Today we are going to jump back into our study of Philippians which has just been awesome so far.  If you remember, we closed out the first section of this study of Paul’s letter talking about a challenge from Paul to not complain.  We also saw that there is a bit of a natural change in what Paul was talking about to what he is going to start sharing with us here moving forward in this letter.  We called the first section of this study “The Ultimate Guide to Life and Love” because Paul seems to be walking us through what can almost look like an instruction manual or guide on how to live our lives, and those instructions just hit so well for the times we are living in today.  Remember Paul challenged us on how to live our lives, and then pointed to Jesus and how He lived His.  We learned the importance of humble obedience, and trusting God, and what it truly looks like to live as Jesus lived.  And now this teaching shifts, and we start the second section of this study, that we are calling “Choices,” because Paul is going to challenge us with the choices we should be making as Christians.  Paul challenges us in the Philippian letter to make important choices as we do our best to live as Jesus lived and we will spend the next 8 weeks looking at these choices; to be holy, to engage the Word of God, to rejoice, to avoid religion, to have a goal, to pray, to think about what is good, and to be content.  These choices are challenging, and in some of them, like the one we will talk about today, well, the world will push against them in every way, but when we make them, it allows us to live the kind of life God designed us to live.  So, before we dive into the first choice we are challenged to make by Paul, let’s just take a moment and talk about choices.

If you think about choices with me for a moment, we make a lot of them.  Some of the choices we make are huge, and some aren’t as big.  We chose to get out of bed this morning, we chose what color shirt we would wear, we chose our breakfast, and chose to come to church today.  Our lives are one choice after another, and while we don’t always like the concept of ramifications for our actions or cause and effect, our choices are a big deal.  Here’s a quote from John Maxwell on choices.

“Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you.”  John Maxwell

Some choices we make in life aren’t going to be that big of a deal…like the color of the shirt you chose to wear today, it isn’t Easter anymore, so you don’t need to be wearing pastels today.  But some really do have major ramifications in your life.  From what you put into your body to eat, to how you choose to spend your time, to how you treat others, to your career path, to your spiritual journey, life is a matter of choices.  Just today, to get here to church, you have made a lot of choices…and I want you to recognize the importance of the choices we make.  Solomon talks about the importance of wise choices and I like bringing up things that Solomon says are important, because he is the wisest person who lived not named Jesus on this Earth…

Proverbs 2:11 Wise choices will watch over you. Understanding will keep you safe. 12 Wisdom will save you from evil people, from those whose words are twisted. NLT

Life is a series of choices, and the choices we make are a big deal.  Solomon says that wise choices will protect us and keep us safe, and if you think about it, that is so true.  Choices are a big deal they will impact your heart, your life, your relationships, and your health.  And today we are going to talk about the choice to live a holy life.  So let’s get back to our study, and if you remember we left off before Easter with Philippians 2:14 which was a challenge to do everything without complaining and arguing, I very intentionally kept verse 15 with it, and told you we would be right back in verse 15 today as we kick off the ‘Choices’ section of our study of Philippians which says this…

Philippians 2:14 Do everything without complaining and arguing, 15 so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. NLT

I love this and clearly see our first very challenging choice we need to make as those living as Jesus lived…do you see it?  Live clean, innocent lives, shining like bright lights in a sinful world.  Paul is challenging us to choose to live holy lives.

Now even saying the word “holiness” in church can cause some real tension for us people.  For some, any talk on holiness starts to tighten our chests up a bit, doesn’t it?  We feel tension or stress the moment holiness or living a pure life is brought up in church because somewhere along the line they bumped into religion, and or someone who would take pieces of scripture and ram it down our throats without totally grasping the beauty and love and grace we have in our faith.  People (who also sin) would grab lines from the Bible or the Ten Commandments and point to them every time we sin and messed up and it left a lot of us people, profoundly hurt, weighed down in guilt, because we just couldn’t measure up to the level of holiness, we were told was needed to be a good Christian.  Is this you?  Can I tell you something?  That is part of my story too.  We mess up, feel guilt from people who also mess up and sin, maybe just not as publicly as we did or do, and they would tell us things like once you are Christian you should be perfect because Jesus said so…but guilt and shame and hypocrisy was what we were given not love, patience, and grace and I just want to say that if that is you I am so sorry that you experienced those hurts, and I can tell you how difficult that is because I experienced them too.  So that is one reaction, to have flashbacks to the horrors of guilt and shame and the hurts we felt from religion because we couldn’t add up to some weird level of holiness…and what makes it more confusing is Paul told us we all sin right?  Even those who point the fingers at us…

Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. NIV

Then to add to the confusion we would come together on Easter Sundays and learn that the whole point of Jesus sacrificing His life on The Cross is because we couldn’t get it all done, so God’s grace is Him doing it all for us…this always felt like a major contradiction to me as I was told I wasn’t earning something that I could never earn which was the point of Jesus coming and taking care of it for me.

