THE GRACE BASED CHURCH — REJOICES
by Pastor Mike Fortune
November 6, 2010
- For the desire to obey [Philippians 2:12; Romans 6:18]
- For the power to do [Philippians 2:13; Ephesians 2:10]
- For people who try [Philippians 2:14-18; Ezekiel 14:20]
This fall, in our series of sermons from the book of Philippians, we’ve been studying the third key factor research inside and outside the Adventist church says will help us keep our kids and grandkids interested in God and the church while simultaneously helping us become a safer place for people far from God to come a little closer [see research from the monumental Adventist study Value Genesis, research from Thom Rainer’s book Surprising Insights to the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them, and Dave Olsen’s website www.theamericanchruch.org for more info].
The first of these key factors ValueGenesis identified years ago is meaningful Bible study and worship starting in the home and the second is active ordinary outreach. And the third is a grace based church. But what is a grace based church? Well, if you want Dr. Sandra Wilson’s thorough nine-part definition, see me afterward and I will give you a copy of it found in Appendix E of her wonderful little book Hurt People Hurt People that we’re discussing with the community on Wednesday nights. She’s the one who coined the phrase. But the interesting thing is many of her 9 points can also be found in the book of Philippians. Which we’ve been reading and studying together during our 11am service.
So far, we’ve learned that the grace based church is a praying church [Philippians 1:4]. The people in it aren’t overwhelmed with fear and negativity. Even of the end times [Philippians 1:19]. Instead, they see themselves and where they work and study and worship as construction zones in a broken world where the same God who began the good work in them promises to continue it in them until Jesus comes again [Philippians 1:6].
In the meantime, the grace based church chooses by faith to live like citizens of heaven—even though we’re still on earth. Which according to Philippians 2:1-2 means we encourage one another—even after greatest disappointments. Citizens of heaven on earth are not preoccupied with making themselves or even their church look good [Philippians 2:3-4]. Instead, Philippians 2:5-11 explains that the grace based church humbly incarnates the Gospel in America just like missionaries overseas so emerging generations and people far from God can experience it in the ways that make the most sense to them. Citizens of heaven on earth do this even if they never get loved or served back.
But the coolest thing about the grace based church we’ll learn today is that it is full of imperfect people who are constantly rejoicing because they know that God gives them this desire to obey and power to do so. So turn with me to Philippians 2 to see if that becomes obvious to you as well. Philippians 2:1-12 “12Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear.13For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. 14Do everything without complaining and arguing,15so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.16Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ's return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless.17But I will rejoice even if I lose my life, pouring it out like a liquid offering to God, just like your faithful service is an offering to God. And I want all of you to share that joy.18Yes, you should rejoice, and I will share your joy.”
This passage today is connected to the verses that precede it. It begins with the sincere words “My dear friends” or in another version “My beloved.” Paul says similar things to the people in the churches in Rome [Romans 12:19] and Corinth [1 Corinthians 4:14]. But the Philippian believers have a special place in his heart [1:7] because unlike the believers in Corinth, they actually do what he says. And now that he is gone, they are continuing to do so! He does address a couple situations in 3:13 and 4:2 where that may not be the case, but for the most part, this is a very obedient group of believers. They follow instructions well.
When I was in elementary school, we had something called Skillpacks. They were workbooks full of assignments to help us practice grammar and reading comprehension skills. Apparently, the teachers loved these things. Because they were easy to grade, taught all the appropriate concepts, and were all in one book. But I hated Skillpacks. Simply because I often got the answers wrong. Not because I didn’t know the answers but because I circled instead of underlined the right answer. I got stuff wrong because I didn’t follow the directions. So I learned its important to follow the instructions given. And the Bible is really a love letter from God written by people God loves to people God loves. Someone told me once that B.I.B.L.E stands for Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. But how many of us read it that way?
But it’s not the working hard part that most people have a problem with. It’s the fear and trembling. How does the working hard with fear and trembling for your salvation of verse 12 fit into the bigger scheme of things? I thought salvation was by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And it is. Paul makes that abundantly clear in the very next verse where we’ll find point numbers one and two. But before we get there, please notice the grammatically correct way the NLT captures the intent of the Greek in this verse 12.
