Philippians 2:12-13 – The Most Important Nt Text On The Christian Life And Sanctification

When it comes to our understanding and experience of Christian sanctification, I can’t think of a more important biblical text than Philippians 2:12-13. Here is what Paul wrote:

“Therefore, my beloved, as 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, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13).

Paul’s point is that we work out the Christian life, or act in obedience to the Word of God, only because God has already been at work within, performing a miracle in our lives. At the heart of Paul’s argument is the fact that when it comes to the Christian life, God is always antecedent. He comes first. He acts before we act. We only act because he has already acted. God works in us in advance of our working for him. To put it in slightly different terms, God is always prior. He is earlier in time and order. His working is the cause of which our willing is the effect.

All of us struggle to make sense of the relationship between God’s sovereignty and our responsibility. How do they relate to each other? If God is sovereign, how can we be responsible? And if we are genuinely responsible for what we do, doesn’t that undermine any notion that God is sovereign? I’m sure you’ve asked questions like these:

“How am I supposed to respond to the call to personal holiness? Where do I find the power to obey? Should I wait and remain passive until I feel the Holy Spirit prompting me to act? What is God’s role in my obedience? What does he do? If he is sovereign and I am dependent on his grace, does that destroy my freedom and responsibility? When it comes to God and me, who does what?”

This passage comes closer than any other biblical text to answering these questions and explaining the relationship between God’s gracious sovereignty and our moral responsibility. Yes, God is sovereign and his work always takes precedence. As Paul said in Ephesians 1:11, God “works all things according to the counsel of his will.” But we also must act. We must make choices and decisions and be energetic in embracing our moral responsibilities. The fact that God must first perform a miracle in the human heart does not mean that humans do nothing at all.

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10 Things You Should Know About the Lifting of Hands in Worship

lifting of hands in worship

Lifting of hands is part of worship in many churches. Worship involves our bodies as well as our hearts and minds. Our posture tells a story. It makes a statement to God and to others about the state of our souls and the affections and passions of our heart.

If you were to visit Bridgeway, you would immediately recognize that we freely and frequently lifting our hands when we worship. Some people may be seen kneeling. Some sit throughout the course of a service, either by preference or due to some physical limitation. Some just stand. And yes, some even dance. But for the sake of time and space, I’ll forego talking of the other postures and restrict my comments to the lifting of hands and its significance for worship.

(1) I lift my hands when I pray and praisebecause I have explicit biblical precedent for doing so. I don’t know if I’ve found all biblical instances of it, but consider this smattering of texts.

“So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands” (Psalm 63:4).

“To you, O LORD, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit. Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary” (Psalm 28:1).

“Every day I call upon you, O LORD; I spread out my hands to you” (Psalm 88:9).

“I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes” (Psalm 119:48).

“Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the LORD!” (Psalm 134:2).

“O LORD, I call upon you; hasten to me! Give ear to my voice when I call to you! Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!” (Psalm 141:1-2).

“I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land” (Psalm 143:6).

“Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands. Solomon had made a bronze platform five cubits long, five cubits wide, and three cubits high, and had set it in the court, and he stood on it. Then he knelt on his knees in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands toward heaven” (2 Chronicles 6:12-13).

“And at the evening sacrifice I rose from my fasting, with my garment and my cloak torn, and fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the LORD my God” (Ezra 9:5).

“And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen,’ lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground” (Nehemiah 8:6).

“Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven” (Lamentations 3:41).

“I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling” (1 Timothy 2:8).

(2) If someone should object and say that few of these texts speak of worship (see Pss. 63:4; 134:2), but only of prayer (as if a rigid distinction can even be made between the two; indeed, I can’t recall ever worshiping God without praying to him; and prayer is itself a form of worship).

I also have a question: Why do you assume that the appropriate place for your hands is at your side and you need an explicit biblical warrant for raising them? Wouldn’t it be just as reasonable to assume that the appropriate place for one’s hands is raised toward heaven, calling for an explicit biblical warrant (other than gravity or physical exhaustion) to keep them low?

