The Lord's Day Morning
August 19, 2007
“Not Only to Believe, But to Suffer”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Philippians, chapter one, verse 29. We've been working through Paul's letter to the Philippians, and we said when we came to verse 27 that we’d gotten to the central section of this book. It begins with a very important exhortation that we live in accordance with the gospel of Christ. In fact, if you look at Philippians 1:27, you’ll see Paul's words:
“Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
Paul's big point in that exhortation is that we are to live a life that fits the gospel. And what he does from this point (in verse 27) all the way to chapter two, verse 18, is he exhorts you to live that life, he gives an example of that life in the person of Jesus Christ, and then he exhorts you again. So, exhortation; example of Jesus Christ; more exhortation. It's the central part of this letter. In fact, the theme of this entire middle section is a call to holy conduct. It's what our Confession calls sanctification — growing in grace, growing in Christ, maturing in the faith.
We could call this section “a quest for godliness.” The Apostle Paul has taught us some important things about that growth in grace (or that quest for godliness, or that sanctification). In fact, last week as we were looking at this passage we said Paul taught us that there are three things that every Christian needs to understand if that Christian is going to live the Christian life in the way that God intends it to be lived. Those things have to do with this: You have to understand what the gospel sets you free to do; secondly, you have to understand the relationship between joy and obedience in the Christian life; and then, thirdly, you need to understand the importance of activity in the Christian life…not simply trusting on God and resting in Him, but the activity that He has called us to.
And what the Apostle Paul says about those three things is this:
First of all he tells us that the gospel sets us free not to do whatever we jolly well please, but to pursue God. In other words, the gospel sets us free not to do what we want to do in the sense of being our own standard, following our own laws, making it up as we go along: the gospel sets us free to be what God created us to be in the first place, that is, the blessed recipients of an offer of an everlasting relationship with Him. We were made to pursue the enjoyment of God forever, and the gospel sets us free to do that. And that means that the gospel sets us free to godliness as well, because you can't pursue God without godliness. So understanding that the gospel doesn't set us free to do as we please, but to do what God made us to do, and which we now by grace long to do; that is, to have an everlasting fellowship and communion with the living God.
Secondly, the Apostle Paul has made it clear in verses 26 down to 27 and 28, and he’ll make it clear in this whole section that there is no contradiction between joy and obedience in the Christian life. Those two things are not in competition with one another. Joy and obedience in the Christian life go together.
One way that we said that the Apostle Paul taught us that was he told us in this passage that the reason that he was willing not to go be with Christ, where he wanted to be, was so that he could work for the joy of the Philippians. (You think he's serious about their joy? If he was willing to forego being with Christ immediately in order to work for their joy, do you think he is serious about their joy? You bet your bottom dollar.) Paul was very concerned that these Philippians know the joy of Christ.
And then in verse 27, he says, “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” So he calls them to obedience. Now, did Paul forget what he had just said about joy? No. But what he said about joy and what he said about obedience wasn't in contradiction. Those things aren't in competition. God calls us to the delight of duty, and the duty of delight. He calls us to both joy and obedience simultaneously, and those things, my friends, cannot exist apart from one another. There is no such thing as gospel obedience without joy, and there is no such thing as joy without gospel obedience. Those things go together.
And then, thirdly, we said that the Apostle Paul makes it clear that the Christian life is not effortless. It is one of grace-enabled, God-wrought, but personally purposeful exertion. Did you catch that when we were singing No. 670? Take your hymnals out and look at how the author of If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee catches this truth so well. Look at verse 5:
“Sing, pray, and keep His way unswerving;
So do thine own part faithfully.”
There is a part that we have in which we are to exert ourselves. The Apostle Paul stresses that in verses 27 and 28 by saying things to you like this: “Stand firm…strive together side by side.” All throughout this book you’re going to find exhortations, and exhortations ask you to do what? To do something. And you’re going to find strong active verbs like strive together. And so the author of this hymn says, “Do your own part faithfully.” And then what does he say? “And trust His word.” You see, there are two sides to the Christian life. There's the trusting and the resting, and then there's that grace enabled work — effort, striving — to do the work of the Lord.
