Summary: Living in a manner that is worthy of the gospel has three conditions.
If you don’t mind, let’s go back to the beginning of this passage. We read there – in chapter 1, verse 27 – that we are to live our lives “in a manner [that is] worthy of the gospel.” This is a simple but urgent appeal to us, and if we are to respond to it, if we are to answer this compelling imperative, there are three things we must know. According to Paul, three conditions have to be in play for us to live our lives “in a manner [that is] worthy of the gospel:” First, we must know who we are and what we believe. Second, we must know whose we are and what that means. And, third, we must know where we are and what to do.
So, let’s begin with the first of these: We must know who we are and what we believe. Paul writes in verse 27, “Whether I come and see you [or not], I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel.” These words of Paul tell us who we are.
So, who are we? We are a people who are known by our firm stand on “the faith of the gospel.” We are identified by our confession of certain distinctive truths. That’s what Paul means when he says we “are standing firm in one spirit.” We breathe, as it were, the same air. That’s what he means when he says we are “striving side by side.” We labor at the same task. That’s what he means when he talks about having “one mind for the faith of the gospel.” We subscribe to the same beliefs. We have the same faith.
When the New Testament speaks of “faith,” it can mean one of two things, depending on the context. It can mean placing our faith in Christ for salvation, which is an act of trust and which, by the way, is essential for eternal life. That’s an important understanding of “faith.” But the term “faith” can also refer to “the faith,” that is, the set of beliefs that are taught in the Scriptures. In fact, that’s what “faith” almost always means when it is accompanied by the article “the.” The faith is the unambiguous, bottom-line, fixed truths that are revealed in Scripture. That’s what Paul means here in verse 27 when he talks about “the faith of the gospel.” So, what is “the faith of the gospel?” Broadly speaking, it is summarized for us in the great ecumenical creeds of the church: the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, for example. More specifically, it is laid down for us in the confessional documents of the Reformation – like the Westminster Confession, the Scots Confession, and the Second Helvetic Confession.
And what he is saying is that it is important that we stand firm on these truths, that we strive side by side for them. Why? Because what we believe determines what we do. Presbyterians ought to know this better than anyone else, since we are a confessional church. We have written documents – confessions – that lay out our beliefs, and we require those we ordain to office to be guided by them.
This is critical. Paul makes that clear. It is critical because what we believe about the gospel will determine what we believe about God. It will determine what we believe about humanity. And it will determine what we believe about the world and our place in it. We must know who we are and what we believe. And we must stand firm in what we believe. We are a people whose very lives are molded and framed by the truth of the gospel.
So, we must know first of all what it is that unites us. No congregation that desires to have a meaningful witness in the world can be divided. That is why Paul insists that the Philippian church “be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (2:2). And, secondly, we must know what defines us. We must know whose we are and what that means. Paul tells the Philippians – as he tells us – “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others better than yourselves” (2:3). In other words, we must be defined by something other than self-interest and personal preference.
So, what shall define us? Paul says it must be Jesus Christ himself. If we ask whose we are, the only answer to that question must be: Jesus Christ. And what does that mean? Paul tells us. He says it means that “the same mind [will] be in you that that was in Christ Jesus….” In other words, you are to think of yourself in the same manner in which Jesus thought of himself. Paul is talking about something more here than simply imitating Jesus. He is not saying, “Get the mind of Christ.” He is saying that we already have the mind of Christ. In fact, that’s one possible rendering of verse 5, as you can see in the marginal notes of the NRSV. “Let the same mind be in you that you have in Christ Jesus” (emphasis added). Having the mind of Christ is the result of the gracious work of the Holy Spirit within us. He has transformed our minds so that we think like Jesus. And how does Jesus think?