The Revolutionary Grace of God - Radical

The Revolutionary Grace of God

While we may never begin to truly conceptualize even a fraction of God’s grace, it is beyond necessary that we try. To understand the very grace of God is to understand our greater need for Him in every aspect of our lives. In this message on Philippians 4, Pastor Mike Kelsey reminds believers of just how revolutionary the grace of God truly is. As we begin to understand the grace of God, and our need for it, we can then shake off former identities that were rooted in the world. In doing so, we are able to find our true identity within the Grace of God. One of the many beautiful things about living in the revolutionary grace of God is that He surrounds us with community to support us and remind us of where our identity lies. We have a family in the body of Christ, full of encouragement when we so often forget just how revolutionary His grace truly is.

  1. What is the Grace of God?
  2. We Need God’s Grace
  3. New Identity in the Grace of God
  4. The Importance of Church
  5. Allegiance to Jesus

The Revolutionary Grace of God

Well, good morning everybody. It is good to be gathered with those of you who are here with us at our Tysons location and those of you who are watching from wherever you’re watching from, it’s good to be in the presence of God, to be gathered under the word of God. And last week and every week this summer, we’ve been celebrating stories of good news, ways that we have seen the goodness of God at work, not just in the life of our church but also in the community.

And last week we celebrated the story of the Cliftons who have adopted and we’ve talked about their journey, the story of waiting nine years to bring their adopted daughter home and today we want to celebrate the goodness of God through an adoption story, but on the flip side of adoption, and so check out this video.

For our good news story today we have with us Jennifer Armstrong, who’s going to share a little bit about her life with us and some good news that happened during Covid.

Yeah, so I don’t actually ever remember finding out I was adopted. I just always knew. My parents, it was something they told me that, it was always really cool. They always presented it as a really good thing that they got to choose me, that they loved me so much that they wanted a baby and God provided. My parents always told me if I wanted to look for my birth parents, they would help me, they would fully support me.

And it wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I realized, my birth mom, I knew she was in college, and I realized, wow, she could have made a different choice and she could have chosen not to have me. And that really impacted me because I just realized that God saved me from death before I was born so He could save me for himself, and that was huge for me.

And so I thought, I just really want to tell her thank you. I just want to say thank you for having me. So my husband as a stocking stuffer got an test and put it in my stocking, and then I sat on it for six months.

I just left it on my dresser because I knew that if I took it, there was a chance that I could be matched with a birth family member and I wanted to make sure that I was ready for that. And so I prayed a lot about it and just looked at it every day on my dresser. And so I finally decided to take it in June, and then I got the results back in August. One morning I woke up and checked my email and there was a little email that said like, oh, your results are in.

Then I went to the page and it said, you’ve been matched with a birth parent. And it was so surreal. I just was like, well, so here we go. This is happening. And I walked downstairs and showed my husband and was like, I think this is my birth mom. I sent the certified letter and then I just sort of waited and I got an email on a Friday afternoon and it said, my name is Katie. I got your letter. I am your birth mom and I’ve been waiting for this letter for a really long time. We stayed in contact since then, emailing, and then we were able to go to West Virginia to meet my extended family.

And it was really special and still surreal, but I got to meet aunts and a grandmother that have said they’ve been praying for me for 38 years and just saying how when I was formed in my mother’s womb, He knew me and all the days of my life were written in His book before one of them came to be.

And knowing that and then seeing how He worked everything out for good. Like with my parents, they tried for years to have a baby and couldn’t, and so my birth mother gave them this incredible gift to be able to be parents. So there’s a reason that He created me and formed me and so I need to live out that purpose and live a life that’s glorifying to Him, according to His glorious riches like we talked about, like Mike has been talking about. Living a life of generosity and sacrifice and just trying to honor God with my life because He was so kind in letting me have a life. So I think that that’s been something I’ve been really impacted by. He really cares about each of us and wants people to know Him and love Him. It’s humbling. It’s really humbling

And we praise God for all the ways that He is working in your life and all of our lives. And what an incredible story. I know adoption and foster care doesn’t always end like that. It’s not always tied up with a bow, but man, we praise God when those types of situations present themselves.

