I have been reading Winston Churchill’s History of the English Speaking Peoples over the last few months. It’s been fascinating filling in a lot of gaps in my historical knowledge both about Britain but also about USA.
Most recently, I have been reading about the American Civil War which I think we will all know was principally a war about slavery. When the North finally won slavery was made illegal in all the states of the US.
The slaves were free
But what was really striking was that many of the slaves did not take advantage of this new status remaining doing the back breaking work that they had done before staying in the same homesteads; picking the cotton: out of fear of the alternative; out of fear of the unknown.
They had gone from being slaves to being free
But in the way they lived their lives, you would not be able to tell the difference.
As most of you will know, who have been coming to Valley Worship this year, we are running a series on Paul’s letter to the Philippians, getting inspiration from a book on Philippians by Nicky Gumbel called ‘a Life Worth Living’.
In February we looked at the new heart that we have in Jesus Christ when we are baptised by the Holy Spirit and born again from above and we become followers of Christ. We find that we want to do what Jesus calls us to do. We go from won’t to want…
In March at Valley Worship we looked at the new purpose that we have for our lives. When we have this new purpose, a purpose beyond ourselves.
In April, instead of Valley Worship, we had the Licensing Service
In May Gerry spoke to us about the new attitude we have as followers of Jesus, when we have the new heart of reborn followers of Christ
At the end of last month, at St Swithun’s Martyr Worthy, I talked about how we have all been baptised by water but perhaps not all baptised by the Holy Spirit. But those who have been baptised by the Holy Spirit now want to do what Jesus asks us to do only because he asks us to do it, not simply because we agree with him…
They have moved from won’t to want. This is the everyday miracle in our lives of Christianity and a touchstone of having being reborn from above.
This month we are going to look at the new responsibility we have as followers of Christ.
Every follower of Christ must take responsibility for his or her life.
Paul says to the church in Philippi in verse 12 ‘continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. But what does that mean?
‘Work out your salvation’
One of the fundamentals of Christianity; one of the key issues in the Reformation is that Christianity is not about ‘works’: We cannot be saved by our own efforts; We are not saved because of the good things that we have done in our lives; as if we can earn some kind of eternal air miles by every good thing we do to counterbalance the bad things we have done.
No, It’s all about grace, God’s loving grace. Freely given to us when we trust in Jesus Christ. It’s all about what Jesus did for us on the Cross. He paid the penalty for our sin, for the bad things we have done so that if we are ‘in Christ’, we are saved by his gracious action, if we trust in him not by any work of our own.
But by ‘working out’ Paul means ‘working through’ in our decisions what it means to be saved.
It’s a bit like a marriage, as we get to know that other person, as we experience what that exclusive relationship of self sacrificial love means in practice we work out our marriage. Just, as Paul says, we must work out what it is to be saved…
But what does ‘saved’ mean?
The best way of describing salvation is the word ‘freedom’. When we have been born again from above, we are free. Like the slaves in the Old South we have been freed from our slavery by Jesus. We have been freed. After our lives have ended,we have been freed from the curse of death and we spend eternity with the Father.
During our lives, we have been freed from slavery to the idols of everyday life. We have gone from being slaves to being free. Our identities have been changed.
But it is possible to have a saved soul and a wasted life
A saved soul and a wasted life.
Paul says we may be saved but now we need to work out our salvation to work out our freedom, not remain in our slavery like those slaves of the Old South, who remained in slavery even though they had been set free.
But you may say ‘I am free. of course I am free, Alex, what are you talking about?’
It’s sometimes difficult to recognise how we are slaves because our slaveries are so much part of our identity but when we have been reborn from above, we have a new identity in Jesus Christ.
A good test of our own slaveries is anything which we insist upon regardless of its effect on people around us. So, for example, if we insist on working years beyond having achieved financial independence, regardless of the entreaties of our family, then our work is a slavery. I know, I have been there
If we insist upon a particular approach to: eating, drinking, sport, clothing, holidays (like Christmas0, it could be any number of different things, because that’s the way our parents family always did it so it’s part of ‘what our family does’, so it’s part of our identity, if we do this regardless of the impact it has on those around us, then it’s a slavery. I know I have been there.
Or if we define ourselves, if we create our identity by what we are tempted by:
If we make our addiction our identity; if we make our greed our identity; if we make our lust our identity; if we make our envy, our hatred; our lack of forgiveness, our identity; if we say ‘it’s just who I am’, then this behaviour is a slavery.
If we have been reborn from above; if we have found that we want to do what Jesus calls us to do and Paul’s letter is only addressed to people who fall in that category, to those who have been born from above, those who have been baptised by the Holy Spirit; to those people only, Paul would say ‘Work out your salvation’, understand that you are free of all that and act accordingly….
I was so struck a few months ago, when the media quite unkindly, in my view, identified to the Archbishop of Canterbury that the man that he always thought was his father in fact was not and was actually another man with whom his mother had been having an affair at the time of her marriage.
He said ‘Nothing has changed. My identity is still in Jesus Christ’
In other words, it doesn’t matter who is my earthly father my Heavenly Father is God.
In one simple statement he said more about the gospel than has been said in a thousand sermons.
He said in effect; ‘My identity is in Jesus Christ’
There is nothing which shows up our true identity as much as a family wedding.
As many of you will know, our eldest daughter Claudia was married a couple of years ago. For much of her life, I had an image of what that day was going to look like. The wedding would was be at our village church in Kilmeston and the reception would be in a marquee on the lawn outside our house. The men would be wearing morning suits. She would wear her mother’s wedding dress which we had kept for the occasion.
The whole event would reflect our family identity who we are…..
In fact, It would be the final triumph for my mother’s cultural identity which I have always been so keen to preserve because she died in poverty and some ignominy. Even though as an adopted child it was all nonsense really that I should be seeking to preserve it
So two things happened which meant that I had to seriously reconsider and work out what really mattered.
Firstly, Lucy and I felt God calling us to sell our house in Kilmeston and move to Itchen Valley. This had never been in the plan. In fact I told the selectors at the Bishops Advisory Panel when I was becoming a vicar that we would never leave Kilmeston!
So the idyllic idea of a wedding at home evaporated!
And Claudia decided that she wanted to get married at a city centre church in Scotland
I had to think long and hard about what was more important. Our (my) cultural identity or the fact that Claudia was getting married to the man that she loved in a place where clearly Jesus was king and they had worshipped together every week for five years.
I had to work it out. Was I still a slave to my mother’s cultural identity?
Or was my identity in Christ?
It took time
But we agreed with what she wanted and the whole event was just incredible: filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit. We were being obedient. But we had not anticipated the sheer joy which we felt on that day in that city centre church in Scotland.
In big ways and small, we all need to work out our salvation.
When we have been reborn from above, when we have been baptised by the Holy Spirit, we have a new responsibility which the Holy Spirit will help us to fulfil.
But we need to take action as well, so that we don’t have a saved soul, but a wasted life.
But remember that the creator of the universe is at our elbow to help us. We need to call on him to help us.
Once God has baptised us with the Holy Spirit; once we have moved from won’t to want He is going to continue the work he has begun in us. We just have to ask him to help
Reborn from above, baptised by the Holy Spirit, having gone from Won’t to Want…
We need to leave cotton picking and the homesteads of the Old South; the slaveries of our former lives and live out our new identity in Jesus Christ….
Shining as Lights in the World
12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
14 Do all things without murmuring and arguing, 15 so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. 16 It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you— 18 and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me.