Worthy of the Gospel

Posted On December 12, 2017

In Philippians 1:27, Paul exhorts the community to do one thing in his absence: “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” In this way, says Paul, your worthy lifestyle will be a “clear sign…of your salvation” (1:28). At first glance, it seems as if Paul, the apostle of grace, is promoting a salvation by works (or by worth). It seems as if we somehow need to prove ourselves worthy of the gospel before receiving salvation, with all the work of salvation falling into the lap of the believer. You will certainly find this perspective in both ancient and modern views of salvation, but will this self-saving message be promoted by the apostle Paul? A close (but all too brief) look at Phil. 1:27 within its context will provide the answer.

The Greek verb politeuomai, translated “let your manner of life be,” is a command. By employing this verb, Paul evokes the image of a city (politeuomai is derived from polis, meaning “city”). According to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, the city (polis) in ancient Greece was likened to a partnership or fellowship. In it, each citizen incurred the mutual obligation to carry out civic duties. They were obliged to use their talents and gifts for the corporate good of all. However, the “city” Paul has in mind distinguishes itself from all others in one monumental way — the constitution of this city is “the gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:27). They must conduct themselves in a manner worthy of its demands, as citizens of a heavenly – rather than earthly – city (Phil. 3:20).

But what does it mean to live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ? The answer is found in 1:27-28. With “one spirit” and “one mind,” Christ-followers at Philippi, like that of ancient societies, constitute a single body. But unlike secular societies, they “stand” and “strive” for the “faith of the gospel.” “This,” Paul declares (pointing back to the whole of 1:27-28), is a sign of destruction for the opponents but of salvation for believers. Their united, steadfast resolve for the gospel in the midst of opposition and suffering is precisely what Paul means by living in a manner “worthy of the gospel of Christ.” “This” – i.e., their worthy conduct – serves as a sign of their “salvation” (1:28).

If we were to stop there, it would logically follow that if believers, out of some innate worth, prove themselves worthy of the gospel, then their actions will result in their ultimate salvation. But notice what Paul does. He cleverly inserts a subtle (yet powerful) phrase which completely undercuts that line of reasoning — “and this from God” (1:28). What does the second “this” refer back to? It not only points to “salvation” in the same verse but also reaches further back to the whole of their worthy conduct in 1:27-28. The point may seem insignificant, but it is vital to understanding this text. “This” – their ultimate salvation and their worthy conduct – is “from God.” It is God’s gift of grace (cf. 1 Cor. 15:10; Phil. 2:12-13; 1 Thess. 5:23-24). That means a believer’s salvation is given rather than earned, and that a believer’s worth is divinely created rather than naturally cultivated. It is God who enables their steadfast unity in the gospel through adversity, and it is God who ultimately saves.

The word “granted” in v. 29 (echaristhē, a cognate of charis, “grace”) once again depicts God as the primary giver in this heavenly city, who graces the community with the threefold gift of faith, suffering, and salvation.

Truly, as Philippians 1:6 makes plain, God begins and ends the Christian life. We do not work hard to become people worthy to receive salvation. That is how the world thinks. That is why the gospel of Christ is so unnerving to the world. It powerfully subverts every worldly notion of worth and salvation. Sinners who believe and rest in the gospel of grace become worthy “in Christ.” This is not due to innate worth or an inner ability to somehow earn salvation. Sinners are neither worthy (Rom. 3:12; 4:5) nor godly apart from Christ (Rom. 3:10-11, 23). It is only when we receive Christ and all his saving benefits by grace through faith that we are declared righteous or worthy “in Christ.” And we know that those whom God declares righteous are, subsequently, actually made righteous.

My hope is that Paul’s prayer would become our own, as we continue depending on the grace of God to live lives worthy of the gospel of Christ.

Dr. David Briones is professor of New Testament at Reformation Bible College.