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The Right Attitudes to Grow in Christ
The attitudes necessary to pursue Christ–Philippians 3:15-16
Even if you have just turned 13 and your hormones have hit hard. Even if you are 49 and your hormones have attacked in a new way. Even if you were just cut from the team. Even if you lost the promotion to an unskilled underling. Even if you didn’t get the scholarship you desperately needed.
Even if your kids wake up and together they join “team devil”. Even if your health has turned for the worse. Even if your football team doesn’t make the playoffs. Even if your husband decides to be lazy and disengage. Even if your wife decides to be distant and disinterested. Even if the people you poured your life into don’t appreciate you.
Even if the teacher informs you your perfect child is leading a double life. Even if your house floods and your car crashes. Even if your parent dies. Even if you’re struggling in your walk with God. Even if your relationship with Christ is a little stale. Even if you’re so busy, you don’t seem to have the resources to battle sin.
Christians are to react differently than the lost. Christians are to demonstrate great attitudes. Christians are never to excuse bad attitudes. You and I should never be known for being moody, temperamental, glum, irritable, sullen, morose, irritable, cross, touchy, grouchy–no matter how bad things get.
Christians are never to be known for being in a bad mood–why? Because God’s Word is really pointed in 1 Thessalonians 5:16 to 18, “Rejoice always; 17 pray without ceasing; 18 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” And Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” And James 1:2, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.”
Whoa–when it comes right down to it, this is radical stuff. Friends, even the root of the word “enthusiasm” comes from two Greek words, en and theos–in God. To be in God is to be en theos–enthusiastic. To be in Christ makes all the difference–this is how we’re different from the world.
I read about Christians who got cancer and threw a party to rejoice and give thanks for the reminder to live M.T.C.–Make Today Count. How is your attitude–is it like Christ, giving thanks, rejoicing, counting it all joy? Or is your attitude just like those who don’t have Christ, grouchy, moody, unthankful?
For this morning, in Philippians Paul is concerned about attitude. Open your Bibles to Philippians 3:15 and 16 as Paul makes certain we pursue an attitude of maturing. What kind of attitude is necessary to grow in Christ? What type of attitude should we avoid which will hinder our growth in Christ?
Verses 15 and 16 of Philippians 3 contain both the right and the wrong attitudes. Why should you know them? Why should you hear this? Why should you obey? Because attitudes are the currents of your life–the strong undertow which strengthens your walk with Christ, or with a wrong attitude, drown you in the midst of difficult times.
Attitudes are the flavor–they make life fun, strengthening you when life gets rough. Attitudes are the spice which makes good times sweeter and bad times an adventure. Attitudes are the boost in God’s race, the cup of cold water in the midst of the marathon race. But with the wrong attitudes, you will hit the wall and collapse.
You and I need to cultivate the right attitudes to grow in Christ. Paul will tell you in verses 15 and 16 the good attitudes to develop and the bad attitudes to avoid at all costs in your relationship with Christ. If you’re going to grow, to mature, to become godly and be impactful for Christ, these are the attitudes you must cultivate. What are they?
Read aloud with me from your outline verses 15 and 16. As you do, see if you can discover the positive attitudes to pursue and the negative attitudes to avoid. “Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; 16 however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.” What you have here are three positive attitudes to cultivate and three negative attitudes to kill. The first positive and negative attitudes are . . .
#1 DISCERNING–never become COMPLACENT Verse 15a
You should have a lot of questions from verse 15, “Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude.” Now Paul begins these two verses with, “Let us therefore”—when you see therefore, always ask, “Wherefore is that therefore there for?” Paul is connecting verses 15 and 16 to what he has just said in chapter 3.
Paul just shared his testimony. Paul told you what happened on the Damascus road. Paul reveals the dramatic transformation of genuine salvation and Paul exposes what really happened in his heart on that day he met Christ. The most important thing to Paul was his religion. Yet the instant Paul was born again, all his religion, all his good works, all his heritage became excrement compared to knowing Jesus Christ in verses 7 and 8.
Christ alone gave Paul an acceptable standing before God, the power of God to live for Christ, and the hope of a new perfect body in the future in verses 9 to 11. Christ alone motivates Paul to run hard, to stay focused, and seek eternal reward in verses 12 to 14. Therefore Paul says in verse 15, you need and I need the right attitudes to grow.
We need to be discerning–why? Because some Philippians need to be reminded that Paul is also still growing–he has not arrived spiritually. He definitely is not perfect. Do you have a hero–a dad, a mom, a person who impacted you or invested in you? Sometimes we have a tendency to exalt our hero into a faultless category.
You hear a preacher who blows you away, then one day you share a meal with him and see just how weird/quirky he really is. He’s still an awesome preacher. He is still impactful and useful, but now your thinking about him is more realistic, more human. The Philippians exalted Paul as their father in the faith, their mentor and teacher. Paul needs to remind them, he is one of them. He’s not perfect–he’s not arrived.