Many of you know if you’ve been tracking with us that we’ve been studying the book of Philippians, particularly chapter four this summer because it is just full of just good news for us and quite frankly some challenging instruction from us, from God through the Apostle Paul.

Reading Philippians Four

And we’ve also been together trying to memorize chapter four, and today is our last sermon studying chapter four. We’re going to round out this series in verses 21 through 23, but together we’re going to recite verses one through 23. So if you have been memorizing this with us here at Tysons, wherever you’re watching from, then we’ll have the verses on the screen. You can read it out loud with us or you can look away and you can recite it by memory if you have been working on that. So let’s pick it up in verse one, Philippians 4.

Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for my, joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, that surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, my brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Whatever you have received, whatever you’ve learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things and the God of peace will be with you.

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, no other church, when I left Macedonia, no other church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts that you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

And our verses for this morning. Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Come on y’all, let’s give each other a hand. Let’s give ourselves a hand. Let’s give ourselves a hand for your ability to memorize or your ability to read. You know what I’m saying? We all celebrate one another. This is God’s word. Let’s pray as we dive into our text for this morning.

Father, we thank you so much for your grace that we’re going to see so vividly in this text this morning. And God, I pray, I pray that just as you’ve been doing in my heart this week, Lord God, that you would revive our hearts. Father, I pray, Lord, that you would just unleash a revolution in our hearts by the power of your Holy Spirit as we read about and think about and contemplate and prayerfully receive once again your grace that is sufficient for us. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

So we’re looking at verses 21 through 23, which is the end of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, and it’s kind of his closing greetings. And let’s be honest, when we read the Bible, we read these greetings, we tend to gloss over these parts of scripture because we think, oh, this is a salutation. This is just a greeting. This is not significant. And I would encourage you to slow down because scripture says all scripture, right? Testifying of itself, all scripture is inspired by God, it’s useful for us. And so even the greetings, even the greetings are embedded with something God wants to say to us. And so I’ve enjoyed spending time in this greeting and listen, as we study this greeting in verses 21 through 23, here’s what I want you to grasp. This is just the kind of main point up top. Listen. What we’ll see in this greeting is this. That whenever you truly encounter the grace of God, it revolutionizes everything in your life.

Whenever you truly encounter the grace of God, it revolutionizes everything in your life. I’m not talking about just encountering religion. I’m not talking about encountering a new church or some Christian music or a new Bible study. Some of you know my story. I went through the motions of church all my life growing up. I’m talking about when you truly, genuinely encounter the grace of God in the Lord Jesus Christ, it absolutely revolutionizes everything in your life.

And so I hope that if you are a follower of Jesus, you are encouraged and emboldened and strengthened by the grace of God this morning. And I hope and I have been praying that if you are watching or you are here and you are not a follower of Jesus, you have not been born again through faith in Jesus, I’m praying that today would be the day you encounter the revolutionary grace of God.

What Is the Grace Of God?

So what is the grace of God? Well, the most basic definition of grace is treating someone better than they deserve. But I think the grace of God we see in scripture is actually much more profound than just treating somebody better than they deserve. And when we actually study scripture and we see the grace of God, this is kind of how I picture or how I personally define the grace of God in scripture or grace in general. Grace is inviting someone to enjoy what they have not earned. Grace is inviting someone to enjoy what they have not earned.

That’s why I wish that we were taking the Lord’s supper together as a church gathering physically, because when we come to the table, when we take the elements of the Lord’s supper, you know what it is? It is symbolic of the presence of God with us laying out this lavish feast of His grace.

It is Him once again inviting and confirming the fact that we get to enjoy that which we have not earned. That’s what the grace of God is. And so what I want us to see in these verses is how the grace of God affects the way we view ourselves and how we view the church and then how we view society.

