Citizens of Heaven
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Citizens of Heaven

Philippians 3:20  (ID: 2688)

In Philippians, Paul was writing to a church located in a city that was thoroughly Roman in all ways of life. Similarly, all of us live within the influence of a particular cultural and national context. As Paul reminds us, though, as Christians we have a citizenship that transcends all earthly, national, or geographical ties. Alistair Begg unpacks this truth from Paul, explaining that in our heavenly citizenship through Christ Jesus we find our true identity, security, and dignity.


Sermon Transcript:

Philippians 3:1:

“Finally, my brothers”—or “my brothers and sisters”—“rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.

“Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reasons for such confidence.

“If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.

“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

“Not that I[’ve] already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward[s] what is ahead, I press on toward[s] the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward[s] in Christ Jesus.

“All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

“Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

“Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!”

Amen.

And now, before we turn to the Bible together, a quote from John Newton, and then a prayer from John Calvin. The quote from Newton will perhaps be remembered by some. Newton, writing in the eighteenth century, said, “I [count] it my honour and happiness that I preach to a free people, who have the Bible in their hands. To your Bibles I appeal. I entreat, I charge you to receive nothing upon my word, any farther than I [can] prove it from the word of God; and bring every preacher, and every sermon that you hear, to the same standard.”[1]

Now let us pray together, employing a prayer from Calvin from a long time ago:

We call upon you, our good God and Father, beseeching you, since all the fullness of wisdom and light is found in you, in your mercy to enlighten us by the Holy Spirit in the true understanding of the Word. Teach us by your Word to place our trust in you, to serve and honor you as we ought, so that we may glorify your holy name in all our living and edify our neighbors by our good example. May we render to you, O God, the love and obedience which children owe to their parents, since it has pleased you graciously to receive us in Christ as your children. Amen.

Well, it’s not quite a tradition, but it is becoming increasingly customary for us to turn to this particular passage in Philippians 3 on or around the Fourth of July, and particularly to one phrase that you will find in the twentieth verse—indeed, one sentence that begins Philippians 3:20: “But our citizenship is in heaven.” “Our citizenship is in heaven.”

As thankful as we should be and as thankful as we are for all the benefits and privileges we enjoy as citizens, or at least as residents, of the United States, the Bible speaks of a citizenship that transcends all the ties that are earthly, that are geographical, or that are national. And my concern in coming to this morning, increasingly as the day approached, was to bear a burden that was on my mind. And the burden fell in terms of a question, and the question that came to me was “Do your people know who they are? Does your congregation know who it is? Do they have a sense of identity? And how, if asked, would they identify themselves?”

I know that in the ’60s it became customary to go in search of ourselves, and people still today talk about looking for themselves and so on. We’re not thinking in those terms—not in terms of personal angst, my place in the universe—but rather seeking to understand what it means when Paul writes concerning citizenship in heaven, when in that phrase he provides us with an indication of our identity; and in that identity a discovery of security; and in that security all of our significance and all of our dignity.

We’re going to employ those three words in just a moment, but for now let me remind you that Paul is writing from prison in Rome. He’s writing to Philippi, to a church that he loves. We might actually say that he loves this church as much or more than any church that he was privileged to found. And Philippi is almost like a little Rome. If we had been there, we would have discovered that architecturally, it looked like Rome; linguistically, it sounded like Rome; culturally, its practices were marked by Rome. And Paul recognizes that there is a wonderful analogy in this, insofar as the people who lived in Philippi actually belonged somewhere else. And picking up on that as he writes to them, he speaks of those who, while living here on earth, actually belong to another place, who find their citizenship in heaven.

And the terms of endearment that run through the four chapters of this letter are hard to mistake. Indeed, the congregation would have to be pretty dead to fail to respond to their pastor when he addresses them with such endearment and such love. Look, for example, at 4:1: “Therefore, my brothers [and sisters], you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!”

If you had a schoolteacher who greeted you that way on a Monday morning—“And now, class, whom I love and long for, whom I have missed all weekend, who are my joy and my crown, whom I love to tell about everywhere I go”—goodness gracious, the class would just be sitting up so tall in its seats! As opposed to some teacher comes in, says, “You know, you are a miserable bunch. You never finish your homework. You never show up on time. I don’t know what I’m going to do with you. I don’t think any of you will become anything at all, you know.” And everybody just goes lower and lower and lower into their seats.

