Second Reformed Church

Sunday, August 10, 2014

"A Sign of Salvation" Sermon: Philippians 1:27-30

“A Sign of Salvation”

[Philippians 1:27-30]

August 10, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            “I have one piece of instruction for you.”

            Do you know the joke?

            “What is the biggest lie a pastor ever tells?”

            “For my final point…”

            Paul had greeted the Philippians, expressed his love of them and hope for them, and then he told them about how his imprisonment has served to advance the Gospel and how, so long as Christ is glorified in and through Paul’s body, being set free from prison or being put to death, both end up to Paul’s benefit and joy.

            After talking about his circumstances and thoughts on his future, Paul now gives the Philippians “just one piece of instruction.”  This is a little funny, since it comes early in the letter…

            And we find three points in this text:

            First, we ought to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel.

            Second, living in a manner worthy of the Gospel is a clear sign.

            Third, living in a manner worthy of the Gospel is a clear sign because God grants us grace.

            Paul ended in last week’s text by telling the Philippians that he hoped God would be willing to let him live after preaching to Caesar that Paul might return to the Philippians and continue to instruct them in maturing as Christians that they all might abound in joy and in the glorification of Jesus.

            However, whether God’s Will was for Paul to live or die, Paul had “one piece of instruction for them.”

            First, we ought to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel.

            “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ,”

            What is the Gospel worth?  What is it worth to you that God came to earth in the Person of Jesus, lived a perfect life, so you would be seen as holy, died for the sins of everyone who would ever believe, so you would be forgiven – saved from the Wrath of God, and physically rose from the dead and ascended back to His throne that you would be raised in your physical body to live eternally with Him?

            Jesus told two parables about the value of the Gospel:

            “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

            “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-46, ESV).

            Jesus tells us that the value of the Gospel – the value of entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven – is everything.  There is nothing of greater value.  It is the only answer to the most important question a person will ever answer:  “How does a person become right with God?”
            
And Paul does not leave the Philippians clueless, but he tells them how to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel:

“so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit,”

We live in a manner worthy of the Gospel by agreeing together and standing firm – not wavering one way or the other – on the teachings – the doctrines – of God’s Word.

That does not mean that we will not have differences from time to time – look at all the denominations.  What is means is that in those facts of the Gospel – the means to salvation – we are united on them without question – because those things we must believe if we are to be a Christian.  One of the earliest summary formulas of doctrine is The Apostle’s Creed.

That is not to say that everything else in the Bible is negotiable.  No, we must believe that the Bible is God’s Word – and if we truly do, we will approach it and what it says in a respectful and humble manner, seeking to obey and understand by faith.  There are passages which are not as clear as others, but most of the Scripture is plain and can be understood, and all that is necessary for salvation is abundantly clear.

We live in a manner worthy of the Gospel by agreeing on the teachings of God’s Word – especially those related to salvation – the Gospel.

“with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,”

Then, side-by-side, as one person, we are to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel by acting on the teachings of God’s Word.  We are to believe and defend and proclaim the teachings of God’s Word, and especially the Gospel.

As we have seen in Philippians already – Paul didn’t mind being in jail, Paul didn’t mind being condemned, Paul didn’t mind being spoken of falsely, Paul was ready to live or to die – whatever God’s Will was, so long as the Gospel was advanced.  So long as we all join together in letting everyone know there is only One Way to salvation through Jesus Christ – through Who He is and what He did – we strive with one mind for the faith of the Gospel.

Now, we may remember that agreeing on the Gospel and proclaiming the Gospel – being strong and united as the Church – is one thing – but they were living at a time and in a place of severe persecution – as are many in the world today – the Islamic group ISIS is slaughtering Christians in Iraq today – trying to eradicate Christianity in that country.  So, Paul continues:

“and not frightened in anything by your opponents.”

Notice, Paul does not say “if” you have opponents.  The Philippians had opponents in the Jews and the Romans and others.  And if we stand for the Gospel and proclaim the Gospel, we will have opponents.  Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18, ESV).

The imagery that Paul uses is that of a group of panicked horses stampeding away.  No, we are to stand – steadfast and united, for the sake of the Gospel.

Jude wrote about the need to fight the opponents of the Gospel:  “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:3-4, ESV).

Paul told the Ephesians how to stand up against the opponents of Christianity – and he explained that we are not just people fighting against people, but world-views and ideologies and spiritual alignments fighting regarding the One Savior Jesus Christ and His Gospel.

Paul wrote:

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:10-20, ESV).

Paul used to familiar image of the Roman soldier’s uniform to paint a picture of standing firm in one spirt and striving with one mind, determined in faith and belief in the Gospel, hoping in the sure victory of Christ, and we stand for Him – unafraid – because we know who has saved us and where we are going – waiting for what God has willed – that He would be glorified and we would have His joy.

So, live in a manner worthy of the Gospel – which is worth everything you could ever have or be – and more!  Live together with other Christians, confessing the truths of the Gospel and all of God’s Word, both ready to proclaim and defend the Gospel against the enemies of the world.  And do not be afraid, because God has gifted us with the ability to stand in the face of evil – and to stand strong together – serving and glorifying – making known the Gospel – of our Victorious, Risen Savior and God.

Second, living in a manner worthy of the Gospel is a clear sign.

“This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.”

Paul tells the Philippians that if they truly live a life worthy of the Gospel, it will be a clear sign.  What does a sign do?  A sign points to something, right?  Paul is saying that we – in our living a life worthy of the Gospel – are a sign – to unbelievers of their destruction in everlasting torment – and to believers of our salvation which is of God Alone.

Jesus explained it this way:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:16-21, ESV).