And I want to camp out on that third one for a little while, how we view society. And here’s what I want to challenge you to do as we think about the grace of God. What I want to challenge you to do as we walk away today is I want to challenge you to fight, especially in this culture, especially with the stuff going on in your life, I want to challenge you to fight to see people the way God sees them.

See People The Way God Sees Them

I want to challenge you to fight to see people the way God sees them. And that starts with seeing ourselves the way God sees us. So here’s number one, the grace of God radically changes the way we see ourselves. And what I mean by that is the grace of God gives us a new identity. It gives us a new identity. Every time I think about identity, I think about Allen Iversson.

And I’ve shared this before, but at one point he was one of the most revered NBA players in the world. And then his career completely crumbled. And I’ll never forget reading these lines in a Washington Post article about him. It said, “Basketball may have been the only thing holding Iverson’s life together.” It says, “For years, a question worried those closest to him. What happens when the most important part of a man’s identity, the beam supporting the other unstable matter is no longer there?”

The writer of this Washington Post article kind of looking and profiling Allen Iverson’s life says that beam, that unstable matter that was supporting his identity, basketball, his career, crumbled underneath his feet and his sense of identity crumbled along with it. And see, all of us are tempted to build our sense of identity on unstable matter, on things that are bound to change. And when I say sense of identity, I mean those things we look to for meaning and purpose and confidence in life.

It’s the way we tend to see ourselves, informed by our experiences and the people around us. And the problem is that the things of this world, the things we tend to build our identity on, those things are not only unstable, those things are deceptive. They are misleading. Why? Because they might give us a sense of security and identity for a while, and then they begin to become unstable and wobbly and our sense of identity begins to become unstable also. But the reality of the matter is there will be a day where all of those things we’ve built our identity on come crumbling underneath our feet because we will stand before a holy God.

The Judgment Of God

You and I will stand before the judgment of Almighty God. And in that moment, in that moment, the little petty unstable things that we build our sense of identity on, the things that we look to for meaning and purpose and confidence, those things will begin to crumble underneath our feet, under the weight of the judgment and the truth of God in his justice. And the reality of the matter is, apart from Jesus Christ, everything that we’ve built our identity on before God will be absolutely wiped away and you and I will be left to face the judgment that we deserve.

But when you become a Christian, and if you’re exploring Christianity, I want you to hear this. When you become a Christian, God gives you a rock solid, secure foundation, not just to build your relationship with God on, but to build your entire life on.

And so there’s lots of terms throughout the New Testament that are used to describe the new identity that has been given to believers, but this word saint that’s repeated twice in verses 21 through 23, this word saint is one of Paul’s favorite ways to describe believers throughout his letters, one of his favorite ways of describing the identity that followers of Jesus have.

And this is not saint in the way that Roman Catholics use it, a status that you achieve after you die and the church canonizes you. This is not a saint in the way that many Protestants have a tendency to use the word, a status you achieve as you get older and hopefully a little bit more mature. You know, those people are saints. No, no, the word saint just means holy one.

And when Paul uses the word saint, here’s what he means, and this is what saint means all throughout the New Testament.

A saint is a person who has been given a righteous standing with God through faith in Jesus. A saint is a person who has been given a righteous, who has been given a righteous standing with God through faith in Jesus. This is an identity that is not achieved through our personal performance. This is an identity that is received by the grace of God through our faith in Jesus Christ. In the apostle Paul knew this because it was his own personal experience. He had an encounter with the grace of God that revolutionized everything in his life, including his personal sense of identity. You flip back just one chapter in his letter to the Philippians, and he writes this in Philippians 3.

He says, if anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more. In other words, he’s saying, if anybody thinks they have a solid foundation for their sense of identity in this world, I got everybody beat. He says, I’m circumcised on the eighth day. I know that sounds like a weird thing to boast in, but in this context that was talking about his ethnicity, his Jewish adherence to the law of God.

He says, circumcised on the eighth day of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, pure blood Hebrew. As to the law, a Pharisee. As to zeal, a persecutor of the church. As to righteousness under the law, blameless. But, verse seven. But, he says. He lists and stacks all of these things he had built his identity on. And he says, but whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them but rubbish. All those things I built my identity on, compared to Christ, they are like trash in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him. Not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, that comes from my adherence to the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.

