by Frank Mayfield
Paul urges the Church in Philippi to “live a life worthy of the gospel” in Philippians 1:27.
What a lofty calling this is–to live lives which are worthy of the gospel of Christ! When I first read this, it felt to me like an overwhelming command. I was left wondering, “How can a person possibly live up to such a high standard?”
A Weighty Calling
Before we consider the answer to that question, it’s important that we acknowledge that being called into a life with Jesus is a weighty calling. On many occasions when Jesus was questioned about God’s law, rather than making it easier by lowering the bar, he actually raised the bar by setting a new standard for Godly living.
Take for example Jesus’ teaching on adultery. He says in Matthew 5:27-28; “You have heard that it was said, do not commit adultery. But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Jesus does this many times in His teaching ministry: pushing the bar for Godly living up rather than down. Living gospel-saturated lives isn’t easy. When Jesus calls us to Himself, He calls us to a narrow path not a broad one, to a life of self-denial, not of self-fulfillment.
This command from Paul might feel jarring to us, because in general, Western evangelicals talk a lot about being saved by grace alone through faith alone which is true and should be constantly reinforced to avoid sliding into legalism. But in our desire to champion faith and grace, we too often downplay the type of life that Jesus wants us to live and its ethical demands on our lives.
Listen to James chapter 2 verse 14: “What good is it brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works? Can such a faith save him?”
Encountering Jesus More
So, how should we respond to this appeal from Paul? Is the answer to simply try harder? To be better Christians? To make more of an effort? I think the Scriptures teach us that responding to Paul’s appeal is less about our efforts FOR Jesus and more about our encounters WITH Jesus.
“Responding to Paul’s appeal is less about our efforts FOR Jesus and more about our encounters WITH Jesus.”
The Bible is full of people who encounter Jesus and their lives are turned completely upside down. For example, in Luke chapter 8, we read of a demon-possessed man who lived a tortured life in a graveyard–naked and chained in complete isolation. No one dared approach him until Jesus calmly walked up to him, cast out his demons and by the end of the story, the man is dressed and in his right mind sitting at the feet of Jesus and back in community once again.
If we are to live lives that are worthy of the Gospel, we must seek out regular encounters with Jesus. The Gospel of God is the good news that God has come to us–Jesus, sent from the Father and illuminated by the Holy Spirit has made it possible for us to encounter Him through His atoning sacrifice on the cross and His decisive defeat of death in the resurrection.
Hear these words from 2 Corinthians 17-18: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. We all with unveiled faces are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory.”
When we encounter Jesus, when we gaze on His beauty, we cannot help but become more like Him! When we encounter His gentleness, His tender kindness, His servant heart, His patience, His fierce love, His care for the poor and His passion for the lost, we cannot help but be changed.
“When we encounter Jesus, when we gaze on His beauty, we cannot help but become more like Him! When we encounter His gentleness, His tender kindness, His servant heart, His patience, His fierce love, His care for the poor and His passion for the lost, we cannot help but be changed.”
As I read this passage, I found myself asking: When was the last time I had a deep encounter with the living Lord Jesus? I know that all too often, I simply do not prioritize time gazing upon Jesus.
Sure, I pray. I read Scripture. I am diligent with my other acts of Christian service, but reading these words brought it home to me once again that what I really need, more than anything else in this life are deep encounters with Jesus. I need deep encounters with the One who said “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. The one who believes in me, as the scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within them.”
If we try and live gospel lives without regularly encountering Jesus through His Holy Spirit and His Living Word in our times of public and private worship and devotion, then it will feel like trying to run a marathon without drinking any water and our Christian lives will always feel like a heavy burden to us.
But if we seek out Jesus, He promises to carry the weight for us. Hear His words in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yolk and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Make no mistake, Paul’s appeal to life lives worthy of the gospel is a lofty and weighty task. Receiving the gospel means we are called to a high standard of living. Praise God then that we do not do this on our own. Jesus is our best friend, our brother and our teacher and if we regularly seek Him out to encounter Him in all His glory, then our lives will no doubt be changed as we simply imitate Him in every aspect of our lives.
Frank Mayfield, Hallows Church elder | In addition to discipling and applying the gospel to everyday life and community, Frank enjoys the great outdoors, extreme sports, hosting friends and family with lovely wife Debs, and building gorgeous outdoor spaces and gardens.