Monday, December 03, 2007

Worthy Christian Conduct Part 1: Understanding The Gospel

I recently preached a message to my church on the text of Philippians 1:27-28. But before I launched into this text, I felt that it was necessary for me to remind the church of where we had come from and what we have gone through in the study of Philippians. So, for the reason of context and as a reminder, here is my own personal summary of what Paul has said (from his perspective) to the Philippians and about the Philippians through the end of this first chapter.

You have faithfully worked with me in my ministry (v.5), you continually partake of the same grace as I do (v. 7), and your salvation is secure because of God’s single-handed initiating, sustaining, and completing work for it (v. 6). Because of your faithfulness to me and to Christ, you have my deepest affection through Christ Jesus (v. 8). I pray that your love would greatly increase with judicious wisdom (v.9) so that you may approve what is excellent in order that, one day, you may sincerely stand blameless before Christ (v. 10) after you have been filled with the righteousness from Christ (v. 11). Don’t worry about the fact that I’m in prison because I am convinced that God will deliver me from this imprisonment so that I can continue my work in Christ for your benefit (v. 12-26).

Now, my friends, you must live in a way fitting the gospel by which you have been saved! Do this in such a way so that whether I can come and see you or simply hear reliable reports concerning you, I will hear that you are unified in Christ and in the protection of the faith of the gospel. (v.27) Do not be shocked that you will continually be opposed by people because of the gospel that you are defending (v. 28). God has not only allowed you to believe the gospel, but in the same way He is also allowing you to suffer like I do for His sake (v. 29-30).

I want to attempt to point out the main goal and three attributing factors that Paul brings up in this text, and then I want to ask and answer a few questions in an attempt to encourage us to live in a manner worthy of the gospel. The main goal and the three attributing points in this selection of text are these:

Goal: The church is to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ
  1. The church is to stand firmly together in spirit and mind
  2. The church is to strive together for the True Gospel
  3. The church must stand fast amidst adversaries of the True Gospel
Paul’s goal and commission for the church: Live in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What is the gospel of Christ? This first question may seem like a no-brainer or we just may forget to ask ourselves this question, but if we do not clearly understand what the gospel is then we cannot have any idea how to live our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel.

So many of the problems within modern day Christendom is due to the forsaking of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Whether this forsaking was done intentionally by those who sought to pervert the gospel, or whether it was done slowly over time through good Christian families who just didn’t make it a point to lift high the banner of the gospel of Christ, it makes no difference. The end result is still the forsaking of the gospel and apostasy. With that in mind, I want to make three points about what the gospel is so that we can understand it in order to rightly understand what we are called to live our lives worthy of.

The Gospel is the message of reconciliation.

The Good news is the proclamation for how man can be at peace with God. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news to all men that a completely unrighteous person can be at peace with a completely righteous God. In short, the good news is the way in which God has displayed His uncompromised and unstained righteousness and separation from the sinful and the wicked while, at the same time, giving Him the ability to forgive sinners and show them grace and mercy.

Don’t switch me off and grow deaf to what I am about to say here regarding the gospel because it is familiar to you. I don’t see how it is possible to live lives that are worthy of the gospel of Christ if we don’t esteem it rightly! If the very message of how we are made right with God and the fact that this message, this deliverance, necessitated God to be punished on my behalf has become casual in our minds and hearts, how then can we live lives worthy of the gospel? If the gospel is less spectacular to me than the current status of whatever sports team I follow, how can my life be a display worthy of it? How can I live a life worthy of the gospel of Christ if it is less captivating than the latest reality or celebrity television show, competition, news story, or event? How can I live a life worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ if it is less precious and commands less of my thoughts and desires than video games, movies, or other leisure activities?

I know that it is so easy to allow something that you have heard so often throughout your entire life to become somewhat mundane, trivial, or even annoying. But please, I beg you, don’t let the gospel become like that for you. I have known, seen, and interacted with people who profess to be believers who openly show their disinterest with the primacy of the gospel message of salvation from the wrath of God. I have also witnessed plain and simple disgust at the message of the cross of reconciliation by ‘theologians’ like Brian McLaren who refer to the cross of Christ as “divine child abuse.” Others like Steve Chalke openly scorn the doctrine of the substitutionary death of Christ as a contradiction to what he sees as the character of God. Chalke said, “If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards humankind but borne by his Son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus’ own teaching to love your enemies and to refuse to reply evil with evil.”

Some of the opponents of the gospel, for sure, began their journey in Christendom with this type of derision. In other words, they have never accepted the teaching of Christ crucified, risen, and reigning as the glorious act of God for salvation. However, many others that I have seen (and some who I have known personally) have become bored with the gospel. Bored with salvation from sin and death?