What Paul is saying is I had a radical encounter, a genuine revolutionary encounter with the grace of God and it exposed the unstable matter that my life was built upon and it brought me to my knees in humility before the holiness of Almighty God where I realized that all of my good works were like trash in the sight of God apart from Christ because I could never possibly live up to the perfectly righteous standards that God requires.

We Need God’s Grace

And he realizes I am hopeless and I am helpless to fix my situation and he turns to the grace of God in Christ, the grace of God that sent Jesus to live the perfectly righteous life that we could never live that accomplishes our righteous standing, the grace of God that sent Jesus to die on the cross for your sin and my sin in our place so that we don’t have to pay the penalty for our own sin, for all of eternity separated from the love of God.

The grace of God that rose Jesus from the grave, not for his benefit because Jesus was God, but for our benefit so that eternal life and the power of the Holy Spirit could be secured for us. This is the good news of the gospel, that God in his grace offers you forgiveness and reconciliation. And as you receive that gift of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, the unstable matter in your life begins to move to the side and the rock solid identity that God desires you to have becomes the foundation of your life.
You see, the gospel changes everything.

This is why I say all the time, and I say it mostly to myself, which I know is a little weird, but the gospel is not just the gate into the Christian life, the gospel is the ground of the Christian life. It’s not just how we get in. It’s how we have confidence as we’re trying to live the Christian life with all of our flaws and failures and the ups and downs and challenges and successes of life. And you see, the Christian life is not about striving to become something you’re not.

The Christian life is about learning to become who you are in Christ. You have been given a new secure identity if you’ve truly encountered the grace of God and received that grace through Jesus Christ. And so it is the daily process of aligning our thoughts and aligning our actions with this new identity that God has given you. Listen, Christian, in God’s eyes, you are a saint.

I know for some of you that went right over your head or bounced right off of your heart because that accuser in your mind just continues to swat away those gospel truths. But in God’s eyes, if you are in Christ, you are a saint. This has to become true for you, like true in your actual life, true in the way that you actually live your life.

My iPad just got stuck. Just, there we go. I was about to say just pray about what you’ve heard so far. Listen, this is why we have to take time. We got to take time to hear God speaking to us in the gospel. It’s not just something we preach to other people, it’s something that we have to preach to ourselves every single day.

We have to saturate our hearts and our minds with the truth of the gospel, how God sees us in Christ, not how we see ourselves in our struggles and our sins. Listen to me, in God’s eyes, you are not defined and your future is not determined by what happened to you in the past.

I know it’s hard to shake what happened to you, but in Christ, or let me add what’s happening to you right now. You are not defining your future. It’s not determined by what happened to you in the past or what is happening to you right now. As a follower of Jesus, your identity is defined and your future is determined by what has happened to you in Christ.

Let God’s Grace Give You a New Identity

By your encounter with the revolutionary grace of God that has given you a new identity in him. In God’s eyes, you are not defined and your future is not determined by what you’ve accomplished because your accomplishments will fade at some point. In God’s eyes, you are not defined and your future is not determined by your failures and your flaws. Listen, stop allowing your failures and your flaws to tell you who you are.

You might be struggling. That is not your identity. Not if you are in Christ. As a follower of Jesus, you are defined by what Jesus has accomplished for you, even in spite of your failures and your flaws. Listen, in God’s eyes, you are not defined and your future is not determined by what people think about you or say about you or what people said about you all your life growing up. In Christ that does not define you.

You are defined and your future is determined by what God says about you in his word and in Christ, we no longer need to look to the things of this world for meaning and purpose or confidence in life. We rest in the grace of God and the identity he’s given us. If you are in Christ, you are a saint, a beloved saint of God, a beloved son or daughter of God. How often do you remind yourself of who God says you are in Christ?

The grace of God gives us a new identity. It changes the way we see ourselves, but the grace of God radically changes the way we also see the church. What I mean is the grace of God creates a counter-cultural family. You see it in Philippians 4:21. Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you.

