Just to be straight from the start I am making many references in this post to the writings of Matt Chandler; The Explicit Gospel and To Live Is Christ To Die Is Gain. They have recently been informing my thoughts, particularly since my growth group is going through the second book as we focus on the Letter to the Philippians. I wholly encourage you to read these books!
In Philippians 1:27 Paul writes, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” From my “moralistic, therapeutic deistic” view of life I was raised in, this was always a verse that shamed me, kept me in check, and was anything but liberating. As so many of us have been raised in the church have come to believe, perhaps not in our teaching, but in our behavior, we are constantly attempting to “manage” our sin to be worthy or acceptable to God. We know about God’s grace and and even teach it, but then somehow behave in a manner that is all about managing sin to appear moral. So many of our sermons and Sunday School lessons could be boiled down to “stop sinning, pray, read the Bible”. And certainly those are expected behaviors.
But that flies directly in the face of what God says to us. Through Christ we are ALREADY acceptable. His work on the cross was complete and we are free. The disciplines are not the goal or even the path to growth! They are the results of growth, of an intimate relationship with Jesus. I know that sounds odd and likely it’s not quite as black and white as that. But the focus of our lives should be Jesus! And it is too easy for us “not see the forest through the trees” and live the kind of life that elevates the disciplines over the relationship, even to the point of pushing out intimacy altogether.
So what does it mean to live worthy of the gospel? It means to ascribe worth to God. Let our lives not be self-focused, but God-focused. To Live is Christ! Every moment of our existence should be to bring glory to God. He is not shaming us or guilting us or asking us to manage our sin that we might be counted worthy. I could never be worthy! Salvation, the gospel, is not about me and my need, but God’s great majestic love and mercy. Because He is loving He chose to rescue me from my sin. He alone is worthy and there is no other God like Him.
So living worthy means to direct our eyes to Him and allow Him to be big in our lives. To give over residence to Him so that our self-efforts have no space left. Then as Paul continues to write you will, “stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.”
So then shedding the entanglements of sin and living out the Christian disciplines are responses and natural outcome of a life where we have fallen in love with Jesus. They are no longer attempts in hope that we will be picked to be on the team, but the results of one already on it. It’s a difficult dance to be sure. For us to see where the motivation in our hearts begins. Is our relationship with Christ the foundation or the goal of our behavior? I think this is where Revelation’s letters to the churches come in – “you have forgotten your first love”. We may start well but somewhere along the way it becomes about the routine, the discipline, and we begin to deceive ourselves into thinking we’ve got it handled. But we don’t! John’s plea to not “claim we are without sin” is not for the first moments of our conversion, but for our whole life.
But even here I am not trying to focus our eyes on our sin! Stop striving to manage sin, to be worthy in your efforts and instead rest in God’s greatness, the power of the transforming gospel, and direct your life’s passion to ascribing worth to Him. Let your “striving” be for living together as one for faith of the gospel.
Prayer: God help me, help us as your body, to recognize the transforming power of the gospel and to be free from trying somehow to make ourselves worthy. Help us not to get caught up in shame and effort, but instead to rest in the full measure of your grace and see just how big you are and can be in our lives. May our life’s goal be to know you in the power of your death and resurrection. A power that causes our sin to die once for all and to be made new again in life. And may we be filled with such a response of praise that our whole life ascribes worth to you through a unity of faith in the gospel!