Listen to how Phillips paraphrases this statement here: “So, my brothers [and sisters] whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, … stand firmly in the Lord, and remember how much I love you.” “Just remember how much I love you!” Now, this is the relationship of pastor to people. This is as it should be!

And so it is that we come this morning to the text of Scripture. I have the privilege of addressing you in this capacity. I long to do so in the same measure and with the same deep sense of concern that we as a congregation, as individuals, might understand our identity, our security, and our dignity as being in the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the objective. If we succeed, then it will be time for a hymn and on towards lunch.

The Christian’s Identity

Three words. First word: identity.

Now, it’s important that you keep your Bible open and your finger in your Bible. And if you turn back a page in Philippians to the first chapter, you will notice that he has barely begun his letter before he employs one of his favorite descriptions or definitions of a Christian. Verse 1, chapter 1: “To all the saints”—and here’s the phrase—“in Christ Jesus.” “In Christ Jesus.” Here is the nature of the Christian’s identity.

Remember, classically, in 2 Corinthians 5:17, he writes, “If anyone is in Christ, he [or she] is a new creation.” And it is this phrase that Paul employs, as you read through his letters, some one hundred times or more. It is a parallel phrase to that which, for example, we find in 2:1: “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ…”[2] When you go into chapter 3 and then into chapter 4, you will discover that he also employs another parallel phrase, and that phrase is “in the Lord.”[3] Okay? So, “in Christ Jesus,” “united to Christ,” “in the Lord”—all of this speaks to the question of the identity of the one whose “citizenship is in heaven.” Becoming a Christian is defined as being “in Christ.”

So the real question, always, for anybody considering the Bible and its claims, inevitably comes to this: Am I in Christ? Am I in Christ? If someone says to me, “How do you identity yourself?” you would say, “I am in Christ. I am a Christian.”

When we’re declared to be in the right with God, then we know peace.

Now, Paul works this out in various places—in 1 Corinthians 15 and, classically, in Romans chapter 5. Romans chapter 5 is on page 798, if you’re using a pew Bible. And I want you to turn to it with me for just a moment, because unless we understand this, we will go immediately and sadly wrong.

In the book of Romans, Paul is making clear that the whole world is accountable before God, that none of us has a claim upon God, that although we may have missed the mark only by two-and-a-half inches or missed it by two-and-a-half miles, we have all missed the mark. “All have sinned and fall[en] short of the glory of God,”[4] and no one will be able to protest their innocence before God. The wonderful thing, he then goes on to say, is that despite the depth of this dilemma, God has come from the outside and provided for us what we need in a Savior; and that when we are “justified [by] faith, we have peace with God.”[5] (In other words, when we’re declared to be in the right with God, then we know peace.) That by nature we’re alienated from God: he is angry, and we are rebellious. Jesus has come, interceding on behalf of those of us who are rebellious against God, and he bears in his own body the anger of God against all of our rebellion, and he settles the charge that is against us. That’s what he’s arguing as he goes through.

By the time he gets to chapter 5, he is beginning to make this clear. And from verse 12 on, he makes this classic statement concerning the nature of our lives. So, verse 12, he says, “Just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin…” When people ask you, “Where did death come from?” the answer is, “It came from sin.” If they ask you where sin came from, the answer is, “It came through one man.” That’s what he’s arguing.

What he’s saying is this: that Adam, the first man, was appointed by God as the representative of humanity. Therefore, what Adam did counted not only for Adam but counted for all whom Adam represented—namely, the totality of humanity. So, Paul says, since sin has entered through that one man, we have sinned in him. We needn’t be unduly concerned about blaming it on Adam, because we’ve sure, each of us, made perfectly clear that we’ve got a good handle on sinning, left to ourselves. What we are by nature we are also by action.

Now, if you look down at verse 18, he makes this point very clearly: “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass”—or if you like, “the trespass of one”—“just as the result of [the trespass of one] was condemnation for all men, so also the result of [the act of righteousness of one]”—or “one act of righteousness”—“was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man”—that is, Adam—“the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man”—namely, Jesus, the second Adam or the last Adam[6]—“the many will be made righteous.”

