The Ultimate Escape

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:17-21)

While many people are firmly entrenched in what Paul calls “earthly living,” having set their minds on earthly things, we as Christians are reminded of the simple yet profound and glorious truth that our home is in heaven. It’s a glorious truth, and yet it may also present great challenges for us. In this passage, verses 20 and 21, Paul speaks of three things. He speaks of…

 

  1. A place to which we belong
  2. A transformation that will take place in our bodies
  3. The power of Christ which makes all this possible for us

 

He wraps up our future in two short verses. God tells us what will happen, and we can be sure that it’s going to happen. With all the uncertainty that we deal with in life, day in and day out, it is good to know of what is sure and what cannot change. God in these verses gives us a peg on which we can hang all of our hope. When I say hope, I’m saying it in a biblical sense. I don’t mean hope as in, “I hope this may happen,” as if there is uncertainty involved. What I mean is hope as the Bible talks about, in that it is sure, it will happen, you can bet your life on this kind of hope. Hope in that we believe it will come to happen because God has clearly and decisively said that it will. This is not hope based on a feeling or a desire or desperation, but the certainty of hope based on the very character and promises of God.

The truth is that we all struggle with varying aspects of what God clearly tells us. If you are a Christian, then here is the most wonderful truth you can receive: this is not your home, heaven is where Christ will be, your current body is temporary, you’re getting a new, perfect one, and all of that is as sure as God is powerful! With these truths in the forefront of our minds and thoughts, I am convinced that we can face things here with greater peace and joy. 

In 2 Corinthians 6 Paul speaks of living in this world under hardship. Anyone who has ever lived in this world has lived in hardship. Suffering is part of the human experience. No one is immune from suffering. We will suffer. Suffering is a part of life. Paul wrote in Philippians 1:29, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake.” And in Romans 8:17, “And if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” Suffering is part of our human experience, and as Christians we will suffer, but not as others do. Our suffering is with hope, not as those who have no hope that Paul speaks of in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14. 

Listen to how Paul describes living under hardship from 2 Corinthians 6:10 – “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” He says that he and we can be “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” How can this be? We are sorrowful in hard and dreadful earthly circumstances, but in them we can be always mindful of what? Of Philippians 3:20-21! Sorrowful, yes, but always remembering that heaven is our home, where Christ is, this body is passing away, but a new one awaits, and God is powerful to make it all happen. 

Temporary is what this life is. Temporary means temporary, it doesn’t mean pain-free, just temporary. Temporary will not last, but heaven will, Christ will, new bodies will, and God’s power will.

In 2 Corinthians 6 he also says we are as those “having nothing, yet possessing everything.” On earth we may be poor, we may not be at ease here, we may feel like we don’t belong, we are poor in spirit, and yet we possess everything! What does that mean? It means we possess Christ, heaven, and a glorious future.

Do you ever struggle to get your head around that? Do you struggle to keep that perspective when life seems hard? Do you struggle with what is seen around you to the point of neglecting to fix your mind on the unseen that is to come? This is common. And Paul recognized the difficulty that we have as Christians in maintaining a right focus on what we know is true, so he prayed a magnificent prayer that God would inflict our minds with what is true in a mighty way. Here is what he prayed, and how we can pray for each other.

15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:15-23)

Paul here is praying that Christians would fully believe and embrace truths that God has given to them. What would it be like for us if we fully, without reservation, actively, with our whole heart and being, embraced Philippians 3:20-21? Could it be that we would more sincerely and with conviction say with Paul, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18) Or earlier in 2 Corinthians 4:7, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” These jars of clay in which we now live, along with our momentary afflictions, all the things that we see with our eyes, all this will pass, and our bodies will be transformed into eternal glory, where the unseen will be seen, and we will reign with our Lord forever as He lavishes His grace and goodness on us for all eternity. Can we today live with that perspective? If we do, how will our lives be different? 

20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20-21)

Paul says we belong to heaven. Heaven is our home. Citizenship is a big deal in most places. With citizenship comes certain privileges. It is a place where you have standing and official status. Citizenship usually entitles people to certain things. This had great meaning to the church in Philippi. Philippi was a Roman colony. So the Philippians were Roman citizens, living in a colony outside of Rome. This is like the believer. We live as citizens of heaven but are, for now, living on earth. We struggle here, don’t we? As strangers and aliens. There is a certain level of discomfort here, I think. A sense of, “I don’t exactly fit in here, I can function, I’m okay really, I can associate with people here and live in this system, but I am different than most.” That is okay, this is not our home. If we are spending all our time trying to fit in here just right and play like everyone else does then maybe we have lost a heavenly perspective. If fitting in and finding popularity in a place that is not our home is our goal then we need to ask why, why are we so eager to fit in here? Maybe our focus should be more of, “I am of heaven, that is my home, while I am here as a stranger and alien I’ll represent Christ first, rather than act as if this is it for me.”

It is from heaven where our Savior will come. He will come from heaven. Before he comes, we wait, the passage says. The Greek word for “wait” here gives the sense of both eagerness and patience. How do we wait? With eagerness and patience for our Lord. We long for His return, we are eager for our departure, there should be nothing that so ties us here that would cause us to say, “Wait, I’m not quite ready yet. There ought to be nothing that so has our hearts here on this earth that we would desire to stay here rather than go and be with Christ. I mean really, what would that be? What would so draw us to earthly things that we would want to delay being with Christ? Like, “Well, I really want the experience of ____.” I don’t know. “I want to travel first, or take a special vacation first, or have a career first.” I know we may say things like that at times, but can I just bluntly say, that is just really insane for the Christian. That really makes no sense for the believer. It makes no sense biblically to long for anything this life can offer over what is to come. If we do long for things here more, we have not begun to understand what is ahead for us as Christians. The most common thing I hear, especially from teens and young adults, would be, “I just want to experience marriage first.” I want to say, how about experiencing that person you love as a perfect person who loves you perfectly, rather than experiencing him or her as a selfish person who knows very little about showing true love? That may sound awful, but I’m sure, without a doubt, that my wife will enjoy me about a million or a billion times more in heaven than she does here! I’m pretty confident of that. Why? Because I’ll be changed. I mean finally changed, completely changed.

