Drawn to the Cross: In Salvation

Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interest but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death-even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven, and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. -Philippians 2:1-11


So the theme of salvation is where we are beginning today, and in fact, the text that Bob read for us from Philippians 2, I wanna start actually after it, to help lay the foundation for why we're talking about this. We heard up through verse 11 and verses 12 and 13, we hear these words, “Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more. Now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you. Enable you both to will and to work for his good will.” But there, that word is salvation, and not just that word appearing, but with a command. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. Now, that statement in and of itself presents us with some problems because as the kids mentioned, sometimes if you're swimming and get in trouble, you need a lifeguard. But the lifeguard doesn't stand on the shore of the lake or from their tower at the side of the pool and yell “you all save yourself, work it out with some fear and trembling”. That's not why they're there. They're actually there to do the work of saving.


To be told, “Work out your own salvation”, makes it seem as though it's something that we have some control over, when indeed it isn't. So what is Paul getting at? Fear and trembling definitely points to the fact that this is some serious stuff, that you should not take this lightly, that this matters deeply, but what then is it that we are to work out that relates to our salvation? Well, that's where we have to go back and start talking about what is our understanding of salvation, of what is it, and what role do we have in this. Quite literally salvation means to save. This word salvation, saved and Savior occurred numerous times throughout the gospels and the New Testament. Most certainly through all of it, we know that Jesus is our savior, that He is the integral part of making this salvation possible.


So salvation is being saved. But what is it then? And how does it happen? And when does it happen? Well, this work of saving, of setting things right in this world and in the lives of all of God's people, we could say that salvation is something that's already happened when Jesus died and rose again. But we also have to admit the salvation as what's happening here and now, in this moment that each and every day when we got out of bed and put our feet on the floor and we choose to live our life with Jesus Christ as our Lord and our Savior, we're experiencing that salvation a new each and every day. And in fact, this work that God is doing of saving us through His Son Jesus is ongoing. It's going to continue happening into the future, so salvation is a past, a present and a future experience, and we live all of those simultaneously.


What is it then that salvation is doing for us if it's something that God is doing and we are the benefactors, that's how we typically look at it? So often our understanding is that God is saving us from something, that God is saving us from, the sin that often fills our lives. God is saving us from the penalty and the consequences of those sins that we experience and need to repent of. God is saving us from the consequences and the wrath of all of the brokenness that we experience in this world. And so there are many things that we could point to and say God is saving us from those things.


But is that enough? Is it enough for God to see us struggling in the water and to pluck us out and sit us in a safe spot and then tell us, “Don't move. Stay there, you're safe.” No, that's not God's intention for us. Saving us from something is an essential and a crucial part of what God has done through Jesus Christ. But more than saving us from something, God is saving us for something as well. That saving us from something is entirely God's work, saving that's for something is God putting us down and saying, “Okay, you're safe now. Now, come with me. We've got more people to save, we've got work to do, and you're gonna help me.” When we are saved, when we experience a salvation that God has made possible, we get a job. We get to participate in what God is doing. Christian author, Eric Diner describes salvation as two things. He said, salvation is first and foremost something that we experience as a result of a loss, that we need to be saved, but in doing so, we lose a part of ourself. But he said the second part of it is that by being saved, we discover that we are more fully ourselves than we've ever been. He describes it kind of like falling in love. When falling in love, you're no longer the center of your own universe, but rather another person is. He says that when we experience salvation, we're no longer the center of our own world in our own universe, but God's son, Jesus Christ is. And allowing him to become the center of our lives, in the center of our whole being, we suddenly discover that we are more fully alive in ourselves than we've ever been.


He said, so often we think of salvation as a doctrine. There's all kinds of theological writings trying to make sense of and explain salvation. But he said, first and foremost, salvation is an experience. It's something we experience when we discover that God loves us and wants a better life for us. It's through our surrender and our acceptance of that, that we become fully alive, which then brings us to the beginning of our reading for this morning. Paul says, If then there is any encouragement in Christ. Any constellation from love, any sharing in the spirit, any compassion and sympathy.” It sounds like Paul is describing, “If any of you have experienced salvation, then make my joy complete. Do you have the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind? Do nothing for selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility, regard others is better than yourselves, and let each of you look not to our own interest but to the interest of others, let the same mind be in you, that was in Christ Jesus.”


So if you have experienced any of the joy, any of the blessings, any of these things that represent the saving grace of God coming into your life, then we need to do the work of being fully engaged in community with others, of participating in sharing God's love with this world. And we do that by having the same mind that was in Christ Jesus. Now I don’t know about you, but some days it's hard enough to know what my children are thinking or my spouse, so how are we to know the mind of Christ? It's hard enough to know the mind of the people that are closest to us, so how then do we know the mind of Christ? Well, in many ways, Jesus was an open book, and Paul points to those aspects of the mind of Christ that he thinks are essential and crucial for us. He describes these characteristics of Jesus, who though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave and being born in human likeness, and being found in human form, He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.


I think there are three things that we see about this mind of Christ that Paul is encouraging us to observe and practice in our own lives as well. Jesus was humble. Jesus, though He was in the form of God, did not regard that equality with God as something to be exploited, he did not take advantage of the fact that he was God's son. He and the father were one, and all the authority and power that the father had was at his disposal, but he didn't take advantage of that. He didn't exploit it for his own gain, his own comfort. During Jesus’ tempting in the wilderness, after those 40 days, Satan had come to him and Jesus was hungry. And Satan says, “Hey, Jesus, turn these rocks in the bread and eat something, you've gotta be starving.” And Jesus responds by saying, “Man doesn't live by bread alone.” It wasn't that Jesus couldn't have turned the rocks into bread, but he realized that to do so would have been exploiting what God had given him.