Now, it’s not our purpose to work all of this out this morning, but what we need to understand is this: that this is the foundation for, if you remember from school, when you had to do Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained—not my favorite time in English literature, but nevertheless, we gritted our teeth, and we made our way through. What in the world was Milton on about? He was on about this, actually, in his own way and style: the fact that humanity had fallen into sin as represented in Adam and that the only way out for all of humanity was to be found in that second Adam—namely, in the Lord Jesus Christ.

When you read 1 Corinthians 15, which you may do at your leisure, you discover that Paul is making the point there that Jesus is the second or the last Adam, who has come to undo all that Adam did by the fall and to do all that Adam failed to do on account of his disobedience. So, if you like, he is Adam in reverse, undoing what Adam did and regaining what Adam lost.

And that is the significance of being “in Christ.” We are all in Adam by nature, but we are only in Christ by faith. We are all in Adam, by nature, born. We are all in Christ, only by grace, born again. You see the significance of identity. You see how easy it is for us to think of ourselves in terms that make us feel okay about ourselves in superficial, transient, passing ways while failing to recognize the great need that is represented in our lives of being in Christ.

So when we read this, we discover that it is only when we are in Christ, when what Jesus has accomplished by his life and death and resurrection has been applied to us, that all that Jesus has done becomes of any significance or of any practical benefit to us. Do you understand what I’m saying? It is only when we’re in Christ that what Christ has achieved—what he has accomplished in his death for sinners, in his living of a perfect life—it is only when we’re in Christ that it becomes of any practical benefit to us.

And you know that if you have come to Christ. Because before you were a Christian, whether you were growing up in your home and your parents told you, “And Jesus died upon the cross for sinners, and he lived a perfect life, and we’re accepted on the basis of his righteousness,” we just nodded our heads. It seemed like a mathematical formula. It seemed like one of these equations that always has to balance out—whatever they’re called. And people would sing, “In Christ alone my hope is found, he is my light, my strength, my song,”[7] and we realize we’ve gone through four or five lines of it, and we haven’t a clue what we’ve just said! But now when we sing it, it means everything to us. “In Christ alone my hope is found. He’s my light, he’s my strength, he’s my song, he’s my solid ground.” He’s “my only [hope] in life and in death.”[8]

“Why do I sense this?” Because you are in Christ. Because all of the blessings and benefits that have been accomplished in Jesus have been applied to your life as you have come to trust in Christ. And that is Paul’s personal testimony, isn’t it, in chapter 3? You can read it again for yourselves at home. He says, “If you want to think about acceptance with God in terms of personal righteousness—and a number of you apparently want to put up your hands and say yes”—then, he says, “I can tell you that I had that covered in the extreme. If you want to hear my credentials, they are as follows: I was circumcised on the eighth day, I was part of the tribe of Benjamin, I was born as a citizen of Israel. I grew up in this way and so on.”

And then he says the most remarkable thing: “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss.” Something has happened to him. For all the days of his life, he’s been making deposits in the bank. And as he puts the money in the bank, he thinks he’s putting money in the bank. And now he says, “I wasn’t actually putting money in the bank. I was actually taking money out of the bank. And everything that I thought was in the profit account is actually in the loss account.”

Why? What changed? “I met Jesus. I met Jesus! Jesus changed everything. I was chasing down all the followers of Jesus, and he arrested me, laid hold of me,” he says in 3:12, “took hold of me. And when he took hold of me, then it dawned on me. And he took me to himself, and now I have a righteous standing before God that is not the righteous standing that I had worked so hard to attain but is a righteous standing which is entirely on the basis of who Jesus is and what he has done.” Paul, you see, I think would have been very happy with the lyrics of “In Christ Alone.” And that is the testimony of all who are in Christ.

This morning, I was thinking about this as I drove here, and I thought of the song that begins, “A debtor to mercy alone…” And then I went and found it. And let me just give you… This is Augustus Toplady, in the eighteenth century. Here is the testimony of somebody who is in Christ, who understands their identity:

A debtor to mercy alone,
Of covenant mercy I sing;
Nor fear, with your righteousness on,
My person and off’ring to bring.
The terrors of law and of God
With me can have nothing to do.

“Oh, who do you think you are? ‘The terrors of law and of God with me can have nothing to do.’ Oh, I want to hear the next line, Augustus. You must be one special person. You don’t fear the judgment of God? You don’t fear death? I mean, you’re singing that ‘In Christ Alone’ song—‘No guilt in life, no fear in death’? Where does that come from?”

