Remember those days when you were first learning to swim, perhaps with your father or mother standing beside the swimming pool, encouraging you to jump in and they would catch you? Perhaps it was learning to ride a two-wheeled bike for the first time and your parent (or maybe a trusted older sibling) was keeping you up, saying “trust me, I’ve got you.” Perhaps the thing to which you can relate is stepping out in a business venture and your partner or backers saying, “trust me, you got this!”
We rely a great deal on trust…and to some extent, if you don’t place your trust in others you end up becoming a curmudgeon and a cynic and you isolate yourselves from relationships. But even though trust is a part of most of our relationships, often we do not spend much time thinking about what trust happens to be.
The dictionary defines trust in terms of your “belief in the reliability” of another — in other words, it points to someone or something that is outside of you upon which you rely. In many ways, the word is almost synonymous with the word, “faith.” Trust is that recognition that if you rely upon another person, they will not let you down.
And so, when the Catechism, in Question 21, asks about true faith, it speaks of having a sincere trust that the Holy Spirit works in me through the Gospel. What is this all about? The Spirit has many roles in the life of the believer — he is counselor (John 16:7), teacher (John 14:26; 1 John 2:27), and giver of gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-11) amongst other things. But most basically, His role is to conform the life of the believer into the image of the Son.
How does the Spirit do this? The most basic way he does this task is through the Gospel — through the word studied and preached and applied to the life of the Christian. We might even more simply speak of this in the context of the “ordinary means of grace” or in the context of the “keys of the kingdom,” both of which we will talk about more later in this catechism.
And so, an aspect of True faith, or saving faith as some would put it, is the trust that the Spirit is at work in me, conforming me into the image of God’s Son (Romans 8:29) — in other words, that tomorrow I might look more like Jesus than I did today. Trusting also implies that we act upon that trust — striving as empowered by the Holy Spirit toward this goal of honoring Christ, whether through applying the Ten Commandments to my life as a way to grow in my sanctification or in seeking to be obedient to the many other commands we would see Jesus, our Lord, set before us. In other words, genuine trust requires an action on my part — a response to that trust — jumping in the pool, riding the bike, entering that business venture. We act in faith in the confidence that the Spirit is acting in us through the Gospel.
And note one more thing…it is the trust that the Spirit is acting in us through the Gospel — this does not require (or even speak of!) supernatural works (this I would argue, ended at the close of the first century with the close of the Canon). It is through the Gospel — the written revelation of God contained in the Bible. A humble and faithful life, rooted in the Word of God, is a far greater testimony than all the “miracles” that man might like to think he can produce.
“Not that I have already received this, nor have I already been perfected, but I pursue it that I might attain it, for I was made to attain it by Christ Jesus.”
As we discussed above, the language of “attaining” the goal of the resurrection is not implying a doctrine of merit…that we somehow are able to earn the work of salvation. Instead, the final clause in this verse is the key to understanding the whole…why do we strive forward toward this goal? We do so because Christ has made us to strive forward to this goal. It is God’s work, not ours.
Some of our English translations vary in how they render this final clause. The verb, katalamba/nw (katalambano — “to attain a goal”) is used twice, the first time as an active subjunctive (“that I might attain”) and the second time as passive indicative (“I was made to attain”). This sets up parallel ideas — I run to attain it because Jesus is drawing me irresistibly to this goal.
On a practical note, the question is whether or not we think like this. Do we really think that we are growing in our sanctification because God is working in us? Or, do we fall into the trap of being prideful about our growth in sanctification. Often it is the latter. Often we like to focus on what we have done rather than on what Christ has done in us…and what a colossal difference there is between the two.
“For we are the circumcision; those who worship in the Spirit of God and who boast in Christ Jesus and who do not trust in the flesh.”
Indeed, in Christ’s economy, circumcision is no longer a matter of the flesh, but is a matter of the heart. To take the notion one step further, we should argue that circumcision of the flesh was always meant to be a physical symbol of an inward reality — an inward circumcision. And, as noted above, as the physical symbol changed (circumcision to baptism), the physical cutting is no longer deemed necessary while the inward reality (a circumcised heart) remains the same. Thus not only is Paul of the circumcision (physical and spiritual) the uncircumcised (physically) gentiles who were a part of the church in Philippi are circumcised in the eyes of God (spiritually). If the cutting is done out of ritual or as a sign of works it is an abomination…a mutilation of the flesh; the cutting that takes place in the heart is worked by God and by God alone upon us and is designed to prepare us for glory (as well as to equip us to live out our life in the here and now.
