Do you behave differently in front of your pastor than you do when you’re with friends? Do you act another way when you are with Christians than when you are with outsiders? Who is it you are trying to impress with your character? Is it your church, your friends, your pastor, or the world? Or does it depend on who you are with? We shouldn’t be trying to impress anyone. Yet, it is natural to want to please people and to want people to like us. So maybe when we’re in church we use Christianese, speak in fortune cookie scripture or bite sized encouragements. Maybe when we’re with the lost we cuss and drink like a sailor. We should be glorifying and exalting Jesus with our genuine walk. Our everyday conduct should reflect our maturation in Christ and show the results of the Holy Spirit in us.
It doesn’t happen automatically. We do not naturally choose the Spirit over the flesh. We have to deliberately exercise the traits He is building in us. Verses 12-13 read,
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
We opt to obey, we opt to be patient, kind, and humble. We decide to speak goodness, blessings, and love. With maturity and regular exercise it becomes easier to be faithful rather than anxious, to think of others instead of focusing on ourselves, and to be thankful rather complain. God is doing a great work in us, but He doesn’t do it against our will. Most of us are not suddenly mirror images of Jesus when we’re saved. We have to let the Holy Spirit do His work.
If we’re going to act the fool, it is better to do it in front of our fellow believers instead of the world. Let’s strive for sincere godliness in front of the lost. Our lives are a testimony to Jesus. We must purposefully choose the fruit of the spirit over the desires of the flesh. Verses 14-16 read,
“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.”
The Lord hates grumbling and complaining, not only does it reveal how very ungrateful we are, it shows our lack of faith in God’s sovereignty. He also dislikes disparity among the believers. How can we expect the world to believe the awesomeness of God if they watch us arguing over ridiculous points and see discord among us? How can we say we share the same wonderful Spirit and be in conflict with one another? We are supposed to strive for godliness, seek the Kingdom of God, and pursue righteousness. We are expected to be lights in the dark, beacons of hope leading people to Jesus. We are not supposed to be people who claim to be Christians but act like the world or worse.
Paul pursued righteousness with passion. When he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, he didn’t go out the next day as the man we think of who wrote so much of the New Testament, spread the gospel to places far and wide, and eventually glorified Jesus in his death as much as he had in his life. Saul was changed immediately in many ways, but it took time for Paul to mature. He gave up being a Pharisee to become a tent maker, he studied under the apostles, and he studied under the Holy Spirit for fourteen years before beginning his missionary journeys.
Paul wanted the believers to know the spiritual maturity, he knew. He urged them to earnestly pursue godliness. He knew he might very well be killed for living for Jesus and he was willing. He encouraged the church to rejoice in that just as he did. He was in a dank dark underground prison and he could still rejoice, because he understood the great benefits of suffering for Christ. Verses 17-18 say,
“Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.”
Celebrate with your fellow believers the work God is doing in them and in you. Salvation takes a moment, living out salvation takes effort, and maturity takes time.