I won’t spend a whole lot of time on this point because our relationships with each other in the church is something that we’ll be addressing more and more as we get on the other side of this pandemic because this is something that burdens our hearts as leaders and pastors in the church. So many people in our church, and we saw this in a survey, said, I feel unknown in my church family, in this church family.

And so we’ll talk about that more and more, but I want to just point out how we should see each other in the church. We should see each other as family. Not just as fellow attenders or fellow viewers. No, it’s the grace of God that defines our life and defines our relationship and unites us in this church family. And so they saw each other as family and they treated each other with personal affection. Paul says greet every saint.

Greet every saint. This wasn’t just like some dap, you know what I mean? Back in the day, in this ancient culture, which is true about so many different cultures around the world today, a greeting was a declaration of relationship. It was an expression of deep affection and devotion to somebody else. And Paul writes this letter and says, I want you to greet every saint. In the Greek, every means every, like each individual. Saint Paul is saying, I want each individual member of the church family to know that they are loved and cared for. This is not just a generic anonymous greeting. I want you to greet every saint.

The Importance Of Church

Andy Crouch said this was the revolutionary act of the early church: in an impersonal world, to recognize persons of every possible status, to see them all and know them all by name and name them all as brothers and sisters. This personal affection that grew out of this relationship formed by the grace of God. And listen, that’s hard to accomplish in a gathering of hundreds or thousands of people once a week, but we believe we can truly experience the church as a family as we serve together in ministry and we share our lives together in groups. And we’ll be talking more about that, but let me just say this.

Our physical church gatherings have been shut down for the most part until recently, have been shut down for the most part for like the last six months, since March 15th. And listen, listen, if you don’t miss anybody from your church in six months, if you don’t feel like a painful longing to see and to greet and to be with specific people with specific faces and names in your church family in six months, that means you are not connected the way God wants you to be connected.

God doesn’t want us to settle for anonymous superficial relationships with our church family. He has something better for us. So the grace of God changes the way we view ourselves and the way we view the church, and then finally, the grace of God changes the way we view society. And we’ll sit here until we close. Listen, I want you to listen to what might be the most revolutionary verse in all of chapter four.

Listen to verse 22. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. Listen, we will just go right past that, but this is revolutionary. That phrase, that clause, especially those of Caesar’s household is a representation of the revolutionary grace of God at work in society. Listen, Caesar’s household could have possibly included some of Caesar’s family, but most likely Paul is talking about men and women who worked on the imperial staff.

So these are slaves and servants, these are bodyguards, other people who worked on the staff of the emperor. And we might be tempted, like I said, to just gloss over that detail, but don’t miss how revolutionary this was. The gospel has reached the heart of the Roman Empire just like Jesus said it would. You remember Acts 1:8, before Jesus is ascended, Jesus tells his disciples, he says, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.

And what would that spirit empower you to do? You shall be my witnesses. Where? Both in Jerusalem where you are right now and in all Judea and Samaria going out to further regions and even to the remotest part of the earth. At that time, it would’ve been the far reaches of the Roman Empire. And you read through the Book of Acts and Satan tried to crush the church while it was a little startup community in Jerusalem, but the gospel kept spreading as God’s people were scattering. And eventually Paul, who had tried to violently stop the gospel, is born again and now devotes his life to passionately spreading the gospel and the gospel ends up beating him to Rome.

The Gospel In Rome

Scholars don’t know for sure who first brought the gospel to Rome, but most scholars believe it wasn’t the apostles, it was people who had encountered the revolutionary grace of God who took the gospel to Rome. And Paul desperately wants to visit the Christians in Rome, you read about that in his letter to the Romans, and he wants to help spread the gospel there. And listen, Paul gets his wish except not in the way that he expected because he goes to Rome not as a missionary, well, kind of as a missionary, but as a prisoner.