I said last week that some Christians will describe the Christian life in these terms: “Let go and let God,” and I said that's not how the Apostle Paul described the Christian life. My wife took great delight in showing me the headlines of the “Religion” section in The Clarion-Ledger yesterday. You know what they are? “Let go and let God.”
Now, we said that of course there is a very important part of the Christian life when we recognize that we've done what we can do, that there are certain things out of our hands, out of our ultimate control, and all we can do is do what? “Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.” “Be still, and know that I am God.” That is a very important truth. I wouldn't want to deny it or undermine it, or underemphasize it in any way. But the Apostle Paul says that's not only true, it's also true that you must exert yourself personally, because sanctification does not just happen. And boy, can I testify to that! I wish I could take a pill at night and wake up and be sanctified. And just this very week, I can testify to you a gross failure in my own sanctification…and it's frustrating, and you wish that you could just take a pill and be sanctified! But you can't. It requires personal exertion, deliberate effort, along with a dependence upon God's grace.
Well, that's what the Apostle Paul taught us last week.
This week we come to a new passage. Now I want you to keep your eyes on the following verses — verses 28-30, because what we're going to study today in verse 29 is part of an extended thought that goes from verse 28 all the way to verse 30. Look at those verses as I try and show you the connection between verse 28 and verses 29-30. I'm going to leave some words out, for the sake of giving you the flow, but you look at all the words as we read along.
When Paul says in Philippians 1:28, “I don't want you to be frightened in anything by your opponents,” he is connecting that with what he gets ready to say in verses 29-30. Verses 29-30 are designed to provide the encouragement, so that you can do what he said in verse 28:
“I don't want you to be frightened in anything by your opponents….For it has been granted to you for the sake of Christ not only to believe in Him but also to suffer for His sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.”
Do you see what Paul is saying? Paul is saying, ‘You are facing, and you will face, great conflict and opposition because you’re Christians. Don't be frightened about that. Don't be discouraged by that. Don't feel threatened by that, because you've been given the gift of faith, you've been given the gift of suffering, and you’re going through the same thing that I'm going through.’ He gives three encouragements in verses 29-30, so that they can follow the exhortation that he gave them in verse 28.
If you’ll allow me to do a little imaginative paraphrase of this passage just to re-emphasize the flow of thought, it would go something like this. Paul says to these Philippian Christians, and to you,
‘These conflicts that you are experiencing with unbelieving Gentiles who are persecuting you, and who will persecute you, and with the Judaisers who want to tear you apart from one another, and they want to tear you away from the gospel…don't be frightened or threatened, or discouraged by the fact that you are experiencing those conflicts.’
Now let me just stop right there and say something. Any time you come to a place in the Bible where God says, “Don't be afraid…don't be frightened…don't be discouraged,” understand this very encouraging truth: Paul and God are not saying that there is nothing frightening, nothing threatening, nothing fearful in the Christian life. They’re saying the exact opposite. They’re saying that because there are things that are frightening and threatening, and fearful, and discouraging, here's an encouragement to you. Here's an encouragement from God. The very fact that God tells you in the word, “Don't be frightened,” lets you know that God knows that you struggle with being frightened sometimes. And the very fact that He tells you “Don't be discouraged” is not an indication that discouragement should play no part in the Christian life. It's an indication that it's all over the Christian life! And God in His love and kindness, and encouraging mercy, wants to comfort His people and give them reasons why, despite the fact that they do have reasons that they could be discouraged, they have greater reasons why they should not be discouraged. And that's exactly what the Apostle Paul is doing here.
‘Don't be frightened,’ he's saying. ‘I understand that you are in a threatening, frightening, discouraging situation, but don't be frightened.’ He goes on, ‘You may be tempted to view these kinds of conflicts as an indication that God is displeased with you, and He is punishing you for something.’ The Apostle Paul says, ‘Don't do that.’ ‘Or, you may be tempted to look at your circumstances and say, ‘God has abandoned us.’ And the Apostle Paul is saying, ‘Don't do that. That's exactly wrong. That's exactly the opposite of what is happening here. That could not be farther from the truth. In fact,’ Paul says [I'm still paraphrasing], ‘you need to understand this suffering is under the sovereign control of God. He is the one who has ordained it, not for your destruction, but for your everlasting good. Indeed, this kind of suffering [suffering for Christ's sake] is just another proof of your salvation, because unbelievers persecuted the Lord Jesus Christ, and what happens to the master happens to disciples. And what did Jesus Himself say in the first words of the greatest sermon ever preached? ‘Blessed are you when you are persecuted for My sake.’’ The Apostle Paul says, ‘The fact that you are being persecuted for Christ's sake is a proof of your salvation. It is a confirmation that God is saving and will save you. Indeed, dear friends,’ the Apostle Paul goes on to say, ‘both your faith and your suffering for Christ are gifts of our loving heavenly Father, and suffering is the way to glory.’
