Last Sunday a man named Felix Baumgartner broke four world records in just over four minutes. As part of the Red Bull Stratos project Baumgartner ascended over 24 miles into the earth's atmosphere in a sophisticated space pod attached to a huge balloon.
Once the balloon reached the target height, Baumgartner opened the hatch and jumped. His freefall back to the surface of the earth took 4 minutes and 20 seconds. At top speed Baumgartner reached 834 miles per hour. He became the first human being to travel faster than the speed of sound using just his body.
Once he had descended to the correct elevation Baumgartner deployed his parachute and floated gently down to land in the desert near Roswell, New Mexico.
To enable Baumgartner to survive a space jump from this elevation, he was required to wear a highly technological suit. At that height the atmospheric pressure is virtually nothing. If Baumgartner had exited his space pod without a pressurized suit his blood would have literally boiled, killing him immediately.
Now, imagine that you won a drawing to attempt the same thing that Baumgartner did. Imagine that you were selected to ascend 24 miles above the earth and attempt a space jump. IF you were going to do this, you wouldn't dare bring your own space suit. You'd depend on a team of experts to provide you with the perfect suit to keep you safe. It would be a matter of life and death.
You and I are never going to do what Baumgartner did. It's just not going to happen. But all of us are going to find ourselves in a similar situation someday, when we stand before the throne of the Almighty God who created us.
What are we going to wear in the presence of the Holy God?
In our Bible reading for today, the apostle Paul stresses the importance of not approaching the God wearing whatever we happen to have laying around. Only the perfect suit will do if we want to escape hell, and obtain eternal life in heaven.
Philippians 3:7-9 (NIV)
7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 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 on the basis of faith.
The Bible makes it pretty clear that human beings are born sinful. Our parents were sinners, and so we are sinners. As sinners we can't approach the sinless God who created us.
In Psalm 51 it says...
"5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me" (Psalm 51:5 NIV).
In Psalm 130 it says...
"3 If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?" (Psalm 130:3 ESV).
Clearly, none of us is going to be able to stand before God on Judgment day and demand entrance into heaven on the basis of the lives we've lived.
It doesn't matter if we're not serial killers or career criminals, God's standards are simply too far above us to reach. Like it says in Romans 3...
"...no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law" (Romans 3:20 NIV).
In his book, Isaiah says it in an even stronger way. He says...
"...all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away" (Isaiah 64:6 NIV).
In our reading for today, Paul says that he considers everything that he's done or gained in life to be worthless as something he might boast of to God. He doesn't dare stand before God in his own "righteousness". He needs something much better to wear in the presence of the Almighty. He need the righteousness that comes FROM GOD.
Some things in life can't be fixed. Back in college I used to play a lot of Frisbee golf. It was always nice to get a brand new driver disc. It was all perfectly flat and round, and when you threw it right it would go forever. But once you hit a few trees with it the shape began to warp. And that little warp in the disc's shape would make it wobble. The harder you threw, the more it wobbled. You just weren't going to get much distance out of it anymore. And there's just no way to fix a warped disc. You can't press it back into a perfect shape. You can't throw it some other way. It's just done for.
That's what sin does has done to the human race. There's no way for us to fix ourselves. It doesn't matter how hard we try, or what method we use, we can't repair our "broken righteousness".
God knows this. That's why He offers to give us His perfect righteousness, through faith in Christ Jesus.
In Ephesians it says...
"7 In him (Jesus) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace" (Ephesians 1:7 NIV).
When Jesus died on the cross, He did it for us. He suffered the punishment that our sins deserved, and sacrificed Himself in our place. It was a simple switch, like taking someone's place in prison. He took our punishment and gave us His perfect record of sinless-ness. And the Bible says that through simple faith in Jesus, we are declared as righteous as God Himself.
Christ is the reason why we stand righteous before God, right now. On the cross He earned our forgiveness. Through faith we are declared "not guilty". It's really as simple as that.
Faith isn't a complicated thing. Faith in Jesus is just trusting that what He says is true. Do you believe that Jesus really died for your sins like He said He did? That He suffered for each and every one of them and erased their record from your books? That's faith. Through Christ God has declared you righteous and worthy to enter heaven at the end of your earthly life.
Because God has made salvation SO easy, the Devil tries super hard to make us doubt Christ's full and free gift of salvation. One thing Satan does is suggest to us that forgiveness can't really be that easy. Surely we have to add something to the equation. We have to add our own good words and actions to Christ's work. But everything that God says in the Bible flows against this idea.
Think about all the words that God uses to describe how our sins are forgiven. Words like redemption, salvation, forgiveness, Savior, grace, Good News. These are all words that describe God doing something for US, not the other way around.
Redemption is God buying US back from sin. Salvation is God saving US from hell. Forgiveness is something given, not something earned. The definition of grace is a "free gift". The Good News of Jesus is that we're off the hook, not a message that we've got work to do.
The whole message of the Gospel of Jesus is all about what HE did for us, not about what we do to save ourselves.
And to build up our faith, God has attached His Gospel message to two special ceremonies. Let me put it this way, there are three things that create and strengthen faith in Jesus. There's the simple Gospel message, and then there's the Gospel message attached to earthly elements in Baptism and the Lord's Supper.
Baptism and the Lord's Supper have been called "the visible Gospel". Listen to what the Bible says about Baptism in the book of Titus.
"4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:4-7 ESV).
And listen to what it says in Romans.
"3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:3-4 ESV).
And listen to what the Bible says about the Lord's Supper in the book of Matthew.
"26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:26-28 ESV).
As parents we want our children to know that we love them, so we tell them, "I love you". But we do other things that SHOW them that we love them. We hug them. We kiss them. This is what God is doing with the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper. He's expressing the love and forgiveness that we have in Christ in ways that will comfort us and strengthen our trust in His promise of forgiveness. Through these God given sacraments, He creates and strengthens faith in the Savior through whom we, the guilty, have been declared NOT GUILTY.
Baptism and the Lord's Supper wouldn't have any power if it weren't for what Christ did on the cross. These aren't magical rites that we do, they are powerful because they connect us to Christ by faith. And so we see that Christ is the ONLY reason why we stand righteous before God.
Satan absolutely hates the freedom that God gives us in Christ. Satan hates the fact that all the chains he's worked so hard to put on people can be so easily broken through a simple faith in the Savior who died for us. And so Satan suggests a million other things for us to put our trust in.
Satan says, you've been a pretty good person overall, may that'll count for something in God's courtroom.
Satan says, hey, you belong to a church, that's got to count for something.
Satan says, sure Christ saved you, but you chose to give your life to Him, right?
To these things Paul says, rubbish. Only being in Christ Jesus through faith in His cross counts in God's court.
Satan says, surely the sorrow and self punishment you put yourself through when you sin has to count for something. God will forgive you if you're really good at beating yourself up over your sins.
Satan says, maybe God will forgive you if you try real hard to fix your life before you stand before His judgment throne.
Satan say, maybe if you keep your sins hidden from other Christians then God won't see them either. That's the way to righteousness.
But all of these things like just other things to wear instead of Christ's righteousness. It's like we're in that space pod up high above the earth's atmosphere and Satan is saying, Oh that special suit God gave you is really nice, but maybe these one of these other suits will do just as well.
Don't believe it. Only in Christ are we righteous before God. On the last day many will try to wear some other clothes into the courtroom of the Holy God, but only those clothed in the blood bought perfection given by Christ will stand righteous in God's sight.
So be ready for that day. When sin happens in your life, hold it out to God saying, I can't do anything with this God, you take it. Suit up in Christ by faith in His cross, and know that in HIM you stand righteous before God.