God came to earth in the Person of Jesus, and Jesus lived a life worthy of the Gospel – a pure and holy and obedient life in all things sinless – and there were two responses to Jesus’ light – to His bearing the sign of the Gospel – salvation – in His living:  there were people who believed and repented, and there were people who told Jesus “no” – in one of many ways.

Those who believe and seek to live a life worthy of the Gospel bear the sign of a person who has been saved by grace alone through Jesus Christ Alone.  If we are seriously striving after living a life that is pleasing to God and lives up to the worth of the Gospel, it will be a proof of the salvation that we have – those fruits will be a proof of the salvation that we have.

On the other hand, those who deny Jesus and His Gospel – those who say they don’t need His salvation – they do not live in a manner worthy of the Gospel and that is a sign – proof – that they are condemned.

And let no one think that you can just not make a decision:  one of my college professors said that Jesus made a logical mistake when He said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30, ESV).  The professor said there was a third option – a person could not care one way or another – he could remain agnostic about Jesus.  That professor was wrong!  Jesus does not give us a third option – as the Sovereign and Almighty God, He has made One Way of salvation and has called all people to Himself – and those who received Him will live in a way that proves their salvation – and those who reject Him will live in a way that proves their condemnation.  Pretending not to make a decision is to reject Him.  There is no third option. 

If we live in a manner worthy of the Gospel it will be a clear sign as to who believes and is saved by Jesus Alone and who rejects Jesus and is damned.  And woe to the person who rejects the sign of the Gospel made visible through our living in a manner worthy of the Gospel, because there is no other way to be saved except through Jesus Christ Alone.

One final point:

Third, living in a manner worthy of the Gospel is a clear sign because God grants us grace.

“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.”

Paul told the Philippians that God had given them grace to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel and to be a sign to those who hear the proclamation of the Gospel through our lives and through our speaking – either to salvation or damnation – and Paul points to two outcomes of receiving grace from God:

In receiving this grace from God, we believe savingly in Jesus.  In other words, the grace to believe in Jesus savingly – the grace to believe in the facts of the Gospel and receive them in our minds and heart – is a gift.  Salvation is a gift and the ability to receive salvation is a gift – a gift of the Grace of God.

Paul put it this way to the Ephesians:

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:1-10, ESV).

            Let me repeat one sentence:  “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

            God, in accordance with His Sovereign Good Pleasure chose to give some the grace – the gift – of faith – through which we receive the grace – the gift – of salvation.  God has given us this immeasurably precious gift of salvation through faith entirely as a gift from God.  We were dead and could not – we had no ability – to receive the Gospel and belief it and repent – it is all a gift.  What a wonderful gift of grace!

            And, we are given the grace to remain in the Grace of God, saved, believing, sons and daughter of the Kingdom of God.  The gift that God gives us – and this is shown in the grammar of the text – the gift is not a one-time gift and then God goes away, leaving us to our own devices, hoping that we will make it to the last day as believers.  No!  The gift of God’s Grace to salvation is a one-time declaration which God continues – it is ongoing – persevering us until the last day, so that all those God has gifted with this grace will be received into His Kingdom.  God cannot fail.

            Yet, there is a second gift of the Grace of God given to the Philippians and to all believers, as we live our lives in a manner worthy of the Gospel – that is, that we should suffer for Christ’s sake in the same way that Paul suffered – in the same way the Philippians have suffered – in the same way that Christians throughout history have suffered for the Gospel and Jesus’ sake.

            Paul told the Corinthians that he had suffered in these ways:

            “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:24-28, ESV).

            And now as he waited to preach the Gospel to Caesar, there was the very real possibility that he would be put to death for Jesus’ sake – and we know that he was beheaded in the end.

            Now, we may hear that and think, “I don’t much like the gift of suffering!”  And we should not – we are not called to look for or to enjoy suffering.  What Paul is telling the Philippians and us is that when we suffer for Christ’s sake – and we already saw it is a promise that we will suffer – God gives us His Grace that the bitterness of suffering would be taken away – that, though we do not enjoy suffering, we can be joyful about suffering for the sake of Christ.

            How is that?

            As Paul explained about himself – he wanted to see the Gospel advanced – by any means – and he was willing to live or die – both are blessings and of great advantage – according to the Will of God – so long as the Gospel is advanced.

            Paul wrote the Thessalonians:

            “This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:5-12, ESV).

            All we who believe savingly in Jesus Christ – all we who believe the Gospel – those historical facts of Who Jesus is and what He has done – have received a priceless gift from God – salvation and the ability to receive it.

            Since we have, let us live a life worthy of the Gospel of Christ.

            Let us seek to live lives worthy of the Gospel that we would be signs to the truth of the Gospel – waking people up to whether they have been saved from the Wrath of God for our sins and made His sons and daughters – brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ – or whether they are continuing in the road to damnation apart from Christ and His salvation.

            Let us recognize and rejoice in the Grace of God that has caused us to believe this most worthy of worthy news – the Gospel.

            And let us stand together, united in our belief in the Word of God, ready to proclaim it, defend it, and even suffer for it, to the Glory of our God and Savior.

            Let us live lives worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

            Let us pray:

            Almighty God, help us to live lives that are worthy of Your Gospel.  Cause the Holy Spirit to apply these teachings of Paul to the Philippians – these teachings commanded of the Word of God to all who believe – that we would be blazing signs of Your Gospel, calling all people to belief and repentance.  Unite us in belief and action and lack of fear of what those who can only kill the body may do to us.  May You be glorified in us as we seek to advance the Gospel.  May we be thankful for our salvation and proud to suffer for Your Gospel as it gives You glory.  In Jesus’ Name and for His joy, Amen.

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