The terrors of law and of God
With me can have nothing to do;
My Savior’s obedience and blood
Hide all my transgressions from view.[9]

I am in Christ! Therefore, I am viewed in one sense by God as being as righteous as Christ. As righteous as Christ! Because the only righteousness I have is the righteousness of Christ; has nothing to do with what I’m doing, everything to do with what he has done. There is no story like it anywhere else, except in the Bible.

And if you are in Christ today, if you are a Christian, then to some degree this will be your testimony. Somewhere along the way you will be able to explain that by agency of your parents, your loved ones, your friends, your pastor, a book, a neighbor, a somebody, you were brought to repentance and to faith. You came to a point where you said, “I need Christ,” and you came to trust in him. And the Holy Spirit worked in you the miracle of new birth, so that although what you thought you were doing was just mumbling out a bunch of phraseology—“I admit that I’m a sinner and I need you” and so on—and you walked away from wherever the encounter was, in somebody’s back garden or in a prayer room or whatever it is, and you said, “Well, who knows what that was about?” But today you know what it’s about, because everything changed!

What happened? God regenerated you. You were made new by the Holy Spirit. You were united to Christ. And as a result, all that Jesus had accomplished on the cross was applied to your life. And so your identity is entirely in him.

The Christian’s Security

Second word is the word security, and it follows naturally, I think. There is a security that emerges from our identity. I’ve been traveling largely on my American passport, but if the line is shorter, then I use my British passport. And Sue comes with me, and I go with her—it doesn’t matter—but we manage to work our way through the shortest line. Both passports, I think, are pretty good. I wouldn’t want to argue that they’re the best passports in the world to have, but they’re up there. And with that passport comes all of the benefits and blessings of citizenship. It is because of the relationship that is enjoyed with the nation and through the nation that the secretary of state stamps on the inside of the passport that the bearer of this passport is to be allowed free passage, is allowed to go to their destination, is allowed to do all of these things, and all of that is backed by, grounded in, the fact of our identity, so that our security is found in who we are. That is the point that Paul makes.

God’s acceptance of us doesn’t depend on our accomplishments or our endeavors but on Christ’s accomplishment and Christ’s endeavors.

And when you think about it, it’s very important. Because inevitably somebody says, “Well, I’ve begun to follow Jesus, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep going.” Well, who started the thing off for you? The answer is, God did. Oh, you believed. God didn’t believe for you. But when you look back on it, you go, “It’s quite amazing to me that I ever come to trust in Christ.” And so Paul, in Philippians 1, he encourages the folks. He says, “I’m very confident of the fact that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”[10] God began the good work in you, and he will bring it to completion.

Why is that? Well, because the “righteousness,” the right standing before God, “comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”[11] “[The] righteousness … comes through faith in Jesus … to all who believe.” That God’s acceptance of us, God’s declaration about us, doesn’t depend on our accomplishments or our endeavors but upon Christ’s accomplishment and Christ’s endeavors. And that once-and-for-all completed life and death and resurrection is not only the basis of the Christian’s identity but is the ground of the Christian’s security.

Every so often you make a purchase, whatever it might be. You might buy a tie. You take it outside the shop, you walk down the street, you take it out to have another look at it when you’re having a coffee, and you go, “I think this is a miserable tie. I’m going to take it back.” And your wife says to you, “Well, why don’t you just look at the receipt?” And you look at the receipt, and oh, the dreaded words on the bottom: “No exchanges. No refunds.” You’re stuck with it, unless you want to give it to your uncle for his birthday.

The transaction has been effected, and there’s no way out. Well, from the negative side, that’s disappointing, but from the positive side—which is the nature of the gospel—it’s fantastic! What Jesus has accomplished on the cross and effected for us in applying it to our lives is final and complete. He’s not going to back out. It is an inviolable contract. It is an inviolable covenant. There is no rescinding of it. No exchanges. No reversals.

That’s why it is so wonderful when you get to Romans chapter 8 and you read these glorious words: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them [that] are in Christ Jesus.”[12] “To them [that] are in Christ Jesus.” Why is there no condemnation? You say, “Well, I feel condemned. I feel ashamed. That was a bad thing I did. That was a bad thing I said.” Of course! And it was, and it needs to be repented of. But it didn’t alter your standing with God. It didn’t alter your identity. You didn’t move three seats down in the classroom like when you were at primary school—and you filled in the report, and you’re no longer third-top of the class, you’re now seventeenth in the class. Why? Because of your performance. It doesn’t work like that. Because all of our identity is in Jesus.

