Worthy of the Gospel

Every middle schooler knows you can’t trust everyone to be the same person in every situation. We feel pressure to be a certain way around certain people, to act in line with what will get us approval, or support, or money. We put on the stern, angry face at work to get our coworkers in line, or we exaggerate the smile and smooth talk to close the deal. We smile at friends and talk about how life is going well, but then go home and give a cold shoulder to the wife and ignore the kids. Then, when we are alone we waste our time and energies on pointless consumption of whatever we can get our hands on.

Is this the life that God designed for us? Do we even like who we are in every one of these scenarios, or however else we find ourselves? Culture has taught us that this is just what it takes to get by in the world, that nobody can be a good person all the time. To a certain extent this is true. We are broken people, stained by sin. This does not mean we should live this way though. The gospel of Jesus is that He died to put our sin to death, and that He rose to new life so we could join Him in a life transformed by His Spirit.

I have been walking, however slowly, through the book of Philippians. In it we find examples of what life looks like shaped by this gospel. We see the transforming power of the Spirit and a life marked by the ability to stand on truth regardless of situation. Coming to the end of the first chapter, we find the driving force behind those realities. We find a command from God that shapes all of life and every situation.

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel”

Philippians 1:27 ESV

Here we see a call, an encouragement, to march on in faith and faithfulness. Paul is telling the believers that if they are in Christ, then they should live for Christ. He is telling them that who they are now in Jesus needs to determine what they do in the world. First I want to clarify this phrase “worthy of the gospel,” and then I want to offer what I believe is a helpful framework for approaching the rest of life in this manner.

There is something vital to understand here, and if we miss it, we miss everything else. The world and the culture thinks that being a Christian is all about what you do and how you live. They would read this verse and say, “Yeah, so if you are a good person and follow all the rules you get into heaven.” This is a lie, and it is actually a denial of the gospel itself. Paul, the writer of this passage, makes this exceedingly clear. In a letter he wrote to the Ephesian church, he said, “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” (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV). In another letter to the Romans, he says, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28 ESV). The whole point of the letter he wrote to the Galatian church is that fulfilling ritual requirements is not what saves a person, but that we should live in light of the grace we have been shown. Paul is extremely consistent here. So why does he tell believers to live in a manner “worthy of the gospel of Christ”?
The gospel is that faith in Jesus’ payment for our sins makes us right before God. His sacrifice pays for the eternal judgement that we deserve. This means that it’s not about anything we do, but about what Jesus did. If we believe this, we believe that our lives belong to Him. “And [Christ] died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:15 NIV). The person who is saved by Jesus understands that their life belongs to Jesus, that the old has gone and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). The core of their identity is now found in Jesus, and the rest of life pours out of that. The call to “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” is a call to live out of that knowledge of who you are in Him. In this verse Paul gives us two areas of life to be concerned with in this, when we are alone and with others.

When We Are Alone
I have heard people say that character is defined by who you are when nobody is looking. Paul’s encouragement to believers is to live in a manner worthy of the gospel, “whether I come and see you or am absent.” Here’s the principle: God wants your inner life and outer life to match, and He wants them to be in line with His character. “For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 ESV). “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind” (Jeremiah 17:10 ESV). Jesus says, “your Father…sees what is done in secret” (Matthew 6:6 NIV). Psalm 139 shows us that God knows our “thoughts from afar,” our words before they are on our tongue, and had our days written in His book before we were born (Psalm 139:2,4,16). God is concerned with what we do when no one is looking. God cares about our character.
God wants our lives to look like the life of Jesus, for us to honor Him by living in line with His Word and who He is. This does not only apply to our public actions, but our private lives as well. What do you do when you’re alone? What do you think about? Look at? Are your thoughts and desires in line with the character of God as revealed in scripture? Is your private life consistent with, worthy of, the gospel of Christ? This is what Paul is saying. We are to be people shaped by the gospel in all of life, not just when people are watching. All of life is meant to be worship to God, and God sees all of life. “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…whether I come and see you or am absent.”

When We Are With Others
Paul says he wants believers to live in a manner worthy of the gospel so that he “may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” What he is saying here is that our lives should display the gospel, the truth of Jesus, both around Christians and non-Christians. What Paul is talking about here is a public witness. The reason I say this is because Paul wants to hear that they are standing firm in the faith. Paul is not sending spies to make sure that the Philippians are staying in line, so how would he hear about it? He wants the Philippians to live in such a way that their reputation of being Christian precedes actually being around them. What is your reputation? Do people know you to be the type of person shaped by the gospel of Christ? Do people come to you expecting to find someone who acts like Jesus, and treats people like Jesus treated people? I am not talking about a Westborough Baptist type of loud, hateful complaining about the culture and everyone who isn’t Christian. I am talking about a life of faithfulness, not compromising on your beliefs, but showing grace and love to others. I am talking about living like Jesus, the God-man who stepped into the lives of broken and messed up people to bring transformative love and healing. Jesus, the One who cared for others at great cost to himself. Jesus, the one who spoke the hard truth when it needed to be heard, but did it in a way that was full of love and a desire to see people reconciled to God. Is that the reputation you have?
The other side of this is that he wants Christians to strive “side by side for the faith of the gospel.” Gospel centered community is meant to go forth with gospel action. A community that is gospel centered is gathered around the word of God, encouraging one another in the battle to live by it. A community that is gospel centered is marked by a notable love, and a caring for one another’s needs. A community that is gospel centered invites others to join into the joy of the gospel and experience the life offered by Christ. All of these things and more are seen in the early church in Acts 2:42-47. God wants his people to live in a manner worthy of the gospel, together showing others what the gospel looks like.

We see that God has called us as Christians to a life consistent with who we are in Jesus. Our inner lives are meant to match our outer lives in unity to the gospel of Christ. No one living has this mastered, but may we lean into the Holy Spirit and God’s Word to become more like Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel”

Philippians 1:27 ESV


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