And ultimately, then, what is the visible mark of this inward circumcision? In addition to baptism, it is a life that is lived glorying in Christ and not trusting in the works of the flesh. It is a life marked by worship in the Holy Spirit and not by worshipping in the strength or pattern of the flesh. It is a life that is oriented around serving God (the word in this passage which we translate as “worship,” literally means “to serve in a liturgical or religious manner”).
The question we must set before us is whether or not this is how we live. Is this what we strive for? Do we still take pride in our flesh or is the only thing in which we glory the work of Christ in and over this weak flesh of ours? The former relies on an outward circumcision; the latter relies on an inward. And Paul will shortly remind us that the outward circumcision avails us nothing if we seek to stand upon it. The bottom line is that it is all about Christ, from beginning to end, it is all about Jesus.
My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
— Edward Mote
“If therefore there is consolation in Christ, if there is encouragement of love, if there is fellowship of the Spirit, if there is affection and compassion, then fulfill my joy in order that you might be disposed to these things: having this love, being united, and being of one mind.”
Indeed, if there is any desire that pastors have for their flock this would summarize it. One might add: “attentiveness to the Scriptures,” yet I would suggest that the only way the above can happen in a body of Christians is if the body is attentive to the Word of God. How often churches go astray because they don’t start at the right spot…sitting under the Word.
Some translations render the phrase “fellowship of the Spirit” as “spiritual fellowship,” which is a legitimate translation as the word “Spirit” does not have a definite article. At the same time, given the language of consolation in Christ, the parallelism seems to imply also that the fellowship will be in the Spirit, hence the choice to capitalize the term, seeing it as a reference to the Third member of the Trinity and not to the spirituality of believers.
This notion of unity becomes foundational to what Paul will speak of next…wisdom for all of us in Christ’s church. If we cannot get this notion into our beings, we will fall into fighting and bickering. And where there is fighting and bickering, almost always this spirit of unity is lacking. I have said more times than I care to count that these first 11 verses of Philippians 2 are the most significant verses that guide our Christian living…they send a simple message but contain profound truths. Yet, all in Paul’s timing as he unfolds the words of this letter.
“For I know that this will turn out for my salvation through your supplications and through the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,”
The confidence of Paul in the prayers of the Saints and the strength of the Spirit should not surprise us much as we arrive here in verse 19. Indeed, as Christians, how we rely on the prayers of others. That said, I wonder whether we genuinely pray and make supplications to the Lord on behalf of those who are in distress, in chains, or just in ministry…the leadership of the church that we make wise and Godly decisions when such are set before us.
What is quite significant, though, about this verse is Paul’s use of the phrase, “the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” This is the only spot in the Bible where the Spirit is spoken of in this way. We find the phrase, “The Spirit of God,” often enough (25 times), but this is something that stands out, though it should not give us pause. The reality is that Jesus is God and thus it is a natural linguistic transition to make from saying “the Spirit of God” to “the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” At the same time, this verse does provide us with an apologetic reminder that Jesus Christ is fully God. We live in a day and an age where many are trying to make less of Jesus than he is, making him look to be some sort of demigod or divine human, seeing him as created and not part of the Triune Godhead. Here, Paul would seem to refute such an idea, reminding us that the Holy Spirit is just as much connected with the Son as he is with the Father.
But also make note of the language applied to the Spirit here…it is the Spirit who strengthens, who provides for Paul, who fortifies him in his time of need. How we need to be reminded sometimes that we do not do things in our own strength as believers, but what we do we must do in reliance on the strength of the Holy Spirit. He empowers, we bring nothing to the table other than obedience…and that is something the Spirit works in us as well. There is no room for personal pride, folks, only pride in our Savior, Christ Jesus.
“Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again and questioned Jesus and said to him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you say this from yourself or has another spoken to you concerning me?’”
Jesus has thus been returned to Pilate’s custody and now Pilate must decide how to handle the matter. His first question to Jesus returns to the matter of politics — is this man a threat to Rome. While it may be a surprise that Jesus breaks his silence for a moment, it ought to be considered that this is, for the first time, a private audience without the priests screaming false accusations. Here, an honest conversation can take place. More importantly, Jesus uses this opportunity to change the discussion from the earthly to the eternal.