“Oh,” you say, “what am I going to do when my past condemns me? When it rears its ugly head? When out of nowhere something jumps up and says, ‘Yeah, I can’t believe you did that, said that, were that’?” Or when our present disappoints us and disappoints the people around us, and when we know ourselves to be miserable? Or when our future paralyzes us and makes us fearful? What do you do then? Where is security? Only in Christ! Only in Christ.

That’s why we sang what we sang: “Be thou my battle[field], sword for the fight.”[13] Jesus goes out as our champion in the way that David went out before the armies of Philistines. Remember? And he goes out not simply as David the shepherd boy, but he goes out as David the representative of Israel. And that’s why when he defeated Goliath and chopped off his head, all of the armies swarmed behind him and declared their enjoyment of the great victory that David had accomplished.[14] It was a picture of what Jesus would do: that he would stride out onto the battlefield with the Evil One, that he would dislocate him, that he would deal with him, that he would put him out in the garbage waiting for final collection. And all who are in Christ come behind in the champion of Jesus. And we say, “He is our victory. He is our battlefield.”

The answer is that our identity is found in Christ and our security is found in looking away to Christ. It is in the reminder of what we are in Christ that serves as a constant defense against our slipping back into what we are by nature. You got that? It is the reminder of what we are in Christ that serves as the defense mechanism against slipping back into what we are by nature.

That’s the argument that Paul uses, isn’t it? He says, “Given that you are in Christ, do you mean to tell me that you would engage in this activity?” He doesn’t give them a long list of rules and regulations to try and protect them from that which would be in violation of the law of God. No, he simply reminds them of what they are. “You are in Christ. All of the benefits of Jesus are yours, all applied to your life. Therefore, it’s not impossible for you to act in this way, but it is incongruous.” And it is the very incongruity of it which, of course, alarms us, and we understand it. And that is why the Westminster Confession of Faith tells us that as Christians, we’re involved in “a continual and irreconcilable war.”[15]

Romans chapter 7 works it out. There we are, aware of the fact that we’re a mess and so on. And where do we look? Well, we look to Christ, who by his death bore the penalty of our sins and by his life and in his resurrection didn’t simply bring us back to square one—back, as it were, in the Monopoly game of life, back to zero to start again. That wouldn’t be very good, would it? That all that happened was that we got all our bad stuff cleaned up, and you got a clean sheet, and then you had a go at it on your own? What confidence would I have that in the time that I’ve now got from getting a clean sheet to finally handing in my sheet, I won’t make a complete mess of the whole sheet? What confidence do I have that now, having had my past all dealt with, my future’s going to be any better than my past was? How do I have any confidence that when I stand before the examination, I will have anything to say?

It is the reminder of what we are in Christ that serves as the defense mechanism against slipping back into what we are by nature.

The answer is the same. It is in Christ, in what the theologians refer to as the active righteousness of Christ—that since we are in Christ, all of his keeping of the law, all of his perfect obedience, all of his absolute life is our life! He lived it for all who are in Christ.

Gresham Machen, who died on the first of January in 1937, was a professor at Princeton and then a founder at Westminster Seminary. And writing to his dear friend, the late professor John Murray, days before his death, he sent Murray a telegram, and the telegram simply read, “[Dear John,] I [am] so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.”[16] “I [am] so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.”

What was he saying? Well, in a radio broadcast, he addressed that very subject, and I’ll give you a brief quote, we’ll go to our final word, and we’ll be through.

Listen to this: “Those who have been saved by the Lord Jesus Christ are in a far more blessed condition than was Adam before he fell. Adam before he fell was righteous in the sight of God, but he was still under the possibility of becoming unrighteous.” Right?

Those who have been saved by the Lord Jesus Christ not only are righteous in the sight of God but they are beyond the possibility of becoming unrighteous. In their case, the probation is over. It is not … because they have stood it successfully. It is not over because they … themselves [have] earned the reward of assured blessedness which God promised on condition of perfect obedience. But it is over because Christ has stood it for them; it is over because Christ has merited for them the reward by His perfect obedience to God’s law.[17]

That’s why Augustus Toplady can write what he writes: “The terrors of law and of God with me can have nothing to do.”