Ephesians 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. NIV

So that is definitely a reaction a lot of people who have a history with religion can have…another reaction when we start talking about holy lives is those who tense up because we thought that grace paid the bill, so there are no standards, and nothing we need to do, so we get a little uptight when we start hearing about God’s law or rules and can point to grace and say, shouldn’t I be able to live my life however I want?  Well, as we established our lives are a series of choices, and grace is an amazing thing, but God also loves us enough to give us guidelines and instructions to live our lives in a healthy way spiritually as well as emotionally and physically.  Yes, we can point to grace but just as a parent has rules for their child and loves them enough to put some rules in place so they can be healthy, God does the same for you and I.  So, some will point to grace, and almost be confused at a church like MRC who wants you to relax, and be yourself, but don’t get it twisted, it’s still important that we choose to live a holy life, because it benefits us, allows us to be healthy, and frankly helps those around us too.  If you are thinking that way, listen to Jesus’ words here in Matthew 5…

Matthew 5:17 “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. 19 So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. 20 “But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven! NLT

So, yes Jesus did come to take care of everything for us…He took on all our sin and earned our way into Heaven for us.  Grace absolutely paid the bill for us, but this is important, it doesn’t mean that we go on sinning.  It doesn’t mean that we don’t pursue a new way of living our lives.  It doesn’t mean that we don’t pursue holiness…what it means is that He covers up our sin, but we do not abuse that grace, and there still is a good way to live our lives laid out for us in Scripture by God.  Paul addresses this mindset well here in Romans 6…

Romans 6:1 Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? 2 Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? 3 Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? 4 For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. NLT

Our old lives are dead and now we live new lives in Christ which should lead us to live differently, not to continue living as we always did before, this would be a bit of an abuse of grace…and we have to remember our lives as Christians lead us to live differently…it’s action, it’s a new life, it’s not just the assurance of where we will be for eternity but a better way to live today.  We had an old life and old patterns that weren’t always helping us…and Scripture challenges us to pursue holiness and live differently often…remember Christianity is action, it’s a way to live, a better and healthier way to live.

1 Peter 1:13 So think clearly and exercise self-control. Look forward to the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. 14 So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. 15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. 16 For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” NLT

So, this can sound more than a little intimidating, and can cause some real tension until we start to wrap our hearts and minds around God’s love for us and what the guidelines He installed for us are all about.  Think about a parent and their child’s relationship for a moment.  Why does a parent want the child to eat well?  Why do they have a curfew and a bedtime for their child?  Why push their child to do their best in school?  Why are they giving their child things to do?  Is it done to oppress their child?  It’s all done for the benefit of the child, isn’t it?  It’s all done to help that child be the best version of themselves they can be…a parent doesn’t put all those rules in place because they want to oppress the child (even though the child most likely feels that way!) but to help them, and this is important, while we humans can twist up everything including God’s law, God is our loving Heavenly Father and views us the same way.  The law helps us understand right from wrong and gives us guidelines on how to live a good and healthy life even while we may fight Him on it, just as a child does His parents.

Romans 7:12 But the law code itself is God’s good and common sense, each command sane and holy counsel. MSG

So, the first choice that Paul asks of us here is a challenging one, and that is to live a holy life and I wanted to frame a few things for you as we talked about this.  First, I wanted to address the tension this challenge brings to those who don’t want any rules in their lives and for those of us who have grown up and been hurt by religion.  I also wanted you to start to view God’s law as it should be viewed and I wanted to use Scripture to help you see just how important and beneficial a holy life is, and with the time that we have left I would like to talk to you about how choosing holiness helps you personally and those around you.

So, let’s look at how a holy life helps you personally.

