Obedience is not meant to restrict our life, instead, it is an invitation to live an abundant life
Let me invite you to open your Bibles or grab your phone and click through to Philippians Chapter 2, as we continue taking a look at Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi. As you’re turning, just want you to think about this when I ask the question. How many of you like being told what to do? Now somebody laughed. A lot of people laughed. How many of you like being told what to do? OK, that’s not what I expected, just kidding. How many of you, even though you don’t like to be told what to do, will do what you’re told? It’s funny all the husbands. ‘Cause we know happy wife, happy life. TJ, that’s right, you know what happens when you don’t do what you’re told to do. That’s right.
Yeah, we have rules that are set forth that we need to obey, but many of us don’t want to obey those rules. Teenagers, how many of you like your parents telling you what to do all the time? And if any teenager brave enough to say yes, I love it when my life is so restricted that I can’t do what I want to do. How many teenagers, this is going to be interesting, Graham, how many teenagers listen to your parents all the time when they tell you what to do? Crickets, none of them. That’s right, I didn’t. I mean, that’s a bad example. But you know, well I’ve got to listen to my parents because if I don’t I know the consequences. What happens? I go to my room. We grumble about it. Nobody likes being told what to do even when we do what we’re supposed to do. That’s called obedience. It’s something that we live with every day. I remember wedding vows and there was a word on my set of valves where I promised to obey. She didn’t have that word in her wedding vows, but I comply and I obey and I do what I’m told. But I think obedience gets a bad reputation because when you hear that word obedience, you’re like, well, it restricts me. Maybe there’s something that I want to do. There’s a way that I want to do things, but this person is telling me that I can’t do that.
I remember a very specific time and this was before Jennifer. I was in high school. There was a girl that I wanted to go on a date with and it was the first date. She was older than me by a few years and I was like, yeah, this is my ticket to the cool category and so we had planned it out and I had worked the magic that Trent magic. You know, I had done that, and it comes that Saturday, what are you laughing at it? It comes Saturday night and the weatherman says there’s going to be a storm. And here comes my mother. Now I’m ready. I mean, I got my hair slicked back. I got no more Cologne than anybody should wear on, you know, I’m ready to go. And my mother said you can’t go. I was like, why not? She’s said because it’s going to storm and you don’t need to go. I was so mad that I actually thought about doing something my brother did all the time, sneaking out of the house. Now I didn’t ’cause I’m actually a good kid and we don’t do that teenagers, we obey. But I was so mad I felt so restricted that I could not do what I wanted to do.
Maybe at work, your boss tells you to do something that you think you’ve got a better way to do it, or you know how to do it better than the boss. We all think we’re better than our bosses, right Graham? That’s right. We all have this idea, OK, but we have to do it because our boss tells us too and we feel restricted. And again, that’s called obedience. I haven’t watched the video, but I know that a wonderful member of our church shared a video on Facebook about this. I haven’t watched it but we were talking about it this morning and I said “you know what there was. I actually sat down to watch the video that he posted and then Jennifer comes in and asked me to do something. If I sit here and watch this video, I’m going to get in trouble.” So I got up and I obeyed. Obedience, in kind of the reputation, is that it restricts our life from things that we don’t want to do. Or things that we would rather not do, or we feel like we have to do it.
Now here’s what I want to tell you. Christians, the followers of Jesus, the New Testament is filled with this command to obey. Throughout, from really throughout the whole Bible, but specifically in the New Testament, Jesus calls Christians and calls Christ followers to obedience. Now I’ve had these conversations with non-Christians. I’ve had these conversations where a non-Christian will say, well, I’m not going to become a Christian because I won’t be able to go out and party and have fun. My life will be restricted, right? I just hit puberty. My life will be restricted if I become a Christian and I’m not going to give that up. I’m not willing to give up my good time to be a Jesus follower, and that happens. And people, even Christians, were like man, I really want to go out and I want to do this. I know the Bible says I shouldn’t, but I’m going to do it anyway. But it’s very clear in the New Testament that we are called to obedience. What I want to see in these two verses in Philippians today in Philippians 2:12-13, is that obedience is not meant to restrict our lives whatsoever. Following Jesus, obeying the Bible, obeying Christ is not meant as a restriction at all. It’s quite the opposite. It is an invitation to live life more abundantly. It is an invitation to experience life to the fullest. So I don’t want us to look at obedience and being a Christian and Paul doesn’t want the Church to look at obedience as something that restricts us or hinders us or says, you know, I really want to go out and party. Listen, Christians, we can have some hootenannies. It’s a little bit different in the world, OK? But it will give us a more abundant life.
So, here’s what Paul says starting in verse 12 of Chapter 2.
