Paul commanded the Philippian Christians:
Do nothing from rivalry 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. (Philippians 2:3–4)
These simple imperatives often feel impossible and, based on our struggle to remember them, let alone obey them, our practice seems to support how impossible they are. And, actually, they are impossible apart from Christ.
I want to point out that these commands are not simply what God requires us to do, they represent who He is. In other words, humble, glad, others-oriented service communicates God’s own character. How do we know that? We look at Jesus in whom the fulness of deity dwells (Colossians 2:9). We would be less proud, bitter, self-centered, and expectant of others serving us if we dwelt on the incarnation not just in December.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, 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. (Philippians 2:5–8)
Jesus did that for sinners. He did it because true joy and true glory gush out for others like a fountain can’t help but get the ground around it wet.
Our lack of grace to others cannot be fixed with tighter rules or frequent reminders or whipping ourselves into a guilt-frenzy because we blew it again. If we want to show more grace, then we must worship God more, in particular, we must worship the Word made flesh.
There are at least two corrupt ways to witness about Christ to others that we must confess. The first sinful approach is thinking that witnessing depends on us. The second sinful attitude is thinking that witnessing doesn’t depend on us. Stated as such, we’re always in sin; so is there a way out after we confess?
It is sinfully proud to think that our timing, our tone, our terms make the difference in evangelism. Spiritual darkness and deadness are spiritual conditions that only God’s Spirit’s can overcome. God causes men to be born again, and we can no more make someone a child of God than a doctor can make a baby have life. God is not impressed when we act like we can do His job.
Likewise, it is sinfully proud to think that we have no responsibility whatsoever in evangelism. This pride masquerades as humility, but this modesty poorly masks disobedience to God who commands His people to make disciples, to proclaim the gospel, to defend the eternal hope within them. God is not impressed when we use theology to justify our rebellion.
Pride may open our mouths or keep them shut, but it must be confessed as sin either way. So how can we witness and not sin? How can we be bold without getting big heads? By believing Him.
Belief is the problem in both. In the first case, belief is misdirected, put in a place He didn’t say to put it. In the second case, belief is partial, not held in all the ways He did say to hold it. As we call men to believe, we need to be examples of believers even in what we believe about our place and God’s place in calling them to believe.
There is no more pivotal day in history than the Sunday morning when Jesus rose from the dead. “Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o’er His foes.” “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (v. 17). “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (v. 20); He is risen indeed.
The resurrection was necessary, obviously, because He was dead; “Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior.” “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” and “he was buried” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Sunday followed Friday, and that Friday is the second most important day in history, the day when Jesus laid down His life, gave up His spirit, and endured the fulness of the Father’s wrath on our sin. The righteous took on unrighteousness; the just took the judgment; He was made sin who knew no sin. He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities.
50 days after the crucifixion, Peter preached about Jesus in Jerusalem (Acts 2:). Many who heard his message were “cut to the heart” (v.37), and asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (v.38).
The resurrection celebration is for “every one,” but only each one, who acknowledges that Jesus is Lord and believes that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9). Christians are those who hear the gospel, confess their sin, turn away from their sin, and trust in Christ. That’s the only way to be saved, the only path to share in the sin-forgiving death and life-giving resurrection of Christ.
Even as Christians, we continue to confess our sins because we don’t forget that the empty tomb we celebrate on Sunday is glorious because our sin caused His death on Friday.
We take it very seriously when someone says something wrong about Jesus, rightly so. Beliefs can only be true or false, and false things about Jesus, false teaching about the Logos, makes the difference between life and death, between heaven and hell. An elder must “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able…to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). We work toward the day when the saints in the church are no longer “carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14). It is dangerous and sinful to say and think the wrong things about Jesus.
Do we take it equally seriously when someone does, when we do, something false about Jesus? That’s a clumsy way of stating it, but perhaps the bloody knees that came from stumbling grammar will get our attention. Do we do wrong things about Jesus? Yes, every time we fail to act as He taught, commanded, or modeled. We can live truly or falsely just as we say truly or falsely.
Why do we take our sentences so much more seriously than our behavior? Perhaps because we know that what we think governs what we do. That’s true.
But think about that truth backwards: what we do comes from what we think. If we are not serious about accurately yielding to Him can we really say that we are truly serious about accurately reasoning about Him? The eternal Logos is a majestic Person who we want to know faithfully and live intimately. I realize we don’t usually live about it that way, but it’s something to think about.
Let’s be courageous to speak accurately about Christ when Jehovah’s Witnesses knock on our door. Let’s also be committed to act like Christ with our family once the door is shut.
Father, forgive us for not killing our fleshly desires and then living in the Spirit in our flesh. Forgive us for love, joy, peace, and patience that live on paper rather than in person. Forgive us for thinking that our living isn’t as important as our thinking, and for being proud about our thinking that obviously isn’t as good as we thought. Forgive us for not confessing all our sins, especially the ones everyone else see.
Unbelief as sin justifies God’s judgment because it is an affront to Him. Unbelief goes about as if He weren’t trustworthy, as if His demonstrations were insufficient, and as if His commands were optional. Not only does unbelief deserve God’s wrath, unbelief also damages our witness and worship.
Unbelief torpedos our courage to witness. If I don’t believe that eating fruits and vegetables will help me be healthy, then I won’t eat them and I’m likely to be silent about their benefits in conversation. Worse, if I don’t believe that in Christ is life and that abiding in Him produces fruit, I will not be fruitful or faithful to call others to Christ. Unbelief blows a hole in the boldness tank and we will not acknowledge Him before men (Matthew 10:32-33) if our faith is empty.