Choosing holiness allows you to walk closely with God.  At Easter we talk a lot about sin and how it blocks us from a true relationship with God.  It was the blocker, and it was so bad that it separated us from a personal relationship with God, and Jesus came and defeated sin and death and tore that barrier down so we can walk in a personal relationship with God.  Sin is the blocker between you and intimacy with God…you know that personal walk that we speak of every Sunday.  Listen to David’s words here, and remember this is David who God said is a man after His own heart who walked closely with God…and we see how holiness allows us to walk closely with God…

Psalm 15:1 Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord?  Who may enter your presence on your holy hill? 2 Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts. 3 Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends. 4 Those who despise flagrant sinners, and honor the faithful followers of the Lord, and keep their promises even when it hurts. 5 Those who lend money without charging interest, and who cannot be bribed to lie about the innocent. Such people will stand firm forever.  NLT

Sin blocks us from that close, personal walk with God that we all crave and need to live out our days here on this Earth.  Sin is the blocker, and choosing holiness draws us to God.

Choosing holiness gives us peace with God and allows our lives to be in step with God.  Life is hard, we talk about it often, but Scripture says that God will rescue those who choose a godly life while those who choose to live for themselves will struggle.  They may look like they are getting out ahead of a person who chooses holiness but are they?

2 Peter 2:9 And so the Lord knows how to rescue godly people from their trials and how to keep the wicked under punishment for the Day of Judgment, 10 especially those who follow their filthy bodily lusts and despise God’s authority. GNT

Choosing holiness means we can live out God’s purpose for our lives, we can be productive for Him!  

2 Timothy 2:20 In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. 21 If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work. 22 Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. NIV

There are so many benefits to choosing holiness, but as we start to close out this discussion on a very challenging topic, I did want to get into something with you, because I think this holiness talk, really is the big tension point for people as it comes to church, and their relationship with God or lack thereof, isn’t it?  I mean in the end when most think church, they picture and talk about all the rules, the list of ‘do’s and don’t does’ that we don’t want to live out or we do want to live out…and I think it’s something we should talk about before we move on in this series as we look to pursue Jesus and our challenged by Paul to choose to live holy lives here in verse 15 of our study…

Philippians 2:14 Do everything without complaining and arguing, 15 so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. 16 Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless. NLT

You know, I wanted you to see the mentality of holiness and why this choice is so important but let’s get real here today, there are different questions that arise that maybe we want to ask, or maybe we are too uncomfortable to ask about what we are allowed to do or not do, in the name of church, holiness or Christianity.  Maybe we struggle with some of these things and maybe we don’t, but there are questions that we all ask, and wonder about with this Spirituality thing…and a lot of them come down to choices we make, and how we want to live our lives.  When it comes to our faith, doesn’t it seem like there are some questions we all have, that we want to ask, but aren’t sure if we should?  Like, what can I do, and what can, or shouldn’t I do?  I think there are questions many of us have, some of which would be popular if we all were open enough to list out those questions, we can struggle with many of which land in this godly life, holiness discussion.   I think if we took a survey on these questions today, we would see a few tension points rise to the top of that list in a hurry.  Some are easy, like – How should we dress for church?  What should I be putting into my life?  But some start to hit areas that can make us uncomfortable.  Things like sex come up, culturally today we are seeing more confusion and questions about sex than ever before and then there is the age-old question – Is it sinful to drink alcohol?  And on and on the list goes…some things we would talk about, many things that we may be indulging in and wondering if it’s ok or not but doing our best to keep it private or hidden while wondering if it’s ok.   I want to look at two words from Paul that I think can really help us make our own decisions on such things.  First Paul says this in Romans…

Romans 14:14 I’m convinced — Jesus convinced me! — that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it.  MSG

So what Paul is saying is that things aren’t sinful on their own, food, alcohol, material possessions, sex, money, etc. they aren’t sinful on their own, but what we humans do with them can absolutely make them sinful or lead us to sin.  He even says we have done this with God’s law!  So, let’s take that statement from Paul and add this one to it…

1 Corinthians 10:23 “Everything is permissible”-but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”-but not everything is constructive.  NIV

So, Paul is saying that things aren’t sinful on their own, but what we do with them can make them sinful or lead us to sin…and here in Corinthians we see that we can do whatever we would like, but that not everything is helpful, healthy, or beneficial.  Remember what he told us about God’s law?

