Philippians: Following Hard After God

Philippians  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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The pursuit of God is not for sissies.

Text: Philippians 3:2–16
Theme: The pursuit of God is not for sissies.
In 1948 A.W. Tozer wrote a book entitled, The Pursuit of God: The Human Thirst for the Divine. It has become a Christian Classic, and has never been out of print. The 1st chapter is entitled “Following Hard after God” and is the title of this evening’s message. Tozer wrote this book in 1948, but if anything, it is more relevant today. Tozer illustrates how biblical characters like Moses and David and Paul all followed hard after God.
What did Tozer mean by following hard after God? Tozer writes: “How tragic that we in this dark day have had our seeking done for us by our teachers. Everything is made to center upon the initial act of ‘accepting’ Christ’ … and we are not expected thereafter to crave any further revelation of God to our souls. We have been snared in the coils of a spurious logic which insists that if we have found Him, we need no more seek Him. This is set before us as the last word in orthodoxy, and it is taken for granted that no Bible-taught Christian ever believed otherwise. Thus the whole testimony of the worshiping, seeking, singing church on that subject is crisply set aside. The experiential heart-theology of a grand army of fragrant saints is rejected in favor of a smug interpretation of Scripture which would certainly have sounded strange to an Augustine, a Rutherford or a Brainerd.”
The Apostle Paul recognized the importance of following hard after God long before A.W. Tozer arrived on the scene. If our text for this evening has a central theme it’s this: True Grace Creates Desire for More Grace. Jesus said, “No man can come to Me except the Father who sent Me draws him” (Jn 6:44). The impulse to pursue God originates with God, but the outworking of that impulse is “our following hard after Him.”
It is a pernicious fallacy in the Body of Christ that teaches that if you have found God in Christ, you need no more seek him. We all ought to reject that fallacy. There is in the broader Church in America, sadly, an indifference to growth in grace. We want a feel-good faith not a flourishing-faith. Americans want a faith that provides a euphoria of the senses, not a faith that provides an edification of the soul.
This evening let me take you into Paul’s text to show you four reasons why we must follow hard after God and how we do so. The pursuit of God is not optional, even after conversion.


“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. 2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—” (Philippians 3:1–3, ESV)
1. there are dogs who would keep us from knowing Christ more fully
a. have you ever known someone who "had it in for you?"
1) no matter what you did or how well you did it, this person was hot on your heals hassling you, or trying to tear down what you had built up, or spreading rumors about you?
2) if so, you can empathize with the Apostle Paul
2. throughout his ministry as an apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul had to contend with those who undermined the gospel he preached
a. today we call them Judaizers
1) they were false teachers who often followed Paul wherever he went
b. they were like dogs snapping at his heals
3. to acquiesce to their theology was to acquiesce to the very thing Tozer warns about
a. once you make a profession of faith all you have to do is “obey the rules” —their rules in particular—and that was the essence of Christianity
1) Christianity is not about “obeying the rules” but being in a vital relationship with a living Savior who indwells us and dynamically changes us as we seek to be like him
b. Paul would remind us we are to put no confidence in the flesh, but rather glory in Christ Jesus, who worship by the Spirit of God
4. the only way to accomplish this is to go hard after God ... but why?