You and Paul are amazingly blessed and the same before God. You are new creatures with a new heart which desires to obey God’s Word and pursue holiness. You’re united with Christ, possessing a renewed mind, having the mind of Christ. You have a right standing before God, you’re justified, forgiven, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, saturated with God’s love–but you and Paul are not perfect. Nor will you ever be in this life.
This passage destroys the false doctrine of perfectionism, which is still taught in some Catholic, Methodist, Nazarene, Church of God, and Pentecostal churches. Though it varies, the general false idea is, believers can reach a place of spiritual and moral perfection in this life. They falsely say there is a second work of grace where believers instantaneously are made sinless and some say God even eradicates their sin nature.
When you meet someone like this, here is the secret–ask their spouse! Ask their family and boss and neighbors. Unless they all lie or redefine perfection, no one lives perfect in this life. Paul already made it clear back in verse 12–I have not already become perfect, but I press on. In order to grow, you need to become more discerning, more realistic.
Perfection in this life will always be a goal, but never an achievement. No Christian in this life hits a super-godly plateau where they arrive and it’s now easy. No believer ever achieves a spiritual plane of holiness where sin is no longer a battle. Christ-followers only truly, fully arrive at the Rapture or death, and never before. Heaven is where you are glorified and perfect forever, but not until then. In this life, you will be constantly turning from sin and pursuing Christ.
Another reason why Paul works on attitudes here is because of the Judaizers, those false Christians who taught believers they have to be Jews first before they can truly be saved. These heretics may have been teaching the Philippians some form of spiritual perfection was possible if they just kept the Law and got circumcised. No matter who tells you there is a quicker path to perfect sanctification, no matter what the short cut is to a higher level of holiness, Paul is telling us to develop an attitude of realistic discernment.
Verse 15 says, “Let us therefore”–the English translators use “let us” because the verb in verse 15, “have this attitude,” is first person plural. Paul is a model for the Philippians. He wants them to follow his example. But in cultivating biblical attitudes needed for growth, Paul is with them—“let us.”
We need to think this way–you and I need to think this way together. “Let us”—let us have the right attitudes, the biblical attitudes, the Christ-like attitudes, the mature attitudes when it comes to growing as a Christian. Paul was not in this spiritual race alone–he was running. The Philippians were running and you are running.
There might have been some complacent attitudes in Philippi about growing. After all, Christians are promised in 1 Peter 1:4, “an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you”–so why grow? Why bother to attend worship, serve, read the word, study, pray? In Christ I am guaranteed Heaven—so why try now, when I am secure in Heaven? Paul says avoid the complacent attitude about growing in Christ. Why? Two reasons . . .
ONE Growth is an innate DESIRE
Just as babies and children are innately created to grow–it’s in their DNA. It’s also in the DNA of believers to mature in Christ, to become like Christ, to grow spiritually. Paul already affirmed this in Philippians 1:6, remember? “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” God will finish what He started in you.
TWO Growth is a biblical MANDATE
Search the Scripture and you’ll discover your spiritual growth causes and allows you to glorify God, gives evidence of salvation, displays God’s truth, preserves you in trial, produces joy in your life, equips you for ministry, enhances your witness and more. Growing to be like Christ is so much a part of every genuine believer’s life, God says, it is one of the assurances of your salvation.
Peter lists the qualities of diligence, faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. Then he says in 2 Peter 1:8 and 10, “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble.”
Growing in Christlikeness is part of what assures you your salvation is genuine. This is why Paul just told us in verses 12 and 14 of Philippians 3 to “press on.” Give your growth continual, aggressive effort. Run to win your spiritual race. Never allow an attitude of complacency to take root in your heart. Knowing you’re not what you should be, or what you’ll someday be in glory, must not produce a complacent apathy, but actually create a discerning zeal.
Paul actually says something crazy next–do you see it in verse 15? “As many as are perfect”—whoa, what a minute. Paul just said he wasn’t perfect. Paul is not talking about practical, actual perfection here, because Paul just told us in verse 12 he is not perfect. So he is not saying there’s actually a category of Christians who are perfect. And since every word of the Bible is God-breathed, then this is not a contradiction.
So what does Paul mean, “as many as are perfect”? In the New Testament, the Greek word “perfect” here means the mature, full-grown in contrast to babes–total, wholeness, grown-up, full age, full-grown man, mature manhood, ripe or complete. Hang on to the idea of mature or complete.
The practical idea of someone who knows what the Word of God says as it addresses every area of life–it is someone who seeks to live by the Word of God in every aspect of his or her life. Not perfect, but mature–not perfect, but complete. So perfect here is speaking of maturity or completeness.