Romans 7:12 But the law code itself is God’s good and common sense, each command sane and holy counsel. MSG

Do you see it?  Yes, you have freedom in Christ.  Yes, nothing in itself is sinful but what we do with it can make it sinful and there are just some things that lead us down the wrong path towards sin…but also not everything is really helping you either.  You catching where I’m drifting to here today?  Now there is something else that I see as we choose to live holy lives that has to be addressed.  Let’s go back to our study real quick here today…

Philippians 2:14 Do everything without complaining and arguing, 15 so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. NLT

So, we are called to be a light in the darkest places.  We are called to help others experience God and share Jesus with this world.  Remember God’s ultimate goal is that every person on this planet would come to know Christ and we as Christians should be in step sharing that desire and reaching out to those far from God.  And what is interesting here in Philippians and in both cases in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 10 Paul says it’s really important that by our choices and freedoms we aren’t making choices that block or hurt others from experiencing Christ.  When we choose holiness, we are helping people around us draw closer to Christ and when we are not choosing a holy life, we can be blocking others from Jesus who need Jesus as much as we do.  Because how we choose to live matters so much more to people than what we say about Christ.  Your choice to live a holy life helps your witness and your choice to live for yourself can block others from that life we want them to have.  It hurts your witness, and we need to see that. He does it in Romans 14…

Romans 14:14 I’m convinced — Jesus convinced me! — that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it. 15 If you confuse others by making a big issue over what they eat or don’t eat, you’re no longer a companion with them in love, are you? These, remember, are persons for whom Christ died. Would you risk sending them to hell over an item in their diet? 16 Don’t you dare let a piece of God-blessed food become an occasion of soul-poisoning! 17 God’s kingdom isn’t a matter of what you put in your stomach, for goodness’ sake. It’s what God does with your life as he sets it right, puts it together, and completes it with joy. MSG

He does it in Corinthians…

1 Corinthians 10:23 “Everything is permissible”-but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”-but not everything is constructive. 24 Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others…31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— 33 even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.  NIV

And again, in our study today in Philippians…

Philippians 2:14 Do everything without complaining and arguing, 15 so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. NLT

Do you see it?  Listen we love you and want you to understand just how important this choice really is and I wanted to build an important mindset on holiness to you today.  First, I did want you to see the tension, I get it, and I feel it too.  We hear the term holiness in our churches and can immediately get up tight and have flashbacks or get uncomfortable because of our freedoms…I get that, but I wanted you to see how good and loving the rules are and what they are they to do which is help us live good and healthy lives…not oppress us.  We are challenged by Paul and all through Scripture to live holy lives and I wanted you to see just some of the benefits to that for you personally and to those around you who also need God’s love in their lives too.  It’s not ironic that every time we see these challenges from Paul on holiness that we also are reminded of those around us who are watching.  Think back, if you were ever hurt by a Christian, at the deepest root of that pain was that they say they are this Christian, but they aren’t living it out…and that is devastating!  So, yes we are challenged to live holy lives, and no this isn’t to oppress us but to help us live healthy, productive…better lives, and also it helps us share God with those around us who need Him too.  So let me ask you some questions as I close.

  • Do you get uncomfortable when you hear us talk about living a holy life or that there actually are laws and guidelines on how to live that we are to follow?  Why do you think that is?
  • When you mess up or do something you shouldn’t do you carry the weight of that or take it to Jesus?
  • How do you view the commands of God are they restrictive and a burden or there to help you?  Do you like the idea of God telling you what to do or does that bother you?
  • Are there things you choose to do that you can prove that you can do in your freedoms as a Christian, but if you are honest, they aren’t really healthy, helpful, or benefiting you?
  • Are there things that you choose to do that could hurt a non-Christian from moving towards God because of your actions and decisions?
  • What are some tension points for you when it comes to living life as a Christian?  What convicts you?
  • What are some areas that tempt you or make you feel like you’re pulling away from God and towards sin that maybe you can justify or have been justifying with the freedom we have in Christ?
  • Is there something you know you should not be doing that you keep doing that probably is unhealthy for you personally? 
  • Are you able to be that bright light in this dark world?  Do you stand out by how you live your life, or do you fit in?  You were called to be salt and bring light to the darkest places…are you?
  • Are you choosing to live a holy life?

God loves you and there are things in our lives that we may feel pulled to do that in the end aren’t helping us, and certainly aren’t helping those around us move closer to God and His love.  I want you to think this all through today and reflect on Paul challenging us to choose holiness.  This is profoundly personal, and important to your health, to your relationship with God, to your self-care, and to your ability to witness to others.  …So please take some time to reflect on this and take this to God today!