Aladdin, Private Ryan, and the Gospel

Philippians 1:27a

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…”

This morning we come to what may be the most central phrase in the whole of the epistle to the Philippians. Paul spends the first chapter setting this up in speaking about his rigid commitment to the spread of the gospel under any and all circumstances, then exhorts us to live worthy of that Gospel, then spends basically the rest of the epistle applying the statement he makes here to the areas of humility, obedience, faith, unity, rejoicing, and much else. Accordingly, we will look at it in some depth before we move on to the Apostle’s application. What we will see is that Paul here is exhorting the Philippian believers to live life through the same lens which he does: the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In previous weeks we saw Paul exclaiming that his existence was single-mindedly devoted to Christ: “To live is Christ”; and to fruitful service: “life in the flesh means fruitful service for me”. And all this was because he had died to himself and was dedicated to honoring Christ. He continues this very same thought in the present verses, now encouraging the church to “live worthy” or “be citizens worthy”. Citizens is the root that this is built off of, and later in the epistle Paul confirms this for us when he says “…our citizenship is in heaven.”

First, let’s define what Paul is saying here. We’ve seen, since the very beginning of this series, that everything that Paul does is centered around and grounded in the gospel. So what is that? What is it that we have been talking about? What is this “good news of Jesus Christ”? Most of us can probably give the basic answer to this. Can you? If someone were to ask you, “What is all this about ‘gospel’?” would you be able to answer them? Perhaps your answer might go something like this: the gospel is the good news that Jesus died for our sins so that we might be forgiven. This in itself is sufficient for salvation, I believe. If a person were to know only this, it could lead them to know Christ in a saving way. And this morning we want to deepen our understanding of this fundamental, basic, weighty truth. I hope that your eyes haven’t glazed already this morning, with the thought “Well, here goes ANOTHER sermon on the gospel!” I assure you brothers and sisters that we could mine the depths of the gospel for the whole of our lives, for a thousand lives of men without exhausting its glory and beauty. I’m reminded of the Disney movie Aladdin, in the scenes where we see him going down into the cave of wonders. First we see the flying bug thing happen: whizzes off and through the desert and slams into the eyes of a giant lion in the sand, which is awesome just by itself, by the way. Aladdin goes down into the cave as sees untold, unfathomable riches. There is more there than any one person could even take notice of in a lifetime. Note the Scriptural metaphor. In scripture, Christ is called the lion of Judah, and in Him we have an unfathomable, untold, endless treasure that we could spend our entire lifetimes beholding in amazement, never wanting for more wonders and more beauty and more glory waiting for us if we turn the next corner.

So then, as I said, I hope you’re not already tired of the cave of wonders. I hope, rather, that you are eager with me as we search further and further into the glorious depths of the gospel.

So, we will frame our discussion of the gospel in 2 ways (credit to Matt Chandler). We will bring the gospel to a personal level, and give it hands and feet, let it breathe into us the glory of Christ. Then we will see the gospel in the structure of eternity, from beginning to end. What we will see in BOTH of these is this (this is the main point of today’s sermon): the primary way that we live lives worthy of the gospel is to realize that we ARE NOT worthy of the gospel. We’ll say that another way: we will never live lives that are worthy of the gospel until we come to realize that we don’t deserve the good news of Jesus Christ.

So to frame the gospel face to face with us. God, Man, Christ, Response.

God – infinitely holy, completely other than us. Perfect, pure, spotless.

Man – We are NOT; brought forth in iniquity; righteousness is filthy rags

Christ – God in his love sends Christ, who goes willingly to the cross, TRIUMPHS

Response – repentance leads to forgiveness, eternal life

Now, if you take any of these away, you no longer have the gospel. Take out the holiness of God, then there’s no reason we are in need. If you take away the desperate need of man, then there was no reason for Christ to suffer. If you take away Christ, then we’re all just damned. And without a proper response to Christ, there is no forgiveness or reconciliation and we are still in our sins.

What we’re focusing in on is the man aspect of this; that we are NOT holy. None of us. Not you, not your friends, not your sons or your daughters, not me…NO ONE is holy. No one is WORTHY of heaven!

  1. “There is none who seek God…” Romans 3:11
  2. “Brought forth in iniquity” Psalms 51:5
  3. “all evil all the time” Gen 6:5
  4. “all have sinned”  Romans 3:23

Like Aladdin again, remember the first scene with the cave of wonders? Jafar is there with the little thief guy, and he pushes him forward to the cave. Then the lioncave wakes up and says, “Who disturb my slumber?” “It is I, Gazeem, a humble thief.” “Know this. Only one may enter here; one whose worth lies far within; a diamond in the rough.” So he kind of shrugs and starts to go down into the cave, and then WHAMM! The Lioncave crushes him. Then, later in the story Aladdin comes along and goes in just fine and all is well and good, because Aladdin is the diamond in the rough.

