Partakers of Grace (Part 3)
While in prison, Paul wrote a letter to a group of Christians in the city of Philippi, whom he called “partakers with me of grace”. Both Paul and the Philippian Christians had received grace (lavish and undeserved kindness) from God, and their lives showed it. Over the last two weeks, we have seen several evidences of grace in Paul’s life. Let’s now look to the evidence of grace in the Philippians themselves.
Evidence of Grace #5: The Philippians have become followers of Jesus.
In 1:6, Paul says that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” This “good work” that God began in them was, essentially, causing them to become followers of Christ. They became Christians. They had been “converted.” And this was completely a work of God’s grace; the Philippians did not get any credit for this whatsoever.
What does “conversion to Christianity” mean to you? How you answer that question will determine whether you see conversion as a miracle only made possible by God’s grace, or something that can be achieved by human effort or decision. Many would say that a person has “been converted” to Christ if they start attending church services on Sundays, or if they have been baptized, or if they don’t commit certain kinds of sins, or if they serve in a local church, or if they intellectually agree to certain doctrines of the faith (i.e., they believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that he lived a sinless life, that he died on a cross and was raised from the dead, that the Bible is the Word of God, etc.). If you believe that conversion means doing those things, then you believe conversion can happen apart from God stepping into a person’s life and performing a miracle—because all of the things I listed above can be done by anyone at anytime if they try hard enough.
But that is emphatically not what the Bible says conversion to Christ is. The Bible says that conversion is not the “sprucing up” of the person you already are, but a fundamental transformation into a totally new person with brand-new desires and affections. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 that the unconverted person has a veil over their eyes, so that they are unable to see Jesus Christ in all of his all-satisfying beauty and glory. They cannot see how precious he is, and have no desire to know him and enjoy him. It’s not that they see him and just don’t like what they see; they literally cannot see him.
Conversion, therefore, is an act of God whereby he removes the blinders from our eyes so that we can rightly see the beauty of Jesus. This act of God is absolutely necessary, Paul says, because “the God of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4). Christ is beautiful and glorious, make no mistake, but sinners do not and cannot see him that way. We are unbelievably ignorant to how precious and wonderful Christ is. And this is not a blindness that a doctor can fix. This kind of sight—seeing Jesus in all of his beauty and glory—has to be granted by God himself. And unless God grants it, conversion to Christ has not taken place. Therefore, if a person has been converted, it means that God “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).
If conversion is just something people do—attend church, believe right thing about Jesus, get baptized—then there is no need to get excited about it when it happens. But if it is nothing less than a dead person being raised to new life by the power of God (Eph. 2:1-10), then it is an evidence of grace for which God is to be eternally praised.
The evidence that the Philippians had received grace from God is simply this—that they had been converted to Christ.