I am preaching on Philippians 2:12, 13 this weekend on "Learning Obedience." Preaching on obedience is tricky. If all I do is call people to keep the law (obey) it will only result in pride or despair. Pride for those who only superficially examine their lives and see themselves as good performers, and despair for those who see their inability to meet God's standards. In preaching on obedience I have to be careful to show 1) our ultimate hope is not our obedience, but Jesus' fulfillment of the law, and 2) that there is real hope for our own progress in obedience - but even that is found outside of ourselves. As Paul wrote, "it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." In The Gospel for Real Life Jerry Bridges says it this way,
...just as we by faith look to Christ for our righteous standing before God, so by faith we are to look to Him for the enabling power to live the Christian life. This power comes to us a result of our vital and living union with Him.
This is our hope; this is our encouragement to press on in the midst of our frequent falling and failing - the gospel itself!
It is the assurance in the gospel that we have indeed died to the guilt of sin; that there is no condemnation for us who are in Christ Jesus; that the Lord will never count our sins against us; and that we are truly delivered from the reigning power of sin, that will motivate us and keep us going even in the midst of the tension between the Spirit and the sinful nature.
Bridges goes on to quote Horatius Bonar whose words were the best thing I've read this week:
The secret of a believer’s holy walk is his continual recurrence to the blood of the Surety, and his daily [communion] with a crucified and risen Lord. All divine life, and all precious fruits of it, pardon, peace, and holiness, spring from the cross. All fancied sanctification which does not arise wholly from the blood of the cross is nothing better than Pharisaism. If we would be holy, we must get to the cross, and dwell there; else, notwithstanding all our labour, diligence, fasting, praying and good works, we shall be yet void of real sanctification, destitute of those humble, gracious tempers which accompany a clear view of the cross.
False ideas of holiness are common, not only among those who profess false religions, but among those who profess the true. The love of God to us, and our love to Him, work together for producing holiness. Terror accomplishes no real obedience. Suspense brings forth no fruit unto holiness. No gloomy uncertainty as to God’s favor can subdue one lust, or correct our crookedness of will. But the free pardon of the cross uproots sin, and withers all its branches. Only the certainty of love, forgiving love, can do this….
Free and warm reception into the divine favor is the strongest of all motives in leading a man to seek conformity to Him who has thus freely forgiven him all trespasses.
Whether you are preaching, teaching or listening this Sunday - let the law and the gospel do their work, but do not confuse the two. The law should show us the way to live, expose our guilt and condemnation since we do not live that way, and show us our need for God's mercy. The gospel shows us that Jesus fulfilled the law of God for us (our justification), and empowers us to obey (our sanctification) from a sense of love and joy.