What is striking about this dialogue is its similarity to one that Jesus had with Peter earlier in his ministry, recorded in Matthew 16:15-17. Jesus is asking his disciples who people said he was. Many answers were given and then Jesus made the question more personal and asked Peter who he said that Jesus was. Peter’s response has become the bedrock of the Christian profession of faith — “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
But notice what Jesus says to follow: “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” This question of Jesus is a spiritual question. Jesus is asking whether Pilate is saying this because that is what he is thinking or because it has been told by another. The right answer would have been, “because I have been told by the Holy Spirit.” This, of course, was not in Pilate’s vocabulary and thus his response is very different than Jesus‘ — rather than professing Christ, the rock upon which the church is built, he professes that one cannot know anything that is true, but we get ahead of ourselves.
The definition of King and Lord and Savior is radically different depending on the source of that understanding. Many would intellectually call Jesus their Lord or King, but have lives that do not reflect that this is something they really believe. Many call Jesus Savior out of an emotional response, often from an experience during a difficult time in their lives, but when the emotion fades the lifestyle does not reflect the profession. The truest way to test a profession of faith is by watching the person persevere in that faith as they live their life because we can reform our lives for a short time, but lasting change requires a work of the Holy Spirit. Pilate sadly demonstrates the source of his understanding about Jesus (or lack thereof); what is the source of yours?
“And the Angel of Yahweh called to Abraham — a second time from heaven. And he said, ‘In myself I swear, utters Yahweh; because of this thing that you have done in not sparing your son, your only one, I will surely bless you and your seed will surely be great as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the lip of the sea. And your seed will take possession of the gates of his enemies. And in your seed will all the nations of the earth be blessed on account of your obeying my voice.”
There is truly a ton of material in this passage, but it is valuable to keep the whole statement of the Angel of Yahweh, the pre-incarnate Christ, as we look at the parts. Once again, He speaks for God and with authority. He states to Abraham that “you have not withheld your son from me.” Notice too, the language of Abraham sparing his son. Jesus uses similar language in teaching his own disciples:
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If someone desires to come after me, then he must renounce himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For the one who wants to save his life will lose it, but the one who loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it benefit a man if he acquires the whole world but forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his life?’”
Now our English translations of this passage in Matthew do a bit of a tricky switch on us, that I am hopefully remedying here. In each of the cases that I have translated as “life” the Greek word yuch/ (psuche) is being used. This is the term from which we get the English word, “psyche,” and it means much the same thing in both English and Greek. The yuch/ (psuche) refers to the seat of one’s person or you could say his personality. It is what makes us tick and what makes us individuals and different from one another. It is also typically seen as the primary place in which we bear God’s image. It can be used to refer to our physical life here on earth and sometimes it can be used to refer to the ongoing nature of our spiritual life, though it is a distinct thing from the pneuvma (pneuma) or spirit.
The dominant English approach to translating this passage of Matthew is to presume that Jesus is talking about one’s physical life in the former part of the statement and talking about one’s eternal spiritual life in the latter part, but that is not what is literally being stated. If we render the word consistently, all of the way through, we realize that the emphasis is not so much on eternal things but on temporal ones. And what good does it do for you if you spend all of your energy building an empire for yourself, but it kills you in the process? As people often say, “you can’t take it with you…” Jesus is not condemning a man to eternal fire for building a financial empire, but he is asking the question, “are the sacrifices you are making worth the riches you have acquired?”
Abraham is a wealthy man at this point in his life, but the greatest wealth that he holds is found in the person of his son Isaac and in the promise of God that Isaac and his children will be multiplied greatly on the face of the earth. God has thus asked Abraham to place even that on the altar of sacrifice. On a purely human level, Abraham and Sarah could have lived the life of a king in terms of their wealth, but then they would be gone and their witness forgotten. This child was everything, yet they were willing to lay even that to the side if God so desired it — choosing to be in submission to God’s design and not to their own.
This is the heart of what Jesus is teaching his disciples. Their obedience would cost them their lives in a variety of ways. Most would die martyrs deaths. But for all of them, the real cost would be that they would set to the side their personal plans and aims and follow God’s plans for them. Ultimately, God’s plans for us are far better than any plans that we could make on our own, but it takes faith and obedience to go through the process of getting there. It means picking up the implement of our suffering and death (the cross) and following Jesus wherever he would lead. It is counter-cultural to do so, but in the end, it is far better. Ask any pastor or missionary who has left a life behind to follow Christ, and like Abraham, they will affirm, “Yes, it is infinitely better than what I could have designed on my own.”