“If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:4-6).
Paul was a man who could say, “I once was somebody. All my peers, including my fellow Pharisees, looked up to me. I was a Pharisee among Pharisees, climbing the ladder, and I was considered a holy man, a powerful teacher of the law. I had a reputation in the land and was blameless in the eyes of the people. But when Christ apprehended me, everything changed. The striving, the competing—everything that I thought gave my life meaning—was surrendered. I saw that I had missed the Lord completely.”
Paul had once thought his religious ambitions—his zeal, his competitive spirit, his works, his busyness—were all righteousness. He had thought it was all for God’s glory. Now Christ revealed to him that it was all flesh, all for self.
Therefore, Paul stated, “I laid aside all desire for success and recognition and determined to be a servant.”
“Though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more” (1 Corinthians 9:19).
Paul saw that Jesus took upon Himself the life of a servant. He was the very Son of God, yet with a servant’s heart. Likewise, Paul knew that he also had been made a son of God, by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. But, like Jesus, he also desired to be a son with a servant’s heart. So he determined to become a bondservant to Christ and His Church.
Beloved, I, too, know that I am a son of God. Yet, like Paul, I also want the servant heart of Christ. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). Having the mind of Christ means going beyond theology. It means submitting our own will to take on Jesus’ concerns.
When Paul states boldly, “I have the mind of Christ,” he is declaring, “I too have made myself of no reputation. Like Jesus, I have taken on the role of a servant” (see Philippians 2:7). And Paul asserts that the same holds true for every believer: “We [all can] have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).
You may wonder: When and how did Paul actually take on the life of a bondservant? How could a man such as this, a former persecutor of believers, a killer at heart, ever have the mind of Christ?
Paul could pinpoint exactly when it happened. Acts 9 describes how and where his decision took place: in Damascus, on a street called Straight, in the house of a man named Judas.
At the time, Paul was still known as Saul. He was on his way to Damascus with a small army, intending to take Christians captive, bring them back to Jerusalem, and imprison and torture them. But Jesus appeared to Saul on that Damascus road, blinded him, and directed him to go to Judas’ house on Straight Street. “And [Saul] was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink” (Acts 9:9).
In those three days, Saul’s mind was being renewed. He spent the entire time in intense prayer, reconsidering his past life. And what he saw of it, he began to despise. That’s when Saul became Paul.
This man had been very proud. He had been full of misguided zeal and sought the approval of other high-minded religious men. But then, he said, “Christ came and revealed Himself in me, and I renounced my old ways. No more man-pleasing, no more following religious trends. I became Christ’s.”
“I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (Philippians 3:8).
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).
“But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).
“Be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Ephesians 4:23).
These all are exhortations from the apostle Paul. He’s telling the people of God, “Let the mind that is in Christ—the very thinking of Jesus—be your thinking also. His mindset is the one we all are to seek.”
What does it mean to have the mind of Christ? Simply put, it means to think and act as Jesus did. It means making Christ-like decisions that determine how we are to live. And it means bringing every faculty of our mind to bear on how we actually can have the mind of Christ.
Every time we look into the mirror of God’s Word, we are to ask ourselves: “Does what I see about myself reflect the nature and thinking of Christ? Am I changing from image to image, conformed to Jesus’ likeness by every experience that God brings into my life?”
According to Paul, here is the mindset of Christ: “[He] made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7).
Jesus made a decision while He was still in heaven. He made a covenant with the Father to lay down His heavenly glory and come to earth as a man. He would descend to the world as a humble servant and He would seek to minister rather than to be ministered to.
For Christ, this meant saying, “I go to do Your will, Father.” Indeed, Jesus determined ahead of time, “I am laying down My will in order to do Yours, Father. I subjugate My will so that I may embrace Yours. Everything I say and do has to come from You. I’m laying down everything to be totally dependent upon You.”
“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:1-4, ESV).
“Do I need both sanctification and justification?” The way you answer that question will change your life. It will be the difference between bondage and freedom—bondage to the old way, or freedom to walk in newness of life. Your answer to this question is key to your success in overcoming sin, temptation, Satan, and the world.
If both sanctification and justification are required, do they come from the same source? That’s an important question. If both are required, are they attained in the same way? Think about that for a moment, would you? Because I believe many of us believe that justification comes exclusively by grace through faith from God alone. And many of us believe the second comes by man, through man, and man alone. Many falsely believe that it is God who justifies us, but it is now up to us to sanctify ourselves—that it is His responsibility to get us into the kingdom but our responsibility to stay and perform as godly people once we’re in the kingdom. Many of us are saying, “I’ve attained justification by grace and now I must strive day in and day out to get and stay sanctified.”
What we’re saying is, “Thank You, God, for justifying me. Thank you that at the cross You made me right. Thank You that You pardoned my sin and paid the penalty. You stood in my place and took my sin upon You. Thank You for the work of justifying me and now in return, I want to do you a favor and show you how well I can sanctify myself.
The truth that sets us free is not the law that we know or our zealous pursuit in trying to keep the law. The truth that sets us free is in a person, Christ Jesus. He is the only source of freedom from our sin.
God has a way of taking our moments of deepest confusion and doubt and using them to strengthen our trust and dependence on Him. He takes our seeds of faith and turns them into a tower of conviction and confidence. When we are most perplexed, He is most in control. When we are weakest, He is strongest. When we need Him, He is always there.
David Wilkerson, my friend and mentor, is a living testament to this truth. More than any man I know, he trusts God implicitly. He never allows confusion or doubt or other people to steer his decisions. Every worry, every question, every moment of concern is placed at the feet of Jesus until he hears an answer. He listens to God and God alone. That is why God has used him so mightily in his life and ministry.
David Wilkerson was just a country preacher from Pennsylvania when God told him to go to New York and reach out to the gangs. He had been watching a news program that discussed the gang problem in the inner city when God spoke to his spirit and told him to go. No one could imagine this skinny preacher being able to reach such a hardened group, yet he obeyed and went.
I’ll never forget his boldness in the face of danger. We cursed at him, humiliated him, screamed in his face, yet he kept coming back. I would never have stepped foot into a church building had I not been so fascinated by his guts, his complete disregard for his own safety. What would make a man do such a thing? What kind of God would give a man such confidence, such trust, such gumption that he could walk into the middle of hell and stare down the devil himself? What would make a scrawny street preacher think he could come onto our turf and tell us what to believe?
I had to know, so I went to his service at St. Nicolas Arena. In front of hundreds of strangers and dozens of my fellow gang members, I fell to my knees before the altar and surrendered to Jesus. I cried out for Him to save me, and He did. I gave up trying to do it on my own. I looked at David Wilkerson, at the love in his eyes, at the peace in his spirit, at the courage in his heart, and I knew that I wanted what he had. This was a God I could worship. This was a Jesus I could relate to.
Nicky Cruz, internationally known evangelist and prolific author, turned to Jesus Christ from a life of violence and crime after meeting David Wilkerson in New York City in 1958. The story of his dramatic conversion was told first in The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson and then later in his own best-selling book Run, Baby, Run.