That's my extended paraphrase of verses 28-30.
Now understand what's going on here. Paul is stunningly teaching that faith in Christ and suffering for Christ are gifts from God. Now, we're going to look at suffering for Christ next week, and let me say we’ll just scratch the surface of that subject. But what I want to do is I want to give you an hors d’oeuvre, as it were, that will get you interested in learning more and reading more and meditating on the truth that suffering for Christ is a gift from God. That's what we're going to do next Lord's Day.
This Lord's Day, we're going to focus on the first part of what Paul intends to be an encouragement to the Philippians and to you and me: that is, that faith is a gift from God. That's what we're going to concentrate on today, and here are the three things that I want you to learn before we even start:
1. I want you to understand that the Bible teaches that faith is a gift (Number one.)
2. Number two, faith is a necessary responsibility. Faith is a gift; faith is a necessary responsibility.
3. And then, thirdly, I want you to understand that understanding that faith is a gift has a vital, practical impact on every moment of your daily life.
Now let's pray and read God's word.
Heavenly Father, thank You for the truth of Your word. Open our eyes to behold wonderful things from Your word. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is God's word, Philippians 1:29-30:
“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
I. Faith is a gift.
Three things that we learn in this passage: First, faith is a gift. Paul teaches here explicitly, expressly, unambiguously, utterly clearly that faith is God's gift to believers. The Bible everywhere it addresses the issue of the source of faith tells us that God gives the gift of faith. Let me just prove that to you.
Not only do we have the passage that says through the Apostle Paul, “To you it has been [what?] granted to [what?] believe.” It's been granted to believe? Yes, God has given you the gift of faith. Now this is not the only time that the Apostle Paul says this. Let me ask you to take your Bibles out. I want to turn you to a number of passages. Turn to Ephesians 2:8. What does the Apostle Paul say there? Ephesians 2:8.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves;
it is the gift of God.”
What is the Apostle Paul saying in Ephesians 2:8? That salvation, including our faith (which is the instrument whereby we receive all the other manifold mercy and grace of God)… salvation including our faith is — what? A gift to us from God. That's why in Galatians 5:22, Paul will list faith as a fruit of the Spirit's work in the believer. But the Apostle John says the same thing. Turn forward in your New Testament to I John — tiny little letter — I John 5:1, where the Apostle John says:
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.”
Now notice what John says there. He does not say that if you believe that will produce in you the new birth. No. It's the other way around. Those who are given the new birth, those who have been born of God, those who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit do what? They believe. John is talking about the cause. Those things happen together, but John is talking about the cause. All those that have a new heart and a new spirit put in them by the Holy Spirit in the new birth do what? They believe.
The Apostle Paul puts it even more strongly than this. Turn with me to I Corinthians 12:3. Do you remember what he says there? Listen to it closely:
“No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”
Now is the Apostle Paul saying that you cannot utter the phrase “Jesus is Lord” without the direct supernatural intervention of the Holy Spirit? No, that's not what he's saying. Lots of pagans can say the phrase, “Jesus is Lord” in whatever language they speak. What he is saying, though, is that you cannot make that confession as your confession of faith – that Jesus is your Lord. Remember when early Christians became converts to Christ and were baptized, the fundamental confession (we learn from Acts 8 and from I Corinthians 12, and elsewhere in the New Testament) …the fundamental confession they made was what? “Jesus is Lord.” It was their way of saying, “I personally believe that Jesus is Lord, Messiah, and God. He is the Savior of sinners. He is the Savior of my sins, and I trust in Him.” And you understand how significant that would have been especially in a dominant Jewish culture, to stand up and say, “I accept Jesus as the Messiah, the Lord, and God.” It would have been a very significant confession, and the Apostle Paul is saying it is impossible for a person to do that and to mean it without what? Without the work of the Holy Spirit.
