“This One Thing”

Philippians 3

There are two ways in which we may look at the Christian. One is according to the counsels and thoughts of God, and the efficacy of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ; “by one offering perfected for ever,” accepted in Christ Himself before God, everything that stood against us put away, and the believer cleared completely and for ever from his old condition in Adam, taken out of that old condition, and put into the acceptance of Christ Himself: this is the grace wherein we stand. But evidently there is also another condition in which the Christian is seen, and that is as walking in this world.

This walk of the Christian we get in two ways—in the Epistle to the Philippians and in Hebrews. In Hebrews it is looked at in respect to the grace Christ obtains for us as Priest on high; not the operation of the Spirit in us, but the work of Christ for us, and grace to help in time of need. But if in Hebrews you see the Christian down here in weakness, needing help and getting it, in Philippians you see him down here, and the energy and power of the Spirit of God working in him. We have to pass through the world, and there are difficulties in our path, temptations to draw us aside; but one walking in the power of God’s Spirit rises above all the difficulties in the midst of which he is. In Philippians is brought out the power of God’s Spirit acting in one walking in the right path, and the result is a person entirely above it all, one who can “rejoice in the Lord alway.” We may remember, too, that Paul had been four years in prison at the time, two of them with a soldier chained to him; and, what was still more trying, his work as an apostle put a stop to, his activity all come to an end. He might have reproached himself as to going up to Jerusalem, and so on, but he does not; he rises above it all. You never hear sin mentioned in this Epistle—it is never spoken of; nor is* the flesh, except as having no confidence in it, in a warning to avoid its religiousness; it is simply a walk in the power of the Spirit. In the previous chapter you get the graciousness, and in this the energy of the course—the full energy of the Christian going through this world. He does not here speak of the cross as that which puts away sin; it has another character here, being looked at practically; here it is being “crucified to the world.” It is the book of experience, according to the spirit of the Christian on earth.

Imprisoned, so that he cannot be active, yet Paul says, It will all turn to my salvation; it will all turn to good: and I can rejoice in the Lord always. This comes with power when we remember where he was when he could write thus. He looks back and contrasts his own course with that of those who had made profession but were still going on with the world.

Let us first look at the character of the energy with which the apostle ran this race. He says he has not yet attained, is not yet perfect: this is because he is looking at his state. We must just see what he means by this. In the first place, he has not a thought of his own righteousness at all. There was a righteousness which he had had; there was a righteousness which he had boasted in; he had had it, all that which depended on himself: “touching the righteousness which was in the law, blameless.” But the moment the spiritual character of the law was seen it was all over; all that flesh could trust in was gone for him. We all know how, when he was in the full flush of his career, the Lord met him, and he discovered that all that had been gain to him; all of which he had boasted, had only served to bring him into open enmity with God. All this knowledge, all this energy of character, he had only made use of to try to destroy the name of Christ. It was not a question of his sins; it was that all he had valued as good was gone, his conscience proved to be misdirected, his legal righteousness nothing worth. There, on his way to Damascus, with authority from the high priest, he found himself in the presence of Christ, and in open enmity with Him; and in that presence all that he was as a religious man, “blameless”—in the outward sense, of course, for he found himself to be the chief of sinners—all that Saul could clothe himself with outwardly was utterly smashed, and he himself left to dwell in darkness three days, to go through in his own soul what this terrible revelation had discovered to him.

The practical effect of thus seeing the Christ in glory was to put down in the most powerful way all that was of man. The first thing we need as sinners, and get through the cross of the Lord Jesus, is “redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins”; but here it was not sins, it was righteousness put away. What he had stood before God in was all gone; it was brought out in the strongest way in his own experience what man was in his best estate: the upright, honest, law-keeping Pharisee was only enmity against God. And it was not only that he had failed—that was not the thing; it was that the whole structure, the moral structure of man, was brought out in the sight of God and done with. It was the end of the first man; and this not as a doctrine, but practically, for we must learn everything in our own consciences if it is to be a real thing. It was total, entire, condemnation of man in the flesh in his best form; the best man in the world (best as man goes) was the chief of sinners.

This is a truth that we can learn in different ways, either as seeing ourselves open sinners in rebellion against God, or by discovering that what we esteem best is utterly valueless before Him. Innocence is gone; man fell from paradise, and that is all over. There is no going back to the tree of life; and from that time forward man must be either an alien from God, an enemy in his mind by wicked works, or else he must have a heavenly place with God. On the road to Damascus’ Saul meets the Man in the glory, and then he is judged in his own conscience, and is found to be an open, ceaseless, enemy of God. It is easy for us to see that our sins must be judged by God, but we do not see at first that the mind and affections of the flesh are enmity against Him. But here you see there is an end of Saul, and of everything that the flesh was in this world—this world that was not paradise, and certainly was not heaven; this world in which the good things were worthless in the sight of God, and certainly the sins were not of any use.