He says “therefore” now anytime you see that word, therefore you need to ask the question of what is it therefore, and usually it always points back to what he’s been talking about. So what’s Paul talking about living your life as citizens of heaven, worthy of the Gospel. OK, this whole section starts right after to live as Christ, to die is gain. As citizens of Heaven, live your life worthy of the Gospel that you have been called to. He continues to give us instructions to that effect. So “therefore, my dear friends.” Listen to that, my dear friends. How many of you would love your boss to come up to you and say, “Hey, you’re my dear friend.” Or a teacher who come up to you and say “you’re my dear friend”. Do you hear the heart of Pastor Paul? Because he’s getting ready to correct them, he’s getting ready to give them a little bit of encouragement, to do something they haven’t been doing. To start doing something that would be better, but he starts out with, hey, you’re my friends, your little children.
I think this is such a good leadership strategy. He starts with these words of affirmation, “my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed.” He is affirming what they have been doing as a church before he instructs them. Now this isn’t a leadership sermon, but there is a leadership principle that you can find in these verses. It is words of affirmation will go a long way in motivating people to do what you’re asking them to do. We’re affirming. Instead of being very critical and overly critical, Paul could have just written and said you guys are terrible, you’ve got this conflict going on. You’re not doing this. You’re not doing this, so start doing it. But instead, he affirms that this is a good church. These are good people who have worked really hard to obey the things that Christ has taught them, that Paul taught them when he planted the church.
And so he says, “so now, not only in my presence, but in my absence, workout your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Workout your own salvation with fear and trembling. What does that mean? Because you’re probably confused when you see that phrase, work out your salvation. ‘Cause many of you have heard, and we know that the truth is salvation is not based on works. It is based on God’s grace through faith. And so a lot of people will pull this verse out of Paul’s context and say, well, look here. This says that we are to work for our salvation, but is that really what it says? It says work out, not work for or work towards.
Here’s what we can say and a better way maybe to phrase it is because you have always obeyed, whether I come to you or not, continue to obey. That is a better phrasing that is more understandable to us and I’ll explain what that word work means in just a minute, but he says whether I come to you or not. Now there is a great temptation for many other young people, and many of the teenagers that when Mom and Dad’s away, the kids are going to play right. I remember a summer when my parents went on a weeklong vacation. They went to Kansas, went on vacation, but they went to Kansas City. I was probably between my senior year and first year in college and I’m like Mom and Dad’s away. I’m throwing a party. I don’t have to follow the rules because nobody’s here to hold me accountable. Do not follow my example. OK, ’cause I couldn’t do anything for months after that. OK, ’cause things did not go well. So don’t follow my example. But there’s this idea. When the cat’s away, the mice will play. Paul saying look just because I’m not there doesn’t give you a reason not to obey. Just because the spiritual leader is not there to hold you accountable doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want to.
And here’s why. God’s always watching. Whatever secret thing that you’re doing in your life, because you think nobody’s watching or nobody’s looking, whatever it is. You’re like, oh, Mom and Dad are gone, or the pastor is not looking, or my Sunday School teacher’s not looking, whatever it is. God’s always watching. So, whether there’s someone there to hold you accountable or not keep on obeying because God is watching, working out your salvation.
Now this word “work” is a really specific word. It means to complete or to achieve something. What was started through your faith in Christ, you keep working until it is achieved. It would be like let’s say somebody brought material to my house to build a fence. Now I’m paying somebody to build my fence, but let’s say somebody brought the material and I had the material, I had all the instructions, I knew exactly what to do and I had all the tools. I still had to go work it out. I still had to go build the fence myself.
Roger Staubach, the great quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, Tom Landry, was his coach. Roger Staubach always got so angry that he was not allowed to call his own plays. He had to do what the coach told him to do throughout every game. And finally, Roger Staubach says it hit me that when I obey the coach, things work out really well. Now a coach can call the plays a coach can give you all the tools to be successful, but that team on the field has got to work it out and execute it.
Through our faith in Christ, we are given salvation, by God’s grace through faith. But that doesn’t mean we get spiritually lazy. It doesn’t mean we just sit back and rest on our salvation. We have to put in a little bit of an effort in order to work out our salvation and continue to be obedient to the Lord. See, I think there’s two things that happen. I think that we have these two extremes. When we become Christians, there’s this one side that gets really legalistic. We’ve got all these rules, and I’ve got all these boxes and I’m going to check, check, check, check, check. And each and every day I’m going to make sure I’m a good Christian by checking off every single box. That’s the Pharisees of the New Testament. You see, the Pharisees took all the 10 commandments because they wanted to obey everything. They took all the commandments. If you’re into F260 Reading the Bible through plan, you’re getting ready to get into Leviticus. You know, they take all those commandments, like we want to obey. So the Pharisees added like hundreds of more commands. So to obey what God said, we have to do this, and so it was just a list of check marks. That is 1 extreme and you’re never going to be able to check off every single box because we’re imperfect people.