So we wait with eagerness, but also we wait patiently. Timing is in God’s hands, the God that we trust, right? Being patient is an act of submitting to God as wise and believing that His timing is always good and perfect. Waiting doesn’t mean inactivity. While we are here we have things to do, we go to His Word and we see how to live here. While we wait we have people to love, the second great command. While we are here we have an ability to worship, we get a taste of heaven as we gather together. We witness to others, we show them Christ. While we are here we learn to be more like Christ, the One we will fully imitate in heaven.

Whom are we waiting for? Christ Jesus. Being with Christ and going to heaven go hand in hand. We will see the One who has given Himself for us, we will see Jesus who suffered and died, we will be with Christ who has loved us perfectly. Jesus told His disciples in John 14:2-3, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

Not only is our citizenship in heaven, and our Lord will take us there and be with us, but we also will have transformed bodies – “who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.” I can’t hardly wait for this! This will be the redemption of our bodies. Until then, as we read in Romans 7:24, we are in this “body of death.” We are in bodies that are dying and decaying and will pass away. Some of us feel that more than others. Aches and pains and disease and stiffness, slowing mental and physical responses, tiredness. All of these things are a part of normal life in these bodies. These will not be associated with normal life in heaven.

Let’s not underestimate the dramatic nature of the Fall when it comes to our bodies. In some circles there seems to be talk that some believe these bodies can be completely whole on earth, that God wants us to be completely healthy, that our bodies can completely heal themselves from every malfunction. At the Fall, corruption came into these bodies. They are dying.

In the U.S. over $8,000 is spent per person on health care each year. This of course does not include over the counter health care costs or other things we spend money on to keep these bodies going or to keep them looking younger. With all of that though, we are in a losing battle when it comes to staying in tip top condition physically. The first house Tammy and I purchased was an old one, probably built in the 1940’s, and it was showing its age. It seemed like no matter what I repaired or how we improved it, it was still an old house in need of more repair. It is like these bodies. Now we don’t just let them go, they are God’s creation, they are temples of the Holy Spirit, we have work to do in life, as God gives it to us, so we want to take care of our bodies, but we care for them knowing what? That they are dying, they will not last. And you know, we need to learn to be okay with that. Be a good steward, yes, but not be obsessed with making them something they will never be. Why? Because they are temporary, and they will be traded in, and we will never look back at them with envy. These are not bodies to be worshiped, they are to be used for God’s glory and the work He gives us to do, and then we will let them go and receive a new and glorious body.

Paul writes, “who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.” These new bodies will be recognizable. Like Jesus was after His resurrection. It looks like we will eat, talk, and walk, but will not have the same physical restrictions we now have. After Jesus was resurrected, remember how he disappeared and reappeared? That sounds fun. There was a time when He entered a room when the doors were locked. How about that? It seems there will be similarities, and yet great differences. We don’t have a lot in the Scripture about what that will be like, but one place we see it best probably is in 1 Corinthians 15.

35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39 For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. 

42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:35-49)

Sometimes perhaps we dread what we should most look forward to. Death brings great reward and glory for the believer, and joy unspeakable. It will be a glorious renewal, real change, and in the presence of our Lord. Perfect peace, rest, contentment, exciting adventure, steady, joyful, sin-free relationships, a new, pain-free body built for eternity.

How does this all happen? “by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” I think this is really interesting. Sometimes I think we reason that we will see God’s glory most clearly and dramatically if he heals the sick, the broken, the elderly. We think, “God, show us your power in that way, through healing,” but here we see Him showing His power not in physical, earthly healing, but in the resurrection to our new body and getting us to heaven. What is more glorious and powerful? An earthly body healed, or an earthly body completely transformed, lifted from earth to a new realm of perfection?

I have stood by more than one family member’s bed as they passed from this life to the next. Many of you have experienced that too. I know what it is like to hear their last breath. I have felt the sorrow of great loss and pain as I realized that separation was taking place on earth, and I can remember the exact moment that occurred. I have felt the loss for others who stood with me, in some case with some who would grieve longer and more intensely than I might. I know what I felt, and yet I knew what was true. That God had, in that moment, had miraculously “by the power that enables him even to subject all things to Himself,” that by that power by which He rules and reigns over all, by the power of His great might, He had taken what was run down, non-functioning, dying and decaying, weak and temporary, and He had, in that moment, transformed them into what was glorious. And they would see Him in His glory, that what took place was the most glorious thing ever, it was the plan of God, it was a good plan, and it was done by His power.

And so, because of that, because of what is true, we can be sorrowful yet always rejoicing. We can grieve, but not as those without hope. Heaven is our home, these jars of clay are passing away. These bodies are lowly, they will not last. Perspective and focus on truth is very important. Knowing and glorying in truth is motivating. Our future is secure, our day will come, and it will be awesome, it will be incredible. 

How do these things change the way we live today? If this is how we are thinking, how does that change our daily decisions, our plans, our relationships, our time spent, our walk, and our worship? Our future as Christians is so bright, and we can live in light of what is to come right now, always rejoicing.

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:17-21)