"Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ," reads Philippians 1:27. Each of the many times I've read this statement, I've taken a deep mental breath, straightened my shoulders, and renewed my resolve to do better, be more kind, more patient, more loving, more bold. All good things. But I started to notice that within a day (usually within 5 minutes or less) I was even more discouraged than before I had pep-talked myself to "live more worthy of the gospel." I've met so many people who feel the same way. Honestly, it made me nervous because I couldn't help but wonder... what if my life wasn't "worthy" of the gospel? What then? In fact, I always had kind of an uneasy feeling about the verse - that is, until I heard a teaching on the subject that not only cleared up the problems, but gave such a deeper understanding and desire to serve Christ.
"Live in a manner worthy of the gospel." It seems fitting to start with the question: What is the gospel? "Gospel" literally means "good news." In the case of Jesus, this is the news that God paid the price of humanity's sin so that all sin can be completely and immediately forgiven for anyone who believes in Him. Again, God paid the price of humanity's sin so that all sin can be completely and immediately forgiven for anyone who believes in Him. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." Encapsulated in this gospel are the basic truths of our helplessness and inability to earn our own salvation and the unconditional nature of Christ's love. "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5:8) Once we have received and surrendered ourselves to this good news, this gospel, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13), adopted into God's family permanently (Eph. 1:5), and filled with the innumerable promises of God's faithfulness.
After preaching the gospel to ourselves, we look again at what it means to live in a manner "worthy of the gospel." In light of what the gospel has fully and completely done for us, it seems ridiculous and miniscule to think that Paul is telling the Philippians to "live up" to it by somehow paying God back for it; absolutely not! Paul himself is the one who clearly wrote, "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one should boast." Living worthy of the gospel doesn't mean mustering up the resolve to be the person we've failed to be so many times. By attempting this, we set ourselves up for failure and discouragement, and we take our eyes off of the full atonement we have already been freely given.
Rather, living in a manner worthy of the gospel really means this: become who you are. The pastor who was teaching on this subject used the example of his marriage and fatherhood. When he was single, he lived like a single guy: messy, sloppy, a bit more self-centered, less rooted, etc. The day he stood at the altar and said "I do," he was no longer single. In that moment he was a husband. He was. In every meaning of the word, he was a husband. That was part of his identity. And yet... he definitely didn't automatically act like one! Because he knew he now had this new identity as a husband to his wife, he had to learn what it meant to live like that. Because he loved his wife, he naturally started to be more clean, more responsible, more supportive. He was learning to grow into what was already his identity. The same was true as he became a father on the day his firstborn entered the world. He was a father, absolutely. But he was just beginning the process of becoming a father, of learning this new way of living.
It's the same for us. Living in a manner worthy of the gospel is not a matter of trying to earn it. It's a matter of realizing that we have already been saved by the gospel, and our identity is sealed. As Christians, we are the bride of Christ. We are the children of God. Once we've followed Jesus, that is done, finished, accomplished, and finalized. And when we live our lives aware that we are loved and cherished by God all the time because of Christ, we naturally begin to live differently. Again, we naturally live differently because now it is borne out of a love for Christ rather than a guilt-prompted or self-improvement-oriented attempt.
So stop trying harder and harder and harder to gain the fruits of the Spirit one by one. Rather, turn to the Spirit Himself. Stop pushing yourself over and over and over to obey all the commandments of God without realizing that God always loves you, even when you fail, and that He must be the one to give you the strength. Stop doing to your best to live in a manner "worthy of the gospel" until you fully understand that your best will never be enough, but Christ has already made you enough. And when we understand these things, the freedom we experience will unconsciously flow out of us as love, joy, peace, and all the rest. Most importantly, everything good in our lives will be only a result of the love and salvation of our souls by Jesus. And that is indeed a life worthy of the gospel. \\