He’s arrested in Jerusalem and through all of these different trials, he ends up a prisoner in Rome, and yet he’s blown away as he sees the power of God at work, even from prison. You flip back to chapter one in Philippians, and Paul writes this, look at verse 12. He says, I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me, this unjust treatment, this imprisonment for proclaiming the gospel. I know you’re worried, but I want you to have God’s perspective because what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. Paul says, listen, I got to Rome on the Roman government’s dime.

I wanted to come here to help spread the gospel and God in his providence got me here to spread the gospel from the very heart of the Roman Empire in a Roman prison. And listen to me, just one quick application here. God has placed you for a purpose. He’s placed you for a purpose. He wants people to discover His grace wherever he has you or wherever he sends you. And sometimes we can wonder, will the gospel really make progress? And you might be watching from a different country.

I know we have missionaries and we have people who are doing business and marketplace ministry all over the world. You might wonder in a place that is hard to reach, can the gospel actually make progress? Or maybe you wonder that about your family members or coworkers or in your neighborhood. You wonder, is the gospel powerful enough to make a difference in hard places? Is it really powerful enough to break through hard hearts? And what we see here is yes, it is. The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. The arm of the Lord is not so short that it cannot save. God is mighty to save.

But I want us to see something else as we think about that phrase, especially those of Caesar’s household because sometimes we kind of gloss over the text and we just kind of lift the spiritual meaning out of the text and we don’t think about the actual human historical context, but this passage that we just read is saturated in politics. Absolutely saturated in the politics of first century Rome. And listen, here’s why this has been so encouraging to me this week, because I’ll be honest, I have been wrestling with this question: is the power of the gospel stronger than the power of our politics?

I just been wondering, can the gospel flourish in the midst of an increasingly hostile society? Listen, we’re in the middle of a pandemic that’s become politicized. We’re still reeling from all of the deaths that have assaulted our TV screens and YouTube and social media, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and the protests and the riots that have erupted all throughout our country.

Then you add stuff that just happened in the past two weeks. Jacob Blake killed by police officers with three children in the car and all of the debate and controversy around that and the eruption of protests and riots once again, and the NBA and the WNBA and the sports leagues canceling their games this week in protest. Then you throw into the midst of all of that the Democratic National Convention and all of the commentary around that. Then you throw on top of that the Republican National Convention and all of the commentary surrounding that. And listen, I’ll be honest, my heart has been grieved, like deeply concerned about what I see in our society and the growing hostility and animosity. It’s almost insane.

It’s like we can’t get beyond the hostility to reach a place of actual civil discourse in our society. And the question I’ve had for myself and for our church and for the body of Christ in the United States is where do Christians fit in all of this? You see, throughout church history, Christians have always had to navigate our relationship with society.

And sometimes it can be really difficult to navigate. You just imagine driving down a road and there’s a steep cliff on both sides. And on one side, we can begin to idolize the society that we’re in. And when I say idolize, I mean we begin to give our primary allegiance to the vision and values of that society or subgroup of that society, so much so that it begins to compete with our allegiance to God’s will, and it distorts our Christian witness.

We shouldn’t idolize our society. In fact, as Christians, the gospel compels us to confront society at certain points because ultimately we represent Jesus. And see, there’s a very important phrase in verse 23 in Philippians four, a phrase that’s so common to us that we don’t even realize how revolutionary it is. Look at verse 23. 1 phrase. The Lord Jesus Christ. See, Jesus’ Lord was blasphemy to the Jews.

You read through the Old Testament that only Almighty God deserved to be worshiped as Lord. And yet, after listening to Jesus’s teaching and seeing his miracles and witnessing his resurrection, followers of Jesus boldly declared that Jesus is Lord. God himself in human flesh. Not just someone who should be respected as a teacher or a prophet, but someone who should be worshiped and obeyed as God. Jesus is Lord was blasphemy to the Jews and Jesus is Lord was treason to the Romans.

The Roman Empire allowed different regions and religions to worship their own gods, but the emperor demanded ultimate allegiance. In fact, the emperor was given divine status and was to be worshiped as Lord. You read about that in Acts 17. Jesus is Lord was a direct protest against the Roman Empire. And listen, when you understand that, it shows you how confrontational Christian teaching was.