We know that Jesus could have, because the Gospels tell us the story of the feeding of 5000 from just a few crusty pieces of bread and a couple of little fish. Then he did it for the good of others, 'cause he didn't think more of himself in that moment, so He humbled Himself, He served others as an expression of love and expression of kindness, the way in which he reached out to those around him to the way that He invited those who were outcasts in society to come and sit with him and to share a meal, the way that he reached out and touched those who were considered untouchable, he served as an expression of his love, and ultimately then it says that “he was obedient even to death, death on a cross.”


The mind of Christ, first and foremost, was one that loved God above all else. And as Jesus commanded we’re to love God and to love one another. And he practiced that through being humble, through not thinking more of himself than he should have, through service to others, and obedience to the work that God had placed before him. Paul was pointing to these being the attributes of Christ's mind that we are to have. As he began this second chapter by saying, “If then there is any consolation or encouragement in Christ and he's sharing in the spirit, compassion and sympathy.” If you've experienced salvation, your mind should be in tune with the mind of Christ. Then he says, “So go and do the same, seek to be humble, serve others and be obedient to the calling that God has placed before you.”


Friends, when we experience that salvation, when we come to that awareness, that understanding of this God who has loved us enough to send His son, when we realize that there aren't any good roads ahead of us of our own choosing, that we surrender and cry out and reach up our hands to be saved: that's often when we experience God's love and grace in our life, and the comfort and the joy that brings should prompt us to respond by seeking to do the same, by wanting to be closer, wanting to be closer to God and participate in this work of bringing salvation to the world that others might come to know and experience what we have experienced because of the God who has loved us.


So when we work out our salvation, we're not working out the saved from part of our salvation, we're sitting down to have a conversation with God to work out our saved for, “Alright, God, I know that you've loved me, I know that you've given me a gift beyond all gifts through your Son, Jesus, that there is light and life and hope and eternity ahead of me, all of that stuff taken care of. So God, what do you want me to do? How do I get involved in this work that you are doing? How can I share your love? How can I be your light? How can I make a difference in the lives of other people?” Friends, that's what we work out, we work out the back end. We get to work out with God's help the things that we are saved for. And that last part of that verse 13 that I read to you reminds us that we don't have to do this alone. It says, “For it is God who is at work in you. Enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” God will guide us and direct us in that work, God will be the one that will help to bring it to completion.


I read an article recently that illustrates this a little bit of how salvation works out in the lives of God's people. This was a story that was actually originally printed in USA Today on November 1st of 2018. It was a story about a gentleman named Ken Parker. Ken Parker was a Navy veteran who was struggling to make sense of his life. Frustrated, he became involved with the KKK because they had answers to some of the things that were frustrating him, and he became deeply involved and indoctrinated in what they were doing. And he became an active recruiter and rose to the rank of a grand dragon in the KKK. His marriage had fallen apart and he had a new girlfriend. And when the other members of the KKK found out that his new girlfriend had some friends who were black, they started giving him a hard time. And so he said goodbye to the KKK, and he became a Neo-Nazi, even more radical. In 2017, he attended the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. He was there and witnessed the car that was driven into the crowd of protesters who were there. He saw the woman killed, and shortly after that, he was contacted by a woman who was filming a documentary for Netflix about hatred, and she just wanted to hear from him. So she came into his home and interviewed him and talked to him. She was a Muslim woman. After they'd spent some time together and talking, he actually called her a friend. As she was concluding her filming, after her documentary came out, he watched it five or six times, he says that he thought, “Is that really who I am? I said, and did all of those things. And she did nothing but treat me with kindness.” And so he started thinking about, “Boy, maybe there's something different.” And about that time, one of his neighbors was a black gentleman who was a pastor of a black congregation and he invited him to church. And he thought, “Okay.” And he went and he liked it because he wasn't judged, and he was loved and welcomed. So he went back and went back again and again. And the story ends with Ken Parker walking into the ocean with his pastor to be baptized. The follow-up is that after his baptism, his life was changed, he began going to see a plastic surgeon who was helping to remove the swastikas and other racist tattoos from his skin, and his life was changed.


Friends, that's what salvation can look like. It's the work that God certainly began doing in his life before he got to that moment, but it was also God working in his life through the people around him, that woman that was kind to him filming the documentary, that pastor who reached out to him and welcomed him in that community of faith that embraced him.


Salvation isn't just an individual event or a one-time experience, it's not about being issued your ticket and saying “Alright, when the time comes, I get to go to heaven.” But rather, salvation is about God saying, “Alright, all of that stuff that you recognize in your life that's keeping you away from me, we're gonna put that behind you.” That's God's work. And when we've experienced that kind of grace and forgiveness, we then join hands with God and say, “Okay, where do we go from here? God, you have saved me. And my life now has a meaning and a purpose that I had never had before, so what can I do to participate in this work of salvation that you wanna bring to all people?”


Friends, God is present in our world, restoring creation, bringing in flourishing life to humanity. And it is through His Son, Jesus Christ, who lived and died and rose again, that God has initiated this grand plan of salvation. As a people who have been saved, we don't get to sit back and just watch it unfold, we get to be God's witnesses and co-workers, and seeing this work to completion. May God bless you as you live out your salvation, regardless of which side of heaven you find yourself on.


Amen.


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