Friday, December 07, 2007

Worthy Christian Conduct Part 2:
the Conduct

Some may wonder whether there is a need to teach or preach this message on Christian conduct. Some people inside of evangelical Christianity may even say that this is an admonition only for those Christians who want to be disciples, but not for all believers. Also, many of those who are opposed the gospel of pure grace may perhaps use texts like this (and others in Philippians and elsewhere) to make a case that faith alone in Christ’s person and work don’t save the sinner; and that it would be some work on the part of the sinner in addition to Christ’s work that results in the salvation of the sinner.

For instance, Roman Catholics would say that the way in which man attains eternal life is by the contribution of one’s own earthly works to that of Christ’s singular work. I would argue that the Bible indicates that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone, and that any Christian conduct or good deeds that are done by an individual are the fruit of that individual’s salvation, but these works are not a part of the means by which that sinner is brought from death to life.

But for those inside of Evangelical and Biblical circles, the need for a concern over the conduct of the body is very important. John MacArthur summarized some of the reasons why consistent Christian conduct is important in his commentary on the book of Philippians.

“When the unsaved look at the church and do not see holiness, purity, and virtue, there appears to be no reason to believe the gospel it proclaims. When pastors commit gross sins and are later restored to positions of leadership in the church; when church members lie, steal, cheat, gossip, and quarrel; and when congregations seem to care little about such sin and hypocrisy in their midst, the world is understandably repulsed by their claims to love and serve God. And the name of Christ is sullied and dishonored.”1

“The point here is that those who belong to Christ through saving faith in His gospel should demonstrate that power by their changed lives (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17).”2
In my previous entry (which amounts to the first half of the sermon that I preached on 12/2/07), I attempted to show the nature of what the gospel message is so that we can understand what Paul is calling the Philippians (and us) to do. So, having seen that the gospel contains the key doctrines of God and the Bible, that it is a message of reconciliation to God, and that it must be believed, we can now move on to see Paul’s three keys for living in a manner that is fitting and is worthy of this glorious gospel!

27 Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; 28 in no way alarmed by your opponents--which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God.” (Philippians 1:27,28)
The first of the three keys for how to live a life worthy of the gospel of Christ is that the Christian must stand firm. I think that Paul is particularly saying that we must stand firm in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul’s words are that they are to stand firm, and the context of this passage indicates exactly what they are to stand firm in; their faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

13 Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14)
“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)
“So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15)
So to “stand firm” is to believe the teachings of Christ and the apostles so completely that it permeates every area of your life and effects every decision that you make. This type of standing firm will result in a life that is free from gross hypocrisy and blatant and flaunted sin that would turn the gospel message sour in the mouths of the world. Standing firm in the faith of the gospel of Christ will also display the beautiful fruit of the changed lives and desires of wretched sinners who have been saved by grace. It is the proclamation of the true gospel of Christ adorned with living a life marked by holiness that glorifies the God whom we serve.

The second key that Paul gives here is that we as believers must be unified with the brethren in our firm stance on the gospel of Jesus Christ. If I am committed to the gospel as an individual, it will do the church very little good if I am the only one in my local fellowship who is. We are not to live in the Christian life alone, as a hermit, but we are to work together as a body of believers; each differently skilled and gifted working toward the same end goal.
2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 2:2-5)
1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.”

14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:1-6, 14-16)
So for the body of Christ to be united in the cause of the gospel is this: to live in such a sensitive realm that when someone in my church is hurting, I hurt. When my pastor or a widow in my community has a need, I really look to see if there is anything that I can do about it. The local body shouldn’t just come together on Sunday, sing together, say a few pleasantries to each other, toss out a “I’ll pray for you” whether we will or not, and call that a display of the body of Christ. In order for us to be a healthy microcosm of the body of Christ, we must weep together, rejoice together, worship together, get excited together, serve together, love together, and encourage one another together. And while we are doing these things, we must do them focused on and centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ that is revealed in the pages of the Bible.

If we as believers can stand unified in the proclamation of the true gospel and stand together in a common commitment over the needs and concerns, pains and joys of one another, then we can be ready to not only stand together in a display of the body of Christ, but we can then have the combined strength to stand firmly together as one in the gospel against the attacks of those who despise the gospel of Christ.

We must strive for the gospel, but we must do it in two different ways. First of all, we must strive together, as a body, to be mature in the faith so that we are not children who are so easily overpowered by the smooth-tongued false teacher in our midst. One of the meanings of “strive” is that we must be diligent to present ourselves approved to God by rightly handling and understanding the Word of God (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:15). So, in this sense of “striving”, how are we to strive together? The Bible shows us that we are to be wise and judicious believers by being actively engaged with the Bible and other believers.
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
“Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)
11 Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. 12 Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men.” (Acts 17:11-12)
So as an application of what I am saying, take what you are reading here, take what you heard this past week at your church, take what you heard on the Christian radio station this week and search the scriptures to see if what you’re hearing is true! Don’t just swallow whatever you hear. Try to “swallow the meat & spit out the bones.”

