On Being a Christ-Follower: Philippians 3:17-4:1
Right in the middle of this passage of scripture is the key to understanding what it means to be a Christ-follower and how we are to relate to the life we are living: “our citizenship is in heaven” (3:20). This truth reorients everything. It is the ultimate “different drummer.” We are citizens, first and foremost, of heaven. It is, “from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (3:20). With this orientation, there is no other savior; there is no other source of hope or strength. Paul, the writer of this letter, weeps for those who think their lives can be saved by consumption or achievement.
This world does not bring Paul to tears. Rather, his tears are for those who put their hope in the very things that are bringing them down. Paul speaks in 3:21 of a “transformation.” This is a church word that is not just a church word. We know of transformation from toys to makeovers. The church usage of the word speaks of a spiritual change that affects how we see the world and the meaning of life.
We can be changed and/or transformed by the same power that “enables [Christ] to make all things” (3:21). Understanding our heavenly citizenship as more important than our earthly citizenship is both one of the results of our transformation in Christ and one of the evidences of it. We are encouraged to, “stand firm in the Lord in this way” (4:1). For many of us, standing firm in this citizenship, or this orientation, will have to be preceded by a return to the Lord. Lent slows us down, gets our attention, and reminds us that such a turning is possible.
In the first verse of this passage, Paul lets us know that this transformation is learned. It may be instantaneous for some, but Paul is focused on those of us who must learn the ways of transformation. Christ in us is the beginning and the necessary starting point of the learning process. Paul suggests we imitate him [Paul] and others whom we know to be transformed toward Christ-likeness by their heavenly citizenship. There are beginners and there are masters, but they are all in the process of being transformed by Christ. All are learning what heavenly citizenship means. It’s awkward at first, unnatural, but deep inside we know it’s right. We stumble, but Jesus-our teacher, our model, the Master-helps us back to our feet and back on the path. He orients us. His teachings in scripture and his Spirit within us give us the guidelines.
There is another orientation in this passage that is very helpful. Paul suggests that we are brothers and sisters with any and all who are also in this transformation process toward Christ-likeness. We are brothers and sisters with any and all who know their first citizenship is their heavenly citizenship. The definition of family has expanded and gathered around us, and this is a source of warmth and strength. Knowing we are not alone encourages us. A transformed citizenship puts everything in a different and proper perspective.
The season of Lent calls us to turn or return to this knowing, this understanding, this perspective and orientation. Paul says, “Stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.” Philippians 4:1 (4:1).
Let my heavenly citizenship reorient my earthly day;
let Christ be seen in me.
A word about the series
The Lenten season has always inspired many people to create everything from poems, art and music to a completely new direction in their lives. This Lenten season Tabernacle will be exploring many of those creations in the hope of inspiring you to compose in a medium that is natural for you. The paintings in the Sanctuary are of the Biblical Stations of the Cross. The artist, Grieg Leach, completed them in 2010. They will help us to visualize the events leading to the crucifixion of Jesus. In addition to the paintings there is a Lenten devotional booklet, Return to Me, which is available in print or online. The Stations of the Cross also inspired these devotions, written by Terry York of Baylor University. Living with these two bodies of artistic expression based on the Biblical Stations of the Cross throughout the season of Lent should help us as we seek to return our lives to God by walking with Jesus though his final days.
Pray, read, think and return to God.