It’s the weirdest thing, but I see a lot of people who do it. Often it seems like they enjoy it. I of course am talking about holding hands. I’m, personally, not a huge fan of the whole holding hands thing, and there are a number of reasons why. I mean first, it’s restrictive. You’ve essentially bound yourself to someone else and it’s awkward sometimes when you’re walking and the path narrows or you’re trying to go through a door – it just doesn’t look right. Then there is the whole how do you interlock your fingers whose thumb…I don’t know; I struggle with it. And of course the bigger issue is the…is the sweat. After you hold hands for a bit, it’s just, yeah, gross. And that’s ironic because holding hands is often meant to be a romantic thing. Now, to be fair, my wife and I do hold hands from time to time – I suffer through it – no sometimes I initiate it. It can be nice, for a time.
Holding hands though isn’t all romance, often it is done for safety. You might at times see a parent holding a child’s hand as they cross the street, if they are in a busy store, or if the surface that they’re walking on is unsafe. But, notice what I said, “you might a times see a parent holding a child’s hand.” That child is not safe because he or she is the one gripping the hand of the parent. That child is safe because the parent has taken hold of that child. It’s the parents grip, it’s the parent’s strength, that keeps that child from harm. Sometimes, the child forgets that fact. The apostle Paul discovered something similar in his life.
Paul was a man who once believed in his own righteousness. Listen to how he describes himself in the verses just before our lesson. “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.” Paul pointed at his life and made a bold claim: That he could claim righteousness more than most anyone else, and his history, his past, proved it.
And yet look what Paul says about his so-called righteous past: “I consider everything a loss…I consider it all rubbish, garbage, worthless.” Why would Paul say that? Why would he toss aside his history, his heritage? He didn’t toss it aside because it was all wrong, certainly his persecution of the church was bad, but the rest, surely some of it was beneficial and God-pleasing. No, he tossed it aside because he saw the danger of that past. Too often he regarded his works, his blood line, as a ticket to eternal life. A hand that he held thinking it made him secure, but a hand that turned out to be his own, and therefore it was garbage.
Let’s talk about garbage. I brought some things today from my life and I thought we’d sort through some of it and see if any of it might contribute to my salvation. I got two trash cans here to help us sort through it. So, here is the first thing: a used tissue from today. That I think is garbage. Here is a water bottle I drank this morning, garb—well, if I recycle it that’s good for the environment, that might please God. We will put it over here. Here is a calendar and on it is my wedding date. I got married in a church. That could earn me some righteousness. What else. Oh! Here is a book about my family history – the Frohmader side. I come from a long line of Lutherans. That definitely proves my righteousness. Here too is my name on a church membership. And here is a Bible from my confirmation. Church offering statements – salvation, check please! And finally, my diary of good works.
I think a lot of us could look back and find things like this. And these things, as they did for Paul, might give us some assurance and security of our righteousness and salvation. But you heard what Paul said about it all? It’s garbage.
Why? Because none of it is any good? No. Paul says we consider our past rubbish because none of it can save us. I might reach for a past righteous work in my life, I might point to my church attendance or my offerings and think, “Ah, this is exactly what I need this will assure me of my salvation, of my righteousness.” But how long does that feeling of righteousness last? A few hours before we catch ourselves in sin again, a few moments before our conscience reminds us of past guilt? Then what? Do we seek to atone for those sins even more by adding new works more good deeds? It doesn’t matter. No matter how good our heritage or how many our good works, none of it will ever be enough to be righteous before God, because we are still sinners, and even one sin is enough to condemn us for eternity.
If we are building on the foundation of our own past, we are building on sand, on garbage, because salvation does not come by or because of our heritage or our own good works, no matter how good our heritage or how many our works. Paul is clear you don’t need any of it. “I consider everything, EVERYTHING, a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
If there had been an award for most righteous of the year, Paul would have won it – every year. But as he walked on a road to Damascus, God showed him how little he knew and how righteous he really was, and Paul was made to realize his righteousness was worse than worthless. So, he tossed it, and he urges us to do the same, because all of that stuff, that garbage, that so often we are tempted to hold on to, is keeping us from knowing and believing in Christ alone.
“And you know what?” Paul says, “You want to know Christ.” Here is why: God Himself has provided the righteousness we need in His Son. Christ Jesus had the only heritage that mattered – true man and true God in one person, born without sin. Christ Jesus is the only one who could and did live His entire life without sin. And Christ Jesus is the one who sacrificed His perfect life on the cross, taking your sin upon Himself and in exchange giving you His righteousness, the only righteousness by which you may stand before God, the righteousness that makes your salvation certain.
Here is what God did: Like a parent he reached down and grabbed your hand when you weren’t even looking for or expecting it. He saw the unsteady ground of work righteousness, he saw the history of your sin and failures, and he said, “No more.” And he took hold of you. He created faith in your heart. A faith, a trust, that grips Christ and is therefore absolutely certain of eternal life.
And here is the thing about that hand we now hold. Our grip might lessen from time to time. Paul hints at that in verse 12, he writes, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect” We are not perfect yet. We are not in heaven yet. We still have to wrestle with sin, and doubt, and guilt. But like with a parent and child, just because the child might barely be holding on or not even holding at all, it’s the grip of that parent that keeps them safe. So, it is Jesus’ grip on us that keeps us going forward on that path of salvation as we trust in his forgiveness and are covered by his righteousness But wouldn’t it be great to grip that hand of your Savior as tightly as you could and press forward in life knowing your eternity is secure?
So often this world and the mess we’re in here, where we are always sinning and always dying, that’s all we see. We are in a race called life, that is being run on a path of sin, and we will be tired and hurting right up to the moment the tape is broken. But what if we could learn to throw our heads back, spiritually speaking, to let heaven fill our vision, to long for the waiting joy, to focus outright on eternity. What if we fully embraced the reality of heaven and the inevitability of you and me being there through Christ? What if this was what we thought of every day, breaking us into smiles, freeing us from sorrows? With Christ gripping us we don’t have to wonder what that would be like, we can live like that. We can, as Paul says in our last verse, “Press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus.” You each can do this because Christ has taken hold of you. He has set you free from your past of sin, and in that freedom, you now walk with him hand in hand safe, and soon, home.
Some things just won’t be right until we are home. I don’t deny or ignore the sorrow of this world, but I know this world with its gloom and its death was never part of God’s masterpiece. The sin we live with and suffer in was not of his creation. So, with Paul we press on, eyes fixed on the prize, on the righteousness, on Jesus. And you don’t ever need to look back as your hand is placed firmly in his and you smile as you feel that gentle squeeze; him letting you know that you are his and he is yours. And in this way, you go forward on your race of life, straining for the end, the glory that is your in Christ. And it is yours, all because he took hold of you. Amen.