Eye On the Prize

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. – Philippians 3:12-21 ESV

Paul has just expressed the motivating factor behind his life: “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection…” (Philippians 3:11 ESV). For Paul, this knowledge of Christ was to include a personal and tangible experience of the divine power that raised Jesus from the dead. This remarkable resource came in the form of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. As Paul told the believers in Rome, “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you” (Romans 8:11 NLT). The power made available by the Spirit of God within him was producing spiritual fruit in Paul’s life: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). These qualities were the direct result of the Spirit’s presence and power, not Paul’s own self-effort.

But Paul knew that the resurrection power made available by the Holy Spirit had an even more significant aspect to it that he longed to experience: His own physical resurrection from the dead. Paul had a long-term or eternal perspective. He knew that there was much more to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ than what we experience in this earthly life. Yes, Paul was fully aware that the resurrection power he longed to experience would have short-term, in-this-lifetime ramifications. It would produce spiritual fruit and provide the power we need to live new lives in Christ.

For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. – Romans 6:4 NLT

But Paul also knew that there was more. And he longed to experience the full scope of that resurrection power in his life.

Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. – Romans 6:5 NLT

And in his letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul explained what it will mean to be raised to life as Jesus was.

Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. – 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 NLT

And the apostle John explains that, while we cannot fully comprehend the nature of our final resurrected state, it is something for which we should eagerly long.

…we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him. – 1 John 3:2 NLT

So, Paul was striving to live in the power of the Spirit in this life, but longing to experience the transformative power of the Spirit that comes in death. He maintained a delicate balance between his thoughts on the here-and-now and the hereafter.

And now, Paul confesses to the Philippian believers that he is far from perfect. In other words, he had not yet attained all that he longed for. He was a work in process. But he had an unflinching desire to pursue and experience all that Christ had died to make available to him.

But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. – Philippians 3:12 NLT

He uses the Greek word, diōkō, which has a range of meanings. It carries the idea of physical exertion and effort. It is not a passive word. It could mean “to run swiftly in order to catch a person or thing.” It would also refer to someone running in a race who used all their available energy to reach the finish line. Paul wasn’t sitting back and waiting for heaven. But he also wasn’t waiting for the Holy Spirit to do all the work. He knew he had a part to play in the process of his spiritual transformation.

Paul had a singular focus in life: To become like Christ. He wanted to “possess that perfection” that Christ had in mind for him. He wanted to experience all that his new life in Christ had to offer.  Which is why he says, “I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:14 NLT). Notice where his attention is fixed: On the prize, the finish line. Paul is not insinuating that our glorification is somehow tied to our self-effort in this life. He is not teaching that we have to somehow earn our way into heaven. He is simply emphasizing that he wanted what God wanted. He understood that God had an eternal reward in store for him, and he would not be satisfied with anything less. He would not allow himself to be distracted by the things of this earth.

And Paul urged the Philippians to follow his example.

Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. – Philippians 3:17 NLT

Paul wasn’t bragging. He wasn’t holding himself up as some icon of spiritual virtue. He was simply encouraging them to live with the same focus on the finish line that he had. And he warns them that there were plenty of other examples they could follow that would only leave them disappointed and defeated in their spiritual lives.

…there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. They are headed for destruction. – Philippians 3:18-19 NLT

Notice his emphasis on conduct. As followers of Christ, we cannot attempt to separate our behavior from our belief. The two go hand in hand. They are to be inseparable. And yet, Paul warns that there are those within the Philippian church whose conduct, if followed will end up in destruction. The Greek word Paul uses is apōleia, and while it can refer to damnation or eternal destruction, it can also be translated as “waste” or “ruin.” Keep in mind the metaphor of running a race that Paul has utilized. These are individuals who fail to finish the race well. They find themselves distracted along the way and, rather than victory, they experience defeat. Is this a reference to a loss of their salvation?  Highly unlikely, since Paul believed that salvation was the work of Jesus Christ. As he told the believers in Ephesus: “Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Ephesians 2:9 ESV). And Jesus Himself promised, “And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day” (John 6:39 NLT).

What Paul seems to be referring to are those within the Philippian church who were living lives of licentiousness. They were what became known as antinomians, which simply means anti-law. They held a view that was diametrically opposed to the Judaizers. One group were legalists, putting far too much weight on keeping the law. The other side simply said the law no longer mattered and taught that we could live however we wanted to live. This mindset had serious ramifications and Paul points the danger behind this anything-goes mentality.

Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. – Philippians 3:19 NLT

Jude had some strong words for this group as well.

But these people scoff at things they do not understand. Like unthinking animals, they do whatever their instincts tell them, and so they bring about their own destruction. – Jude 1:10 NLT

Paul pulls no punches when he states that their “conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18 NLT). Their conduct did not match their confession. Their behavior didn’t line up with their expressed belief. They lived for the here-and-now, failing to focus their energies and attentions on the long-term goal God had in mind.

And Paul leaves his audience with little doubt as to his point in all of this. He wants them to live with purpose. He wants them to conduct their lives according to their newfound status as citizens of heaven. That is their home. That is their destiny.

…we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. – Philippians 3:20 NLT

Paul is not suggesting that they be so heavenly minded that they end up being of no earthly good. He is not calling them to live with the heads in the sky. But he is calling them to live with their eyes firmly fixed on the finish line. They are running a race that will require that they maintain their focus. They will have to strain and strive in this life. They will have to fight off exhaustion and ignore the pain and suffering that comes along the way. And Paul brings it all full-circle, reminding his brothers and sisters in Christ that the point of it all is the day when we will all experience the power of the resurrection.