The other extreme that I see more than the legalistic extreme is I’m saved, I’m going to heaven, I’m going to live my life however I want to and nobody is going to tell me what to do. They just say I’ve punched my ticket to glory, so I’m just going to sit back and ride it out. Those are two dangerous extremes and Paul is saying that everybody has got to work it out. Not so much legalistically, but you can’t be lazy with your spirituality. Here’s what Ephesians 2 says. Paul kind of talks about this here. He says “For you are saved by grace through faith, this is not from yourselves; it is a gift from God – not from works.” We don’t work for our salvation, “so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of us ahead of time for us to do.”
God has created us and God has saved us for work. And so we have to continue to work out our salvation and work it out to completion. I want to give you a church word. OK, this is one of those big theological words. Sanctification. You might want to write that down. This is what Paul is talking about. Salvation is a word we use justification. Don’t misunderstand. The minute you say yes to Jesus, you are saved. OK, you’re saved. You’re not going to go to hell. You been restored to that relationship with God. That is justification. You are saved from the penalty of sin, which is death. What Paul is talking about here is the sanctification process. The process where each and every day we have to wake up and say I’m going to take up my cross daily and follow the Lord.
I’m in a Bible study series with a group of pastors called G3. It’s a really good study. I hope to take some of you through it eventually. But the whole thing is about surrender. You would be amazed at how many verses in the Gospels talk about complete surrender of your life to Christ. That is the sanctification process that each day you wake up and say I’m going to obey Jesus no matter what. Now that’s hard, isn’t it? How many of you struggle with obedience? Everybody should raise your hand. We all struggle with obeying Christ. How many of you read something in the Bible and you’re like I can’t do that?
I’ll give you one. Love your enemies. How many of you struggle with that? How about this one? Forgive 70 x 7. How many of you struggle obeying that one? I got another one for you. Rich young ruler comes up to Jesus, the rich young ruler says “hey, I keep the commands. I do all these good things. What must I do to be saved?” Jesus looks at this rich guy, “sell all your possessions and follow Me.” What happens? He walks away. He walks away. Tell you another one. After Jesus feeds the 5,000, you can read about this in John’s Gospel and other Gospels. Jesus feeds 5,000, he feeds them supper. The next morning, they show up and they want breakfast. And then Jesus preaches to them. He teaches them that He will sustain them. They don’t need physical food; they need spiritual food and the Gospel of John says many of them left and stopped following because they could not obey.
Obedience is hard. Obedience is a challenge and thank the Lord, we don’t have to do it on our own, do we? We have power within us that creates an environment where we can actually obey. Here’s what Paul continues to say in verse 13 “For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to His good purpose.” It is God who works in you so God can work through you. The God who calls you to obedience also promises to give you the energy that is required to obey.
The life of obedience we are called to live as possible through the energy God promises to give. Now, there’s some different words are being used here. Work out your Salvation. That’s a different Greek word than the working in you. This word working in you is literally energy. It means a divine power. It’s like I think this is the picture that came to my mind. You know the Energizer Bunny? He never stops. There is this power within us through our decision to follow Jesus. Jesus is working in us, giving us the energy, giving us the power, this divine power to actually say yes.
So those who struggle with obedience and you’re thinking I can’t do all that God’s called me to do. Yes you can. You just gotta let Jesus work in you. You are not alone. It doesn’t take this legalistic effort. It doesn’t take you just looking at this list of things and checking off boxes because you’ll never check off every box. You’ll find yourself full of guilt and shame and disappointment ’cause you’re a failure based on that list. But when you look at it as, I’m going to make an effort, but I’m going to let God work in me, so He can work through me because God gives me the energy and the power so I can obey. You are not alone. You have the resources to obey.
Romans 8:11, Paul says this. “And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, then He who raised Christ from the dead will also bring your mortal bodies to life through His Spirit who lives in you.” Listen. The same power that rose Jesus from the dead lives inside of each one of us who say yes to Jesus. The same Holy Spirit that has that power, has the power to transform us into obedient followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. You just gotta say yes. You just have to say “I’m going to let God work in me so He can work through me.”
It says to both will and to work according to His good purpose. You know the will to work means that God has to change our desires. That is what he means by the word will. All of us have desires. We all desire what we want. We all desire what we want to do. We all desire this. We all desire that. Again, this goes back to the restrictions versus an invitation. We all have our own desire. Paul says if you want to be obedient Christians, let Christ work in you to change your desires.
Focus on desiring what Jesus wants for your life, not what you want for your life. And over time, that’s going to change and as your desires change as what you want for your life, aligns with what God wants for your life then your will or your conduct or your work will change. When your desires change, your actions change. So that’s always saying you have the power inside of you. The same power that rose Jesus from the dead. You have the power to obey.
