Summary: God changes us more and more as we believe the gospel more and more deeply and personally.
One of my seminary professors illustrated the challenge of believing and living Biblical truth by saying that we work out our theology and practice on a razor’s edge. The faithful Christian does not walk the fine edge so much as she is always moves back toward Biblical truth and godly behavior. Fallen creatures living in a fallen world have neither the wisdom nor sight in these shadowlands to perfectly know or do God’s will; our goal must be to always move back toward the line.
Today’s text challenges us in such a way. The command is deceptively simple: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel.” Only that! But the gospel is undeserved, so how do we live worthy of a gracious gift we are unworthy of? Such is the edge which God’s Spirit moves us toward this morning.
[Read Philippians 1.27-30. Pray.]
Pastor John Piper describes a confrontation with a man committing adultery: “I tried to understand his situation and I pled with him to return to his wife. Then I said, ‘You know, Jesus says that if you don’t fight this sin with kind of seriousness that is willing to gouge out your own eye, you will go to hell and suffer there forever.’ As a professing Christian, he looked at me in utter disbelief, as though he had never heard anything like this in his life, and said, ‘You mean you think a person can lose his salvation?’” (Future Grace).
That little interaction reveals more than the hardness of one man’s heart. It shows how easily sinful minds warp into falsehood a received truth like, “Once saved always saved.” Yes, salvation is by grace, but the Savior also changes those he saves. It is as if we sometimes disconnect knowing Jesus from real life.
Dr. Bryan Chapell (President of Covenant Seminary) emphasizes the necessity of preaching grace Biblically by saying, “In the gospel the rules do not change—the means and motivation for obedience change.” In the gospel, lust is still a soul-damning sin—the rules does not change. But both the motivation and means of victory are different than we naturally expect.
So how do we change? How do we live worthy of the gospel? How do we please God as sinners living in a sin-soaked world? How do we fight lust in a way that honors the grace of Jesus and not the strength of our wills? Let’s consider two truths this morning. First…
1. We Must Begin with the Gospel To Please God
Our special Sunday morning breakfast is scrambled eggs. Now suppose Helen cracks a dozen eggs into a bowl and eleven are perfect. Eleven of twelve is a great batting average, a fantastic three-point shooting percentage, and well on your way to a quarterback rating over 100. But is 92% acceptable for a bowl of beaten eggs? No way! One rotten egg corrupts the whole.
In the old days, large windows consisted of several individual panes of glass. If you smack a baseball through one, the others can remain intact. But modern windows are made from large pieces of glass. Yours may appear to be divided by a muntin (the small piece of material which separates individual pieces of glass in the larger frame), but that merely decorates the window. A baseball breaks the whole window.
The Bible teaches that God’s rules are like modern windows, or scrambled eggs if you prefer. “Whoever keeps the whole law (the apostle James reminds us) but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2.10). “Accountable” is a great translation of the Greek word [e;nocoj=enochos]; it is more subtle than simply guilty, though guilt is included in the meaning. The implication is that we are liable even if we did not commit the exact crime. The law is one piece—disobeying a part violates the law as a whole.
This is why none pleases God by the good we do or the bad we avoid. None obeys perfectly! Even when we manage some external conformity (“I never robbed a bank”), we dishonor God’s name and nature with corrupt hearts, selfish motives, and prideful desires (“I coveted my neighbor’s house”).
Augustus Toplady put our problem to song in the hymn, “Rock of Ages”: “Not the labors of my hands, can fulfill your law’s demands. Could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone; you must save, and you alone.”
To summarize the discomfort we feel about free grace, sometimes gospel preachers say, “There is only one thing you need to come to God through Jesus. The only thing you need is ‘need,’ but few will own that!”
A woman appeared at the church Thursday and told me of the miseries of her life, the death of her brother, the poverty of her parents, and how she spent everything on food and fuel to drive here for the funeral. She begged for some money to get a meal and gasoline to make it home to Kentucky. Then she said, “I will pay you back when I get home.” I said, “No, that’s OK, there is no paying it back.” She said, “No, give me the address of the church and I will mail the money to you when I get home.” Even when reduced to begging, free gifts make us uncomfortable. But I need the free grace.