Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Gleanings in Philippians ~ Live Life in Light of the Humiliation and Exaltation of Christ: Phil 2.12-13

Paul has started the center section of this book with a huge exhortation: “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” He illustrates that call in 2:5-11 with a picture of Jesus’ humble, obedient service in His humiliation and exaltation.

And then, here in verse 12, he says “Therefore….” He’s about to tell you to live your life as a Christian in light of what he’s been discussing about Christ.

This is one of the most important passages about sanctification: growth in Christian maturity.

The New Testament describes sanctification in different ways. For instance, it will talk about sanctification in terms of becoming more Christ-like, imitating Jesus, following Jesus.

The New Testament talks about sanctification in terms of our being reshaped in the image of God. In Genesis 1, we’re told that God made humanity in His image. But because of Adam and Eve’s rebellion that image was marred and caused to not bear the beauty that God had originally intended. And in sanctification, God is addressing that marring, and healing it and restoring it to its former glory so that we would be what He intended us to be in the first place: the very image and likeness of God Almighty.

Now, when God saves us, He does at least three things for us:
1. God accepts us.
God pardons us and forgives us, and He accepts us as righteous – not because we are justification. He accepts us not for anything in us, but for Christ alone.

2. God adopts us.
Our Father welcomes us into His own family, makes us to be His children, and makes us inheritors of His estate and brothers and sisters of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

3. God changes us.
He changes us, because the Lord God desires that we would not only be pardoned for our sin and welcomed into His family, but that we would begin to look in our character like His children, because the heavenly Father would have us to fellowship with Him forever, yet He cannot fellowship with sin. And so He is in the business of eradicating sin. That will never be finished in this life, but He is transforming us.

Now, why am I going through all of these things that God does for us in our salvation? Because the second half of Philippians 2:12 is confusing. We’re reading about the humiliation and exaltation of Christ, and the next thing you know Paul is saying, “Work out your own salvation….” We must be crystal clear about what that means, and about what that doesn’t mean.
Does he mean that we must provide the basis of God’s accepting us by our doings?

No! Look at the whole context, anywhere from Philippians 1:27 to this point. Is Paul telling you how somebody is converted or justified or accepted? No. He’s talking about how Christians become more mature. He’s saying, now I want you to grow in grace. So what does Philippians 2:12 mean, then?

It means that we are to pursue godliness and holiness because God is at work in us for our godliness. We are to work to be more like Christ because God is at work in us that we might be more godly, because God is at work in us that we might be more like Christ.

Philippians 2:12-13, in other words, is an encouragement to you: that you can and you will make progress in driving sin from your life. Paul’s message is God accepts you; therefore change is now possible.

This is the most encouraging possible news, because every real Christian wrestles with this reality: “Lord, I know that You have accepted me not because of who I am, but because of Christ, but, Lord, there are sins in me that have a hold on me that make me wonder whether I really love You and trust in You.”

Let me just outline for you again what Paul is asserting, and we’ll look more closely at it on Thursday.

1. Continue to obey. He’s just shown you Jesus’ obedience – and then he calls on believers to obey. There is no idea in Paul’s teaching that obedience is not an essential part of the Christian life.

2. “Work out your salvation.” His message is not “save, justify, adopt yourself and get yourself accepted with God by your doing.” He is saying, ‘Be active in your sanctification in the Christian life. Work out your salvation.’

3. “With fear and trembling.” Paul is simply telling you there that you are to continue to obey in reverent humility of the living God. Why does this make so much sense? Because he’s been talking about Jesus being humble.

4. “…Because God is at work in you.” He says do this all of this because God himself is at work in you already, so that you will want to do it, and so that you will do it for His good pleasure in you. That’s incredible. But more than that, he says this in the present tense. He doesn’t say it in the past tense. He doesn’t say I want you to work out your sanctification in reverent humility, because God has changed you. Now that’s true, because God has changed you. But Paul doesn’t say keep on obeying, keep on pursuing Christian maturity in humble service to others because you’ve already been changed; he says because God is at work in you now to change you, God is not finished with you yet. I cannot imagine a more comforting and encouraging thing to know in the pursuit of godliness in the Christian life than that my God is not done yet.

The sovereignty of God in our salvation and in our sanctification is not permission for us to be passive; it is a reason for hope, because change is possible.

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