Philippians 2:12-16 (NIV): Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life–in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.
So many people in the Church fall into one of two camps:
- Those who are afraid of legalism to the point that they emphasize freedom over obedience. They shy away from any rules or devotional practices, saying that it is too easy for those kinds of things to turn people into self-righteous Pharisees.
- Those who resist the idea that they could every become genuinely holy – not because the concept is unbiblical, but because the bar seems too high, and because they know few, if any, people who really are genuinely holy.
Both of those groups end up in the same place: a Christianity that is powerless, and in which their lives are little different than many of those who don’t claim to be Christians, but are just “good people.”
But God’s people are expected to be genuinely holy and righteous – people in whom others can see the light of God shining brightly in a dark and death-filled world. People who are different than anybody else that they can see. People whose lives scream out that God is real, and is living inside of them. People who are genuinely “blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which they shine like stars in the universe as they hold out the word of life.”
The problem most people have with that standard is that they can see no way to attain it. Try as hard as they can, they find themselves falling short. Eventually they simply give up. They figure that they are inadequate, or that the biblical standards are heavenly ideals that no one can actually attain here on earth.
But in every generation God does have those who rise to the standard. They are often called “saints” (which is actually the biblical term for ALL Christians), and are respected, even venerated, by many people. But in reality, they are simply people who have discovered the “secret” to true holiness; a secret that Paul clearly and openly points out in this passage. It is not a matter of individual ability, special grace, or even extra will-power: “It is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”
Those who are genuinely holy and righteous, who actually do live blameless lives, are not those who are legalistic, or those who are lucky or specially “blessed,” or even who naturally have that kind of nature. Instead, they are those who allow God’s Holy Spirit to mold and shape them completely; to transform and renew their minds (Romans 12:1-2); who allow God to remove from them their hearts of stone, replacing them with hearts of flesh that He can move to follow all of His commands from the inside out (Ezekiel 36:26-27); who allow God to will and to act through them according to His good purpose.
When we, as God’s people, ask Him to literally change our hearts and transform our minds, when we allow Him to live and work through us instead of trying to be holy on our own, we will discover for ourselves the reality of all that He has promised. And our genuinely holy lives will shine brilliantly in the darkness of our world.
Father, every promise in Your word is true and accessible to all of Your people – even the promise to make every one of us genuinely holy and righteous. Lord, forgive us for trying to attain righteousness on our own terms, in our own strength. Help us just to give ourselves entirely to You, to surrender ourselves completely to the heart-transforming work of Your Holy Spirit, so that You can make every one of us all that we are called to be: genuine saints that shine brilliantly in our dark world. Amen.