He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. – Philippians 3:21 NLT

That’s the goal. That’s the prize. And that should be the very thing that keeps us running the race to win.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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Suffer Like It.

18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. – 1 Peter 2:18-25 ESV

There are two ways to approach the content of this particular passage. First of all, as modern Americans, we can become incensed over the fact that Peter addresses slaves, but fails to make any statements regarding the unacceptable nature of the institution of slavery. And among the authors of the New Testament, he is not alone in his silence. He and Paul spoke frequently to slaves, but said very little about the moral nature of the institution of slavery. So, when we read a passage like this, it can come across as a subtle approval of slavery. And when we read the following passages, it would be easy to reach that conclusion.

21 Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22 For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave. – 1 Corinthians 7:21-22 NIV

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart. Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do, whether we are slaves or free. – Ephesians 6:5-8 NLT

22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything you do. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. Serve them sincerely because of your reverent fear of the Lord. – Colossians 3:22 NLT

1 All slaves should show full respect for their masters so they will not bring shame on the name of God and his teaching. If the masters are believers, that is no excuse for being disrespectful. – 1 Timothy 6:1-2 NLT

Where is the moral indignation? Why do Paul and Peter seem to act as if slavery is just a normal part of everyday life? Because it was. Slavery was entrenched in the culture of their day. Even Jews had slaves. The failure of these men to speak out against slavery should not be construed to be some king of tacit approval of it. From our own sordid history as a nation, we know that our ancestors attempted to use the Scriptures to justify their unwavering determination to maintain the slave trade and to rationalize their inhumane treatment of millions of fellow human beings. But the presence of slavery is the result of the fall. It is a symptom of man’s sinful state and has been around since the beginning. It was alive and well when Jesus came to the earth. It was a normal part of the social fabric of the day. But this does not mean it was right or acceptable in the eyes of God.

When we focus on this passage with a sense of social outrage, we miss the point of what Peter is trying to say. He was not speaking into the culture at large, but into the context of the local body of believers. He was addressing Christians living within a non-Christian society where moral, social, and civic codes would be diametrically opposed to their new way of life as followers of Christ. Remember, Peter has addressed them as chosen by God. They are a holy nation. God has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light. That does not mean God has changed any and all circumstances surrounding them. They are still living in a pagan culture. They are still living under the auspices of a pagan government. Immoral institutions like slavery still exist. In fact, some of them are actually living as slaves in that system. Peter’s interest was not in overthrowing the government of his day, anymore than Jesus was out to overturn the rule of the Romans while He was alive. Peter is addressing Christians who find themselves living in a culture that hates and despises them, and he is calling them to be beacons of light in a dark world. Any change that was going to take place in the culture was going to come from Christians living as citizens of the Kingdom of God and emulating the character of Christ among those who were living in darkness.

So, Peter addresses those in the church who had come to faith in Christ while living as slaves. This is an important point that often gets overlooked. The New Testament church was a literal melting pot made up of people from all walks of life. There were the rich and poor, the influential and the seemingly unimportant, women and men, as well as slaves and freemen. Not only that, there were congregations where masters and their slaves attended the same worship services together. This was unheard of. It was antithetical to the culture of the day. But it reveals that the gospel was for anyone and everyone, regardless of their social or economic status. Peter talks to the slaves just as he would anyone else. He did not see them as second-class citizens. He fully understood their situation and spoke into it. He didn’t minimize it, but he also did not offer them the hope of freedom from the current condition as slaves. His concern was that they live our their new identity in Christ, right where they were. Paul addresses this in his letter to the believers in Corinth, including those who happened to be slaves.

21 Are you a slave? Don’t let that worry you—but if you get a chance to be free, take it. 22 And remember, if you were a slave when the Lord called you, you are now free in the Lord. And if you were free when the Lord called you, you are now a slave of Christ. 23 God paid a high price for you, so don’t be enslaved by the world. 24 Each of you, dear brothers and sisters, should remain as you were when God first called you. – 1 Corinthians 7:21-24 NLT

Paul uses that phrase, “remain as you were” repeatedly in his letter. If they were uncircumcised when they came to faith, they were to remain so. If you were married to an unbeliever when you came to know Christ, remain married to that person. Paul makes it clear: “Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you, and remain as you were when God first called you. This is my rule for all the churches” (1 Corinthians 7:17 NLT). Their goal should not be to change the circumstances surrounding their life, but to live out their new life in Christ differently in the midst of those very same circumstances. We tend to look for changes in our circumstances, while Peter and Paul are demanding a change in heart, which will lead to a change in behavior – regardless of our circumstances.

And Peter makes his counsel to the believing slaves in his audience very specific and applicable to their situation.

19 God is pleased when, conscious of his will, you patiently endure unjust treatment. 20 Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you. – 1 Peter 2:20-21 NLT

He knew their status as sons and daughters of God was not going to change the way their masters treated them. In fact, it might make things worse for them. They were going to face unjust treatment. After all, they were slaves. It came with their position as slaves. But now that they were believers, their reaction to that unjust treatment was to be different. They were to patiently endure. They were to suffer for doing good. And in doing so, they would have the pleasure of God. That needed to be their focus. They were not out to please their human masters, but God Himself. They had a new motivation and a new incentive for living. And Peter gives them Jesus as their example to follow. He reminds them, “He is your example, and you must follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21 NLT). Then, he provides them with a succinct, yet beautiful summary of Jesus’ life.