Even right here in the letter to the Philippians, listen to these verses, but think about them in the context of the Roman Empire. Listen to Philippians 2:9. It says, therefore, God has exalted him Jesus and bestowed on him the name that is above every name. Every name in the spiritual realm, every name in the physical realm. Caesar, the name of Jesus is above your name. So that at the name of Jesus, every knee, Caesar, every knee, Satan, every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus is who? Lord.

To the glory of God the Father. Philippians 3:20, Paul says, but our citizenship is in heaven. Wait, ultimate citizenship isn’t in the Roman Empire? No. Our citizenship ultimately is in heaven. And from it, we await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body by the power that enables him to subject all things to himself. Wait, everything is subjected to the emperor. No, no, no, no, no, no. No, no. Everything is subjected to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Our Allegiance Is to Jesus

Listen, here’s my point. My point is that as Christians, our allegiance is to Jesus and his kingdom, not the kingdoms of this world. We don’t pledge ultimate allegiance to progressivism or conservatism. We don’t pledge ultimate allegiance to our racial group or our country. This is the prophetic witness of the church.

Jesus is Lord. His word is our ultimate authority. His glory is our ultimate passion regardless of the consequences. And what that means is that sometimes our allegiance to Jesus will require us to confront the society that we live in. And here’s the thing, it is easy to confront the side of society that is most foreign to us. It’s much more difficult to confront the side of society that is most familiar to us.

We’re in a weird time where those of us who are Christian progressives in the room or watching can be so beholden to our politics that we either hesitate or downright refuse to stand up and speak out on issues that challenge the progressive talking points. And we’re in a weird time where those of us who are Christian conservatives can be so beholden to our politics that we hesitate or downright refuse to stand up and speak out on issues that challenge conservative talking points.

And listen, middle school and high school students, you don’t get a pass on this either. You will experience this tension as well. Whether different groups of people expect you to fall in line with their beliefs or their agenda, but Jesus is Lord. Our allegiance is always to him, and that requires us to break ranks with earthly kingdoms and worldly agendas wherever they contradict the will of God.

Do Not Idolize Society Around You

And so sometimes we can idolize the society around us, but there’s a cliff on the other side too. We can swing from idolizing society that we begin to demonize society around us. And here’s what I mean by demonizing. We demonize people. Listen, when we reduce them down to the thing we disagree with, when we reduce them down to the thing that we find sinful or offensive. That’s the only thing we see about them. That’s the thing that begins to define them in our eyes. And so we begin to see them as not just undesirable, but as irredeemable, we begin to dehumanize them.

They’re no longer people. They are merely representatives of the opposition. That’s how the world operates. That’s not how the church and Christians should operate in the kingdom of God. This is the antithesis of grace. Grace says you are not the sum total of your sin. Grace says I disagree with you, but I will not demonize you. And that’s part of what makes this line in verse 22 so revolutionary because the Jews hated the Romans and Christians were persecuted by the Romans. And yet now people deep in the Roman Empire are sending greetings as saints in Christ Jesus. The revolutionary grace of God.

And listen, you see this all over the New Testament. You think about how Jesus and his followers interacted with people throughout the Roman Empire. Think about the Roman centurion who came to Jesus begging for his servant to be healed. This was a commander in the Roman military. He was seen by the Jewish community as an occupying force. And Jesus doesn’t just see him through the lens of the kingdoms of this world. Jesus sees them through the lens of God’s grace, affirms his faith and heals his servant. Think about the tax collectors. These were Jews who were employed by the Roman government who exploited the poor and benefited from their proximity to power. The Jews hated the tax collectors and yet Jesus calls Matthew to be his disciple and extends grace to Zacchaeus. And Zacchaeus is so transformed that he completely renounces his sin and offers restitution for the people he defrauded.

