of the Spirit. This out of balance message is the basis of much of the weakness in the witness of the church in our day. We must be avoid either extreme of the picture. One of which states “I am holy in Christ, and therefore I have no responsibility in the matter at all,” or the other side “If I will but keep this list of do’s and don’ts then I will really be spiritual.” May the truth of scripture be our anthem. He has paid our sin debt, given us victory over the power of sin, future and present. By that resurrecting power of the Holy Spirit, we are to make no provision for the flesh (Rom 13:14), we are to no longer live unto sin (Rom 6:2), all to better reflect the character of Christ to the world (Matt 5:16). How do we do this? Only by our position in Christ. Who gets the credit? He does, it’s all about Him! That is Liberty! Sorry, got a bid wordy. Have a great weekend brother!

    • Thanks Brian! No need to apologize, my friend! Comments like yours are the best kind!

  • Really enjoyed the message of this one! Thank you.

    • Always grateful for your faithful readership, Melissa.

  • Elhanan

    One of the more direct admonitions for pursuing holiness is given in Hebrews 12:14 where it says to seek holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Seeing that this imperative is directed at the Hebrew brethren who are already positionally holy, the writer of Hebrews must have in mind the practical aspects of our holiness. If that is the case, then does the absence or lack of holiness in our lives ever preclude us from being with the Lord since we then fall short?

    • I think the point of Hebrews 12:14 is to say that practical sanctification is the necessary fruit of forensic justification. The purpose of Christ’s saving the Christian is to purify a people for Himself (Titus 2:14), or, from the Father’s perspective, to conform His people into the image of His Son (Rom 8:29).

      So yes, there is a practical holiness without which no one will see the Lord, because the lack of that holiness will be the evidence that no true salvation ever took place.

      • Elhanan

        Yes, agree with you that there exists those who are not genuine converts to begin with. However the context of Heb 12 indicates that the author is not directing his warnings to those who are not of the faith. He specifically refers to them as “children,” and God as their “father” who disciplines his children. Therefore one can conclude that the warning of verse 14 is directed at genuine believers – not those who were never saved in the first place. This warning to the Hebrew brethren is reminiscent and consistent with Paul’s warning to the brethren in Rome: “Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” Rom 8:12-13. These conditional statements by Paul indicate that spiritual death is indeed possible for those believers who continue to sow to the flesh which shows an absence or lack of holiness in their lives.

        • Well, you’ve got to keep in mind the whole occasion for the writing of the epistle to the Hebrews. It is not written to believers only or to unbelievers only, but to a mix of those Jewish professing Christians who, under the threat of Christian persecution, are being tempted to revert back to their Judaism in order to avoid the suffering that may come. That’s why the author continuously displays the bankruptcy and ineffectual nature of Judaism to deal with sin, and encourages perseverance.

          So, you have professing believers, some of whom would show themselves to be genuine and some of whom, sadly, would show themselves to be false. Those who give up on the pursuit of sanctification are those who were never true believers to begin with. They are those, as John says, who would go out from us because they were never truly of us (1 John 2:19).

          It is not possible for one who has truly been regenerated to “die spiritually,” because such would only demonstrate the impotence of the Father to keep them. But of course, Jesus says, the Father is greater than all and no one can snatch His sheep out of His hand (John 10:29). Jesus is so great a Savior that He shall lose none of whom the Father has given to Him, but shall raise Him up on the last day (John 6:39). The One who began the good work of salvation in us, and who is jealous for His own honor and glory, will not allow Himself to undergo the shame of the builder who began to build but did not finish (cf. Lk 14:28-30), but will indeed perfect that work of salvation unto the day of Christ Jesus (Phil 1:6).

          Indeed, those whom He justified, these will He also glorify (Rom 8:30). And it is the certainty of our heavenly citizenship (Phil 3:20) — that our names are presently written in the register of the kingdom of heaven, and in the book of life (cf. Phil 4:3) — and the certainty of our future hope of glorification (Phil 3:21), which gives us the strength to follow Paul’s example (Phil 3:17) in the lifelong pursuit of holiness (Phil 3:12-14). The bottom would fall out from under Paul’s entire argument if our names could be erased from that register and from that book, or if our future hope of a resurrection body were anything short of guaranteed by the very power of God.