22 He never sinned,
    nor ever deceived anyone.
23 He did not retaliate when he was insulted,
    nor threaten revenge when he suffered.
He left his case in the hands of God,
    who always judges fairly.
24 He personally carried our sins
    in his body on the cross
so that we can be dead to sin
    and live for what is right.
By his wounds
    you are healed.
25 Once you were like sheep
    who wandered away.
But now you have turned to your Shepherd,
    the Guardian of your souls. – 1 Peter 2:22-25 NLT

That is the model we are to follow, whether slave or free. His example is the one we are to emulate, regardless of our circumstances. Jesus was not born into wealth and comfort, but obscurity and relative poverty. He wasn’t born in a palace, but a cattle stall. He wasn’t highly esteemed, but regarded as a lowly carpenter from an obscure backwater town called Nazareth. When Phillip told Nathanael that he had met Jesus of Nazareth, Nathanael sarcastically responded, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46 NLT). God didn’t send His Son into the best of circumstances. He sent Him into the midst of darkness and sin. He sent Him into a culture mired in moral decadence and spiritual darkness. But Jesus was the light and He lived as a shining example of godly obedience and submission to the will of His Father in the midst of all the moral mess of His day. He didn’t attempt to change the government or fix all the social ills of His day. Jesus described His ministry as bringing Good News to the poor, proclaiming that captives will be released, that the blind will see, and that the oppressed will be set free (Luke 4:18). For Jesus, like Peter and Paul, the problem wasn’t a social one, it was spiritual. Human slavery wasn’t the real issue, slavery to sin was. And nothing is going to truly change in our world until the hearts of men and women are transformed by the message of salvation made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Like Christ, we are going to suffer in this life. But other question is whether we will face our suffering like Christ.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Calm Before the Storm.

And Saul spoke to Jonathan his son and to all his servants, that they should kill David. But Jonathan, Saul’s son, delighted much in David. And Jonathan told David, “Saul my father seeks to kill you. Therefore be on your guard in the morning. Stay in a secret place and hide yourself. And I will go out and stand beside my father in the field where you are, and I will speak to my father about you. And if I learn anything I will tell you.” And Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Let not the king sin against his servant David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his deeds have brought good to you. For he took his life in his hand and he struck down the Philistine, and the Lord worked a great salvation for all Israel. You saw it, and rejoiced. Why then will you sin against innocent blood by killing David without cause?” And Saul listened to the voice of Jonathan. Saul swore, “As the Lord lives, he shall not be put to death.” And Jonathan called David, and Jonathan reported to him all these things. And Jonathan brought David to Saul, and he was in his presence as before.

And there was war again. And David went out and fought with the Philistines and struck them with a great blow, so that they fled before him. Then a harmful spirit from the Lord came upon Saul, as he sat in his house with his spear in his hand. And David was playing the lyre. And Saul sought to pin David to the wall with the spear, but he eluded Saul, so that he struck the spear into the wall. And David fled and escaped that night.– 1 Samuel 19:1-10 ESV

David had to be one confused young man. On two separate occasions, the king of Israel had tried to pin him to the wall with a spear. But then, the same man turned around and offered his daughter’s hand in marriage. Yet David’s demureness and subsequent delay caused Saul to give his daughter to another man. But this was followed by Saul offering to David his younger daughter, Michal, who David eventually married. He became the son-in-law of the king. He was part of the royal family and best friends with the king’s own son. And yet, unbeknownst to David, Saul was continually plotting ways to rid himself of his new son-in-law, who he believed posed a major threat to his reign. Perhaps David simply wrote it all off as nothing more than a symptom of Saul’s fits of rage. After all, David had originally been hired to serve as Saul’s “music therapist,” playing his harp in order to calm the king when he had one of his bouts of uncontrolled anger. He would have known first-hand just how violent Saul could become. Even when Saul had attempted to kill David with a spear, he probably convinced himself to not take it personally. He had just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But things were much worse than David knew.

Saul was so desperate to eliminate David that he commanded his son, Jonathan, and all his servants to kill him. Basically, he ordered a hit on David. He put a bounty on his head and brought in reinforcements. But Jonathan took this news hard. He and David were best friends. He was being commanded by his father and king to kill someone he cared deeply about. It’s interesting to note that Jonathan, the heir to the throne of Saul, did not perceive David as a threat. He did not share his father’s paranoia regarding David. In fact, he pleaded with his father to reconsider and reminded him of all that David had done for him.

“The king must not sin against his servant David,” Jonathan said. “He’s never done anything to harm you. He has always helped you in any way he could. Have you forgotten about the time he risked his life to kill the Philistine giant and how the Lord brought a great victory to all Israel as a result? You were certainly happy about it then. Why should you murder an innocent man like David? There is no reason for it at all.” – 1 Samuel 19:4-5 NLT

And Saul seemed to listen to the words of Jonathan, vowing to spare David’s life and welcoming him back into his presence as before. But this happy reunion would prove to be short-lived. It would simply be the calm before the storm. The king whom God had rejected and the man whom God had anointed as his replacement were not going to be able to coexist for long. Eventually, Saul was going to have to go away. He was the one who would have to be eliminated, not David. God’s plan to place David on the throne of Israel was not going to be curtailed or compromised by anyone or anything. But things were going to get worse before they got better.

While things appeared to have gone back to normal, with David winning victories over the Philistines by day and playing his harp for Saul in the evenings, the animosity of Saul remained unchanged. And eventually, in one of his tormented moments, Saul attempted to kill David for the third time. David was forced to run for his life yet again. And this would prove to be a foreshadowing of David’s life for years to come. He was about to discover that his lot in life was to be that of a man on the run. He was to become a fugitive, a wanted man with a price on his head and a relentless pursuer on his trail, who would stop at nothing until David was dead.

