Is our continuing sanctification impeded by worldliness? Has the ‘moral resurrection’ of which Paul speaks come to a halt? Here is how we may rediscover the secret power.
‘That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death’ (Philippians 3.10).
It is possible to misunderstand these words and think that Paul is looking forward to the future day of resurrection. Some have thought that he desired martyrdom, and that this is what he means when he speaks of knowing the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. But Paul is clearly speaking about knowing resurrection power as a present experience in his life. In other words, he refers to the continuing transformation of his own life to one of greater godliness, and he describes this process as a moral and spiritual resurrection.
Newness of life
The very power by which Christ burst the bands of death is at work in his people in sanctification. It began to operate at conversion, when resurrection power emancipated the mind so that we grasped saving truths that previously meant nothing to us.
Perhaps you were told by a witnessing believer, ‘All people are sinners,’ and you would not accept it. You recoiled and said, ‘That is nonsense; there are very many good people.’ You could not accept that all have come short of the glory of God, and are by nature depraved, sinful and corrupt. You were appalled by the idea that no one deserved to stand before God, and that all are condemned and doomed.
But then, by resurrection power, life-giving power, your eyes were opened and your view changed. You then said, ‘Why could I not see this before? I see this corruption in myself. I now see it in the whole world – a world that cannot control its hatred, extortion, oppression and wars. I see sin in all commercial and private life, and I see it as I never did before in myself.’ Resurrection power visited your mind, imparting a new understanding.
At the same time resurrection power transformed your character, giving you a new nature, so that things that dominated you before no longer had the same power over you. You were still a sinner, but sin became your enemy, and you hated it, and longed to be free of it. New tastes, values and aspirations were planted in you, all by the life-giving power of Christ.
May the operation of that resurrection power continue to work in every believer’s life, so that whenever we are confronted by time-wasting and ungodly television programmes, or any other unedifying, unproductive and even sinful attraction, the renewed will (our deciding, determining, volitional faculty) will turn our minds to better things.
Let us think for a moment about our different ‘leisure’ pursuits and interests. What may we do in this world? There are many earthly interests, pursuits and recreations which are not directly spiritual that are permissible to believers. In a sense God has given us all things richly to enjoy. We may, for example, visit places of beauty. If we are vigorous enough we may engage in physical and sporting activities. We may like to visit places of historic interest, or engage in historical reading. Or we may have an interest in the way things work, and triumphs of human discovery, observing them and learning about them.
Music and adventure
We may be interested and rewarded by good music and may even enjoy some degree of illuminating fiction, but for all such things we have to be sure they are wholesome. We would not bar the young from exposure to adventure, and even the spectacular. There are many things which can legitimately appeal to our minds and occupy and engage us. But whatever we do, we have to keep godly standards, and apply tests.
Also, we must ration even legitimate things, otherwise they will replace Christ and his service, and hinder the spiritual resurrection process going on in our lives, ruining our tastes.
Modern entertainment music of the worst kind is everywhere, intruding into life constantly. In the past Christians ignored popular songs, regarding them as part of this world and belonging to the old life. Around the mid 1950s pop-songs took a steep dive, becoming even worse in moral content than they were before, constituting an obvious, orchestrated campaign against God’s standards, and promoting the very opposite conduct. The world of popular entertainment music increasingly became an all-out assault against authority, order and refinement, contending for unrestrained sexual indulgence, self-love and self-gratification.
This culture became a powerful and dangerous message, opposed to everything holy and noble. Amazingly, as it unfolded, many Christian people broke with their tradition of standing aloof, and capitulated to its alluring rhythms and lyrics. But it was a ‘propaganda’ culture designed to bring society away from God and into rebellion against him. Christians have no business accommodating what their forbears rejected.
To adapt and adopt the music of the entertainment world for worship was an astonishing development, and certainly disobedient to the overwhelming commands and principles of Scripture. It is wrong to employ it in worship, and equally wrong to embrace it in personal leisure and pleasure. People have said to me that they listen to rock and pop, even as believers. Some have acknowledged that they had a conscience about it when they were first converted, but they subsequently overrode that, and pushed those thoughts away.
Designed to enslave
Dear friends, this is of the world. This is the production of the prince of the power of the air, channelled to society from drug-influenced groups of notoriously ungodly and rebellious entertainers. It was created to capture people. Delivered in powerful rhythmic form, it is emotional manipulation, euphoric and designed to enslave. If we have succumbed to this in our church or home lives, it is vital that we come before the Lord in deep regret and repentance, and begin to practise discernment, and repudiate it. It is against all principles and order, not to mention reverence, and it will certainly eclipse the privilege of knowing resurrection power in our lives.
I remember reading some years ago an article by a professing Christian young man who had begun to indulge deeply in entertainment music. When he went to church he began to find everything extremely dull and drab. It ceased to be to his taste. He told of how hymns became empty and boring, and nothing could uplift him.
Obviously, what ruled his private life had changed him and wrecked his spiritual sensitivities and tastes. His spirit now looked for entertainment, for the emotional impact provided by an audio-drug, and not for the blessings of Truth. In the event this man became the founder of a group of charismatic rock-music churches. The secular entertainment music captured his soul.
There are doubtless many things we can employ and enjoy in this present world. But there are also things deeply stained by today’s depraved standards, such as the world of films. There is not much that believers should want to see. We need always to ask – Is it clean? Is it pure? Is it wholesome? Is it edifying? Could I take the Lord there? Could I have him next to me?
