There are some Bible verses that seem to go just a little bit too far. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children … he cannot be my disciple” comes to mind, or “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” And then there’s this one: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…” (Philippians 1:27). We read a verse like that and rightly ask, “Is it actually possible to live a life that’s worthy of the gospel? Is that a realistic goal? And what would it even look like to say ‘my life is worthy of the gospel?’”
Help comes in the form of Sinclair Ferguson’s new book Worthy: Living in Light of the Gospel, which is the second volume in a series by Union School of Theology titled “Growing Gospel Integrity.” This series, edited by Michael Reeves, is meant to explore the Christian’s call to Christlikeness based on Philippians 1:27-2:3.
Ferguson begins the work by explaining why Christians can find the command “live worthy of the gospel” a confusing one. And really, the answer is quite obvious: “the gospel teaches us we are unworthy. We are saved by grace, not by worth.” Besides that, we are rightly attuned to the creep of legalism and can fear that a call to “live worthy” can be a call to emphasize outward actions ahead of an inward posture of the heart. Yet “Paul well knew that emphasizing God’s grace in Christ in reaction to legalism is not necessarily the same thing as understanding the grace of God in Christ.” In fact, “the richer and fuller the exposition of the grace of God in Christ, the safer it is to expound the all-demanding commands that flow from it as a result.” It is when we have the fullest and most confident understanding of the gospel that we will understand what it means to live a worthy life and be most eager to do so.
Those who are familiar with Ferguson’s writing will recognize how he helps the reader understand the way grace relates to obedience. “The basic idea is that a life that is worthy of the gospel of Christ expresses in the form of a lifestyle what the gospel teaches in the form of a message. Such a life takes on a character that reflects the character of the Lord Jesus Christ.” With that groundwork in place, he writes about “The Grammar of the Gospel,” explaining the role of moods (focusing on imperatives and indicatives), prepositions (focusing on Paul’s way of speaking about believers as being “in Christ”), tenses (focusing on what the gospel has done in us and what it will do), and then, finally, the role of negatives and positives—what the gospel tells us to do and not to do and what the gospel tells us to be and not to be.
With this in place, he explains the “instruments” God uses to work change within us, to put sin to death and bring righteousness to life. God uses both his Word and his providence to work change within us—a truth displayed powerfully in the life of Joseph. Suffering introduces the “friction” into our lives that shapes us into Christ’s likeness. There is a kind of “productivity” that suffering brings to our lives that produces endurance and character and hope (as per Romans 5). Meanwhile, God’s Word does not just tell us to change, but it actually works change within us as it is preached. “God’s word preached does not merely tell us to work; it does the work. The preached word works on us and in us even while it is being preached, as well as afterward.” Thus “every exposition of Scripture is an extended personal counseling session in which the Holy Spirit shows us the wonder and power of the gospel and also exposes the secrets of our hearts. … The exposition of a passage of Scripture is not intended to be a popular-level commentary in spoken form but an encounter with the God who speaks.”
A final pair of chapters discuss what it looks like to live with “A Worthy Mindset” and how this kind of life actually comes about for people like you and me (and, by illustration, Saul of Tarsus—a section that provides a fascinating explanation of how Stephen’s example was instrumental in the conversion of Saul).
The Bible calls us to the responsibility and the great privilege of living a life that is worthy of the gospel. Ferguson’s book briefly but oh-so-helpfully explains how this is possible and what this should look like. Written briefly and simply, it’s a book I gladly recommend to any Christian.