If you’re at a church where the gospel is preached, where Christ is exalted, where the Word is revered and studied, then examine what you are taught to be sure that you are being fed the truth. Now, when you do this, you will invariably find something that is misstated or misunderstood by a lay teacher like myself, your pastor, or a visiting pastor or theologian. But don’t forsake the local body because of a peripheral issue of disagreement or one misstatement or error. Take the meat, eat it, and grow from it. Then, examine the statement or issue that you don’t agree with, and if you find, by Scripture, that what you heard was wrong; spit it out! If you’re deeply concerned that the error was serious enough, and not a slip of the tongue, bring it before the teacher in a loving and compassionate way. You may not come to agreement, but you will be engaging in iron sharpening iron.

Furthermore, talk about the Scriptures, as well as sermons that you hear and songs that you sing and programs that you watch or listen to, with a brother or sister in the Lord. In this way you will both be immeasurably blessed in the understanding of God’s Word and in the closeness of your relationship to one another if you are coming together with the desire to glorify God in your fellowship and in the study of His Word,. But none of this can really happen unless you, like the noble Bereans, search the Scriptures to see if what you are hearing is true.

Also, if you’re not searching the Scriptures on your own, and not simply a legalistic 10 -15 minute quiet time where you “do your time” and then go on to do what you really want to do, the truth of the gospel and the truth of the doctrines of the Bible may offend your ears and you will be more likely to dislike them. You cannot trust your inclination as to whether a doctrine is true or false or if someone is accurately presenting scripture if you are not studying the Word of God.

As a body of believers, we should not be “alarmed by [our] opponents” who are standing opposed to us because of the gospel that we proclaim. There will always be opponents of the true gospel, and that is why Paul encourages the Philippian believers that this opposition is a sign of the truth of what they believe and a sign of destruction for those who oppose the truth. So the Philippians needed to be willing and able to stand against the false teachers that would, without a doubt, assail them with false doctrine. Understanding Paul’s admonition here, how are we to strive amidst opposition to the gospel?
3 Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. 4 For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Jude 3-4)
We must stand firmly in the gospel of grace against all heresy. United States soldiers take an oath to defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and we need to be on guard against all false teaching both from outside of our fellowship and from inside.

We can know, and take a measure of comfort in the fact, that because the true gospel of grace that is preached here and is opposed so vigorously that this is a fruit of the fact that the message we preach is true. Paul tells us that this is a sign of our salvation. If we never rustled anyone’s feathers with the message that we preach, we aren’t preaching the gospel of Christ! Take heart, the gospel will be offensive to the will of every natural man who will ever hear it (1 Corinthians 1:18).

This opposition is also a sign of the destruction that these same opponents of the gospel justly deserve because of their unrighteousness. We will be opposed by people who hate Christ (whether they know that they hate Him or not) and who hate His gospel because the message of the cross is intolerant, unfair, narrow-minded, or just simply foolish (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18). People will hate the gospel and they will hate those who hold to the gospel; and so we must be ready to defend the gospel against their attacks. For the sake of our children, our grand children, and our great grandchildren, we must be vigilant in the face of silence or in the face of terrifying and deadly opposition.

  1. Are you living in a manner worthy of the gospel? Are you living your Christian life in a manner so that when you die and stand naked before Almighty God, that He will say “Well done, good and faithful servant”? Or are you that man who will stand naked before Christ who was truly saved but you are not living in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ and you will have all of the things that you thought were good and lovely services to God burned up…but you will be saved as though through fire?

    Furthermore, are you – sir…madam – living a new life at all? Do you simply believe the facts about Jesus Christ being God’s son and the atoning work He did on the cross, but you don’t believe in them or trust in them? If I am talking about you here – oh and I am sure that there are people hearing my voice tonight who have not been born again even though you have grown up in the church, went to church groups, taught bible classes, and went to Christian school who are not saved – if I am talking about you here tonight, please hear me. Today is the day of salvation! Repent and believe the Gospel! (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:2)
  2. Is your local church standing together in one mind and spirit? If not, how can you improve your participation in the body to make it stronger?
  3. Are you standing firm in the gospel of Jesus Christ? Not “do you go to a church that does” or “do you associate with people who do”. But are you standing firm in the gospel?
  4. Are you wrestling through the Scriptures on your own and with a brother or sister to see if what you are hearing is true?
  5. Are you standing firmly in opposition to the myriad of false gospels and false teachers that abound in the world today?

1 “Philippians – The MacArthur New Testament Commentary Series” by John MacArthur Jr. p. 85

2 Ibid. p. 86

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