The Operating Principle of a Believers' Life 

"Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." - Philippians 2:3-11

Every one of us operates in our lives off of some set of principles, presuppositions, and some form of a worldview framework. If you are human, these things are simply unavoidable, inescapable. These principles affect the way we make long-term as well as short-term decisions in every realm of our lives. They come in thousands of different forms, in many variations, and are often very complex and intricate, to the point where sometimes we don't even know or realize the principle upon which we are making the decisions we do. In addition, most of these principles are culturally informed, and therefore they are just assumed things with how we operate.

For believers though, Christ has broken into our respective cultural context, invaded our lives (in the positive sense obviously) and given us a principle upon which we can now make decisions that glorify Him and produce positive results in our own lives as well as the lives of those we affect with this truth. This is called the Gospel Principle. And this verse in Philippians is a great illustration of exactly this principle that Paul wants to convey to us. "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves." But how do we do this? By merely following Christ's example? Not exactly.

Now I want to make clear that yes, Christ is our example for how we should live and obviously we should model our lives after His way of life. That is a "duh" sort of statement. The Gospel Principle goes further though because it does not simply say "Do this and you shall live." That is Law. Have we not seen the history of Israel, how miserably a majority of Israelites failed at this? We are all sinners and cannot measure up to the demands of the Law by our own power.

This is exactly where the Gospel principle for believers comes in though. We look not at "What would Jesus do?" for our motivation (though I have absolutely no problem with anyone wearing a WWJD bracelet as a reminder to pursue Christ for our strength and power), but rather we go further with the Gospel and ask "What has Jesus done?" "What would Jesus do?" as great as it is of a reminder, in itself, does not give us any power to do what Paul commands, which is, "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit." It is Law. There is no power in the Law to give us life. The Law is good (Romans 7) but it gives no life, and instead produces only death in us, because we are sinners and fail its demands.

Only the Gospel gives life. And by asking ourselves everyday, "What has Jesus done," instead of "What would Jesus do?" we are reorienting ourselves with the power of what was accomplished at Calvary on our behalf to enable us to carry our the very thing Paul is commanding of us. Then and only then, by coming before Christ and looking to His work in His life, death, and resurrection can we do what is commanded in the Law. Apart from Him we can literally do nothing that is pleasing to Him. We are utterly reliant upon Him.

This is what Paul lays out for us. He does not give commands without it being under the power and principle of the life-giving Gospel of Christ, that He submitted Himself humbly to the cross, to bear our burden and free His people from hell. Paul's commands and the Gospel itself are always interconnected in what he says in the Scriptures. Watch what he does.

"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

Yes, Jesus is an example, and this passage itself is a great picture of how that is so. But the passage is more than an example. If it's merely an example, we're back to the Law again. The Gospel though is that Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Law out of love for us and frees us now (giving us the power through Him) to carry out its demands. Paul relates doing "nothing from rivalry or conceit," with the principle of Christ emptying Himself on our behalf.

It is this finished work upon which we can come and find power in Him to perform that which is impossible for us to perform out of ourselves and our sinful nature. In fact, outside of this work is simply moralistic working and toiling that is in fact sin, according to Romans 14:23. There is no power in us and what we bring to God through our self-righteous, self-generated works. Paul is very careful to show that when he commands something it is always related to this Gospel Principle, because he knows no one will be able to accomplish what he commands outside of the power available in what Christ has accomplished for us.

So as believers, though we have many competing principles telling us how we should make decisions coming from our surrounding worldly culture, we have this principle, the Gospel Principle, that we can keep coming back to every moment of every day because the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. As Tim Keller says, the Gospel is not only the way we're saved at conversion, but it is also the way we're changed progressively into the likeness of Christ. The Gospel is not merely the A-B-C's of the Christian life, but the A-Z of the whole thing. Paul never leaves the Gospel behind when talking about how we should live in response to it, because it's only through its power that we can do perform it.

This passage and others show that to be an inescapable fact. We love because He first loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins, our wrath-bearer and our life-giver. Praise the Lord Jesus Christ for His matchless work to deliver us from hell and give us power and life in the here and now to do what is pleasing in His sight! May we daily return to Him and this Gospel Principle to base all our decisions upon.

"Have this mind [doing nothing from rivalry or conceit] among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus [the Gospel Principle], who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

Come to Christ and remind yourself of the power of what was definitively accomplished at Calvary for you, in order to live a life pleasing to Him. There is no power or hope without Him and His work. There is power only in the blood of Christ. Bow before your Lord and Savior who has completed His work for you, who sits at the right hand of the Father now, and let Him satisfy the deepest core of your being by His Spirit and allow Him to give you life through His death and resurrection. It is our only hope for doing anything that glorifies Him and brings Him honor.
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