Outwardly Saul was the best man possible—as man goes; conscientious, religious, righteous; and there he was an open enemy against God. Nothing was to be found here; consequently he looked out of this world and saw Christ in glory; he saw Him there where he stood; and the effect was, the old man was perfectly judged, and there was a new one in heaven. All that he was was gone. It is not a question of sins, but of righteousness. In another place he says, “I had not known sin but by the law.” But supposing there were a righteousness according to the law, no man had ever reached it except the blessed Lord Himself; but even if Paul could have reached it, he would not have it now, for he says, I have got another; there was “the righteousness of God “for him now. The law required righteousness from man for God, but this was now all given up; besides, none had attained it. It is “not having mine own righteousness”; it does not say, not having my own sins. It goes a great deal farther than that, and I press it on you. Theoretically it is a man blameless, who says, I will not have it at all. The whole standing, place, and condition of the first man is a judged thing in his soul; and another Man, Christ in glory, shall be for him that which he was. The condition of the first man has been shewn out by the revelation of the second Man, and Paul follows Him. Thus I get the whole ground and standing of legal righteousness swept away. Nobody had it, of course: still that was altogether the ground he was on; but now, he says, I will not have my own at all, for I have got another.

You cannot have the two before God. Seeing this sets aside a thousand things that are floating in the world. A man will have perfection nowadays; he says, I will not go on sinning. And he is quite right: he has no right to go on sinning. But God would not thank me for my righteousness, not when I clothe myself in an Adamic robe, for I have got another thing altogether in Christ. Paul does not speak here of his position in Christ; it is not here: “There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus”; it is the condition of soul of those who possess this “no condemnation.” And the condition of Paul’s was that the revelation of Jesus Christ had set aside in him all that was of himself; it was the righteousness of God that he had, and this does not go from man to God but from God to man. When did the prodigal get the best robe? when the Father put it on him. “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing.” The whole nature, the character, and the quality of it is a judged thing. But mark, when this Christ was revealed, his mind and heart and desire never stop short of reaching Him, and then what happens? Away goes all your perfection here. He says, The glory I saw in Damascus—that is what I want. It was no longer the judgment of the old man; it was the hopes of the new.

He says to him, “I am Jesus of Nazareth.” There was no longer any question about it: that Man was there in the glory —the carpenter’s son—the One whom they had rejected. They all fell down at the glory of that light, though they knew not what it meant. And in that light Paul was totally and entirely condemned and done with: Christ took the place of everything. All that he had counted gain was gone. Supposing he were a learned man—well, to whom was that gain? To Paul, not to Christ; it is only building up, and furnishing, and giving credit to, and adorning that old thing that has been judged as enmity against God.

And it is not only “I counted,” but he has gone on with Christ; he adds, “I do count,” as a present thing. All that I esteemed best—righteousness, learning, birth, everything— “I do count them but dung”; for I have seen Christ and I want Him, and the things of this world I count nothing. He has revealed Himself to me in grace; He has proved His love to be above all my enmity, and now I must have Him. Paul was a man whose whole course and career were marked by an object that was before him: and it is the object which is before us that marks our course and gives it its moral character. Paul followed after Christ. Let us ask ourselves, Are we following Christ in this way? Is this what governs us? I do not say we may not be distracted, but is He the object after which we are running? We cannot have two at the same time. Has there been such a revelation of Christ to our hearts that we have Him as the only object before us?

And I will ask here—for it is very current in some places, called “higher life,” and truly, alas, for so many Christians follow the world—what is true Christian life? It is “higher life,” and no mistake, for our calling is a “calling above”— that and no other; I have no calling to anything down in this world. There is no calling for the Christian according to the word of God but the calling to a risen, glorified Christ. What is put before us is a glorified Christ; we are going to be like Him; and you cannot have a right object except as that object is a glorified Christ, because this is the only Christ. Christ down here is a pattern for our walk, but there is no such Christ now to attain. I cannot win a Christ down in this world, because there is no Christ here to win. Attempting it only lowers the standard of holiness, and, instead of being “higher Christian life,” it is lower. It is the hope of being like Him in glory that makes a man now “purify himself even as he is pure.” The object that I get before my soul in this race that he speaks of is a glorified Christ, and this only; that is what I am going to attain; I am going to be like the Christ that I have seen. Whatever progress Paul made he was so much the nearer to Him, but he had not got Him; he would only get Him when in his glorified body. There is no other Christ to run after or win; not that our affections do not cling to Him in humiliation, but it is a glorified Christ only who is the object of our hearts. I may get to heaven now in spirit, and be happy there with Him, but I never attain to Him, I never win Him, until I am with Him in the glory; it is then I shall have won Christ.