The NLT very accurately says “Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear.” Paying attention is hard work. Whether you’re in elementary school or whether you’re an adult. And it’s the same way for citizens of heaven on earth. We work hard because we are saved. Not in order to be saved. And we do so out of awe and love and reverence for Christ who though he was God did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead he humbled himself and died a criminals’s death on a cross. He incarnated the Gospel into human flesh and that’s we should too.
If there’s fear here in the scary sense of the word and not as love or awe or reverence, then perhaps it should be a healthy distrust and fear of our own lack of strength [cf. 1 Peter 1:17; 1 Corinthians 10:12]. Isaiah 53:6 says “All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own.” But we don’t have to. Because even the desire to follow God comes from God. And this is reason number one to rejoice.
Philippians 2:13 says, “13For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” Teresa of Avila could pray “God I want to want you” because she knew that point number one is true. Even our desire to obey has to come from God. Because naturally, we don’t want to. I think I’ve told you that Joshua taught me this years ago when Grandma asked him as a toddler what he wanted to do next and he replied “I want to do what I want to do.”
But what a toddler doesn’t grasp is that even the “want to” comes from God. Theologians call it “prevenient grace.” Grace that precedes grace. Jesus said it this way in John 6:44. “For no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me.” We know that we are save by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone because even the desire to obey comes from God.
But what if you’re like me and sometimes days you wake up and you don’t even want to want God? Guess what? That’s okay! You’re normal. Welcome to Teresa’s world. Welcome to mine. That’s why Ellen White called our will or desire to obey “ropes of sand.” We are simply not very good at following God’s directions. If we were, Jesus wouldn’t have had to die. But obviously He did. Because we aren’t. All of us wander away. And continue to do so. But when we do, God plants in us a desire to come back. And even on the days we wake not wanting to, that in itself is a proof that the Father is still at work in us or we wouldn’t even be thinking of not wanting to does that make sense?
The book I highly recommend that made this truth come alive for me was written by Morris Vendon. Sadly, it’s not in print anymore. But we do have one copy in our church library you can read and if you Google it, you can find used copies online. It’s called Salvation by Faith & Your Will. Our job is to believe and receive. God’s job is to help us want to in the first place. Romans 6:18 says it this way, “Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living.” Point number one is God gives us the desire to obey.
But the second reason to rejoice is found in the rest of verse 13. And that is that God also provides power to do so. The Lord never expected the children of Israel to fight their enemies. He promised to either drive them out or fight the battles for them. Deuteronomy 9:1-6 says, “Listen, O Israel! Today you are about to cross the Jordan River to take over the land belonging to nations much greater and more powerful than you. They live in cities with walls that reach to the sky!2 The people are strong and tall—descendants of the famous Anakite giants. You've heard the saying, 'Who can stand up to the Anakites?'3 But recognize today that the LORD your God is the one who will cross over ahead of you like a devouring fire to destroy them. He will subdue them so that you will quickly conquer them and drive them out, just as the LORD has promised. Deuteronomy 9:5 adds, “It is not because you are so good or have such integrity that you are about to occupy their land. The LORD your God will drive these nations out ahead of you only because of their wickedness, and to fulfill the oath he swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.6 You must recognize that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land because you are good, for you are not—you are a stubborn people.”
And even after they crossed the Jordan into Canaan and God delivered the land to them, this new generation of followers continued to murmur and complain. The same word Paul uses in Philippians 2:14 for “complaining and arguing” is used in the Septuagint or Greek translation of the Old Testament in the Song of Moses found in Deuteronomy 32:1,3,5. These are the lyrics Moses penned and sung to the assembly of Israel: “Listen, O heavens, and I will speak! I will proclaim the name of the LORD; how glorious is our God! He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is! 5 "But they have acted corruptly toward him; when they act so perversely, are they really his children? They are a deceitful and twisted generation.”
