When we hear the phrase ‘enemies of God,’ what sorts of people come into mind? I called a few people from ICC this week and asked them. Their answers were all pretty much the same: an unbeliever, someone who isn’t saved, someone who lives in unbelief. Other answers included Satan and the demons. We could also include satanists, atheists, murderers, rapists, child molesters and a whole slough of morally corrupt people. These are the things that quickly come to mind when we hear that phrase - enemy of God. It’s easy for me to identify Richard Dawkins as an enemy of God when he calls for the total abolition of the Christian faith. Its easy for me to identify Nietschze as an enemy of God when he declared the death of God, and that we had killed Him. The classification of these men as enemies of God is obvious to us, and comes as no surprise, having virtually no effect on us. For that very reason I was shocked and horrified when I read in Phil. 3:18 that Paul calls confessing Christians enemies of the cross of Christ.
I have to clarify at the outset that I am in no way arguing that a true Christian can be stripped of their salvation. That being said, this passage was a very difficult passage for me to study. I am quite fond of the security of the believer, knowing that we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise. And yet when I read this phrase in verse 18, I really wanted Paul to be talking of people outside of the church. Upon studying the text, however, we find that the verse is indeed referring to professing Christians who are found within the Christian church. As we read commentary after commentary, we find that the overwhelming consensus of Christian exegetes interpret this text to be speaking of people who were found within the Christian community. These were not people who were involved in pagan practices, who worshipped idols, and hadn’t heard of the Almighty Creator God, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
There are a number of reasons why Christian scholars have come to the conclusion that these enemies were indeed operating within the Christian church. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, but as it is important to our understanding and application of the text, I’ve decided to cite 2 reasons which I think are compelling.
The first is the fact that Paul is weeping over them. This fits with the language that he uses of the Philippian believers in 1:7-8. He feels deeply for the believer’s who he has become a spiritual father to, and it pains him deeply when he sees those he spent time teaching the gospel to living ungodly lives. This really struck a chord with me after a series of events unfolded in my life recently. Last year my wife and I had the privilege of leading a friend to Christ. After a few months of trying to teach him how to live a Christian life, he suddenly dropped off the radar. He didn’t return or answer any of our calls, wouldn’t respond to e-mails, and simply kept out of contact with us. This week we were suddenly able to reconnect with him, and found out that he now has taken the position of agnostic, because he couldn’t ‘feel’ God. While there is a lot of unpacking that has to be done in order for me to properly process the situation, I was able to understand Paul’s words here by the reaction I had to our friend. We spent hours of tearful prayer for him, and his rejection of the Christian life is still a source of grief for us. And Paul here is grieving over these men who had by their lifestyles rejected the gospel of Christ.
The second reason is that Paul is making a comparison here of who to imitate. In 3:17 he tells the Philippians to imitate those who ‘walk according to the pattern you have in us.’ The parallel is those who are walking as enemies of the cross of Christ. The word περιπατεω, translated here as walk, usually indicates the behaviour of a Christian in the New Testament, and especially in the letters of Paul. He is making a purposeful contrast for the Philippian believers to seek out godly examples from within the church to imitate, and to avoid those within the church who aren’t living godly lives.
I) When we live ungodly lives, we are demonstrating an opposition to the gospel.
To say that there are those in the church who aren’t living godly lives is easy for us to recognize and accept. We’ve invented terms to identify them. We’ve all heard of ‘backslidden’ believers, and we’re comfortable talking about people, or ourselves, as being this type of Christian. The terms we use today are very soft, and overly gracious. To say that a Christian who is not living a godly life is an enemy of the gospel of Christ is a difficult statement to swallow. And well it should be. And yet here we have the Apostle Paul telling us that it is this way. He’s telling us that when we live ungodly lives, we are demonstrating an opposition to the gospel.
The Christian Apologist Ravi Zacharias once made a confession during one of his speeches to a large audience. He said that there was one question about the Christian faith that gave him a good amount of faith. The question was this:
Why is it that so many people who talk of a supernatural transformation show so little of the transformed life?
