let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ . . .
“Sorry won’t keep me from getting killed, now will it, ma’am?” were his curt words, interrupting my wife’s contrite apology. It was somewhere around 10:30 pm outside a dusty town in the Texas Panhandle, on our way home from two weeks in Colorado. Our four month old had filed his share of complaints over riding in the car seat during our vacation. So we’d committed to getting home without delay, no matter the cost, in order to minimize his (and our) further agony.
We’d filled up about an hour before, my wife offering to take the next shift, and were making good time back to Dallas. Suddenly we found ourselves on the shoulder of US 287, turned east but getting nowhere fast, squinting our eyes in the interrogatory-like shine of bright and colorful headlights from a sheriff’s vehicle. Our offense: violation of Texas Transportation Code - Section 545.157 which states that in the proximity of a stationary emergency vehicle, passing vehicles must vacate the lane closest to that vehicle, and slow to at least 20 mph beneath the posted speed limit. The law went into effect in September of 2003, but apparently we’d missed that month’s issue of Texas Transportation Code.
At first confused at why we’d been pulled over and then abashed once she’d been informed of her unwitting malfeasance, all my sweet wife could think to say was, “I’m sorry.” Neither her contrition nor our now rudely awakened newborn elicited the least sympathy from the officer. But then, they shouldn’t have. A law had been broken, which had been put in effect to protect lives. A penalty would have to be paid.
When Paul tells the church at Philippi they must let their manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, he is of course admonishing them to conduct themselves consonant with the character of beloved and forgiven people. But to walk worthily of the Gospel is as much about how you respond to your failures as it is about how you endeavor to reflect its virtue.
Discovering that some dimension of your life is out of step with the promise of the gospel is not a matter of if, but when. The Spirit of God inevitably awakens you to someplace your affections are misdirected—in what you long for, what measures you take to get what you want, how you conduct yourself in secret as well as in public. Trust in the goodness and provision of the gospel has to become operative there. Once illumined, we’re faced with a choice of how to respond. There are worthy and unworthy responses to correction.
Unworthy responses might include a blithe disregard for the offense. Like saying to the officer that night, “Quit your whining, Copper. You ain’t bleeding.” Imagine the officer’s response to that kind of brazenness. Now imagine that kind of flippant comment made to the God of the universe for known sin.
Or consider a defensive retort that the moral bar has been set too high. No one can attain to that level of compliance, one’s heart might say. So to demand so much is unreasonable. Again, a complaint against what is noble and good is no defense.
Impudence isn’t the only kind of unworthy response. Your hope of ever doing well might wilt in the face of reproof. Yet, the gospel reproves us because it believes our hearts, by His grace, can and will change. And if our hope should wilt because we think God unwilling to endure us further, we must ask, “Why would God go to the trouble of reproving us if not for His love for us?”
So what is a worthy response to being pulled over, so to speak, and accused of violating the love and law of God? If I may be so bold (and biased), you respond like my wife did. You acknowledge the wrong that’s been done. You recognize the reason the law is in place and the potential consequences if it goes unheeded. You accept that what you sought in your breach of the law wasn’t worth what compliance with the law offers. And then, when applicable, you make amends for what you’ve done—you pay your debt.
As for that last part, there are some offenses which we can make restitution for bv asking forgiveness from those we’ve hurt. But in another sense the cost of our offenses exceed our ability to make compensation for them. That’s why the foundation of our hope rests on the gospel of grace that covers our sin and confirms His steadfast love for us.
So for what offense do you now find yourself pulled over, as it were, and found guilty? (Or what secret offense are you now waiting to acknowledge?) We learn to walk worthily of the gospel’s virtue by responding worthily to our failures thereof. How do you need to walk worthily of the gospel in this moment when your actions may have been anything but?