Big Idea: Work out what God is working in you in three ways: living in community, practicing the disciplines, and shining as lights in the world.
Welcome back this Fall! Labor Day is over. The CNE is over. I saw the rides being driven down the highway. I don’t know where they went, but I know they’re gone until next year. I know things have changed because students are back at school, Starbucks is selling all things pumpkin spice, and Costco is selling winter gear. But we won’t talk too much about that yet.
It’s time to get going again. I was originally going to begin a new series on 1 John today, but I’ve decided to put that on the back burner for a couple of weeks. This morning I want to speak to you from my heart about what God is calling us as a church to be and do this year.
I don’t say this lightly: I think that God has given me a challenge to share with you this afternoon. This is important. I want to open up God’s Word for us today and explain the heart of what I think God wants to say to us this morning through his Word, and then apply it in three very practical ways.
Work Out What God’s Working in You
To begin with, I want to ask you a question: how in the world are we going to grow? I don’t know about you, but I want to be different a year from now. I want to be godlier. I want to love God more. I want to be more joyful, less stressed, more loving, kinder to you. Take a look at the fruit of the Spirit, because I want all of it: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Who doesn’t want more of that? I know that I do! How do we get more of this change in our lives?
The passage we just read tells us:
Therefore, my beloved, fas you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling… (Philippians 2:12)
It’s clear that Paul is speaking to believers here. If you are here today and you’re not a follower of Jesus Christ, I want you to know how welcome you are. We started this church in Liberty Village not because we wanted to reach the already-reached. We started this church for you. We want you to be here. We want this to be a place where you know you’re welcome, and where you can find community, and where you can explore the claims of Jesus Christ.
But in this particular verse, Paul’s not writing to you. He’s writing to people who understand what he’s just written about: that Jesus
…did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6-11)
As one old preacher used to say, if that doesn’t light your fire, you’ve got wet wood. The very nature of God is one of love and humble service. Jesus, the second person of the Godhead, willingly and joyfully gave up everything and died to save us. The most incomprehensible and marvelous truth in the universe is that Jesus, who is God himself, died in our place so that we could be made right with God. This is the greatest truth that you’ll ever discover. It’s the fact that changes everything.
If you get this, Paul says, there is something for you to do: work out this salvation with fear and trembling. Paul tells us to work it out: to put something into effect entirely or thoroughly. It’s an energetic and active word. It calls for our action. It calls for resolution, effort, and sacrifice. Paul calls us to take a very active role in working out all the implications of what Jesus has done and applying it to every area of our lives. Paul says that we should take this so seriously that we do it with fear and trembling.
How will you grow? Let me put it bluntly: you are responsible. In one sense, it’s not God’s job or the church’s job but your job to lay ahold of grace, live in light of the gospel, and so on. It’s your job, and you’re to take it seriously. I’m going to spell out three ways to do this in a minute. The stakes are high. We must take action.
On the other hand, Paul says, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). Okay, Paul. Is it God who works things out, or is it us? Paul answers clearly: yes. It’s both. We work out what God is working in us. As we take action, we can know that we’re truly not alone, and that God is working in us to change both what we want and what we do.
It’s like the child who decides to bake a cake. Mom gets out all the ingredients and the bowls, which Mom also bought by the way. Mom finds the recipe. Mom shows Sammy how to turn on the oven. Mom helps clean up the kitchen and runs the bath because there’s cake batter all over the child’s body. But Sammy says, “Look at the cake I made!” The child is telling the truth. Sammy mixed the batter and poured it into the pan and put it in the oven and checked to see if it was done. But Sammy also had help.
It’s like the difference between Batman and Spiderman.
Batman is a rich and strong man with lots of cool gadgets. His superpowers stem from his external possessions. Spider-Man has a few accessories as well, but he is a superhero because of the spider powers he obtained when he was bitten by a radioactive spider. His nature has been changed. Now he has a new power accessible to him, within him.
Christ in you makes you more like Spider-Man than Batman. Something alien to you, from outside of you, has entered into you and changed your nature. You now have power that you did not have before. The trouble with this analogy is that Spider-Man became something more than human, while we instead are being restored to our full humanity. We are becoming more like Christ. (Union With Christ)
When we grow, we take an active role. But we’re only ever working out what God has already worked in us. We say, “Look at what we did! Look at how much more patient and kind I am!” And meantime God is cleaning up the mess we’ve made. We must work hard, but we’re only ever working out what God has already worked in us.
Three Areas to Work Out
Let me give you three areas that God is calling us to work things out here at Liberty Grace this year. All of them are right in the text, but I want to get very practical about what this will look like in Liberty Grace Church.
First: Let’s live in community.
I’m an introvert. When I do a personality profile, it often says that I tend to let people in so far and no further. When I read satire articles like the one I saw this week in The Babylon Bee — “Introvert Hires Personal Representative To Engage In Church Small Talk” — I get it. Community is costly. Relationships are costly.
And yet if you look at this passage and look at the things that Paul says to do to work out our salvation, then relationships show up at the top of the list.
…complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others…Do all things without grumbling or disputing… (Philippians 2:2-4, 14)
Let me get very practical: God is calling you to live in community within the church. Lifeway Research conducted a survey to discover what a mature disciple looks like. They came up with a set of traits, and then looked at the behaviors that lead to these traits. In other words, they discovered what spiritual maturity looks like, and they also discovered the steps necessary to reach spiritual maturity.
Here’s what they discovered: that participation in the life of the church is a key behavior that’s correlated with spiritual maturity. Let me quote:
According to our research, the more frequently an individual attended a worship service, the higher they scored in the eight output goals. In other words, your maturity level as a disciple is greatly influenced by the frequency that you attend worship services…
When individuals participate in a worship service, many things can happen. They can be reminded of who they are in Christ, they can be stretched in their faith, they can grow in their love for God, they can be encouraged to persevere through the trials of life, and they can be equipped for mission, among many other things. Then, it’s in the everyday stuff of life where they can put to practice what they learned from the worship service and what they are learning through their daily moments with God in the Scriptures. As they continue to be faithful, they will begin noticing fruit in their lives, which will propel them to continue to worship together with others, which then leads them to continue to put it to practice and spend time with God. Do you see the similarities with running? The opposite is just as true. When an individual misses a worship service at their church, it’s likely that they’ll skip out on their daily moments with God— if they were even happening in the first place— which then actually lowers their likelihood to go to another worship service, and on and on. It’s cyclical. (No Silver Bullets)
But it’s not just attending worship services. It’s also going deeper into community, in what we call Grace Groups.
In the research, we discovered that the more often an individual attended a small community, like a small group, Bible study, Sunday school, or Adult Bible Fellowship, the higher they scored in the eight output goals. This makes sense because it’s in a small community where you can do life together with others, disciple one another toward Christ, and make disciples who make disciples who make disciples. No wonder individuals who were regularly a part of a small community significantly grew in their ability to obey God and deny self, serve God and others, share Christ, exercise faith, seek God, and be unashamed about their faith. Discipleship in close proximity leads to maturity in Christ.
I admit that it’s a little like reporting on a study that says that going to the gym is correlated with physical health. It’s like a blinding flash of the obvious. Of course it makes sense.
But it takes intentionality. There are all kinds of reasons not to attend church on Sundays. Studies show that most people who used to attend weekly now attend every three weeks or less. And many of us are so busy that Grace Groups seem like something that we can cut — but we can’t.
I’m asking you to commit to the regular worship and participation in Grace Groups. I’m not doing this merely because we need you to, although we do. The whole body suffers when you’re not here, but that’s not the main reason I’m asking you to do this. I’m asking because it’s a practical and necessary way to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. We need you to do this.
Second: Let’s practice the disciplines.
Second behavior: Let’s practice the disciplines. I’m going to go off-road here, because Paul doesn’t list this in the passage as something to do. But if you look at the data, one of the key behaviors that’s tied to spiritual growth is simple: read the Bible.
According to our research, the input goal of reading the Bible on a regular basis was one of the greatest predictors to maturity across all the output goals. In other words, the more frequently an individual reads the Bible, the higher he or she will score in the eight output goals. To put it another way, reading your Bible positively affects your ability to consistently obey God and deny self, serve God and others, share Christ, exercise your faith, seek God, build relationships, and be unashamed about your faith!…What was surprising about the research is that it does not even refer to studying the Bible or memorizing it, but merely reading it!
I’d add one other core habit: praying. Not fancy praying, and not hours of praying, at least not to start. I’m talking about the regular practice of sharing with God what is on your heart and asking him for his help.
At the back we have a reading plan from The Bible Project. If you don’t have one, I would highly encourage you to pick one up. To follow the plan takes about 15 minutes a day. The great thing about this plan is that they have amazing videos that help you understand what you’re going to be reading. You don’t have to do it perfectly. You just have to get started. If you miss a day, just pick up the next day. It’s better to do this imperfectly than to not do it at all.
I will tell you this: if you show up for worship, participate in a Grace Group, and read God’s Word regularly, you will be engaging in three of the key behaviors that are correlated with massive spiritual growth. You will be working out your salvation with fear and trembling. We need you to do this.
Finally: Let’s live as shining lights in the world.
Verses 14 and 15 say:
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…
As we do these things, as we love the community around us, we will change. People will see the difference. We will live as shining lights in a world that desperately needs the truth of the gospel.
I want to put a goal in front of you. I would like us to pray that we would reach 1% of the community with the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s not very much, is it? Yet 1% of our immediate community is 100 people. Starting today — actually, starting last Tuesday when we had our Potluck and Prayer — I want us to start praying that God would allow us to do this. Not 100 existing believers but 100 people to hear the gospel, trust Jesus, and to be changed for eternity.
Today is different from other Sundays. If you are not a follower of Jesus, I want to encourage you to continue to come. You are so welcome here. Consider the love of Jesus: love that led him to give up everything, love that led him to become a servant to us! Please keep coming. Please keep exploring.
If you are a follower of Jesus, I want to invite you to work out what God is working in you in three ways: living in community, practicing the disciplines, and shining as lights in the world. We’re going to pass out a bookmark, and I want to lead us in prayer together.