When all that was Paul was judged, it brought him into all kinds of difficulties; for instance, now he was going to be tried for his life; but he had done with Paul, he had the sentence of death in himself. Many may not, none perhaps, so realise it as he did, but the consequence was, he was always “bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus,” so that the life of Jesus was made manifest in his body. He had the sentence of death in himself, that he should not trust in himself, but in God, which raiseth the dead: that is, he says, The God I know has raised Christ from the dead, and therefore I am not afraid of. death, of trial, of anything that may come on the road; I can glory in it all.

It is not only patience and hope as in Romans; but it is “the fellowship of his sufferings.” We are always called on to suffer with Him here. We hardly know what it is to suffer for His sake—a little trial perhaps now and then; but to suffer with Him we do know, for we cannot go through this world of sin and sorrow without suffering in principle what the heart of Christ suffered. We can rejoice in the saints when they are going on well, but there is nothing else in it to rejoice any one; it is only the world that crucified Christ, except of course, poor sinners, and he must speak to them; that is all he saw in this world.

“If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of [from] the dead.” This does not imply doubt; but he says, Even if death be on the road I will go through it, and shall only be made like Him if I die. Here I get the apostle fixed on an object—Christ in glory, and nothing short of it; and here he will have suffering with Christ, let it cost him life and everything, if but only he may get this place—part in the first resurrection; for he is looking at it here, not as our position, but as attainment. It may be a bad road that I tread, but I get refreshment by the way, and it is the road He travelled.

“Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after.” There is the activity of the life. In these days, when people are giving up Christianity on all sides, it is well to know what Christianity is. Christianity is perfect peace, perfect reconciliation with God, to be perfected for ever before Him; and as regards my path in this world, it is the eye on Christ Himself in glory, and one undivided energy to get after Him. Every step we take we get more of Christ, and are more capable of knowing Him, and thus the effect is practically to form me into His likeness. This bringing in of the life of Christ to my soul enables me to see Him in the glory, so that even now I get more like this resurrection I am aiming after. The resurrection from among the dead identifies itself with winning Christ; to be raised from the dead speaks to us God’s perfect delight in us in Christ.

Then he speaks of perfection— “as many as be perfect.” A perfect Christian is a full-grown man in one sense; it is the same word as the “perfect man, the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” And what is that? It certainly is not being like what Christ was when He was down here, for there was no sin in Him; so the thought of being like Him is a mere delusion. He that walks with Him up there walks like Him down here; but to be like Him as He was down here is not possible. To walk like Him, I repeat, is said; but to be like Him would be to be absolutely sinless. To be conformed to Him in glory, that we shall be, and therefore the heart desires and runs after it now; and this is what he calls a perfect Christian. It is not one who knows what it is to have got the sins of the old creation cleared away—it is not knowing the work of Christ which puts sin away (hardly measured either by the sin, for it is the whole state of the creature); all is settled, and I know that “by one offering he has perfected for ever them that are sanctified,” that there is no more a question of anything to be settled between me and God, that I have liberty before Him in the sense of His favour; but then I say, Is that all? All my debts are paid, but am I to have nothing to go and buy anything with? Am I henceforth to starve, without possessing a farthing? Then it is that the soul comes to see that, having part in this forgiveness, it has also part with the last Adam. One has got hold by grace of this Man in the glory, and knowing this, I say, my whole soul is in that. I have seen the excellency of Christ Jesus, my Lord, and it has set aside everything here. I have done with it all; I belong to another place, and no longer own this old man.

It is then the Christian has got to be what he calls a perfect man; he has this object before him, he has got Christ’s place before God, and he grows up into the stature of Christ; not that he has not still very much to learn, but he has got into his place; he is of full age, he discerns good and evil, he has real hold of his place in Christ, and he knows it. This sets aside the flesh altogether, and also that which is a deceptive thing to many, perfection in the flesh, for Christ in glory is my only perfection. In the world I am running a race, I have not attained yet, but Christ has laid hold of me for it.

He then puts in the strongest contrast those who are not thus perfect: “If in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.” I can walk with one who only knows his redemption in Christ with just the same love, but I look for him to get hold of this also.