David must have looked back on his anointing by Samuel and wondered what it all meant. Why had the prophet chosen him? What had the anointing meant? What had he been anointed for? David must have assumed that he had been chosen by God to be a great military leader, having killed Goliath and given his numerous victories over the Philistines since becoming a commander in Saul’s army. But why would God give him success in battle and then allow him to suffer at the hands of his own king? How was he supposed to do his job when he was constantly having to worry about the king killing him? All of this must have created a great deal of confusion in the mind of David, and led him to have some frank and open conversations with God. In fact, because of all that David was about to experience, he would learn to talk to God with an honesty and openness that only suffering can create. Many of his psalms reflect the nature of his relationship with God, revealing his total transparency and somewhat shocking honesty.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? – Psalm 13:1-2 ESV

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
    and by night, but I find no rest. – Psalm 22:1-2 ESV

I pray to you, O Lord, my rock.
    Do not turn a deaf ear to me.
For if you are silent,
    I might as well give up and die. – Psalm 28:1 NLT

David was going to learn to trust God. But first, he was going to learn to be honest and open with God. David would discover his own limitations and come to grip with his own weaknesses – the hard way. His anointing by Samuel was just the beginning of his preparation. The Spirit of God coming upon David was instrumental in his early success, but the Spirit of God transforming the heart and character of David was going to be the key to his future rule and reign. What would eventually make David a great king are the lessons he would learn while on the run. The time he spent hiding in caves would play a vital role in preparing him for the crown. David was going to learn a lot about himself over the next few years. But he was going to learn even more about God. What would eventually make him a great king would be his understanding of the greatness of God.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Make Godliness Your Goal.

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. – 2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV

What promises? Paul has just quoted from several Old Testament passages containing the following promises from God:

I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. – Leviticus 26:12 ESV

My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. – Ezekiel 37:27 ESV

I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. – 2 Samuel 7:14 ESV

Now, he declares, with those promises in mind, what should our reaction be? How should we respond? Paul is reminding his readers that they, like the Israelites of the Old Testament, have been set apart by God. He has chosen them to be His people and has graciously agreed to be there God. He has consecrated them, set the apart from the rest of the nations, to be His own possession. As children of God, they were to live separately and distinctively. That does not mean that Christians are to live their lives in isolation or in some kind of segregated society, separated from the rest of the world. This is not a call to monastic isolationism. But it is a call to sanctification or holiness. Paul expected the believers to he was writing to live in such a way that their behavior differentiated them from the rest of the world. As Jesus prayed in the garden on the night He was betrayed, they were to be in the world, but not of it.

I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. – John 17:14-17 NLT

The promise of citizenship in God’s Kingdom was to create in them a passion to live as who God had called them to be. They were His possession and their lives were to reflect that unique privilege and totally undeserved position. They were to cleanse themselves from every defilement of body and spirit. Like a stained and soiled garment, they required removal of the impurities that accompanied their sinful flesh. Their old habits and sinful predilections had to be systematically and regularly done away with. In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul emphasized the essential nature of this ongoing cleansing of the believer’s life.

God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor—not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways. Never harm or cheat a Christian brother in this matter by violating his wife, for the Lord avenges all such sins, as we have solemnly warned you before. God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. – 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7 NLT

The privilege of sonship carries with it responsibilities. As children of God, we are to behave in such a way that our lives honor our heavenly Father. Ongoing sin is not to be a defining characteristic of the child of God. Paul was not insinuating that Christians cannot and will not sin. He would have wholeheartedly agreed with the apostle John when he wrote:

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. – 1 John 1:8-10 NLT

The presence of and potential for sin is not eliminated when we come to faith in Christ, but sin’s power over us is. We are set free from its control over us. Because of the Holy Spirit’s presence within us, we have a capability to choose righteousness over unrighteousness. We can refuse to give in to the temptations that once captivated and controlled us. 

Paul’s point in all of this is that our salvation in Christ has a second step: Our sanctification. Coming to faith in Christ is to be accompanied by our ongoing transformation into His likeness. And it is as we cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit that we experience what Paul refers to as “bringing holiness to completion.” The goal of our salvation is our ultimate glorification by God. There is a day coming when He will complete the process of renewal and reformation of our lives by giving us a new body. Sin will be completely eliminated and our transformation into the likeness of Christ will be complete. John describes that day in the following way:

Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. – 1 John 3:2 NLT

In the meantime, while we wait for that day, we are to strive toward holiness. In order to accomplish that objective, we are required to put off our old sinful nature and put on our new nature. We are to allow the Holy Spirit to expose the sin in our lives so we can confess it and enjoy forgiveness for it. We are to flee sin and pursue righteousness.

Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. – 1 Corinthians 6:18 NLT

Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts. – 2 Timothy 2:22 NLT

…so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.1 Timothy 6:11 NLT

Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. – 2 Timothy 2:21 ESV

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. – Colossians 3:5 NLT

If you have been called by God to be His child, live like it. If you know the joy of having your debt to God paid for and your sins forgiven because of Jesus’ death on the cross, your lifestyle should reflect your gratitude and your recognition that you are a new creation with a new capacity to pursue holiness, not sinfulness. The behavior of children reflects back on their parents. Our behavior as sons and daughters of God reflects back on our heavenly Father. Our attitudes and actions should honor Him. Our behavior should bring glory to Him. It was Jesus who said, “let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:16 NLT). And it was Peter who echoed that sentiment when he wrote: “Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world” (1 Peter 2:12 NLT). Pursue holiness. Strive after righteousness. Make godliness your goal. For the glory of God and the good of others.

With Unveiled Face.

Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 3:12-18 ESV

In verses 7-11, Paul has been talking about the greater glory of the new covenant as revealed in the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit and His sanctifying ministry in the lives of believers. Rather than having to try to live up to a God-ordained code of conduct in our own strength, we have been given a new nature, made possible by the Holy Spirit’s presence within us. In his letter to the Romans, Paul explained just what man’s relationship with the old covenant had become due to the work of the Holy Spirit.

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. – Romans 8:3-4 ESV

And Paul tells the Corinthians, “since we have such a hope, we are very bold” (2 Corinthians 3:12 ESV). Unlike the glory that shown from Moses’ face after having received the Ten Commandments from God on Mount Sinai, our glory is internal and permanent. The Holy Spirit is a permanent resident in the life of the believer. His glory shines through us. Concerning the external glory on Moses’ face, the book of Exodus reveals, “When Moses came down Mount Sinai carrying the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, he wasn’t aware that his face had become radiant because he had spoken to the LORD” (Exodus 34:29 ESV). The glow from his face terrified the people, so he would cover it with a veil. And every time he met with God, he would remove the veil. But the day came when the glory on his face began to fade, but he kept wearing the veil, leaving the people with the impression that nothing had changed. Yet Paul insists, “We are not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so the people of Israel would not see the glory, even though it was destined to fade away” (2 Corinthians 3:13 NLT). The old covenant, like the glow on the face of Moses, was intended to be temporary. It would not last and would one day be replaced by the new covenant and the permanent, indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.

Just as Moses covered his face with a veil, Paul says the minds of the Israelites were obscured by a veil so that their hearts were hardened. They believed the law was the key to their righteousness, even though they were incapable of obeying it. And it was their stubborn belief that the old covenant (the law) was the God-ordained means of being made right with Him, that kept them from accepting Christ when He came. They refused to believe that He was the answer to their sin problem.

But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ. Yes, even today when they read Moses’ writings, their hearts are covered with that veil, and they do not understand. – 2 Corinthians 3:15 ESV)

Their stubborn adherence to self-righteousness prevents them from accepting the righteousness made possible through the death of Jesus Christ. And yet, Paul repeatedly insists…

Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law. – Galatians 2:16 NLT

So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” – Galatians 3:11 NLT

So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law. – Romans 3:28 NLT

Paul tells the Corinthians, “whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (2 Corinthians 3:16 NLT). And it is the Spirit of God that makes this possible. He opens the eyes of the spiritually blind, those with veiled hearts, and allows them to see the life-changing truth of the gospel. And as a result, they “can see and reflect the glory of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18a NLT). Like Moses, they can see the glory of God face-to-face and, not only that, they can reflect that glory to all those around them.

As believers in Jesus Christ, we have access to God just as Moses did. We can come into His presence and He has also placed His presence within us in the form of the Holy Spirit. And we are being transformed by this daily encounter with the divine – from one degree of glory to another. Slowly, methodically and persistently, God is molding us into the likeness of His Son, and it is all because of His Spirit within us. There is no longer any law to live up to, but only the Spirit we must submit to. He is the one who gives us the capacity to say no to sin and yes to righteousness. He is the glory of God residing within us and shining through us. He is constantly transforming us. And because He never leaves us, our ongoing transformation is guaranteed.

Motivated By Grace.

For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you. For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and understand and I hope you will fully understand—just as you did partially understand us—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you. – 2 Corinthians 1:12-14 ESV

It will become increasingly evident from the content of this letter that Paul’s ministry was being maligned or at least, questioned. His motives were also under the microscope, constantly being scrutinized and criticized by those who would choose to reject his authority as an apostle. But Paul responds with confidence, claiming that he and his companions “behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity” (2 Corinthians 1:12 ESV). Paul can write what he is about to write with complete confidence, even boasting about it, because his conscience is clear. He knows what he has done and why he has done it. He has no reason to question his motives, because he knows that his actions were the result of God’s grace, not earthly wisdom. Paul had made this claim to the Corinthians in his first letter.

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. – 1 Corinthians 15:10 ESV

It was God’s unmerited favor that had produced the life-change in Paul. His words, actions, and even the content of his letters were the by-product of God’s ongoing grace in his life. God was working in him and through him, and he had no reason to take credit for it or apologize because of it. Paul says that his behavior had been marked by simplicity and godly sincerity. The Greek word for simplicity is haplotēs and it refers to “the virtue of one who is free from pretense and hypocrisy” (“G572 – haplotēs – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 18 Sep, 2016. <https://www.blueletterbible.org>). Paul is claiming that his conduct and speech have been free from hypocrisy or any hint of having a hidden agenda. What he has said and done has not been motivated by selfishness or intended for personal gain. After all, as he stated in the opening verses of his letter, his ministry has not made him rich and famous, but has resulted in affliction and even the threat of death.

The Greek word translated, “sincerity” is eilikrineia and it means, “purity” or “cleanness.” Paul uses this same word again in the next chapter.

For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. – 2 Corinthians 2:17 ESV

Paul’s conscience is clear because he knows his motives are pure. What he has done in his life has been the work of the Spirit of God. And that is especially true of his relationship with and ministry to the Corinthians. Even now, as he writes the words of this letter, he reminds them that all of his previous letters “have been straightforward, and there is nothing written between the lines and nothing you can’t understand” (1 Corinthians 1:13 NLT). It is his sincere desire that they fully comprehend what it is he is trying to say to them and what he is attempting to teach them. They might not get it right now, but he longed for the day when it all made sense to them. He wasn’t in this to win friends, but to make a difference in their faith. He wanted to see them experience all that God had in store for them – the full expression of faith in Christ lived out in everyday life. He longed for them to grow in godliness and to put off their old sin natures. He wanted to see them grow in their knowledge of God and their dependence upon the Holy Spirit.