“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7–8, ESV)
1. three times in this passage Paul speaks of his overwhelming desire to know Christ
a. for this to happen the Apostle has been willing to lose all things comparing them to rubbish for the sake of knowing Christ better
1) all the things that people normally boast about are worthless compared to the surpassing worth of know Christ Jesus
b. it’s significant for us to know that the verb count everything as loss is in the present tense meaning that the Apostle continues to renounce anything and everything that hinders his getting to know Christ
1) that certainly begs the question: Are we willing to renounce the things that are keeping us from knowing Christ Jesus better and more fully?
2. if anyone could have confidence in the flesh, it would have been Paul
a. Paul could have had confidence in his family and community heritage —
... circumcised the eighth day
1) he is a genuine Jew from birth
2) not a proselyte
... of the stock of Israel
1) the Arabs could boast of their descent from Abraham
2) the Edomites could boast of Isaac as their father
3) but only the Jews could boast of Abraham, Isaac AND Jacob, who had prevailed with God and was given the name Israel
... of the tribe of Benjamin
1) the son of Jacob's beloved wife, Rachel
2) the only son actually born in the promised land
3) the tribe which produced Israel's first king
... a Hebrew of the Hebrews
1) both parents were Jews
2) he was true to the customs of the Jews, not one of those liberal Hellenistic Jew
b. Paul could have had confidence in his spiritual heritage
... concerning the law, a Pharisee
1) a very religious person
2) Pharisees were know for their loyalty to Jewish tradition, fidelity to the Law, patriotism, and conservative beliefs theology
... concerning zeal, persecuting the church
1) illustrates his sincerity and enthusiasm for his religion
2) always true to conscience
... concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless
1) he was diligent in fulfilling the requirements of the Law
c. Paul could have boasted in the flesh ... the pride of ritual, the pride of relationship, the pride of respectability, the pride of race, the pride of religion, the pride of reputation
3. why is the Apostle so willing to renounce everything for Christ?
a. because knowing Christ is a value that surpasses everything else
1) for us Christ must be like buried treasure and the pearl of great price that we will sacrifice everything to possess
b. we must go hard after Christ, because not to means that we don’t want to know him
1) and not to want to know Christ is an insult to his value and a sign of spiritual stupor or deadness in us
2) but when you go hard after Christ, to know him, the reward is your joy and his honor
4. Paul prays for us in Ephesians 3:18–19 that we “may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God”
a. there is so much more of Christ for each of us to know
1) his wonders are inexhaustible to all eternity
b. if you claim that he is your pearl of great price and your treasure chest of holy joy and yet you do not go hard after him to know him, you are caught in a contradiction that cannot go on
c. you must go hard after Christ, or eventually surrender your claim to own him as Lord
ILLUS. When a man falls in love, he is driven by an inner compulsion to know his beloved. And therefore he goes hard after her and spends time with her. When a student admires his professor and treasures his wisdom and that professor invites the class to his home, the student goes!
5. the first reason to go hard after Christ is to know him


1. justification refers to the wonderful act of God in which he forgives all our sins, imputes our sin and His wrath to His son, and imputes to us his own righteousness through our faith in Christ
a. in the second half of vs. 8 Paul says, “ ... and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”
2. Paul has told the Philippian believers that “I am counting all things as refuse”; I am forsaking them; I am pursuing Christ
a. why?
1) so that I might gain Christ and share in God’s righteousness
3. what does it mean to gain Christ and share God’s righteousness?
a. at the very least it means that, by faith, we have gained Christ’s acceptance when he comes to judge or when we die
ILLUS. This is our hope in Christ which Elvina M. Hall spoke of in the last stanza of her hymn, Jesus Paid It All.
And when, before the throne,
I stand in Him complete,
“Jesus died my soul to save,”
My lips shall still repeat.
b. because of Christ’s atoning death, and our acceptance of his death and resurrection, when we stand before God we will be found clothed in God’s righteousness and accepted into heaven
c. as a Christian Paul counts all things as loss in order to have this righteousness
4. but God wants us to have full assurance in this life of our heavenly inheritance
a. the lackadaisical spiritual life does not provide that assurance
1) Jesus was clear about the cost of following him ...
“And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:23–25, ESV)
2) you can hear the Apostle echoing our Lord’s command here in the Philippian passage
a) whatever gain or profit he thought he had gained in this life would profit him nothing
b) but in denying self, in taking up the cross daily, in following Christ ... this is were the gain or profit is found
b. following hard after God is the only way to have that assurance
ILLUS. In both of his letter to Timothy, Paul tells this young Christian man to pursue righteousness. Timothy is to follow hard after God if he wants assurance that his righteousness in genuinely Christ’s and not his own.
5. the faith that justifies is a faith that forsakes earthly values and pursues Christ
a. if justification depends on faith, and if forsaking the world as refuse is necessary for having the benefits of justification, then it is plain: saving faith is not merely a one-time decision for Christ
b. saving faith is an ongoing preference for Christ over all other values
1) this is why we are constantly warned about “falling away” from the faith
c. the pursuit of Christ is the evidence of genuine faith in Christ as our treasure


1. in the first half of vs. 12 Paul writes, “Not that I have already obtained or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own.”
a. we must go hard after Christ because we are so deficient ... which is a nicer way of saying we are so sinful
ILLUS. If you’re a failing student should pursue a special tutor. If you’re nearsighted you should pursue an optometrist. If you’re depressed, you should pursue a councilor. If you’re a novice you should pursue a master craftsman.
2. if you’re a Christian, you should pursue Christ
a. not to go hard after Christ means that either you don’t trust his power and willingness to change your imperfections, or that you want to cling to your imperfections
b. in either case, Christ is scorned and we rob him of his glory in us