The Christian’s Dignity

Well, just one word concerning our dignity. Where does our dignity lie? In Christ Jesus. All of our dignity. So the dignity that attached to their identity and their security didn’t have a rap to do with whether Paul was writing to somebody who read it as a doctor or somebody who read it as a soldier, somebody who read it as a homeowner or someone who read it as a slave, because all of them recognized that their dignity was found in their identity and their identity was found in the Lord Jesus Christ.

You see how amazing this is? It allows no basis for division—no basis for division on the strength of race, color, education, finance, school tie, whatever! All the things that are mechanisms for identifying ourselves. “And who are you?” “Well, I’m…” “Oh really? Very nice.” Who are you? “Well, this is what I do, but who I am is, I’m a sinner saved by grace.”

No reason for us to be divided. And no reason, either, for us to be defeated. We know who we are. We know what we’re like. I have told you before, to quote Dick Lucas, that if you knew what I was really like, you would never listen to me preach. And if I knew what you were really like, I probably wouldn’t preach to you.

I’m aware of failure and sin and of shame and of disgrace. But that is not the whole picture. That is not the completed story. I am, by God’s grace, in Christ.

On what basis are you planning to stand before God? What are you going to offer on the day that he asks you to give an account? Let’s suppose you can get rid of every bad thing you’ve ever done—you can eradicate it. What are you going to offer in your defense?

What will you wear? What would you wear if you were going to see the king? What would you wear if you were going to see the president? You’d spend a long time, wouldn’t you? You might even look at all your wardrobe and say, “You know what, there’s nothing that I can go in there in. Even my best stuff looks like… not so good.” But what if he came out of his chambers and said, “Here, I have a robe for you to wear. Wear this.”

That’s the story of the gospel: that on our best day, when we’ve polished up all our duds, all our best endeavors to make ourselves acceptable before God are frankly a shambles, and we have no basis upon which to approach him unless he would give us a robe of “righteousness from God … through faith in Jesus … to all who believe.”[18] “To all who believe.”

So go out and enjoy today. Go out and rejoice in the privileges of freedom, democracy, American citizenship, and everything else. But do not go out and spend a nanosecond assuming that those freedoms and those benefits and a knowledge—an intellectual knowledge—of what I have just told you is equivalent to those truths being applied to your life through personal faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. I beseech you, as though God were making his appeal through my very mouth: be reconciled to God.[19]

Father, thank you that you have made so wonderfully available to us this great and glorious good news. Thank you that it turns on its head all of our notions, every religious idea about acceptance with you. And when we reach the end of all of our endeavors, we find there stands Christ. Forgive us, Lord, when we have stayed away from you because we think we’re so good that we don’t need a Savior. Help us when we think we’re so bad that you would never be our Savior.

Hear our prayers. Let our cries come to you. For your Son’s sake. Amen.


[1] “Of a Living and a Dead Faith,” in The Works of John Newton (1820; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1985), 2:558.

[2] Philippians 2:1 (NIV 1984).

[3] See Philippians 3:1; 4:1, 2, 4, 10.

[4] Romans 3:23 (NIV 1984).

[5] Romans 5:1 (NIV 1984).

[6] See 1 Corinthians 15:45.

[7] Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, “In Christ Alone” (2001).

[8] The Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 1.

[9] Augustus Toplady, “A Debtor to Mercy Alone” (1771).

[10] Philippians 1:6 (paraphrased).

[11] Romans 3:22 (NIV 1984).

[12] Romans 8:1 (KJV).

[13] Dallan Forgaill, trans. Mary Byrne, versified by Eleanor Hull, “Be Thou My Vision” (1905, 1912).

[14] See 1 Samuel 17:41–52.

[15] The Westminster Confession of Faith 13.2.

[16] Quoted in Brian L. De Jong, “What Machen Meant,” Banner of Truth, November 28, 2006, https://banneroftruth.org/us/resources/articles/2006/what-machen-meant.

[17] J. Gresham Machen, “The Active Obedience of Christ,” in God Transcendent and Other Selected Sermons, ed. Ned Bernard Stonehouse (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), 173, quoted in De Jong, “What Machen Meant.”

[18] Romans 3:22 (NIV 1984). See also Isaiah 61:10.

[19] See 2 Corinthians 5:20.

Copyright © 2021, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.