You can get a sense of Paul’s heart as you read some of the prayers he prayed on behalf of the churches he helped start.

…we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy – Colossians 1:9-11 ESV

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places… – Ephesians 1:16-20 ESV

Paul knew that if they would listen to what he said and apply it to their lives, there would come a day when they would find reason to boast or glory in all that Paul had taught them, because they will see the fruit of it in their lives. The day to which Paul refers is the return of Christ, when he and all the Corinthians will stand before the Lord. It will be on that occasion that they will fully comprehend the simplicity and sincerity of Paul’s methods and message.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. – 2 Corinthians 5:10-11 ESV

Paul’s desire for the Corinthians was the same that he had for the believers in Philippi:

…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, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. – Philippians 2:15-16 ESV

Paul wanted to be a success, not so that he could gain recognition or earthly rewards, but so that he could stand before the Lord, seeing the fruit of his labors – the countless believers who had held fast to the word of life and remained faithful to God to the end. Paul’s motives were pure. His heart was sincere. His actions were the result of God’s grace in his own life. He wanted nothing more than to see the Corinthians grow in their faith and in their knowledge of God. They might not understand it now, but the day was coming when they would.

Wholly His To Be Holy.

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. – 1 Corinthians 6:12-17 ESV

At the heart of Paul’s ongoing discussion with the Corinthians was his defense of and belief if the centrality of the gospel. For Paul, the gospel was about far more than a guaranteed place in heaven. There is no doubt that Paul looked forward to the day when he would be with the Lord in His heavenly kingdom. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul states that he “would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8 ESV). Speaking of our earthly bodies, Paul says, “For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling” (2 Corinthians 5:2 ESV). He knew that the day was coming when he would receive a new body, a spiritual body, created by God for eternal life. “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1 ESV). But even with that assurance of a redeemed body and a reserved place in eternity, Paul lived with his sights fully set on the present. It was his aim to please God with the life he had been given and to do the work to which he had been assigned by God. It was this view that led him to write, “whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:9-10 ESV).

But what does all this have to do with the passage above? It seems that there were those in the church in Corinth who were living as if what they did in their earthly bodies didn’t matter. As Greeks, they probably held the view that the body was unimportant, acting as nothing more than a receptacle to hold man’s soul. “The Greeks always looked down on the body. There was a proverbial saying, ‘The body is a tomb.’ Epictetus said, ‘I am a poor soul shackled to a corpse’” (William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians, p. 22.). Evidently, it was this view of the body that was leading some of the believers in Corinth to commit acts of immorality. And Paul used some of their arguments against them. There were those who were justifying their actions by saying, “All things are lawful for me.” In other words, they argued that they were free in Christ. As Paul even taught, they were no longer required to keep the Mosaic law and its host of restrictions in order to be justified before God. But they were taking their newfound freedom in Christ to an inappropriate extreme, replacing legalism with license. They were combining their freedom in Christ with Greek dualism, that said the body didn’t matter, because we are spiritual beings. This viewpoint went contrary to the gospel. Christ came to redeem body and soul. He died to free us from the future penalty of sin, but also from the present power of sin over our lives. That is why Paul was able to say, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 ESV). 

While, as believers, we do experience a newfound freedom in Christ, that does not mean that everything we are free to do is the right thing to do. Paul said that no all things that are lawful for us are helpful. For Paul, the gospel was about life change. It was about becoming other-oriented rather than self-focused. In fact, it was about dying to self and living for others, just as Jesus had modeled. Paul will raise this same issue later on in his letter. “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (1 Corinthians 10:23-24 ESV). Living the Christian life is not about what is best for me, but what will benefit the body of Christ and honor God. As Paul so clearly states, “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31b ESV).

There is a sense in which the Corinthians did not understand the full impact of their conversion. When they had accepted Christ as their Savior, they had been joined to Him. They now shared His nature. They had been inhabited by His Spirit. As Paul states it, “your bodies are members of Christ” (1 Corinthians 6:15a ESV). The Greek word for “members” was commonly used to refer to a limb of the human body, such as an arm or leg. As Christians, we are members of the body of Christ. We have been joined to Him and He is the head of the body. We do not exist for ourselves. What we do affects the entire body of Christ. Which is why Paul asks, “Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute?” (1 Corinthians 6:15b ESV). And he answers his own question with an emphatic, “Never!” What we do in our physical bodies has a direct impact on our spiritual lives. We are not dualistic in nature, but holistic. The Hebrew word for “blameless” is תָּמִים (tamiym) and it means “complete, whole, entire, sound, having integrity” (“H8549 – tamiym – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). We are to live our lives before God with integrity or wholeness. What I think with my mind matters. What I do with my body makes a difference. What I see with my eyes impacts my soul. Christ died to redeem all of me. He came to save me from what Paul refers to as “this body of death” (Romans 7:24). He came to give me new life here and now, and to miraculously re-purpose my body for the glory of God. So Paul would remind us, “Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God” (Romans 6:13 NLT).

Impactful, But Not Impressive.

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 ESV

As followers of Christ, we can be easily impressed. We can fall prey to persuasive words and convincing arguments. We can find ourselves becoming fans of various teachers, preachers, and religious leaders. Style and charisma can become the primary criteria by which we judge a speaker. If we’re not careful, we can allow entertainment value to become the primary factor by which we critique a sermon – trumping biblical accuracy or spiritual efficacy. We can become fans of men rather than followers of Christ. We can elevate our desire for comfort over our need for conviction. Paul had warned Timothy that the day was coming when this would be exactly what would happen.