We’ve all encountered this same question in our lives to some degree. We’ve been hurt by people in the church, we’ve seen inconsistencies in people’s lives by the things that they do. There seems to have been an explosion of this in the last two or three decades in the Christian world. I was debating whether or not to list some names to give as illustrations, but thought it better not to waste your time talking about such shameful things. What we can say however is that it is easy to recognize public Christian figures whose actions do not even come close to matching their words. And yet I would venture that we needn’t have to go to public Christian figures to find examples. I’m sure that most of us can probably think of examples from their own churches, or maybe from camps they went to or conferences they attended. May I be so bold as to go one step further and say that we can find the example oftentimes in our own lives. I’m not sure about you, but I have struggled throughout my Christian life to live a life consistent with what I believe.
If you are not walking godly, Paul says, you are an enemy of the cross of Christ. Why does he say this? Why does it make you an enemy of the cross of Christ. The cross of Christ is being used here representatively of the gospel of Christ. And what is the gospel of Christ? The gospel of Christ put briefly and succinctly is the truth that Christ, who was God in the flesh, came and lived among His creation, went to the cross to die as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of mankind, to bring about the redemption, reconciliation and transformation of those who would put their faith in Him. The fact of the matter is that we tend to focus today on the redemption and reconciliation part of salvation, and tend to leave out the fact that we are transformed!!! In Romans 6 Paul says that part of that transformation is the fact that we have died to sin, and we are now alive to God. If I make the statement and really do believe it to be true, how is it possible for me to continue sinning? If I say I believe it, but my life doesn’t embody that truth, then my very life serves to combat the claims of that gospel, and my life is then lived in opposition to the gospel; that is to say, I am an enemy of the cross of Christ.
II) The Characteristics of an ungodly life.
A) An ungodly life is ruled by lusts.
Why is it that the gospel of Christ seems so powerless in our lives? Is it maybe because that gospel hasn’t really taken root in our life? We seem to be comfortable talking about God with people, talking about how God is working in our lives, and yet for some reason we rarely see fruit. Let me repeat the question as phrased by Dr. Zacharias:
Why is it that so many people who talk of a supernatural transformation show so little of the transformed life?
Do we think that people won’t notice? All those Christian leaders we’ve seen whose hidden sins have been made public seemed to think that way. I think one of the reasons we have seen such an ineffective Christianity is that we’ve downplayed the role of the Christian in working towards godliness. Modern Christianity tends to reflect an attitude that God will do everything for us. But the Bible clearly states that we do have a role to play in our transformation. We don’t just sit back and let it happen. If that were the case then there would be no imperatives in the New Testament. And yet we do find imperatives all throughout the New Testament. I recognize that this may be an uncomfortable concept for us to hear, that we have to work at our faith, but this is a Biblical concept. We are justified solely on the righteousness of Christ, yes, but the Bible does not stop there. We are told over and over again to do things afterwards. In verse 17 we’re told to join those who are imitating Paul by the way they walk. 4:1 says to stand firm. The Holy Spirit causes us to grow in godliness when we do things that are congruent with growth in godliness. And the Holy Spirit will guide us in doing those things.
Notice that the first characteristic of an ungodly person is that they are ruled by their lusts. Paul says that their god is their stomach, or their god is their appetite. They are ruled by their lusts. They follow their lusts. They worship their lusts. What are your desires? What do you love to do? Are you animated by the Spirit, or do you only seek the things which give you pleasure? Is it a chore for you to sit down and read your Bible, to pray for all of your friends and family? Will you still do it even if it is a chore? If you won’t do those things, what things are replacing them? It’s easy for us to think of these statements we read of in the Bible in their worst possible logical outworking, but it’s much more difficult for us to view them in the small ways they affect us. When I think of someone who follows their appetite, I think about the 800 pound man who had to be lifted out of his house by a crane; I don’t immediately associate it with how I watched a movie with my friends when God was calling me to pray for those friends. What Paul is saying here is that the enemy of the gospel of Christ is that person who instead of serving the God they’ve claimed for their own, they serve their own desires, their own appetites.
