Work Out Your Own Salvation

It costs five rupee to enter the Gulshan-e-Iqbal fairground in Lahore, Pakistan—slightly less than a US nickel—though the families who gathered this past weekend to celebrate Easter in the park would pay far more.

“A spokesman for the Taliban splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar said Christians were deliberately targeted,” reports the Guardian. As of this morning the death count is over 70 with hundreds more injured. I cannot recall an Easter season when my longing for resurrection has been greater.

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 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 3.20-21

Paul’s presentation of Christ as the hope of resurrection comes on the heels of his call to abandon salvation attempts through earthly means. The Church in Philippi would have known well the Roman slogan, “Caesar is Lord.” As citizens of a global superpower they didn’t have to, as Paul put it in Philippians 2.12, “work out” their salvation—at the first sign of trouble their political leader would swoop to defend them.

Not much has changed in modern times, though the current sentiment is something like: this party will save America, the other one will destroy it. Hours after the attacks in Lahore Donald Trump tweeted, with usual bombast, “Another radical Islamic attack… I alone can solve”.

Jesus presents himself as a binary to worldly saviors—even efficacious leaders like Caesar. Looking to political leaders, or parties, as a source of hope goes against the very call and pathway of Christ. Working out our salvation is not about earning faith, but about abandoning other saviors. N.T. Wright explains:

It is Jesus, not Caesar, who has been a ‘servant’, and has now been given ‘the name above every name’, so that at his name every knee should bend and every tongue confess, ‘Jesus Messiah is Lord’. He has come to that place of universal acclamation, not by self-aggrandizement after the manner of Hellenistic or Roman potentates, but by the self-abnegation of incarnation and cross.

“The government has proved it cannot keep people safe,” reflected a Pakistani pastor after the attacks. Though in deep need of the global Church’s prayers and action, in this statement the pastor reveals he is free to possess something that is unreachable for those of us still seeking salvation through national strength, political leaders, or partisan victories: Christ alone.

Today’s Reading
Proverbs 17 (Listen – 2:58)
Philippians 4 (Listen – 3:20)

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The Unlucky Tree

“It is difficult, after sixteen centuries and more during which the cross has been a sacred symbol, to realize the unspeakable horror and loathing which the very mention or thought of the cross provoked in Paul’s day,” reflects British theologian F.F. Bruce.

The word “crucifixion” was nearly unspeakable among Rome’s cultural elite. Most Romans, like Cicero, avoided the term all-together, opting for the euphemism arbori infelici suspendito—hang him on the unlucky tree. In the ancient Jewish tradition, and therefore early Christian culture, to hang on a tree was to fall under the curse of God.

For the first Christians, Christ’s cursed death would have been just as arresting as the thought of his resurrection. Yet how the apostle Paul—a Jewish-elite Roman Christian—responded to the scorn and humiliation of Christ on the cross set a tuning-pitch for the early church.

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others,” the apostle wrote. His reasoning wasn’t moralism or civility, but a direct application of what it meant to follow a crucified savior. He continued with the words to one of the first Christian hymns:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

In other words: sacrifice your pursuits, comfort, and status just as Christ sacrificed his for you. This is the pathway to resurrection. Selfish ambition fractures relationships. Vein-conceit leverages success in an attempt to exact revenge on those who have hurt us in the past. The cruciform lifestyle lays all this down—we follow Christ to the cross because grace has invited us to the resurrection.

Of the first Christians, F.F. Bruce concludes:

One could have understood it if the early Christians, knowing that the crucifixion of Jesus was an undeniable fact, had admitted it reluctantly when they were compelled to do so. But Paul, Roman citizen by birth and religious Jew by upbringing, not only dismisses as the merest refuse those things in which he had once taken a proper pride, but embraces—as the most worth-while goal in life—the knowledge of the crucified Christ and boasts in his cross.

Today’s Reading
Proverbs 16 (Listen – 3:15)
Philippians 3 (Listen – 3:21)




Getting to the Heart :: The Weekend Reading List

Our hearts, like fine instruments, need to be tuned. Proverbs warns, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” This may have been what Jesus was thinking of when he said, “…for out of the overflow of the heart, (the) mouth speaks.” Our heart sets the course for our life. If our heart is envious, entitled, impatient or pleasure-seeking, everything in our life will be marked by these traits.

Legalists suffer from myopic focus on behavior. If a person is angry, legalists demand the person control the outputs of anger. Don’t lash out. Pause before you react. In contrast, the target of the gospel is the heart — it address a person’s actions by moving directly to the root.

For example, is a person angry:  (1) because he feels superior and sees others as a nuisance, (2) because he lusts for success and lashes out when things get shaky, or (3) because something happened in the past and he now responds disproportionally under the same circumstances.

In the first case, the root of the anger is entitlement — and the root is likely fleshing itself out as he belittles people who work in service positions or spends large amounts of money on things that refine his image. Multiple sins often draw life from the same root.