We all want to believe that we’re Aladdin, but brothers and sisters, the truth of the matter and the proclamation of scripture is that we are the THIEF! We are SINNERS who are not worthy of anything but to be condemned and crushed by the Lion of Judah. What we so often fail to remember with the gospel is that the very fact that there IS good news means that there was bad news first, and the bad news is that we are wretches, all of us. We are wicked, sinful; we ALL deserve to be damned to an eternal Hell by the living, Holy King of Heaven, and until we recognize the fact that we are NOT worthy, we will never be able to live lives that ARE worthy. This is one of those paradoxical truths of Christianity: If we think we’re worthy of heaven, we’re not. When we realize that we’re not worthy, we’re on the right track to being worthy.

There’s more to say on this, but first we need to look at our second way of framing the gospel. So, the gospel in the structure of eternity: Creation, Fall, Redemption/Reconciliation, New Creation.

Creation – God makes everything, and says “Behold, it was VERY good.”

Fall – Adam, Eve, in the garden, do exactly what they shouldn’t and eat. And there, at that moment, everything is fractured. Everything is broken and marred and becomes something other than what God originally created it to be! So, we went from living in harmony with God and His creation to being enemies of the living God because of our sin. Creation itself is fractured: Romans 8 “Creation groans as in the pains of childbirth…” This is why there are earthquakes and disasters, because the world is marred by the fall. But this isn’t DEATH pains. Birth!

Redemption/Reconciliation – “For in [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Col. 1:19-20) I want so badly right now to preach the sermon on the fact that even at the fall, the provisional mercy of God began. What the NT says is that, between the fall and Christ, God was holding back, waiting for Christ, not counting mens’ sins against them. We see this with the fact that He didn’t instantly destroy Adam and Eve. You remember what He told them? “Eat of the tree and you shall die.” They ate the tree, and they knew, right there, that it was done. They were as good as dead…so they hid. And God, in His GREAT mercy, doesn’t kill them, but says that the seed of the woman (Christ) will forever crush the head of the serpent. That’s the gospel. Ok, but back to this: creation – everything is good and man lives in pleasing harmony with God his maker. Fall – everything is fractured and broken, and man is no longer pleasing to God because he is sinful and wicked and stained. But God, to reconcile ALL things to Himself, sends Christ, who goes willingly to the cross so that God the Father can pour out all of His wrath for all the sins of all His people throughout all time on Him, the sinless lamb. Therefore we have only to believe in Christ and trust in His bloody sacrifice and we will no longer be under the curse of the fall. And with Christ we are promised:

New Creation – This is the promise that we who are the people of God will reign with Him in glory! Everything will be made whole, unfractured, perfect, and there will be no more tears, no more pain, no more death and suffering, only everlasting joy in the presence of God. Behold, it will be VERY GOOD!

So, we have

1. God, Man, Christ, Response

2. Creation, Fall, Reconciliation/Redemption, New Creation

…..and both of these emphatically tell us the SAME thing: we DESPERATELY need a savior, because we CANNOT live up to the standards of God on our own, because we are FALLEN, wicked, sinful people.

In the movie Saving Private Ryan, the whole plot is centered around the adventure of a team of men going deep into a dangerous warzone to find one young man so that he can be taken out of the war. Several men’s lives are put in mortal danger so that this young man can be saved. If you’ve seen the movie, you know that nearly all of those men die, and in the final battle scene, we see the captain, with his dying breath, whisper into Private James Ryan’s ear: “Earn this.” What he means is: make your life worthy of the sacrifice that these men made for you. Live in such a way as to repay the debt of their lives, which were laid down for you.

And despite the fact of our sinfulness we so often try to do just that. We try to replace the merciful sacrifice of Jesus with, “Well, I’m a pretty good person.” or “I go to church and pray and sing and don’t sin a lot.” We insert our own name and deeds where only Christ’s name and deeds can fit!

We CANNOT “earn this”. And the exhortation to “live worthy” does not mean “do good stuff and spread the gospel to repay the debt you owe to Christ.” We CANNOT pay back infinite debt! We will ALWAYS be eternally, infinitely, unfathomably indebted to the mercy and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who while we were STILL SINNERS died for us, that we might have life!

And when we realize this truth, we are captivated by our Savior; we are humbled; we tremble, we OVERFLOW with thanks and serve the Lord joyfully IN RESPONSE. Our lives lived unto Christ are not so that we can try to be worthy of salvation. We are not called to obedience so that we can say, “Hey, I didn’t sin today. I’m worthy of the gospel.” We will NEVER be worthy of the gospel.