So, let me ask you this question. Is there an area of your life that you’re not letting Jesus work in? Is there an area of your life that you’re withholding from Christ? Maybe it’s work. Like you’re going to do your thing at work and you’re not going to let Jesus come in. Maybe it’s your family. I’m going to raise my family my way. I’m going to do it my way, do things my way and I’m not going to let you Jesus have that. Maybe it’s your weekend activities. You what is it in your life that you are withholding from God?
The Apostle Paul says in Colossians 1:29, “I labor for this, striving with his strength that works powerfully in me.” But you’ve got to give it all to Jesus. You just gotta say here it is. Here’s my life. I’m not going to withhold my athletics. I’m not going to withhold my job. I’m not going to withhold my school. I’m not going to withhold my friends, it’s all Yours. I’m not going to withhold my sin. You know, I think everybody struggles with sin. Everybody has this one thing, whether it’s anger, whether it’s an addiction to drugs or alcohol, it might be an addiction to the things we watch on TV or the things we watch on the computer. We all have these sins. Maybe it’s our language, what we say. What we do. We all have these things that we struggle with. A part of being obedient and letting Christ work in you is that He is going to separate you from your sin and lead you into holiness. And you’re not going to get there on this side of heaven, but every day it should be better. Every day you should just let Christ say you don’t have to give in to that temptation. You can hold your tongue. Every day you can say I’m going to flush that drink down the toilet or I’m going to flush those pills down the toilet. You have the power inside of you to stop those addictions.
The temptation is not going to go away. In fact, I think the temptation is going to be worse the closer you get to Christ because Satan wants to rob you of that abundant life. Once you say yes to Jesus, Satan’s lost your soul. He doesn’t want you to have the abundant life that God invites you to live, so it’s a constant struggle. But every moment of every day you say yes, I surrender my life to Jesus. Every day I’m going to spend time. I’m going to wake up at 4:30 in the morning. That’s early. I’m going to wake up at 4:30. I’m going to open my Bible. I’m going to read and I’m going to pray. I’m going to saturate my soul with God’s Word because it has power to change me. I’m going to go to church. I’m going to join a small group or a Sunday School class. I’m going to be a part of a community of believers who will hold me accountable who I can learn together. And we’re going to be obedient together as we advance the Gospel together, because the same energy, the same power that lived in Jesus lives inside of each one of us. So will you surrender your life to Christ?
Listen, Christians. Maybe, you’ve fought this battle and you’ve strived to be obedient and you’ve just kind of fallen off the tracks a little bit. Maybe there’s areas of your life where you’re not fully obeying Christ. And today’s the day to get it back on track. Today’s the day to realize that I’m going to recommit to living the life God has called me to live. You know, I’ve done good. I’ve been good. When I became a Christian man, I obeyed. I read the Bible. I memorized scripture. But I’ve just kind of lost track and so I’m going to get back on track. The church in Philippi had lost track and Paul said just get it back on track. Work it out because God is working in you. So, do you need to make that decision today to give your life, recommit your life, to following Jesus 100%?
Maybe you’re not a Christian, maybe you’ve never made that decision to follow Jesus. Maybe you’ve never surrendered any aspect of your life to Jesus. This is what I want to say to you. There’s three words, Do you believe. Do you believe that Jesus was raised from the dead? Do you believe that He was crucified? Do you believe that He actually died for your sins? Do you believe that? Well then, you’re well on your way to following Him. But then you gotta repent. Once you believe, you have to say this world is sinful, secular, this world that’s running as fast as it can away from God, I’m going to stop going with them and I’m going to go against the grain and I’m just going to follow Jesus. You gotta believe, you got to turn away, repent, and you gotta follow.
And if you need to make that decision, I want you to come down and make that decision. Say I’m just a simple person who needs to surrender his life to Christ. Maybe you need to be baptized. You’ve never been baptized and you just feel the Lord saying I need to just follow through with a public profession of my faith through baptism. I would invite you to come and we’ll have a conversation. You can pray. Pray where you are. Pray down here, play outside in your cars. But if you need to decide to follow Jesus, don’t leave here today without making that decision. Let Him work in you, so He can work through you.
What is He calling you to do today?
Let’s pray together.
Father, I thank you so much for this church, for this community of believers. Father, the faithfulness that they have shown through the years and years and years. Father, I just pray that You would help us to continue to remain faithful to Your will and to Your ways. Help us to grow spiritually. Help us to just grow in our knowledge of You, grow in our relationship with You, so that we can obey You and follow You more clearly. Father work in us to change our desires so that we change our conduct. Make our desires line up with Your desires. Father just I pray that You would work in the hearts of those who are here who don’t know You, they’ve never decided to follow you, Father, just call them today and just put it on their heart to come forward and to say yes to You, that I’m going to give my life completely and wholly to Lord Jesus Christ. We ask all these things in Jesus’ Name, Amen.