In the second case, the root is the idol of success. The person might use peers to scrape his way to the top — taking credit for other people’s work and shifting blame for failures. He could also be ignoring relationships that don’t seem to benefit his bottom line.

In the later case, the root of his anger is likely either guilt or bitterness. If the person is full of guilt, he may not have forgiven himself or walked through the necessary steps to seek forgiveness from those he has hurt. If he is bitter it’s possible he is delaying the journey to forgive someone who has hurt him.

When we get to the root issues of the heart we begin discussing motivations rather than just actions. Focusing solely on actions is like a doctor handing throat lozenges to a coughing patient who is really suffering from pneumonia.

In some ways it’s more comfortable to deal exclusively with actions rather than addressing heart issues. After all, if it’s simply an action that’s our core problem, we can often provide the solution on our own — willing ourselves into change.

Seeing God’s grace as the primary means of change doesn’t mean we stop working on our will. True change happens when a person responds with all of their heart, all of their soul, all of their mind and all of their strength. In his book, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings on DiscipleshipDallas Willard clarifies, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it’s opposed to earning.”

In this, we seek to live dedicated lives of faith empowered by the Holy Spirit. After all, what person can change their own heart? Tell two people in love to stop their hearts from loving. Tell an envious person to have a content soul. It can’t happen. When the gospel drives at our heart it takes us beyond our own sufficiency to our need for a Savior — someone who can change our heart.

Today’s Reading
1 Kings 12 (Listen – 7:05)
Philippians 3 (Listen – 3:45)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Kings 13 (Listen – 7:05) Philippians 4 (Listen – 3:45)
1 Kings 14 (Listen – 7:05) Colossians 1 (Listen – 3:45)


The Weekend Reading List


How You Have Loved Us :: Throwback Thursday

Philippians 2.5-11

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 

By Augustine of Hippo (354-430 C.E.)

How you have loved us, O good Father. You did not spare your only Son, but delivered Him up for us wicked ones!

How you have loved us. For Christ did not grasp to be equal with you, but “became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Christ alone — “free among the dead” — had power to lay down His life, and power to take it up again. For our sake, he was to you both victor and victim. For us, he was to you both priest and sacrifice.

Rightly, then, is my hope strongly fixed on Him, that you will heal all my diseases by him who sits at your right hand and makes intercession for us; or else I would utterly despair. For numerous and great are my infirmities — numerous and great are they — but your medicine is greater.

Terrified by my sins and the load of my misery, I had resolved in my heart to flee into the wilderness; but you forbid me. You strengthen me, saying that Christ “died for all, that we should not live unto ourselves, but live unto Him.”

Behold, O Lord, I cast my care upon you, that I may live and “behold wondrous things out of your law.” You know my unskillfulness and my infirmities; teach me, and heal me. Your only Son Christ — “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge ” — has redeemed me with His blood.

— Abridged and language updated from Confessions.

Today’s Reading
1 Kings 11 (Listen – 7:05)
Philippians 2 (Listen – 3:45)


Three Kinds of People

Philippians 1.21
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

By C.S. Lewis

The price of Christ is something, in a way, much easier than moral effort — it is to want Him. — C.S. Lewis

There are three kinds of people in the world. The first class is of those who live simply for their own sake and pleasure, regarding Man and Nature as so much raw material to be cut up into whatever shape may serve them.

In the second class are those who acknowledge some other claim upon them — the will of God, the categorical imperative, or the good of society — and honestly try to pursue their own interests no further than this claim will allow. They try to surrender to the higher claim as much as it demands, like men paying a tax, but hope, like other taxpayers, that what is left over will be enough for them to live on.

But the third class is of those who can say like St. Paul that for them “to live is Christ.” These people have got rid of the tiresome business of adjusting the rival claims of Self and God by the simple expedient of rejecting the claims of Self altogether. The old egoistic will has been turned round, reconditioned, and made into a new thing. The will of Christ no longer limits theirs; it is theirs. All their time, in belonging to Him, belongs also to them, for they are His.

Because there are three classes, any merely twofold division of the world into good and bad is disastrous.

It overlooks the fact that the members of the second class (to which most of us belong) are always and necessarily unhappy. The tax which moral conscience levies on our desires does not in fact leave us with enough to live on.

The Christian doctrine that there is no “salvation” by works done according to the moral law is a fact of daily experience. Back or on we must go. But there is no going on simply by our own efforts. If the new Self, the new Will, does not come at His own good pleasure to be born in us, we cannot produce Him synthetically.

— Abridged from CS Lewis, “Three Kinds of Men” in Present Concerns

Editor’s Note: I included this today as an extension to yesterday’s stirring thoughts from J.C. Ryle. These two men, in addition to their contributions to historic Christianity, articulate the tensions and glories that wait ahead of us on the journey of faith. Let us set our eyes on Christ, our hope and glory.

Today’s Reading
1 Kings 10 (Listen – 4:27)
Philippians 1 (Listen – 4:03)