These are the words Paul is referring to in Philippians 2:14-15 when he’s encouraging them to shine like stars in the heavens in a broken world full of crooked and perverse people. The ironic thing is, what the Philippians familiar with Deuteronomy 32 would have realized before we do, is that the crooked and perverse people can be them because they included the children of Israel. Paul’s not writing this letter to people far from God. To the unconnected 80% of America not in any church on any weekend. He’s writing to church going, organ loving, haystack eating Adventists longing for the sure return of Jesus. He’s talking to us! We are the crooked and perverse people not shining like stars when we trust our own power to obey instead of Christ’s.
But whose works are we really talking about when the Bible writers repeatedly refer to them [cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 2:6 etc] if apart from Christ, we can do nothing [John 15:5] but with Christ we can do all things [Philippians 4:13]? Ours? Or Christ’s? Philippians 2:13 says they’re Christ’s because the desire and power to obey come from Him. This, by the way, is the only way the brightest minds throughout the history of Christianity have made sense of the verses about “our” works in the Bible. It's why Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in The Cost of Discipleship p.296, “The law of God is still in force (Romans 3:31), and still demands fulfillment. And the only way to fulfill the law is by doing good works. But ultimately there is only one good work; the work of God in Christ Jesus...all our good works are the works of God.”
That’s why Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Who created us so new so we can do? Christ! So don’t ignore the directions! Ephesians 2:8-9 says first that we are saved by grace. Ephesians 2:10 adds to do good works. In that order not the other way around.
So if God hasn’t given you the desire or power to live like a shining star in a certain area of your life, don’t freak out about that. In time, He will. But the grace based church doesn’t expect you to be perfect. And neither does God. But what He does expect from you is that you will recognize where you fall short and ask God to give you the desire to obey and the power to do so. Never perfectly. But always sincerely more and more until the day Jesus comes again.
And in the meantime, God will give you people to encourage you to try. And that’s the third reason grace based church rejoice. Take a look at Philippians 2:17-18, “But I will rejoice even if I lose my life, pouring it out like a liquid offering to God, just like your faithful service is an offering to God. And I want all of you to share that joy.18Yes, you should rejoice, and I will share your joy.” Numbers 15:4-9 describes how the children of Israel would offer burnt offerings and on top they would pour another offering of grain mixed with olive oil or wine as a sacrifice to God. Paul sees the willingness of the Philippians to want to want God and obey Him as the burnt offering and his own life as the drink offering poured on top. He wasn’t sure he was going to make it out of prison alive. But he wanted them to rejoice whether he did or didn’t because while he was with them and even when he’s not, he has sincerely tried to live for Christ. And that’s all any of us can do. But we must try. Ezekiel 14:20 “As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were there, they wouldn't be able to save their own sons or daughters. They alone would be saved by their righteousness.”
We cannot try for our children or grandchildren. They have to want to want God and do what the Bible says. As Larry Crabb says, “Control is an illusion; influence is real.” Which by the way is really what Solomon had in mind when he said in Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” He wasn’t saying if you read your kid enough Uncle Arther, he’ll always be Adventist. He was saying, “Control is an illusion; only influence is real.” If you want to want God and by His power actually do what He says, maybe your son and daughter or grandchildren will too. Good news people! Yoda is wrong. There is such a thing as try. Not just do or do not.
Which reminded me of Callie from California. She is 24 and currently working as a graphic designer in San Diego. Recently, she emailed the good folks at the website rightnow.org and asked them if there were any opportunities to use graphic design for God’s glory. She filled out a RightNow Profile, telling her story, her passions, and her desire to try to show the love of Christ to others through her graphic design skills. And right now, she’s currently applying with three different ministries to find the perfect fit to serve overseas. But before that, Callie asked, “So what’s the catch? What’s in it for you guys?”
And that’s a legitimate response! But that’s the beauty of the grace based church. We have the joy in telling her that her obedience to God’s calling on her life is what we get out of it. The grace based church is fueled by people willing to try. They don’t give up when it gets hard. They keep trying. And following. And in the process, shining like stars in the heavens. God will give us the desire and the power to do so. Are you relieved? You should be. Are you happy? You should be. Rejoice you pure in heart.