When I was talking about the gospel with a friend of mine who went to Bible college with me and I pressed the fact that the primary message of the gospel to mankind is that of the offer of salvation from sin and peace with God, namely the doctrine of justification, he actually responded flippantly by saying (I’m summarizing): “That’s all well and good, but what does justification do for me now?” So, again my friends, please do not become sinfully familiar and casual about the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must fight against that tendency if we have any hope of living in a manner pleasing to God.

The gospel of God and its most pivotal event, the cross of Calvary, is how God’s righteousness and justice are fully and finally vindicated in His dealings with unrighteous people. One very beautiful picture of the cross of Christ is found in the prophet Isaiah’s writings.

3 He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

4 Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
8 He was taken from prison and from judgment,
And who will declare His generation?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
9 And they made His grave with the wicked --
But with the rich at His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in His mouth.

10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.
11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
Because He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:3-12)

The gospel contains the foundational doctrines of God.

Saying “gospel” is a way to summarize the teachings of Christ in salvation. Preaching the gospel is the same as preaching doctrine and theology. Because without proper theology, proper doctrine, the gospel message is perverted, corrupt, and an impotent message that will not save!

I don’t want to delve too deeply into the theology of the gospel doctrine, but I do want to make one thing absolutely clear: We must be so careful of the temptation that is so prevalent inside of the Christian church today that proclaims doctrine as an unimportant thing. In this view, only Jesus and the gospel are important and they don’t want to get bogged down in deep theological debates or issues.

R.C. Sproul once responded to someone who held this view that “theology” needs to take a back seat, and the church should just preach Christ. Dr. Sprawl’s answer was to ask that person to tell him who Jesus is. As soon as any answer is given as to nature of the person and work of Jesus Christ, you are articulating doctrine. We must not be afraid to get our hands dirty in the mining of Truth from God’s word. It’s not easy work, it’s not careless work, and it doesn’t come without some difficulty and struggle, but the reward is that the gospel itself will emerge so much more beautiful than it ever was before. I can testify that in the last few years, the gospel has become more beautiful and dearer to me after years – a decade – of struggling with some very heavy and weighty theological issues.

The Gospel Must be Believed.

You have heard preachers and teachers call you and others to “Repent and Believe the Gospel”. Because “gospel” is a summary of the truths that we need to believe; we need to believe it!

You cannot just believe that a man named Jesus lived. You cannot just believe that a man named Jesus lived, did miracles, and claimed to be God. You cannot just believe that a man named Jesus lived, did miracles, and claimed to be God, preached salvation and then was unjustly executed, murdered by the hands of sinful men at the behest of other sinful men, but then rose again to life on the third day before ascended to Heaven.

The gospel contains all of those truths, yes, but we cannot just believe that those things occurred and believe that they are true. We must believe in the God-Man Jesus and place our trust in Him alone who clothed Himself in flesh, proclaimed God’s message of salvation, was unjustly executed, and then gloriously defeated death to rise again to life on the third day and following that, ascended to be at the Right-Hand of the Father.

"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:15)
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)
“In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation--having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise,” (Ephesians 1:13)

The doctrines that make up the message of the gospel are essential, and one cannot be saved without properly understanding the basic facts that Jesus Christ is the second Person of the Holy Trinity. He clothed Himself in flesh and was born of a virgin. He lived an utterly sinless life and fulfilled all righteousness while He was alive. He came to be the atoning and all satisfying sacrifice before God for the sins of all those who would place their faith in Him. He died at the hands of sinners and by the providential plan and will of Almighty God in the place of criminals. He endured the wrath of God in the fullest measure to satisfy God’s wrath at sinful man, so that whoever will trust in Christ alone for salvation will be a beneficiary of the great exchange. Christ also rose to life again on the third day and then later ascended into heaven where He now sits at the right hand of God the Father.

That great exchange is that Christ’s righteousness is credited to the sinner so that God will see that sinner as if he had lived Christ’s sinless life, and thus the saved saint can now experience the blessing of being with God for all eternity. The second part of that exchange is that the sinners’ sins are all credited to Christ so that God could pour out His wrath completely on the sin-bearer. Without this exchange, the sin-bearer is the sinner and this wrath is poured out on the sinner for an eternity in Hell. But with this exchange, Christ could receive the just punishment and wrath for sinners’ sins in a finite amount of time (a few hours).

And the gospel message is so priceless that no one can ever earn or even partially merit the benefits of this great exchange. The gospel is a free gift to all of those who repent of their sins and who will believe it and trust in Christ’s work alone to save them. The great doctrine of justification by faith is so beautiful because I cannot earn it, I do not deserve it, but I receive the grace of God by faith and then go out and display the fruit of my new life in Christ by love and good deeds.

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