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. – 2 Timothy 4:3 NLT

The situation in Corinth had probably not reached this point, but Paul saw that there was a disturbing trend taking place. The believers there had allowed their personal preferences to become a point of division within the church. Some were claiming to be followers of Paul, others of Cephas or Apollos. And evidently, the primary criteria behind their particular preferences had more to do with the style of the messenger than the content of their message. So Paul attempts to remind his readers that his initial ministry among them had been anything but impressive. He reflected back on that occasion, recalling that “my message and my preaching were very plain” (1 Corinthians 2:4a NLT). Rather than delivering cleverly worded sermons and powerfully persuasive arguments, Paul exhibited weakness, fear and trembling. He had been anything but impressive. But he had made an impact. Why? He provides the answer. “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2 ESV). Paul wasn’t interested in fame or recognition. He wasn’t out to build a personal following or win a popularity contest. He had gone to Corinth in order to share the testimony of God concerning His Son, Jesus Christ. And the message he shared had made an impact on the lives of the people of Corinth. But not because of Paul’s oratory skills or well-articulated arguments.

What had happened in Corinth as a result of Paul’s initial visit had been the work of the Spirit of God. “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:4b ESV). It had had nothing to do with Paul’s powers of persuasion. Their radical life change had been the result of the message of the cross and the regenerating work of the Spirit of God. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul pointed out that “we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:17 ESV). Paul’s primary goal had been to preach Christ and the message of His crucifixion and resurrection. Later on in this same letter, Paul outlines exactly what he preached to them:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. – 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 ESV

It was this message and their acceptance of it, that had changed their lives. It had had nothing to do with lofty speech or human wisdom. The message of the gospel was not man-made, but God-ordained. The power of the gospel lies not in the oratory skills of the messenger, but in the simple, life-altering truth of the message. The gospel doesn’t need to be tricked out, spiced up, or improved upon. It doesn’t need better music surrounding it, brighter lights or the latest technology to help it, or an entertaining delivery to improve it. Of course, it is a sin to bore anyone with the gospel. It was Jim Rayburn, the founder of Young Life who once said, “We believe it is sinful to bore kids with the gospel. Christ is the strongest, grandest, most attractive personality to ever grace the earth. But a careless messenger with the wrong method can reduce all this magnificence to the level of boredom …. It is a crime to bore anyone with the gospel.”

There is no doubt that a poorly prepared sermon can obscure the message of the gospel. But at the same time, an overly produced, entertainment-driven worship service can also overwhelm the simplicity of the life-altering message of salvation in Christ alone. It seems that Paul would have preferred the power of the Spirit of God over his own powers of persuasion. He had seen the life-impacting nature of the good news of Jesus Christ firsthand. For him, it was essential that the faith of believers rest “not in human wisdom but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:5 NLT). The power of the gospel resides in the simple message of Christ crucified, not in the wisdom and eloquence of men. Paul said, “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24 ESV). There will always be those who balk at the message of the cross. They will see it as foolish and nonsensical. But there will also be those who find its message impactful and life-altering, and their transformed lives will give ample evidence that its power comes from God, not men.

The Goal: Christ-likeness.

Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong. You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you. – Galatians 4:12-20 ESV

It would be easy to read Paul’s letter to the Galatians and simply assume that his sole motivation was to defend his particular interpretation of the Scriptures. But Paul was not just promoting his own doctrinal viewpoint over that of someone else. His goal was not to prove himself right and all others wrong. His objective was far more selfless and loving than that. He was out to see his readers experience the fullness of God’s love for them. He wanted them to grow up in their salvation and enjoy all that God had in store for them. And he was willing to do whatever it took to see Christ formed in them.

Paul was writing from the perspective of a pastor, not an academician. He was interested in heart change, not mere head knowledge. But he knew that an accurate knowledge of God and an understanding of true doctrine was essential to spiritual growth. False doctrine produces fake fruit. An improper or faulty view of God always results in a god of our own making. Truth is not relative. It is not up to our own imaginations or the insights of men. God has given us His Word in which He has revealed Himself to us. It contains divine insights into His character, will, relationship with mankind, outlook on sin, redemptive program and future plans for the world.

Paul had come to the Galatians, lovingly preaching the good news of Jesus Christ to them. He had taught them the truth regarding their own sin, their state of condemnation before God, and His gracious offer of salvation and justification through faith in Christ. He had taught them the truth and they had gratefully received it. And he had done so while living among them as a Gentile, free from the requirements of the law – even though Paul was a God-fearing Jew. He lived by the very philosophy he expressed to the Corinthians believers:

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. – 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 ESV

Paul had done this while suffering from some undisclosed physical ailment. But he had not let his health interfere with his efforts to evangelize and disciple the lost in Galatia. Perhaps this “bodily ailment” was the thorn in the flesh that Paul refers to in his letter to the Corinthian believers (2 Corinthians 12:7). Whatever it was, his condition proved to be a trial to the believers in Galatia; and yet, because of the good news he brought to them, they had gladly received him.

But now, because of the influence of false teachers, the believers in Galatia were eyeing Paul with suspicion and questioning the veracity of his teaching. He asked them, “Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Galatians 4:7 ESV). Sometimes the truth of God is difficult to understand and even harder to accept. The concept of justification by faith alone in Christ alone is not something that makes sense to us. It goes against our human sensibilities. We have been trained to believe that nothing is free and anything of value must be earned. Even our much-beloved American work ethic stands in stark contrast to the grace offered by God through Jesus Christ. And the Galatians were falling prey to the words of the Judaizers who were attempting to convince them that their salvation was incomplete and insufficient. They needed more. They needed to do more. In fact, Paul accused these false teachers of making the believers in Galatia dependent upon them. Paul was preaching the freedom found in grace, while his enemies were trying to imprison believers back under the law.