But again, we often fall into the same trap as the Pharisees: “Because of my obedience, I am right before God. Because I live a ‘moral’ life more often than a ‘sinful’ life, God will focus on the good and give me the thumbs up.”

NO, NO, NO, A THOUSAND TIMES NO!

We, with our wicked and prideful hearts, want to make a checklist of things we don’t do, of sins we don’t commit, and call that “to live is Christ”. So, we say “I don’t use filthy language. I don’t watch pornographic videos. I don’t get drunk. I don’t (insert). I’m living worthy of the gospel!” Then we make lists of what we have done, of things we do, and call that “living worthy”: “I prayed this morning in church. I haven’t missed a Sunday in a while. I’ve been in church my whole life. I feel tingly when we sing songs. I’m living worthy of the gospel!”

And there are many people who, with lists in hand, will stand before the throne of God one day and cry out in terror and distress, because God will say “I never knew you, depart from me!” God save us!

Perhaps at this point you’re saying to yourself, “Well of course we do good stuff to please God. The good things we do please God. That’s why we do them.” First of all, that’s often a lie. We do good things so we can feel good about ourselves. Secondly, when we say things like that either we haven’t read Isaiah 64, or we’ve ignored it, or we haven’t stopped to consider it. Isaiah 64:6 says, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” Now, this is one of those circumstances where I might offend some of you. I may disgust some of you. But the REASON I’m going to say the things I’m about to say is because the intent of this verse was to show the disgust of God at our sin. The actual word there, which is translated “polluted garment” or “filthy rags”, is actually used menstrual cloths. Get the modern day equivalent? That is what the Hebrew literally means, and modern translations have softened the edge so that we don’t feel disgusted when we’re reading this. But I think that Isaiah put it there so that we WOULD feel repulsed! This is the image HE uses so that we can feel a tiny fraction of God’s disgust. Imagine you’re in a restaurant, and your young child goes to the restroom during the meal. She’s gone a few minutes and then comes up behind you at the table and plops down a handful of them from the women’s restroom. Are you disgusted? Good! You’re supposed to be! Why? Because that is the same sort of disgust that God has at our sinfulness, except his disgust is multiplied times a thousand! Oh wait…this verse isn’t talking about our sinfulness, is it? Isaiah 64:6 says that our RIGHTEOUSNESS is like a used menstrual cloth before God! So when we, as His children, present ourselves before the throne with our lists of things we have or haven’t done in hand, it’s just as disgusting to Him as if your child were to drop a handful of used tampons beside your plate. That is what the text says! The BEST we have to offer is disgusting to God, and so even with the best we can do we cannot live worthy of the gospel!

So now you’re saying, “Well then what’s the point? How in the world can we please God is our righteous acts are disgusting?” That is the whole issue brothers and sisters: YOU CAN’T please God! Because we broken by the fall, we are wicked in our very being, we are a people deeply stained by sinfulness and we can never do anything that will be anything less than disgusting to God.

So why am I smiling? Aren’t I preaching hopelessness? No! because brothers and sisters this most awful condemnation of our sinfulness points us to the very essence of the INCREDIBLY GOOD NEWS we have in Christ!

1. Eph 2:8 “by GRACE you have been saved!”

2. 2 Cor. 5:21 “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God!”

**”IN HIM” we are no longer filthy rags. “in Him” we are no longer condemned. “In Him” we are the very righteousness of our perfect, pure, holy Savior Himself!

We cannot please God, but Christ CAN, and HAS. Praise His name!

And when we trust in that precious name and sacrifice of Jesus, the NT tells us that is as if we are putting put Christ like a garment. Paul in Colossians tells us that we are hidden in Christ.

“Because a sinless savior died my sinful soul is counted free, for God the just is satisfied to look on HIM and pardon ME! Hallelujah! Praise the one risen Son of God!”

Living a life worthy of the gospel means, first of all, realizing that we are not, cannot, and never will be worthy, but realizing and exalting the fact that CHRIST IS WORTHY! Living in a manner that is worthy of the gospel is realizing that we are cracked clay pots, and realizing that Christ is the unfathomable treasure of Heaven!

The best response to this is worship; humble, joyful, amazed, thankful worship! Romans 7 – “Oh wretch that I am, who will save me from this body of death?! Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!” And this attitude of humble, Christ exalting worship leads us and reminds us to rely on Christ alone. And as we rely on Christ alone, HE is honored by our dependence on Him, and we are made more Christlike by clinging tightly to Him.

So, how do we live in a manner worthy of the gospel?

1. realize that we are NOT and could never be worthy

2. pour out our worship and thanks and love to the one who IS! following closely after Him and clinging to the truths of:

“For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10

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