1. again in vs. 12 we read, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ has made me his own.”
a. this verse explodes the false logic which says that if Christ has found us, we need no more seek him
2. Paul reasons exactly opposite to this: I press on in order to gain Christ, because Christ has already gained me
a. Paul’s conversion was like a catapult that launched him into the lifelong pursuit of holiness
3. the best commentary on Philippians 3:12 is Philippians 2:12–13
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12–13, ESV)
a. go hard after Christ, because Christ is at work in you!
b. work out your salvation, because God is at work in you
1) the verb work out means to carry something out to its ultimate conclusion
a) the idea is that since we have had an experience with God through the risen Lord, Jesus Christ that we do something constructive with our faith
b) Christians must live out their lives in a holiness that reflects being under new management
4. the most fundamental reason why you must go hard after Christ is that Christ is in you, moving you to go hard after him


“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,” (Philippians 3:13, ESV)
1. in vs. 13 we see three principles that guide us in our passionate pursuit of God


1. the first has to do with the way Paul views himself
a. literally it says: “I do not regard myself to have obtained”
2. Paul’s pursuit of Christ rises out of a profound dissatisfaction with the way he is
a. it is a wonderful thing to know that we have been taken possession of by Christ
1) Paul reminds us in Ephesians 1:4 that we are ... God’s possessions—to the praise of his glory
2) we belong to God ... we are the sheep of his pasture who have been bought with a price
b. it is a wonderful thing to know that we have been taken possession of by Christ, but it is a thousand times more wonderful when we realize that he has taken possession of people who remain sinful
3. the first step in going hard after the holy God, then, is to develop a holy dissatisfaction with your spiritual life
a. stand in front of the mirror of the Word and recognize that you have not yet arrived
1) the honest admission of our spiritual imperfections is the starting point for the pursuit of God
b. this means that pride must be slain daily in our lives
1) most believers, when evaluating their character, stand in front of the mirror of the world and conclude, “I’m not so bad” and then we begin to compare ourselves to all the others who are so much more worse then we are
2) it’s tempting to say, “But pastor, you shouldn’t be encouraging people to feel bad about themselves. Their discouraged enough. The last thing people need is one more shortcoming to feel guilty about”
c. here is my response to that ...
1) people who are depressed and emotionally immobilized and angry because their behavior has injured the glory of God are very, very rare
2) but people who are depressed and spiritually immobilized and angry because their behavior has prevented them from having a reputation of being cool and competent are very, very common
4. I’m encouraging you to feel worse that you possess so little of Christ ... to develop a holy dissatisfaction with your spiritual life


1. the second step in going hard after God is to forget those things which lie behind
a. again, in vs. 13 we hear Paul saying, But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind
b. Paul is saying that anything in your background which hinders your pursuit of God you should put out of your mind
1) that doesn’t mean that memory has no place in our spiritual artillery
2) some battles are won by remembered mercies
“I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.” (Psalm 77:11, ESV)
2. there are those believers who will never move forward in their Christian life because past sin is consuming their thoughts
a. 1st some are burdened by some past sin they’ve committed that they simply cannot forgive themselves for even though, in Christ that sin has been forgiven
b. 2nd, some are burdened by some past sin of another that they simply have not forgiven that person of, even though that person has asked for forgiveness
c. in either situation their must be a letting go of the past ... repenting of unforgiveness (either of yourself or another), putting it in Christ’s possession, and seeking the power of the Spirit
3. the point is not, never look back; the point is, only look back for the sake of pressing forward
a. give humble thanks for successes
b. make humble confessions for failure
c. then turn to the future and go hard after God


1. the final step in going hard after God is to strain forward to what lies ahead
a. again in v. 13 Paul tells us, and straining forward to what lies ahead
b. we have an illustration of this in Paul’s own testimony
“Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:25–27, ESV)
2. we go hard after God with all the discipline and self-denial of an athlete
a. and that takes effort
b. few Christians have reached the heights of knowledge and joy and obedience without discipline and self-denial
1) God does not promise spiritual riches to aimless people
2) Paul did not run aimlessly or beat the air
3) he lived with spiritual goals in view and controlled his passions for the sake of those goals
3. perhaps all of us need to be a little more like the Apostle Paul ... setting some spiritual goals for our life and then straining toward them


1. whenever I am called upon to choose between anything in this world and Christ, I choose Christ
2. I will deal with things of this world in ways that draw me nearer to Christ so that I gain more of Christ and enjoy more of him by the way I use the world
3. I will always deal with the things of this world in ways that show that they are not my treasure, but rather show that Christ is my treasure
4. if I lose any or all things this world can offer, I will not lose my joy or my treasure or my life, because Christ is all
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