And so it doesn't surprise you, does it, when you come to Acts 16:14, and Luke is telling you the story about this Gentile businesswoman that has heard the preaching of the Apostle Paul. What does Luke say in Acts 16.14?
“The Lord opened her heart to believe.”
The Lord opened her heart to believe. Her belief was the result of the Lord's work on and in her heart.
Now many people stumble on this truth, this gospel paradox that man must believe — a person must believe in Jesus Christ in order to be saved — and that believing on Jesus Christ is a gift from God. They stumble on that; but, my friends, remember that our final authority is not our own understanding, it is the word of God; and this truth is crystal clear in the word of God.
Take the middle part of the famous bumper sticker out. It's not “God says it — I believe it — That settles it.” No. It's “God says it — That settles it.” It doesn't matter whether you believe it or not. But because God says it and because that settles it, as Christians we want to believe it because God said it.
Now you may be wrestling with this. How does this go together? A person must believe to be saved, and God gives the gift of belief of faith? Of trust in Christ?
My friends, don't be discouraged. The greatest minds that have walked this planet for the last two thousand years of Christianity don't understand all the answer to that question. But they don't need to. All they need to do is say, “The Bible tells me so.” And they believe both that faith is a gift, and that faith is necessary.
II. Faith is a responsibility — we are commanded to believe.
Now that leads me into the second thing that I want to say, and that is simply this: The Bible, in fact, tells us three very important things about faith. The Bible teaches us that faith is a responsibility. You are responsible to believe. Secondly, the Bible teaches that faith is necessary. It's indispensable. And, thirdly, the Bible teaches that faith is a gift.
The Bible teaches that faith is a responsibility. We’re commanded to believe. When Jesus was talking to His disciples the night of His betrayal, the night before His crucifixion, in John 14:1,2 — do you know what He's doing? He's exhorting them to believe in God, believe in Me. Why? Because faith is a responsibility. He expects them to believe. In Acts 16:31, the Philippian jailer wants to know how to become a Christian. And what does Paul say to him? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved, you and your household.” Faith is a responsibility. Over and over in the Bible we are exhorted to believe. We are responsible to believe.
And faith is necessary. Faith is absolutely necessary. We must believe or perish. What does Hebrews 11:6 say? “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” And what does John 3:16 say? That “…Whosoever believes on Him will not perish” — the implication being those who do not believe on Him will perish. Faith is absolutely essential.
But the Bible also teaches that faith is a gift of God. God must grant us the gift of trust. That's what Paul is saying: God has granted you to believe. (Philippians 1:29.) God has given you the gift of salvation and grace and faith. (Ephesians 2:8ff.) And of course, my friends, the most important person in the world also taught this. You know Jesus taught this. In Matthew, chapter 11 and verse 28, do you remember that beautiful gospel call that Jesus gave?
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Let me ask you a question. Do you think Jesus meant that? Do you think that Jesus meant it when He said, “Come to me, all, and I will give you rest”? You better believe He meant it! He meant it more than any preacher who's ever extended a gospel invitation.
But open your Bibles to John 6:44. I want you to see something else Jesus said. You know what else Jesus said? John 6:44:
“No man can come to Me…no man can come to Me unless My Father draws him.”
Now I want to ask you a question: Which time was Jesus right? When He said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” or when He said, “No man can come to Me unless My Father draws him”? Well, you know the right answer: Both. He was right both times, because faith is a necessary responsibility, it's essential for salvation, and it's a gift. And the Bible teaches both of those things.
III. Well, so what? How could this possibly help me tomorrow morning?
Well, you’re saying, ‘Well, my head's spinning around and I don't understand all this, and how could this possibly help me tomorrow morning?’ Well, let me tell you how.
There are three ways — and by the way, we could do a whole series on how that truth helps you live the Christian life, because God doesn't tell you anything in the Bible that you don't need to know. There are three ways that that truth helps me get out of the bed in the morning: Knowing the truth that faith is a gift leads us to assurance, dependence, and responsibility. Assurance, dependence, and responsibility.