Paul preached grace. And his message of grace was not just tied to salvation. For Paul, grace was an essential ingredient to the Christian life, from beginning to end. Peter felt the same way.

I am warning you ahead of time, dear friends. Be on guard so that you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing. Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. – 2 Peter 3:17-18 NLT

The danger we all face as believers is thinking that we must somehow transform ourselves into the likeness of Christ through self-effort and hard work. And while we do have a responsibility to pursue Christ-likeness, we must always remember that it is by God’s grace and through His power that we are transformed. We can no more sanctify ourselves than we could have saved ourselves. Sanctification, like salvation, is a grace gift, provided to us by God and made possible through His indwelling Holy Spirit. Paul knew that only God could “form” or transform the Galatians into the likeness of Christ. The word Paul used literally means, “until a mind and life in complete harmony with the mind and life of Christ shall have been formed in you” (“G3445 – morphoō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible).

Only God can turn sinners into saints, enemies into sons and daughters, captives into free men, the dead into the living, and the condemned into co-heirs with Jesus Christ. Paul wanted his readers to understand just how much he loved them and how desperately he longed for them to remain in God’s grace. Their growth in holiness was to be the work of God, not the result of human effort. Our role as believers is to remain completely dependent upon the grace of God. Any effort we put into our spiritual formation is to be according to His power, not ours. As soon as we begin to think that our spiritual growth is somehow up to us, we step out of the light of His grace and back into the darkness of legalism. We must always recognize that our transformation into the likeness of Christ is God’s work, not ours. Our sole responsibility is that of dependence that leads to willful obedience. Our desire, like that of Paul, should be to see Christ formed in us. But that requires living in the freedom of God’s grace and fully reliant upon His power.

Transformed.

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:25-32 ESV

What does it look like to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1 ESV)? And what would it mean to “no longer walk as the Gentiles do” (Ephesians 4:17 ESV)? Paul doesn’t leave anything up to our imaginations. While at one time, before coming to know Christ, we had futile minds and a darkened understanding, all that has changed. We used to be alienated from God and were ignorant of godly things because we had hardened hearts. We were callous, sensual by nature and greedy for more and more impurity. That was our old self. But when we came to know Christ, we were given a new nature, a new self, with the capacity to renew and redeem our entire way of thinking. And the way we think has a tremendous impact on the way we live. Which is why Paul encouraged his readers to “put on thew new self, created in the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24 ESV). Then he described what that should look like in real life.

One of the first characteristics of our new life should be truth. Everything about our life outside of Christ was marked by falsehood and based on lies. Our view of God, if we had one, was false. Our perspective on sin and any need for salvation was flawed and influenced by the lies of Satan. We probably didn’t think we were that bad. Our view of our own sinfulness was relative, allowing us to see ourselves as somewhat better than others. But when we came to know Christ, we were suddenly exposed to the truth regarding our sin and the condemnation we deserved. We realized for the first time that any hope we had for restoration to a right relationship with God was possible only through Christ. We became aware that we were sinners in need of a Savior. We came to grips with the reality of God’s unapproachable holiness and our own unrighteousness. The magnitude of God’s incredible love as revealed through the death of His Son on the cross dawned on our darkened minds and opened our blind eyes to the truth of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

As believers we are to put away falsehood and deceit. We have to constantly eliminate the false ideas and faulty precepts on which we formerly based our lives. Instead, we are to “speak the truth with his neighbor” (Ephesians 4:25 ESV). While lying was a natural part of our former lives, it is uncharacteristic and unacceptable in our new status as members of God’s family. We are to exhibit holiness and righteousness. For us, honesty isn’t just the best policy, it is the only one. While anger was a normal part of our pre-conversion experience, now we should view it as dangerous and destructive. While we can’t completely eliminate anger from our lives, we can learn to control it. Which is why Paul wrote (quoting from Psalm 4:4), “‘don’t sin by letting anger control you.’ Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27 ESV). Our old nature will try and justify our anger. It will want to defend it by labeling it as “righteous indignation.” But anger simply provides an entry point for the enemy. As believers, love is to be the primary characteristic of our lives. 

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus told those listening to His message:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5:44-48 ESV

Salvation is not just about having our sins forgiven and our eternity secured. It is about life change. It includes our ongoing transformation through God’s divine process of sanctification. God doesn’t just free us from the penalty of sin, He liberates us from the power of sin in our lives, allowing us to live radically different lives right here, right now. As a result, the thief who comes to faith in Christ, is to no longer steal. He is to work. And rather than take from others, he is to share what he earns with those in need. His whole mindset about life is to change. As believers, our speech should reflect our new nature. Paul writes, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (Ephesians 4:29 NLT). Again, notice the change in perspective. It is other-oriented, rather than me-centered. Our words are to build up, not tear down.

As believers, our conduct can grieve the Holy Spirit. When we live like we used to live, according to our old nature, we are not allowing the Holy Spirit to direct our lives, and this brings Him great sorrow. When bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander mark our lives, it is evidence that we are not living in the power of the Holy Spirit. These things are evidences of our old nature. But when we exhibit kindness, tenderness and forgiveness to one another, it is proof that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives, producing His fruit through us. We are walking in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called. We are living in unity. We are being renewed and putting on our new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.