Think about the zealots in first century Judaism. These were the political revolutionaries. The people who believed Jews should violently overthrow the Roman government. And as you read history, you see how the Roman government had to try to stamp out these violent uprisings over and over again in cities all throughout the Roman Empire. And you know what Jesus does in Luke 6? He calls all of these different men to be his disciples. And in verse 15, you know who he calls? Simon the zealot. The revolutionary grace of God for the violent revolutionary.

Our New Identity In Christ

If you think about the Apostle Paul, a Jewish leader turned follower of Jesus who is now being illegally held in Roman custody and in Act 16, an earthquake hits. Paul is set free. The prison guard is so distraught that he’s about to take his life and Paul stops him and says, no, we’re all still here. And preaches the gospel to him and then visits this man’s house where his whole household is saved. Listen, I could go on and on and on, but now as Paul writes this letter to the Philippians, he’s in a Roman prison again. And God has been pouring out his grace in such a profound way that even people from Caesar’s household have been born again. And they send their greetings through Paul to the Philippian church and listen to me, as the band begins to come out, listen, see, the grace of God works in us. It gives us a new identity in Christ. But then if we allow it to, it works through us as we engage the society around us.

And so yes, we are called to confront society when we see sin and injustice. This is the prophetic responsibility of the church. But as Christians, we also see the people in society through the lens of the grace of God. We see our family members and coworkers through the lens of the grace of God. We see protestors and politicians and police officers through the lens of the grace of God.

And if you disagree with that, listen, if you disagree with that, it’s because you don’t truly understand the grace of God. You see, so often we treat people like they’re ineligible for the grace of God. Well, guess what? We’re all ineligible for the grace of God and none of us gain eligibility through our own personal performance. We have received this new identity by the grace of God.

And here’s something I find so frustrating. Listen, God loves the people we’re tempted to hate. It’s annoying, isn’t it? And when we begin to grasp that and we allow it to transform our hearts, I think we’ll find ourselves on the brink of revival because at that point there is nothing, absolutely nothing that can stop us from becoming conduits of the transformational revolutionary grace of God. And I’m not saying this is easy, but I’m saying where we struggle, where we struggle to truly trust and genuinely enjoy the new identity we’ve been given in Christ, where we struggle to give and receive affectionate devotion in the community of the local church, where we struggle to faithfully represent Jesus in the midst of a hostile society, where we struggle, Paul ends this letter and leaves us with exactly what we need.

Philippians 4:23. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. May God’s grace empower you. May God’s grace sustain you. May it strengthen your resolve to be who Jesus has made you to be, in community with the people Jesus has saved by His grace to move out into society with the truth that Jesus is Lord, but the grace that he is also the Savior who came looking for the lost.

And if that’s you, the lost, the person who has not yet found and trusted and received and experienced and enjoyed the grace of God through Jesus, then today can be that day for you. Let me lead us in prayer as we prepare to respond with this closing song. And as I pray, I want to say, if you’re watching or if you’re here in the room and you have not encountered, genuinely encountered the grace of God that revolutionizes your life, then God says you don’t have to do anything to clean yourself up first. God says, you come to Me and you admit that you desperately need My grace, and you put your trust in Jesus as the only one who can give it. You can do that even as I pray right now. Let me pray.

A Prayer Thanking God

Father, we thank you so much for Your grace. And I thank You, Father, for the people who are watching, who are listening, Lord, who to this point have not truly, truly encountered and experienced Your grace. God, I pray that in Your kindness that You will pour Your grace out on their hearts and draw their hearts to You, that You would save them by Your power, that You would redeem and rescue them, God, according to Your grace, not according to their merit.

And for those of us who have been changed by Your grace, Father, help us to enjoy it and to express it to the world. The world around us, the world far from us. God, we want to see You lifted high, Your grace magnified. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mike Kelsey is Lead Pastor of Preaching and Culture at McLean Bible Church in metro Washington, D.C., where ​he has been a pastor for over 13 years. In his role, Mike leads MBC to engage in current cultural issues in order to reach new and emerging generations as well as people disconnected from and disenfranchised by the church. Mike and his wife Ashley live in the D.C. metro area with their three children.


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