Unbelief also bankrupts our convictions for worship. I will not praise what I do not prize, and I will not prize something I’m suspicious about. I will have no confidence to sing if I’m uncertain of His ability to come through or unsure that He is who He says He is. Doubt siphons off our confidence for worship until our faith is belly up.
“Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). We sin when we do not believe, we cannot please Him without faith, and our unbelief cuts off our courage and convictions. Disbelief isn’t something to play with, it’s something to confess as sin.
We usually think about (our) wrath-deserving sin as transgression, as leaping over the fence He forbids us from jumping. Our spiritual death certainly activates transgressions (see Ephesians 2:1), but our spiritual death also animates unbelief. Unbelief is no less a wrath-deserving sin.
Unbelief deserves wrath because, whether we would say it like this or not, unbelief questions God’s honesty, His trustworthiness. God never lies (Titus 1:2) and He never fails to fulfill His promises (Romans 11:29). I don’t appreciate when my kids don’t believe me, but how much more wrong is it to doubt God?
Unbelief also warrants judgment in light of the many evidences God has given. He graciously substantiates His claims, even to us doubting Thomases. “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27). He provides many proofs of His believability and men will be judged according to the revelation they’ve disbelieved.
The sin of unbelief also earns wrath as direct disobedience to the commands to believe. Faith is important because it is necessary for salvation. But faith is also imperative, so it is necessary for obedience. Disbelief is disobedience.
We who call ourselves believers, who profess faith, cannot let our belief slump or slip or wane. God still is trustworthy, He still manifests sign upon sign, and He still commands us to believe.
A key word for Christians is the word offense. It scales from annoyance, to resentment, to anger brought about by perceived insult or disregard. Proverbs 18:19 states, “A brother offended is more unyielding (harder to be won – KJV) than a strong city.” That doesn’t mean that it is entirely impossible, but it means that we could have avoided a lot of work for ourselves by avoiding offense in the first place. Unlike construction, if we measure twice in our relationships we might not make a cut at all.
One of the worst offenses is claiming that one did not cause an offense when one in fact did. Not owning one’s offense is offensive. That sort of denial adds lying to the original offense and ups the offense by treating the other person as if they’re crazy for acting offended. It adds insult to injury.
The most offensive offense is claiming to God that one has no offenses to confess. Not only does that add lying to the list of sins requiring confession, it also adds blasphemy to the list because it’s equal to calling God a liar. “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar” (1 John 1:10). That sort of offensive insult injures the insult-maker most.
The good news is that there is forgiveness for all our offenses if we confess them. God even promises to work in our hearts and cleanse the offense making factory, but we must come to Christ.
[O]ur time of confession ought not to be about a list of items, kept or broken. We are in the process of becoming a certain kind of person. Everything we confess is that which interfered with that process. If it did not interfere with it, then there is nothing to confess. But the rules are not floating above our heads, independently autonomous. No, God’s rules are simply a description of what He is like, and what we would like to become like.
—Doug Wilson, Becoming a Certain Kind of Person
In a recent sermon I preached Ephesians 3:10, that the church makes known the manifold wisdom of God in heavenly places. The church is Christ’s Body, an assorted mix of individual members joined together under His headship. We’re better together, not meant to be separated.
While not written to the church, Proverbs 18:1 certainly applies for us in the church.
Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire;
and he breaks out against all sound judgment.
The NKJV translates the second-line summary: “He rages against all wise judgment.” That seems extra dramatic until we remember a few things. We were made for relationship, not isolation, because we were made in the image of the Triune God. In addition, we remember that sin isolates and, where there is sin, there is sinful blindness to our sin and every man sees himself as right. Soon Mr. Right is off by himself and “seeks his own desire.”
But we’re better together. Iron sharpens iron in contact. Hiding in the sheath all day dulls the edges of our hearts.
We need each other, for protection against sinful blindness and for shared, intensified joy. We were made male and female–in particular, husband and wife–for two to be one. It’s not good for man to be alone. We were made as believers, individual members of one body. We wisely fight isolation in our corporate meetings, our smaller groups, and our family fellowship times as we value and depend on one another. Let us not be guilty of isolating ourselves, even in our minds, and raging against wisdom.
Not everyone knows the gospel. Even fewer actually live the gospel.
The gospel, the good news, is that we who rebelled against God–and that was every one of us–can be reconciled to God through Christ. We who disobeyed God’s law can be forgiven in Christ who bore our punishment on the cross. We who stand before Him in blatant guilt of unrighteousness, incapable of providing the righteousness He requires, can be declared righteous in Christ who imputes His own righteousness into our account. We who are dead can have life, eternal life, God-life, in Christ, by confessing our sins and trusting Christ as Savior and Lord. That’s the gospel.
A certain kind of life, a gospel life, a life of gospel fruit necessarily grows from this faith. We who have been forgiven for sinning much must now also forgive those who have sinned against us little by comparison. Jesus told a parable to this end (Matthew 18:23-34), and the merciful master said, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?”
We gospel-knowers should take heed lest that’s all we are. We are to forgive “just as” Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13) and this is an unattainable standard apart from the Spirit’s work in our hearts. Sin in us makes any sin against us seem worse than any sin by us against God. We are usually unwilling to forgive when our perspective is so perverted.
But we must forgive like Christ if we’ve been forgiven by Christ. This is gospel life. By our slowness to enact the gospel we commit sin that makes us greater debtors to the gospel ourselves. Bitterness and grudge-holding and stand-offishness do not belong in a gospel life. We must confess our sins of not forgiving others their sin. We must seek the forgiveness of the gospel for not giving the forgiveness of the gospel.