We need to ask the questions, judge and weigh the matter conscientiously, or we disrupt the ‘moral resurrection’ process in our lives, and dishonour the Lord. Only if something is clean and wholesome should we watch it or listen to it, and even then, we should ration our indulgence. Christian magazines and blogs that review and approve entertainment films and videos show their contempt for an authentic Christian life and the pursuit of holiness.
We may be able to watch some of what is on television, but the standards just mentioned must always apply.
This brings us to the question – do we turn on the television on the Lord’s Day, other, say, than for a news bulletin? Surely we should never do so! It is the Lord’s Day, dear Christian friends! This is the day designated for him, and for his worship and service. Consider Paul’s words – ‘That I may know him’. They apply supremely to the Lord’s Day, our day of dedication, reflection and fellowship, and our day to make him known. We cannot ‘know him’ and allow entertainment media to take over our lives at the same time.
Our verse says – ‘That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings.’ What does it mean to know the fellowship of his sufferings? Equally, what does it mean to be ‘made conformable unto his death’?
We have noted that some teachers think Paul had an ambition to be martyred for Christ, but that is probably not the meaning here. The subject is still knowing resurrection power to change and shape us. We remember that our Saviour suffered and died on Calvary to purchase our everlasting salvation, but also so that we should live holy lives in this life. To have fellowship in his sufferings means I live so as to make his sufferings worthwhile and effective in my life. They will, of course, be effective to purchase my eternal soul, but are they motivating me to strive for righteousness in my earthly life?
Let me illustrate it in this way. A student must now pay top-up fees to go to university. (The top-up fee, however, is only a fraction of what the government pays.) Supposing someone scrimped and saved to enable you to go to university, and gave you the money, but you gambled it away. Astonishing! Someone made a great sacrifice, and you gambled it away!
Christ has suffered not only to secure our salvation, but also to bring us on the road of striving after holiness. Do we squander the blessing and neglect the process of moral resurrection? To be a partaker of his sufferings means we live to honour them.
To change the illustration, someone buys us a home, not merely giving a deposit, but the total sum, and we gamble it away. Unthinkable. This is a poor illustration, but it is as though Christ suffered and died to make me righteous, and I fritter away the benefit. I do not even try to live a righteous life, separate from the tainted and corrupt culture of this world. I turn on the television and watch anything, including scandalous things, even on the Lord’s Day. Christ suffered and died not only to purchase my salvation, but to deliver me from ongoing participation in smut, filth, material idolatry, and all other things that are offensive to him.
Perhaps someone is watching films that are utterly unsuitable for a believer, and which taint him and bring him down. Also all day long he allows the world to ram beat music into his head. He comes to depend on it to lift his mood. It really dominates and rules him. It seems he cannot live without it. Such a believer is not walking in fellowship with his Lord’s sufferings. He is not conforming to their purpose.
Christ died to make me an altogether better person, and so I will strive by his help to resist sin. That is fellowship with his sufferings. He made the sacrifice so that I could live the life. What he died for, I will live for. That is ‘being made conformable unto his death’.
The apostle uses this same kind of argument throughout Romans 6, relating our Saviour’s death and resurrection to our present sanctification.
Verse 11 and following confirm that Paul is speaking of the present work of sanctification in our lives, and the striving and effort involved. ‘If by any means,’ he says, ‘I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.’ It is obvious that he is not referring to his future resurrection, for he would never speak about that as if it were uncertain. He would say – ‘I know I shall attain unto the resurrection of the dead.’ He would confidently assert that Christ will never leave him nor forsake him.
But in this eleventh verse he is speaking of the believer’s present progressive, moral resurrection, which we may frustrate and hinder. The language is therefore less certain: ‘If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.’
Surely we should say, in the same way, ‘If only in the days of this coming week I might exercise more caution, more judgement, and weigh more carefully the things I do. If only I might reject the sinful, unprofitable, things that would steal my spiritual tastes, waste my time and corrupt me.’
‘Not as though I had already attained,’ Paul proceeds to say, further confirming that he has been speaking about our present moral resurrection. We notice that this is a progressive work. He has not fully attained, nor is he complete, but, he says, ‘I follow after.’
Paul seems to say, with great fervour, ‘My Lord has died for me, and grasped hold of me with arms of love. He has changed me and made me his own, and I long to grasp him, to be nearer to him, and know him better, and be more conformed to his holy standards. So I pursue, I press after him.’
We cannot fail to see the language of effort, concern, diligence, and conscientious Christian living. Is this true of us? So important is this ‘pursuit’ that Paul repeats himself (verses 13-14) – ‘Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended [grasped]: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind [the old life, with its sinful delights and distractions and unprofitable things], and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.’
What are we like? Are we casual in our spiritual lives? Do we just dream through the days, or do we strain and stretch? Do we weigh things, asking – Is this moral? Is this for Christ? Or is this promoting the world? Is this intoxicating? (We remember Paul’s words, ‘I will not be brought under the power of any.’) Am I living carelessly or carefully?
Our daily pledge
Let us say – I determine to be conscientious, to honour my Lord. I desire the resurrection process in my life. I want to know more of his power. I long for more prayer, and more instrumentality in a ministry of intercession.
Many things are permissible to us, and we should take an interest in earthly things, but we need strength of mind to ceaselessly assess and weigh them, and strength to ration the things we engage in.
We have the help of Christ. We have all his mighty power. Think of the power he exercised at the resurrection when his soul was united with his body, and he broke the bands of death, re-infusing life into his own body, and rising from the dead. That power is available to us from the living Christ to renew our minds, our wills, our tastes, our desires, every part of us. It is that for which we must long and pray.