The New Testament affirms you and I are positionally perfect in Christ–not because of what you have done, but because of the perfect righteousness of Christ. You have been given in salvation what makes you ready to stand before a holy God and live in heavenly perfection. So is Paul talking about maturity completeness or positional perfection?
The answer rests in Paul’s sarcasm. “As many as are perfect” is a verbal jab attacking the Judaizers, who would teach others there is a possible perfection that comes before God by becoming a Jew first–keeping the Law, being circumcised. So Paul expresses a double-edged comment here, attacking with sarcasm those who make the claim of perfection—“as many as are perfect.”
But don’t miss the main point–genuinely mature people don’t think they’re perfect or think they have arrived. Those who are mature actually refuse to be satisfied by their past achievements. The mature forget what lies behind and press on to what lies ahead. Listen friends, when your memories surpass your dreams, you’re dead.
It doesn’t matter if you’re 80, the focus of the mature is becoming like Christ and seeing Christ–not reveling in what you did for Christ in the past, but how you are becoming like Christ and what Christ is doing through you now. Think about Paul–he is an old man now. You’d think he would or could ease up. But Paul can’t be tamed. He is running to win and you and I are to run after Christ in spring, summer, fall and in the dead of winter of our lives.
Next Paul adds this phrase in verse 15, “have this attitude.” The Greek word for attitude is the verb, “we might think.” It literally means to think this way, to be intent on this, or to set one’s mind. Paul hopes the Philippians will develop this line of thinking–an attitude. Paul says, “My hope is for you and I to continually keep on thinking this particular way, to have an attitude–a discerning attitude.”
Though you strive to live perfectly, you can’t live perfectly. Perfection is your goal, but never your achievement until Heaven. Continually think this way–don’t be self-satisfied, be Christ-satisfied. Seek to find your satisfaction in Christ–not a potential mate, not a scholarship, not friends, not a place on the team, not in a good paying job, not in your children. Make your satisfaction Jesus Christ. Don’t accept complacency.
Focus on making maximum effort to grow to become more like Christ. When you are in Christ, you will become more like Christ. You will fight to the finish, you will pursue Christ. You will never say, “Well I have grown enough in my Christian life.” You will never remain complacent. Next, you will be . . .
#2 DEVELOPING–never become UNTEACHABLE Verse 15b
Paul knew not all believers would adopt the right attitude. Paul was aware of some Philippians who were starting to adopt the Judaizer thinking they could somehow achieve perfection in this life by keeping the Law. There may have been others who demonstrated a “why try” attitude. Why run hard to become like Christ when genuine believers are already guaranteed Heaven?
So read what Paul says in the middle of verse 15, “and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you.” The “if” in verse 15 tells us Paul assumed this was true–if there are some with the wrong attitude and there are. Then Paul says, those who refuse to listen to Paul’s way of thinking here, who won’t adopt these biblical attitudes (this way of thinking), need to know they will hear the same truth from God.
Attitude here is not describing a single thought, but continually thinking. These believers are embracing a continual way of thinking, not expressing a single idea. So what will God do? God will correct believers through His Word, through discipline and through His Spirit. God will do whatever it takes to make believers see their need to become like Christ.
God will keep His children growing, whether they like it or not. Paul calls it a prize in this context–the prize of Christlikeness. You win as you progress. The greatest being that exists–the perfect being, the being worth imitating in every way is Jesus Christ. Being like Him brings maximum glory to God and maximum life, joy, love, discernment, delight, satisfaction and more to you.
And God is so great, for His children, Paul says, “God will reveal that also to you.” Reveal means to uncover or unveil–God will unveil the truth to you. This kind of ongoing wrong thinking will become obvious to you if you’re a Christian. God the Holy Spirit will instruct you in ways Paul and I cannot.
Sometimes in ministry, you have to allow time for people to grow. When you teach, you have to trust the Spirit to change people’s thinking and lives. In shepherding, you have to trust the Spirit to help someone turn a corner. Adopt a developing attitude–I like to call it process. God works through a process. God often changes hearts over time. You be faithful to share the Gospel. You be faithful to teach God’s Word accurately–then allow the Lord to change people’s lives in His time.
Now when it comes to you, you be teachable, not hard-hearted. Paul calls the Philippians to be teachable directly in Philippians 4:9, “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things.” Christians are to be teachable. If you think differently, God will make it clear to you.
Stay open to God’s Word and God will teach you. The moment you stop being teachable, you stop learning. The moment you stop learning, you stop growing. The moment you stop growing, you’re dead–you’re just taking up space. Seniors–keep developing and remain teachable. Students–keep growing and hungering for the Word, ask questions, apply the Word, grow. And trust the Lord to answer your questions through His Word directly by His Spirit and through biblical teachers and preachers. So be . . .