Then he talks of another thing, of those who have the profession of Christianity, but who are “enemies of the cross of Christ “; they are not exactly enemies of Christy though in the. end it comes to the same thing. In paradise God got rid of man as a sinner; at the cross, as far as his will was concerned, man got rid of God in grace. The very disciples ran away; they could not stand it; as He said to one of them, “Thou canst not follow me now, but thou shalt follow me afterwards.” Amiable or unamiable, all either ran away or banded themselves together against Him. Satan was proved to be the prince of this world. People fancy he is not the prince of it because the gospel is preached in it; but the gospel never would be preached in it if he were not the prince of it. He brought all the world up against Christ, so the world is judged, and all that is in it. “The world is crucified to me.” The cross—really a gibbet— put an end to all human glory. He came down to that, to put an end to everything of man. There is no such infamy as the cross: no one but a slave or a bad criminal was ever put upon it. Thus Satan was proved by his influence over the world to be its prince; this is what the world is, and this is the very reason that the Lord says, “O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee”; and therefore the world is convinced of judgment, and righteousness is proved how? “Sit thou on my right hand till I make thine enemies thy footstool,” is God’s answer. And He sits there till the judgment of the world is to be executed; it sees Him no more as the Saviour. And now, because He glorified God in that place of sin, we carry out the testimony of the grace that seeks sinners.

These were enemies to the cross of Christ. They carry the name of Christian and go on with the world. Of course the true Christian may get into the world and be ensnared; it is not that. The enemy of the cross of Christ put Christ there, and now if I look for righteousness, it is not to be found in the world that did that; I must look for it in Christ up there, for righteousness has done with the world.

Then see the place that he puts the Christian in, “for our conversation is in heaven”; our whole relationships in life— all that my life is involved in and develops itself in—are in heaven; I am to run here having all my relationships up there, because Christ is up there who is my life. What a definite thing the Christian life is! it is not here at all.

“From whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Now what is He called “Saviour” for here? We are all saved in a certain sense—we have got eternal life; but in this epistle salvation is the result of redemption, not merely redemption. Practically Israel was saved out of Egypt as soon as the Red Sea was crossed, but they had not got the place till they had got through the Jordan too. We get in the Red Sea Christ’s death and resurrection. The blood upon the lintel gave them safety while God was passing through destroying the first-born; the question between God and the people as to their sin was settled, still God was in the character of judge there, and He passes them by. But it was not deliverance. But when they come to the Red Sea He says, “Stand still, and see the salvation of God.” God has now come in as a Saviour and taken them out of the place they were in; and now they are delivered. When I get to Jordan, it is yet another thing: the waters open, not to bring them out, but to bring them in; not that Christ was dead and risen for them, but that they were dead and risen with Christ. So you get the Red Sea smitten, so to say, whilst in Jordan the ark stays in the water, and we go through with it. The reproach of Egypt was never rolled away till they got into Canaan; and so with us: I do not get deliverance and full power in heavenly places until I see that I have died and risen with Christ; I do not get into my place until then.

Now have you got there, beloved friends? If so, all your desire will be there, and you will be longing to be there too. Christ is there, and the Christian’s heart is with Christ, his affection is in heaven, and he looks for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He gives the Christian as one who has seen Christ in the glory, and who says, That is my hope; my citizenship is in heaven, and here in this world all I am to do is to run after Him as fast as ever I can to get there.

All my hope is not to die, blessed though that be, but to look for the Saviour, “who shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body.” We are running the race towards the place where our standing is. We are in Christ, but that is not the thing here. Got it we have; but how far does the cross really tell us the tale of what we are? not only that our sins, but that we ourselves, are put away. Can you say with the apostle, “The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God”? Is there nothing in the circumstances down here by which we live? We must go through them, but are we living by them? Are we living to Him in that sense? There are many Christians who have no distinct idea that they are to take up their cross and follow Him. May we learn that the times press. May our hearts so really look at Christ that we may be in conscious relationship with Him, our affections there with Him, and because they are there, looking for Him to come from heaven to change this vile body because it will not suit that place! Where are our hearts? Have we the deep blessed sense that He has associated us with Himself? “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory.” The Lord give us so to have our eyes on Him that we may have all the blessedness of the consciousness that He has taken us to be with Himself in His unutterable love, and that we may thus know real deliverance from the power of sin and the world! The Lord fix our eye on Him with steadiness and earnestness of heart, so that we may say with David, “My soul followeth hard after thee.”