          In fact, that’s precisely what he says in verse 21 — that the power by which He will transform our bodies of humiliation into conformity with the body of His glory is the same power by which He is able to subject all things to Himself. If He can make every molecule of the universe obey, He certainly can keep His own.

          • Elhanan

            While what you say about the background of the Hebrews epistle is generally true, the pertinent question in this passage is: Does the specific context indicate that the writer of Hebrews is issuing his warning to those who were never truly believers to begin with as you assert? I don’t think so as I alluded to earlier – the specific referents of “children” and “father” indicate that the writer of Hebrews had in mind those who are of the faith. He would not specifically employ those terms to describe those who were not truly of the faith. Moreover, in this chapter God is said to discipline his true sons, not those who are illegitimate children, v.8. Also note that in the following verse, v.15 – the use of the present participle husteron warns the Hebrew brethren against the process of falling short of the grace of God. Verse 15 cannot refer to unbelievers as the unconverted are already short of God’s grace as they obviously do not possess the grace of God to begin with. It is for reasons such as this that I cannot concur with your interpretation.

            Your contention that it is not possible for the regenerate to die spiritually because that would then render God impotent I think goes against examples given in Scripture. Respectfully, I ask when Adam and Eve committed sin in the garden and died spiritually, did that mean that God was impotent to keep them? When the Israelites hardened their hearts in the wilderness and died in the desert was God impotent to keep them? When Judas whom the Father gave to Jesus to keep, committed his betrayal, did that make God
            impotent? Your citation of John 10:29 needs to be read in context of the previous two verses which refers to the sheep as those who listen to and follow the shepherd. As such, no guarantee of eternal life can be given to those who do not listen and follow.

            Finally, as far as the Book of Life goes, I pointed out that Paul warns the brethren living in Rome that if they continue to live according to the flesh, they will die. You contend that they cannot die spiritually as their names are already written in the Book of Life as citizens in heaven. I on the other hand contend that one’s citizenship can be revoked. Eternal life is only promised to those who by perseverance overcome. “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” (Rev 3:5) Holiness is essential to the Christian life because those who do not pursue holiness and overcome, run the risk of having their names erased.

          • He would not specifically employ those terms to describe those who were not truly of the faith.

            That’s not true, especially when we consider the context and occasion for writing, as I mentioned above. I preach to the same group of around 250 people twice each month, and I’m sure that not every individual in that group is saved. But when I’m addressing them as a whole, I speak to them as if they’re believers. And yet when I’m exhorting them not to give up on running the race of holiness, I’m recognizing, without making it explicit, that there are very likely unbelievers there who would demonstrate that they were never truly of us by going out from us — by not pursuing the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. And then, in the next breath, I’ll address them all as brothers and sisters again. Not because I’m confused about whether they’re saved or not, but because I’m calling them to the faithfulness of obedience as if they were believers, even while fully understanding that some of them may not be.

            So it’s entirely conceivable for the writer of the Hebrews to do the same thing. To address them as a group as if they were believers, as they profess, but then to include warnings and exhortations that explain the kind of character that would demonstrate that they are not truly saved.

            Regarding your examples, it should be noted that Adam and Eve were a bit of a different case. They were not regenerate in the sense that NT believers are. Innocence is not the same as righteousness. Christ’s salvation puts us in much better a position than Adam’s original state of innocence. Also, Paul makes it plain that the Israelites who fell in the wilderness were not truly Israel (Rom 9:6), and the writer of the Hebrews said that they perished because they heard the word without the faith which would save them (Heb 4:2). This is not an example of regenerated believers falling, but of unregenerate people showing that they were never truly God’s people to begin with, just as I’ve argued. Judas, of course, was also an explicitly special case — the son of perdition, through whom the betrayal of the Son of Man had to have come in order that Scripture should be fulfilled (John 17:12; cf. Matt 26:24; Ac 1:16). Though Judas had been among the 12, he was not one of Christ’s sheep, but was a goat, marked out for destruction. He was unregenerate, and in the end showed his true colors, just as all who go out from us.

