Focused on the Finish
march 26, 2017
20/20 Vision – Lesson 4
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:14
The Goal of this Lesson
Growing disciples in their relationship and their responses to God’s free gift of salvation.
I like to watch college football. Every year it seems, there’s a player who has made a fantastic play on the field and he’s just about to reach the end zone. In his excitement and pageantry, he releases the ball just prior to it crossing the plane, or, he thinks he’s by himself and an opponent comes a strips the ball away, just before he scores. He’s thinking of his own adulation and has stopped focusing on the finish.
Today we’re talking about what it means to focus on the finish. As a believer, how to we run our race and finish well? Many see their faith and trust in Jesus for salvation as the beginning and the end of their spiritual journey. But let’s be clear. Salvation puts us in the starting blocks. We must then run our race well.
I. We must listen to God’s voice
One of my favorite biblical texts is found in Mark 4:1-25. In chapter four, Jesus tells a familiar parable about a farmer who is broadcasting seed on a field. I encourage you to read through these verses in their entirety, however, because of time restraints, we’re going to focus on verses 14-20.
Notice the context immediately preceding chapter four and notice the repetition of one key thought.
The parable and teaching of chapter four follows a back-and-forth conversation centered on following Jesus. (aka: being a disciple).
- V13-21 – The selection of his apostles. (Those who would follow Christ.)
- V22-30 – A discussion with religious leaders seeking to argue that Jesus had “an unclean spirit” and was empowered by Satan, not God. They are rejecting Christ instead of seeking to follow Him. This leads Jesus to teach on the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (the rejection of Christ). [We do not have space to digress into the exact nature and theories concerning the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. The main point we want to draw attention to is that the religious leaders are choosing not to follow Christ/God.]
- V31-35 – Jesus’ earthly family comes out to attempt to talk some sense into him (see also 3:21). Jesus responds to their search for Him with verse 35, “For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”
Thus, the parable of the sower and verses 4:1-25 are seeking to further the discussion of chapter three and answer the question, “How do I follow Jesus?” or, more specifically, “How do I do the will of God? How do I know I’m in Jesus’ family?”
In short, Jesus answers these questions by saying that those who follow Him listen and respond appropriately to what God is saying. Notice the repeated key thought in 4:1-25.
- 4:3 – “Listen”
- 4:9 – “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Did you notice that the initial telling of the parable is encapsulated by the plea to listen!)
- 4:13 – “Do you not understand…How then will you understand…”
- 4:14 – What’s the sower sowing? “the word”
- 4:15 – “the ones along the path…when they hear, Satan…takes away the word…”
- 4:16 – “the ones sown on rocky ground…when they hear…they have no root…”
- 4:18 – “the ones sown among thorns…are those who hear the word, but…it proves unfruitful.”
- 4:20 – “good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit…”
- 4:23 – “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”
- 4:24 – “…Pay attention to what you hear…”
The parable can easily be broken down into 4 types of listeners*
- UNRESPONSIVE LISTENERS – Those along the path are described as having no response to the word of God spoken to them. Satan immediately comes and takes away the word.
- IMPULSIVE LISTENERS – Those on rocky ground…immediately receive it with joy, but there is no desire to stick with what they’ve heard. When resistance comes, they fall away.
- PREOCCUPIED LISTENERS – The ones sown among thorns are those that allow other things to hold priority over their lives which choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
- RESPONSIVE LISTENERS – This is our goal. We should desire to (1) hear the word, and then (2) accept it. Accepting God’s word is the key. We must realize that it has authority over us and is deserving of a full-hearted acceptance. Therefore, we should pay attention to what we hear.
*This outline is modified from a commentary by William Hendriksen. Mark.
Growing as a follower of Christ begins with our ability and willingness to hear God’s voice for what it is – a source of:
- Growth – Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation. – 1 Peter 2:2
- Guidance – The unfolding of your words gives light;
it imparts understanding to the simple. – Psalm 119:30
- Equipping – All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
(This list could continue, but we must recognize the benefits and authority the Word of God has over us as believers.)
II. We must do what It says
Many tend to have a superficial (incorrect) view of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Consider these two misconceptions people often live under.
Example 1: Some individuals see forgiveness and grace as something that is received, which has little bearing on the rest of their lives. They can live their lives largely divorced from the authority of God and His ways. The only important thing is that they ask forgiveness for their sins, and then, God must forgive them because He has promised to do so.
Example 2: Some believers reach a certain level of sanctification* and become content with their level of spirituality and involvement in God’s Kingdom. They are content to live this way because they compare themselves with others.
* “Sanctification is a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives.” Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology, p. 746.
[In our circles, we more commonly refer to this process as discipleship, being a disciple, growing to be more like Jesus, following God, etc. Theologically, what we mean is sanctification. However, you want to say it, sanctification is what we’re discussing in these pages.]
Neither of these options are healthy. Neither of these can be described as “good soil”. So what does “good soil” look like? Good soil produces fruit (Mark 4:20). James said:
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. – James 1:22
James emphasized that we are deceiving ourselves if we aren’t doers of the word. He’s arguing that salvation combined with God’s Word should cause actual changes in our lives. Notice the previous verse.
Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. – James 1:21
There is change. We are putting away some things and receiving others.
Paul has a similar thought in Ephesians 4. Notice the following:
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:17-32
Can you see Paul’s plea for living a changed life and growing in our personal following of Jesus? [I’ve also highlighted some sections within this pericope which highlight the cooperation between man and God in the ongoing process of sanctification.]
Jesus said, it is wise and brings blessing when we follow God’s Word.
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. – Matthew 7:24
But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” – Luke 11:28
III. We must focus on the future
The big secret to continually hearing and doing can be found in maintaining the right perspective. This sounds easy, but in our fast food world, it can be quite difficult. Immediate gratification often wins over our affections.
The desire for immediate gratification often results in sin. James said, But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. – James 1:14,15.
Remember! Being a follower of Jesus is a life-long process.
If we’re not consumed with immediate gratification, we are often too easily satisfied with lesser joys than God intends for us. We settle for the joy found in rest and relaxation instead of the rest and peace found in following Christ. We are often more concerned with our home at the beach than we are with our home in Beulah land. We often find ourselves to be listeners preoccupied by lesser things – things which choke the Word of God in our lives and hinder our spiritual growth.
Spiritual growth requires that we maintain a focus on the future, an eternal focus.
Jesus clearly reminded us of this.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Matthew 6:19-20
And also in Luke 12 he tells us a story, reminding us that there are more important things than the here and now and being satisfied with lesser things.
And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” – Luke 12:15-21
Paul demonstrates this future focus many times in his writings.
I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. – 1 Corinthians 9:23-25
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 3:8
This brings us to our…
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:14
The word “press on” gives us a picture of a runner who is straining their muscles. One who is clearly focused and has complete dedication to reach the finish line.
This is how we grow in our relationship with God. It doesn’t happen accidentally. It requires a focus on what lies ahead.
May our future focus cause us to be spiritually unsatisfied with where we are, hear God speak and do what He says.