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).
Paul’s letter to the Philippians is incredible! According to D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the verses above summarize Paul’s entire appeal for his readers to follow his example to make knowing Jesus Christ in all things the goal of their daily lives.1 Throughout his letter, he called them to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ (1:27; 2:2, 12). I think these verses are very relevant for us today, because the dangers facing the believers in the first century were really no different from the ones we face today.
There has always been a danger of reducing the Christian life to simply living a moral life, adopting outward behaviors and standards that make us feel that we are living well for Jesus. For instance, so-called Christian parents may feel pleased with themselves if they regularly go to church, read their Bibles daily, pray diligently for their children, teach them to honor and obey them, behave, speak, and dress appropriately, and develop and maintain a good reputation for God and their own parents. Morality focuses on outward behavior, on actions, and so arguments and appeals are made on issues such as modest dress, wholesome food, drink, and entertainment, number of children, appropriate music, etc. It’s not that true Christian holiness isn’t concerned about such things, but in any of these matters that we are tempted to argue about, the issue isn’t the issue. The motive lies at the heart of the matter of holiness.
One major misunderstanding is the notion that holiness describes what one does, which isn’t altogether wrong but can easily lead into a trap. The reason I feel impressed to write on this subject is that it seems there has been much damage doneto the name of Christ and in the name of Christ by spiritual leaders and parents who have a mistaken view of holiness. Most people in church cringe at the mere mention of the word and the rest are ho-hum about the concept. Very few rejoice and get excited about holiness. That’s a sad commentary on the state of the church.
True Christian holiness, however, might best be understood as a lifestyle of constant, consistent oneness with Jesus Christ through the agency of the Holy Spirit. We are to be holy as God is holy, wrote the apostle Peter in his first epistle (1:15-16), and this holiness affects our behavior. The next verse gives us insight into Peter’s understanding of the holiness of God that we are to emulate. He reasons in this way: If you believe that the Father and the Son are one and that Jesus never acted apart from His union with the Father, then your behavior should flow out of your oneness with God the Father and His Son.
Our holiness, therefore, is the root of our identity—a state of mind, a posture, a world-view—that differs from the identity of everyone else on the planet who is not a believer. The way believers live—expressed in their decisions on various issues in life—isn’t about self-expression or impressing people, but an expression of who they are as they are united with Christ. G. Campbell Morgan, wrote, “Holiness does not depend on your effort at all. Holiness simply depends upon your abandoning yourself to the indwelling Spirit of God, that He may maintain in health the life which He has Himself communicated. The way in which man can live the Christ-life in health and strength, and ever-increasing strength, is simply that of answering the call of the life within him.”2
Believers represent Christ, just as He represents the Father in heaven. “Like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in allyour behavior” (1 Peter 1:15). You might think of what Peter was saying in this way: As the Godhead acts as one, so you are to act as one with God in Christ. So holiness is a relational word, not merely a behavioral or descriptive word. True Christian holiness asks, “Am I revealing the presence, character, and person of Jesus Christ truthfully when I say or do _____?” or “Lord, what do You want to say or do in this situation or relationship?”
Consider the relevancy of our holiness. As we lead our families and make decisions, we should always ask ourselves if the decisions we make for our wives and children will lead them to identify with the world system or with Christ. Are we teaching them to seek Jesus, Himself, in all that they do? Even if our children are not yet believers, we want to lead them to communicate with Him freely and honestly, while filling them with hope that at some point, Jesus will reveal Himself to them. If they are believers, then we can do nothing better than teach them by our example that this kind of holiness is characteristic of all believers and should govern their behavior in all circumstances.
Obviously this understanding of holiness applies to your relationship with everyone you know. Your communication with them in grooming, dress, attitude, word, and behavior should primarily be determined as you practice personal holiness with Jesus Christ. You want others to see Jesus and not be distracted from Him or confused about Him by your self-expression. My first point is that the believers’ holiness was Paul’s primary concern when he wrote to the Philippians. Why should believers think and live this way? Paul wrote that it is because of . . .
According to the apostle Paul, the reason for living a holy life—making Jesus Christ first in all things—is because of our home. Our home isn’t located on this earth. We’ve been transferred to a new city, state, and country—the new city of Jerusalem, in the state of Light, in the kingdom of heaven. Paul wrote that believers are presently citizens of heaven. He encouraged the Colossians to give “thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:12-13). The writer of Hebrews affirmed this truth when he wrote that we
“ . . . have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect” (Heb. 12:22-23).
