Unpacking the Gift
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus... (NIV translation)
and did my best to help people understand that the "attitude" is already in Christ, therefore it is already in Christians, by virtue of our Baptism (see Romans 6). So the task becomes to "have it out," to express it, to "cop an attitude" with other people, particularly in the midst of our life in the Church. Unfortunately, the pericope for that Sunday stopped at verse 11, and so it skipped one of my favorite passages, Philippians 2:12-13.
One reason it is one of my favorites is that it is very similar to my confirmation verse, Php. 1:6. Anyway, here it is, again in the NIV translation:
Philippians 2:13-14 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
Some Lutherans are bugged by that phrase "work out your salvation," but there's nothing to be afraid of. The articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae ("article by which the church stands or falls")--the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith--is not violated. "Work out" is literally, to "put in force." The gift has been given, not worked for. But it wants application. Like a bicycle in a box, there is "some assembly required."
No, that's no good. The gift--the righteousness earned for me by Christ's sacrifice on the Cross--is all together. This bicycle is already assembled. It's got a pretty bow on it, standing there all shiny and perfect under the Christmas tree. It wants only to be ridden. Umff. I don't know how to ride a bike yet! So the "assembly required" is to install the only piece missing--my skinny little five-year-old butt in the seat--and learn how to make it go.
My own experience with learning to ride a bike was pretty traumatic. I refused to learn. My father gave up dealing with my panicky screams. So it sat there in the basement, but eventually I got on it and just pushed myself around the basement, feet safely on the floor, and eventually I got the feel for it and was able to coast a bit. When spring came, I took it outside, and coasted farther, and eventually learned to pedal.
But the gift of Christ is self-teaching. The Father Himself holds us up as we ride Christ, but it's still scary, and we still sometimes balk, and cry, and scream that we don't want to fall down. Fear and trembling accompany the repeated need for repentance, for forgiving and loving our enemies, for facing new challenges to our love and obedience. And once we learn the most basic skills (how to go, how to stop) there's still a lot to learn. Bike safety. Bike maintenance. Hand signals. Why gravel is dangerous. What to do with the bell, and the mirror.
Well, those are skills, but in the process we are learning other things: the joy of exploring. The freedom of wind in your face. The thrill of jumping a curb. Tricks. The fun of being in a bike parade. All the cool pretending you can do.
Like all analogies, this one has lots of shortcomings, so let's not quibble over those. The Christians in Philippi were being encouraged to put their faith into practice. They were already doing it. Keep it up, the Holy Spirit had Paul tell them. And don't forget that your desire to do so, and the power to do so, are because God Himself is working in you! The Christian life is simply "unpacking and applying" the life of Christ given to us when we "put on Christ" in faith.