            Your citation of John 10:29 needs to be read in context of the previous two verses which refers to the sheep as those who listen to and follow the shepherd. As such, no guarantee of eternal life can be given to those who do not listen and follow.

            It’s entirely in context. Your comment merely argues for the necessary aspect of the believer’s perseverance. But of course, the believer’s perseverance is grounded in the Father’s preservation. You seem to get that backwards. You seem to make it the sheep’s responsibility to keep himself in the Father’s hand by persevering. But the opposite is the case. In fact, it is you who haven’t kept the context in mind, failing to recognize the implications of what it means for Christ to say that the Pharisees don’t believe because they are not His sheep, rather than saying they’re not His sheep because they don’t believe. Faith and faithfulness do not make one a sheep; they are the evidence and result of being a sheep — one chosen from before the foundation of the world to be made holy and blameless in God’s sight (Eph 1:4). In salvation, goats do not become sheep. Lost sheep are called into the fold. In apostasy, sheep do not become goats; goats are merely shown to go their own way. Your interpretation of John 10 would have us believe that non-persevering sheep become goats. But such disregards the unconditional election of the Father.

            I’m sure you know that there has been much discussion regarding Jesus’ comment in Rev 3:5 — too much to get into here, especially when eternal security is not the topic of the post. I’m sure you’ll also not be surprised that I believe “not blotting out one’s name” does not mean that such has happened to anyone. Rather, it’s merely the statement that He won’t do that very thing.

            Regarding using Romans 8:12-13 to support that believers can be lost, it surely does not have to be read that way. It is entirely consistent to say that those who live after the flesh were never born of the Spirit, and so never did set their minds on the things of the Spirit, but continued in their enmity with God from start to finish, despite making a show for a while. Besides, your interpretation does considerable violence not only to the rest of Scripture (especially John 10 and 1 John 2:19), but does violence even to the rest of the chapter of Romans 8, particularly the final 10 verses. (I note that you hadn’t responded to my handling of 1 John 2:19 nor of Romans 8:30.) The justified ones are the glorified ones (8:30). None who have been justified fail to be glorified. And of course there is nothing that can separate us from the love of Christ (Rom 8:35-39). Nothing.

            In any case, as I alluded to above, this post is not about whether or not one can lose his salvation. I believe that question is answered unassailably in the negative in Scripture, and that the opposing view woefully misinterprets and ignores a number of key passages. Nevertheless, I think our little off-topic diversion has been more than sufficient to address the issue, and would ask that we now return to the topic of the original post.

          • Elhanan

            I don’t see our topic as being off as you cite two reasons why Christians should pursue holiness. I certainly don’t disagree with your reasons given, but am offering a 3rd reason why holiness is requisite – which I think to be the most important one. I would further address your questions but out of respect for your request to return to topic I will refrain from doing so.

      • Just Me

        I’ve been learning about grace. I’m not quite there yet, because I am constantly stumbling over scripture like this. If holiness is the result of faith in Christ alone, then why does he command to pursue it and then follow with a warning that ” without which, no one will see the Lord” ? Shouldn’t he rather have said, “examine yourself for holiness without which you are not in grace” ?

        I’m not being argumentative, just studying because I would like to put my full faith in this and be saved.

  • Just Me

    I asked a question below and I would like to ask one or two more. If holiness in our lives indicates Christ is at work in us and we are in grace, then how much holiness needs to be evident to know one is OK? I ask this because I believe all Christians are at a different point in their sanctification. Take for example the Corinthians and how they were carnal as well as the husband wife team who were struck dead for lying to the Holy Spirit. Would you say they were saved when they were struck dead, or having died in their sins, indicates they were never saved to begin with?

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