(3) When I’m asked why I lift my hands in worship, I will often say: “Because I’m not a Gnostic!” Gnosticism, both in its ancient and modern forms, disparages the body. Among other things, it endorses a hyper-spirituality that minimizes the goodness of physical reality. Gnostics focus almost exclusively on the non-material or “spiritual” dimensions of human existence and experience. The body is evil and corrupt. The body must be controlled and suppressed and kept in check lest it defile the pure praise of one’s spirit. The body, they say, is little more than a temporary prison for the soul that longs to escape into a pure, ethereal, altogether spiritual mode of being. Nonsense!

In one particular wedding ceremony I performed, the woman was from England and asked that I include in the vows one particular part that goes as follows:

“With my body I thee honor.
My body will adore you,
and your body alone will I cherish.
I will with my body, declare your worth.”

Biblical Christianity celebrates God’s creation of physical reality (after all, he did pronounce it “good” in Genesis 1). We are more than immaterial creatures. We are embodied souls, and are to worship God with our whole being. We should “honor” God with our bodies. We “adore” God with our bodies. With our bodies we “declare” his worth. Paul couldn’t have been more to the point when he exhorted us to present our “bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God,” which is our “spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).

By all means, we must worship with understanding. We must think rightly of God and love him with our heart and soul and mind (see Matt. 22:37). But we are not, for that reason, any less physical beings. We will have glorified bodies forever in which to honor and adore our great God. If we are commanded to dance, kneel, sing and speak when we worship, what possible reason could there be for not engaging our hands as well?

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10 Things You Should Know About The Lifting Of Hands In Worship

10 Things You Should Know About The Kenosis Controversy

That title may have put you off, but if you are still reading, I trust you will recognize how critically important this issue of Kenosis is to our understanding of the person of Christ and the incarnation.

(1) The word translated kenosis is related to the Greek noun kenos and the verb kenoo. Kenos has the sense of empty or to no purpose and kenoo means to deprive of power or to make of no meaning or effect. It is the verb form that is found in Philippians 2:7 (see also Romans 4:14; 1 Cor. 1:7; 9:15; 2 Cor. 9:3). where it says of the pre-incarnate Son of God that he “emptied himself” (ESV) or “made himself of no reputation” (KJV).

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10 Things You Should Know About Being Reconciled To God

We hear and say much about redemption justification and adoption and forgiveness of sins. But when was the last time you heard a sermon about the doctrine of reconciliation? What does it mean to say we are reconciled to God? What does it mean when we appeal to non-believers to be reconciled to God? In this post we’ll look at ten things we all should know about this glorious truth.

(1) The most well-known biblical text on reconciliation is 2 Corinthians 5:18-21. There we read:

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:18-21).

Another important text is in Romans 5.

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Rom. 5:10-11).

See also Ephesians 2:16 and Colossians 1:20,22.

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Eight Myths About Hell

Bored with God??


3 Reasons For Joy In Suffering

“Joy is not necessarily the absence of suffering, it is the presence of God.”

– Sam Storms

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10 Things You Should Know About The Intermediate State

I could have as easily entitled this post: ten things you should know about what happens when a Christian dies. So what happens when a Christian dies? The simple answer is that he/she enters immediately into what theologians call the intermediate state. It is called “intermediate” because it is what we experience in between the time of our earthly lives (now) and the time when we receive our glorified and resurrected bodies. So here are ten things to keep in mind.

(1) Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:1 that when we die “we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” What is this “building” from God? Is it heaven itself, or an abode in heaven (cf. John 14:2), perhaps even the New Jerusalem. Others say it refers to the body of Christ, i.e., the church. On the other hand, it may be a reference to an intermediate body, i.e., a bodily form of some sort suitable to the intermediate state but different from and only preparatory to the final, glorified, resurrected body (cf. Matt. 17:3Rev. 6:9-11). The fourth option is to see here a reference to the glorified, resurrection body, that final and consummate embodiment in which we will live for eternity.

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Critical community

~ Sam Storms on the value/need of community:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer declared:

“If somebody asks [a Christian], Where is your salvation, your righteousness? he can never point to himself. He points to the Word of God in Jesus Christ, which assures him of salvation and righteousness. He is as alert as possible to this Word. Because he daily hungers and thirsts for righteousness, he daily desires the redeeming Word . . .

But God has put this Word into the mouth of men in order that it may be communicated to other men. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of a man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain; his brother’s is sure” (Life Together, pp. 11–12).