#1 DISCERNING–never become COMPLACENT
#2 DEVELOPING–never become UNTEACHABLE
And regardless of where you are in this race, you need to keep going—be . . .
#3 DOING–never become INDIFFERENT
Paul ends this paragraph with verse 16, “however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.” That first word is important—“however”. However can be translated one more thing, expressing one final thought. This last attitude adjustment in order to encourage growth in becoming like Christ can be described as consistency.
Having developed a realistic discerning attitude and a developing attitude, if a believer is truly going to grow, you must develop a consistently doing attitude. James is blunt about it–he says in James 1:22, “Prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” Don’t just sit there learning truth, live it–do the Word. Heed the Word. When is the last time you sought to immediately apply the Word after a sermon?
Paul continues with, “Let us keep living by that same standard.” Keep living means to line up or follow the line. If you run track, you follow the lines, meaning stay in your lane to finish the race. “Chris, where is my lane? How do I know where to run?” It is right there on your lap–the Bible delineates the lines of your race.
The Greek word for living in verse 16 is actually the word walk. Walk is used in the New Testament to describe your lifestyle. Not lifestyles of the rich and famous, but the lifestyle of a Christ follower. Keep walking, Christian. You need a “keep on going” attitude–a “never give up” mentality. A step-by-step process–when you fall, you get back up and keep walking.
The image paints the idea of step-by-step, just keep at it. Keep progressing in sanctification. All true Christians will grow. Sanctification or spiritual growth is a biblical promise from God. It is so certain, let me say it again–your spiritual growth is also a criteria for your assurance. If you’re growing, you have assurance of salvation. If you’re not growing over time, over a pattern of life, over a season (not a moment but a pattern), then there is question as to whether you’re genuinely saved. Really? Yes.
Hebrews 12:14, “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” Without sanctification you will not see the Lord. Don’t stop pursuing Christ, don’t stop growing in godliness. When you do, if you are a genuine believer, you don’t lose your salvation. You may lose your assurance for a time and you will lose your reward forever.
Like Lot, Samson, Saul, Ananias and Sapphira–they lost their reward. There are consequences to coasting, goofing off, and becoming indifferent. So Paul says be a doer–let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. Attained means arrived–to come, to reach. Stay with it, don’t coast, don’t stop running, don’t stop growing. At whatever maturity level you have reached or arrived or come to, stick with it and keep going. Coasting means you’re going downhill spiritually.
The Bible teaches you will grow by personally, daily feeding from God’s Word, intimately depending on the Lord in prayer, imitating godly saints and allowing them to invest into you. And because God knows you and I will not often discipline ourselves in the Word, prayer and discipleship, God adds responding to trials he initiates or allows to grow you.
What kind of attitude do you have concerning your growth in Christ? I know some of you crawled in here today–you barely made it to church. You ate too much, fought too much, watched too much TV, played too many video games, hung out with too many friends, filled your life with too many lesser things. You might be saying, “I don’t know if it is worth the effort.”
Listen to what God promises you in Galatians 6:9, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” Listen to what God promises you in Philippians 1:6, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
For a few, you must turn to Christ–He died for sins, rose from the dead and can make you right before God and transform you internally. For the rest, we must rely on the Spirit and His Word. Get serious about pursuing Him in the context of community. What kind of Christian will you be?
From the movie, Chariots of Fire, you may know the name Eric Liddell. He was called “the Flying Scotsman,” and was already famous when he made his phenomenal comeback to win the 440 in the Scotland-France meet. His fame increased as a runner and a Christian, especially at the Paris Olympics in 1924 where he refused to run in his best events (the 100 meters and the 4×100 relay) because they were run on Sunday.
Chariots of Fire inaccurately portrays this as a last-minute decision in Paris, whereas he actually decided well in advance and began to train for the 200- and 400-meter races. Liddell took a bronze in the 200 and amazed the world by winning the 400 in the world-record time of 47.6 seconds, five meters ahead of the silver medalist—he was flying!
Runner he was, but that was only one manifestation of his devotion to Christ. In 1925, having completed his degree in science at Edinburgh and a degree in divinity, he set sail as a missionary to China with the China Inland Mission. In 1932 during his first furlough, he married Florence Mackenzie.
In 1941, facing the growing threat of Japanese occupation, he sent his wife and three daughters to Canada to stay with her family while he stayed on to serve among the poor. Liddell suffered many hardships, but kept on running hard after Christ. Then in 1943, he was imprisoned in an internment camp where he again cheerfully served those around him.
In 1945 at the age of forty-three, Eric Liddell died of a brain tumor that may have been caused by his malnourishment and overwork. Liddell’s grave was marked by a simple wooden cross, with his name written in boot polish. He is interred in the Mausoleum of Martyrs in China. I do not know what the inscription says, but if I were to imagine one it would be, “He died running.” I hope the same will be said of you spiritually–I pray it will be said of me.