Knowing that faith is a gift is an enormous gospel encouragement, and it gives us assurance because if you think that you are the sole source of your faith, and that faith is necessary for salvation, I've got some real bad news for you. You are never ever going to have assurance of your salvation. If you think that God gives you everything else but faith, and faith is up to you, you’ll never have assurance of your salvation. But when you realize that long before you had faith in Christ that God had set His love on you, and your very first impulses of trust in Him were simply the answer of your soul to the prior work of the Holy Spirit in your heart, it changes everything. From your frail, fickle shoulders the weight of your salvation is shifted onto much broader shoulders to hold up your hope. We’re going to sing about that in a minute. Take out 466 and look at how the author of I Sought the Lord, and Afterwards I Knew put this:
“I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me.
It was not I that found, O Savior true;
No, I was found of Thee.”
I didn't find You, God; You found me.
Look at verse 3:
“I find, I walk, I love, but oh, the whole of love
Is but my answer, Lord, to Thee.”
Do you see what he's saying? The whole of my heart's love for Christ is only my answer, my response, to God's prior overtures and initiative and work in my heart. It's just the answer; God started first. We love, John said, because He first loved us. We believe, because He first loved us. We believe, because He has given the gift of faith.
And, my friends, it is only when your salvation — all of it — is resting on the strong shoulders of the living God that you will ever walk through this world with encouragement and comfort and assurance, because I want to tell you this: I can question the quality and the soundness of my faith all day long, and so if my salvation only at that one point rests on me, then I have no hope.
Point One: Knowing that faith is a gift leads to assurance.
Point Two: Knowing that faith is a gift leads to dependence. It means that whatever we're doing, we know that we have to depend upon the Lord — “Unless the Lord build the house, those who labor to build it labor in vain”… “With men it is impossible, but all things are possible with God.” Don't you love Matthew Henry's motto in Latin? Ora et labore — Pray and work. That's the little motto — “Pray and work.” And what does it say? It says we have to depend on God, and we do that in prayer; but we ourselves have to exert ourselves in the work of the Lord. But our work ultimately depends on what? On God.
Knowing that faith is a gift moves us to dependence on the Lord. Have you ever been sharing the gospel with someone, and their eyes are utterly blank? Or, you can look into their eyes, and they want to be ten thousand miles away from you! And you've had another conversation with a person that you thought was going to be resistant to the gospel, and before you could hardly get the words of the truth of the gospel out of your mouth, the response comes, “I want to trust in Christ!” The eyes light up, the lights go on! You see a person come to faith in Christ! And you know what? You know instantaneously, “I didn't do that, because it's the same message that I shared the first time. The first time, it was rejected. Now, before I can get it out of my mouth, it's been accepted!” Who did that? God the Holy Spirit. And that means as we work for Christ we must do it in utter dependence upon God, and what a freedom that is to know that ultimately God is responsible for the return. I can't make anybody come to Christ, but the Holy Spirit always gets His man. And it's my joy to watch the Spirit do that! I'm to be faithful, yes; I'm to go to the ends of the earth, yes; but it's God who reaps the harvest.
And, finally, knowing that faith is a gift leads us to responsibility. It doesn't lead us to say, “Well, there's nothing for me to do!” No, because faith is a gift that is a necessary responsibility. And so in that very truth we learn a crucial, crucial reality about the Christian life: that the Christian life has in it two sides, or two parts, that are two parts of the same coin – they always go together, and that is that God is sovereign, and I am responsible; and God uses my responsibility in His sovereignty for His glory and my good.
And so knowing that faith is a gift and that it is also a necessary responsibility is a little micro…a tiny little picture of the whole of the Christian life, which is always utterly dependent upon God and His grace in the gospel, but is always, as the Apostle Paul says here, working out our salvation with fear and trembling; striving side by side for the faith of the gospel. There is dependence upon God, and there's grace-enabled effort and responsibility on our part.
Heavenly Father, thank You for the truth of Your word. Bless it to our everlasting well-being and to Your glory in Jesus' name. Amen.