Christ told us that in order to be a true Christian we have to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. We must be willing to give up an hour of sleep to spend time in concentrated prayer if God demands that of us. We must be willing to pass on watching that movie we really want to see if God is calling us to meditate on His Word. What will it cost you to be godly? It will cost you absolutely everything. We are dead to those lusts Paul said, but we’ve got to live like it. If we’re controlled by the Spirit, we’ll show a desire to spend time in His Word, meditating on it and coming to a deeper knowledge of Him, and we’ll have a desire to spend longer periods of time in fellowship with Him through prayer. If we find ourselves void of these desires, we ought to be praying for them, perhaps with fasting.
B) An ungodly life is proud of its sin.
One thing about following your own desires is that you become so comfortable in doing it, that you begin to be proud of what you’re doing. This is what Paul says when he says that the ungodly professors of Christ glory in their shame. Nothing has demonstrated this to me better than my own past. At the beginning of my Bible College days I really took solace in the fact that I was a good kid. I didn’t do drugs, didn’t drink, didn’t swear, and I had been sexually pure. While all these things were true, I lacked a fervent prayer life, and a consistent desire to be in the Word of God in anything but a superficial way. Because I followed my own desires rather than the desires of God throughout my college career, by graduation my life had become a contradiction. I had studied the Bible in depth and learned a great deal about theology and the doctrines of our faith. What was amazing was that I now smoked marijuana and drank regularly, I found it hard to put together a sentence without the use of expletives, and I was no longer sexually pure. Because I had followed my own desires, I had led to live a life characterized by things that I had previously thought to be done by only the worst of people. What was truly amazing about it all, was that I was proud of those things. I was proud when my friend’s told me I wasn’t like other Christians and they really liked being around me because I wasn’t so uptight. I was proud of smoking weed, proud of being able to drink copious amounts of alcohol, proud of being always welcome at parties. Those things were shameful, and yet I was proud of them. When you do not submit yourself fully to the will of God, you will eventually find yourself in a place where you are proud of those things that really ought to bring you shame.
C) An ungodly life does not care about the things of God.
How many of us grow uncomfortable when we’re with someone who exhibits a real passion for the Lord? How many of us immediately take a defensive attitude towards the ‘holier than thou’ Christian, simply because they like to pray or read the Word of God often? An ungodly person sets their minds on earthly things; they only think about the things of this world. What car do you drive, what job do you have, where do you go to school, what countries have you visited, what books have you read, what sports do you play, what movies have you seen, what music do you listen to? With all of our conversations that we have with people what is that we talk about? And with all the amount of time that we spend by ourselves, what is it that we think about and do? Do we set our minds on spiritual things? In Col. 3:2 Paul tells the Colossians to set their minds on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. And there’s a reason for doing it, he says in verse 3, because you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. If we have really died and been hidden with Christ then we will be concerned with spiritual matters. We will be concerned with how the Heffner’s are doing in Taiwan, or how our brothers and sisters are doing in their spiritual walks. We’ll be interested in praying for the needs of our family, friends and church. We’ll be interested in talking about the Scripture with others, to help us come to a fuller understanding of Him.
If we’re enemies of the cross of Christ, we’ll only be concerned with the latest episode of 24, or the latest performances on American Idol, or with who’s playing the lead role in the next Batman movie. Our conversations will be full of talking about sports, news, weather, and funny internet movies and be devoid of anything about Christ and His cross.
III) The end of the ungodly life is destruction.
While we like to think that our own godless pursuits can be in harmony with the gospel of God, the truth is that they are not. Paul says that their end is destruction. The only thing that our godless life will come to is failure and sadness. We will have become one more argument for an atheist to use in his denial of God. We will have been one more reason for someone we know to have not trusted in God. We will be totally ashamed at the judgement day. These enemies of the cross will not see the salvation that they thought they had. They weren’t aware that their lives were in contradiction to the cross. They didn’t know that the truths of the gospel were not just theoretical. If you’ve examined yourself here today, and found that your life is being lived in contradiction to the cross, please give yourself completely to God. Do not delay in this. If you don’t have the desire to live godly, pray for that desire. Fall on your face before the Lord and ask Him to be working in you, changing your heart and your mind. Ask Him to give you the strength and desire to live a consistent godly life.