Our home is no longer here on earth, but in heaven, and that’s why we live holy lives. We are ambassadors of the Kingdom of God for the present time. Our allegiance is to another country and king in contrast to our neighbors who do not believe in Jesus Christ. Much of what the apostle Paul wrote in his letters comes from this mindset that we are strangers, aliens, and ambassadors on temporary duty or deployment. Our bodies are considered “tents” (2 Cor. 5:1), a temporary dwelling that people who are just passing through carry with them. Our minds are to be set on our homeland. “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). The idea that Christians are people who live a little more decently or better than the average person here on earth misses the heart of true biblical Christianity. We are citizens of heaven, elevated to a new life in Christ by the power of the new birth. We “mind” the things of the Spirit (Rom. 8:6) because we are one with Him, and He reveals the heart of our King, Jesus, and the things of our homeland, heaven (1 Cor.2:12). The fact that our citizenship is in heaven—namely that we represent our King, Jesus, and His country, the kingdom of heaven—shapes our lives and governs our choices.
Previous to the verses above, Paul had described what drives people who are citizens of earth: “their god is their appetites.” Lloyd-Jones’ comments are insightful on these people. “By that [their god is their appetites] he means that they live [according] to their instincts, their lusts, their passions; these are the things that govern and control them, and that is where their allegiance is. You can test where a man’s allegiance is by the way he spends his time and money and energy. A man’s treasure is where his heart is, and his heart is where his treasure is. A man very soon shows what and who his god is. But the position of Christian men and women is that their King is the Lord Jesus Christ, their King is God, He is supreme in their life, and they give their allegiance to Him, and to nothing and to no one else.”3
Surely you can see the contrast. Christians are very different from people who live decent, moral lives so that others will think they are good people who live for God. In fact, some people are upright, moral, and generous with no thought of God at all! Christians are cognizant that everything they do and say flows out of their relationship with Jesus Christ. They long to represent Him well and never give anyone the impression that they are at home here on earth, trying to identify with and build their hopes on earthly things. My second point is that true believers are holy because of where their home is—where they live. They are citizens of heaven, and that understanding impacts all of their decisions, behaviors, and values. Are your allegiance and identity showing in your behavior, lifestyle, and value choices? Of course they are! So, are your allegiance and identity with your king?
True Christians have a passion for holiness because they are citizens of heaven. But that’s not the only reason they live holy lives. Paul said that their hope also produces holy living. Believers know what the gospel promises to those who are citizens of heaven—namely, perfect conformity, in body, soul, and spirit, to Jesus Christ, their King. If we know that’s where we are going, then that hope drives us that direction in our behavior and choices, otherwise known as our holiness. That’s Paul’s point in verses 20-21. Paul’s introduction to the Colossians underscored the power of hope to produce holiness. He had heard of their faith toward Christ and their love for each other “because of the hope laid up for [them] in heaven, of which [they] previously heard in the work of truth, the gospel” (Col. 1:4-5).
He’s not the only one who understood that our hope produces holy living. John wrote in his first epistle, “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 hopefixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 Jn. 3:2-3).
Have you considered this hope that awaits you as you wait for Jesus to return, or when you go to Him after your last breath? Jesus’ power will transform you completely, and there will be no more sin left in your spirit or soul, not even a vestige of sin and the effects of living in this world. All the struggles and suffering you experienced in your journey through this vile, hostile world will disappear with one breath, and you’ll be translated into perfection! The glory of God will envelop you, and you’ll love everything He loves and hate everything He hates. If that is your hope, shouldn’t you be consumed with knowing what He loves and hates now? Shouldn’t you press on to know Him in all that you do as a parent, spouse, servant, and ambassador of our Lord? I hope you now understand my third point. Understanding and thinking about our hope will impact everything we do. That’s the power of the Christian’s hope, and Paul declared that it only makes sense that this hope produces holiness.
Our Holiness, Our Home, Our Hope
We need revival, and there’s never been a revival without holiness. If we will think more about these three “H’s,” and if God will open the hearts of many to grasp what Paul wrote to the Philippians in 3:20-21, then I believe we will experience revival personally and collectively. We don’t need something new to be better parents and better Christians. We need a revelation of Christ and our union with Him. I want to encourage you to think about Him, meditate on His presence, and consider your citizenship and your King.
Lest someone think I’m calling you to try harder to be holy and follow a bunch of rules to be righteous, I’ll say it one last time: “We are united with Christ, and He lives in and with us. Our confidence is not in the flesh but in the Spirit of God, who has the power to transform us into the image of Jesus Christ.” If this kind of living seems foreign and impossible to you, then perhaps that’s because your home is here on earth and your hope lies in earthly wisdom, satisfaction, and success. All believers in Christ once felt that way. What made the difference? The power of God revealed in and to them. That can happen to you. Simply humble yourself and ask Him to change you and transfer you into His Kingdom of Light. Then look out—expect Him to answer!
1. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Life of Joy and Peace: An Exposition of Philippians, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 1999, p. 351.
2. G. Campbell Morgan, Simple Things of the Christian Life, Rapid Christian Press Incorporated, 1963, p. 36.
3. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Life of Joy and Peace: An Exposition of Philippians, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 1999, p. 355.