The question we want to explore is this: How crucial is it to our salvation and endurance in the faith that we be committed to community and the encouragement and rebuke that come from other believers? To answer that question, look at Hebrews 3:12-14 –

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:12-14).

A couple of observations are in order.

First, we need to be energetically attentive to what is happening in our hearts. Sin is deceptive and powerful and the world, the flesh, and the Devil are conspiring to lead you into unbelief and ultimately into departing from the living God.

Second, John Piper explains: “Hebrews sees two possibilities for professing Christians: either they hold fast their first confidence to the end and show that they have really become sharers in the life of Christ, or they become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and fall away from God with a heart of unbelief and show that they did not have a share in Christ.”

Third, and most important, is that the means God has ordained and provided by which we persevere is the consistent, faithful, loving exhortation and encouragement that comes to us from other Christian men and women (v. 13).

Again, Piper explains:

“It is written that the saints will persevere to the end and be saved. Those who have become sharers in Christ by the new birth will hold their first confidence to the end and be saved. But one of the evidences that you are among that number is that when God reveals in his holy Word the means by which you will persevere, you take him very seriously, you thank him, and you pursue those means. This text makes it very clear that the means by which God intends to guard us for salvation (1 Peter 1:5) is Christian community. Eternal security is a community project. Not just prayer, not just worship, not just the sacraments, not just Bible reading, but daily exhortation from other believers is God’s appointed means to enable you to hold your first confidence firm to the end.”

How and where is this done?

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25).

Where should we “meet together”? Anywhere and everywhere! Here at Bridgeway Church this would include our corporate assembly on Sunday mornings, in our community group gatherings during the week, and in our D-groups whenever possible. And let’s not leave out the coffee shop, around our kitchen tables, at the soccer field, etc.

The author of Hebrews refers to “the habit of some” in not meeting together on a consistent, regular basis. At no time in the history of the Christian Church have we seen this more in evidence than today. Energized and affirmed by the spirit of western individualism and consumerism, professing Christians feel increasingly “led” (often claiming that it is actually the Spirit who is behind it!) to neglect local church life, mock covenant membership, ignore small group dynamics, cast aside any notion of commitment, and pursue their own personal “spirituality” on the back porch, at Starbucks, somewhere between the seventh and tenth holes on the golf course, at a Thunder game, or sitting around a table playing cards.

So, how urgent and critical is it that we pursue a ministry of encouragement, accountability, rebuke, and love? Consider the following scenarios before you answer that question.

• The man who is excessively devoted to his career to the neglect of time and involvement with his wife and children . . .

• The woman who squanders her daytime with soap-operas, reality TV, and romance novels and whose resultant fantasy life undermines her commitment to her husband . . .

• The man whose growing addiction to pornography is distorting his view of women and destroying sexual intimacy with his wife . . .

• The woman whose infatuation with gossip is justified under the guise of “gathering-information-so-that-I-can-pray-for-them-more-specifically” . . .

• The man whose emotional insecurity and ego-driven desire for stature and respect have led him to rationalize low-grade embezzlement and income tax return fudging . . .

• The woman whose body-image obsession has led to dangerously unhealthy eating habits, exercise routines, and an excessively seductive style of dress . . .

• The man whose relationship with his personal administrative assistant is perilously close to adulterous, being justified in his mind by the sexual and emotional neglect of his wife . . .

• The woman whose spending habits have spiraled out of control and driven her family into debt, symptomatic of an idolatrous dependence on things to the exclusion of a singular love for God . .

• The man who, as he passes through middle age, feels increasingly bored with life and finds the excuse “You only go around once in life so grab for all the gusto you can” more and more reasonable with each passing day . . .

• The woman (or the man) whose anguish over a rebellious child, an unbelieving and emotionally distant spouse, a terminal diagnosis of cancer, or the mounting financial pressures of life, leads to increasing bitterness toward God and doubts about whether faithfully following him is really worth it . . .

These are only a few of the countless reasons why people are vulnerable to that “evil, unbelieving heart” that threatens to lead them “to fall away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12b). The potential for being “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13b) is so real and relentless that we must “exhort one another every day” (Heb. 3:13a) and aim “to stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24), “not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb 10:25).