As we face a new year, it is helpful to look back and take inventory
as we plan for the future. Setting realistic goals and effective
strategies are wise things to do: what do we hope to accomplish?
What is God up to in our lives? How are we going to measure
success or failure? Are we optimistic, pessimistic or realistic in
our expectations for 2010? It is also appropriate to get our spiritual
bearings as well. Paul gives us in his correspondence to the church
at Philippi a relevant promise in view of the new year. The promise is, “and I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Let us unpack this promise for it plumbs the depths of Christian theology.
Now this is no Pollyannaish, pie-in-the-sky platitude. When considering the context and circumstances of the author this statement is remarkable. Paul uttered these words in chains in a maritime prison, not from a soft bed at the Ritz-Carlton. He had been hounded, persecuted and attacked by his enemies who were doing their utmost to discredit him and his work in the churches. He, more than anyone, knew of the difficulties in Philippi yet at the same time, he had a profound, unshakeable confidence in God and His faithfulness. Two main convictions support this unbelievable confidence. First, he is aware of the work going forward in and among the church members in Philippi. He knows the character of it and that nothing is going to stop it. Second, he knows that there are many who have the work of God going on in them. The first conviction is a result of the second conviction. Put another way, Paul’s confidence does not rest in the church but rather in the work of God. His theological understanding of the nature of the Gospel is his ultimate comfort and hope. His confidence is in God who finishes what He starts.
This is often why we are filled with anxiety, worry and fear. We look at our situation, analyze and quantify our resources and live in misery and insecurity. We fail to realize that something larger than us and our dilemma is going on. We forget that God is at work. When the prophets of gloom and doom focus our attention upon the failing economy, the recession, the government and the church’s impotence and ineffectiveness something is askew. After all the moaning and groaning and grousing we are mired in the ‘slough of despond’. We have forgotten the Gospel. We have lost sight of one essential truth i.e. “God is at work”. Paul lays the foundation for confidence by giving us four rock-solid truths. The four pillars of our foundation are the Author, the nature, the purpose and the certainty of God’s work.
The Author, or source of the work is our triune God. This is not Paul’s work or the Philippians’ work but ultimately God’s work. Salvation and the building of the church is the work of God alone. In a secondary way He uses us and our gifts but at the end of the day there is only one who is worthy of praise. Man is so dead and entrenched in sin, so hostile to God and His law, so opposed to Him, does not desire Him, want Him or need Him, is running as fast as he can away from Him and would never respond or return to Him apart from God’s miraculous work. Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. It is God alone who opens hearts, makes alive, heals spiritual blindness and gives new hearts. We are His workmanship. He is the potter and we are the clay. He will perform it. God will not abandon, forsake or cast us away. He will not ‘write us off’ but He stays with us. He does not merely initiate new life but He leads, directs and manipulates our circumstances, at one time restraining and at other times urging us onward. This is biological Christianity.
The nature of the work is key. It is written within us. God regenerates us and we become a part of His new creation. We are not talking about moral reformation or turning over a new leaf or some kind of New Year’s resolution. We are talking about the life of God in the soul of man. The Spirit of God makes us alive, renews our faculties, draws us to the Savior, smokes us out of our hiding places and creates within us a whole new set of desires. He convicts us of sin, righteousness and judgment. He takes us to the cross and shows us the work finished there. He creates the empty hand of faith that receives and rests upon Christ. God the Spirit goes on to mature the new man and shapes, fashions and chisels us into the image of Christ. To be a Christian means that you have experienced God’s work because God is good in His essence and can only intend and do you good. If you are aware of being dealt with by God, you may not understand it but you can be sure that God is at work.
The purpose of God’s good work will be fully revealed at the consummation. Only then will we see what sola gratia (grace alone) really means. God’s grand goal and objective conceived of in eternity is to give His Son the greatest gift a father could give a son. He is giving His Son a beautiful, spotless, glorious bride and He is at work perfecting her. We, the Church, are the bride of Christ. This process of restoring and renewing the bride is one that God will never give up on. The assurance God gives us not only guarantees the outcome; it also guarantees every experience in everyday life, for in all things God is putting the finishing touches upon us. Good news and bad news, fortune and misfortune, unexpected blessings and unexpected troubles all have a purpose. The eye of faith affirms this experience and I would not be ready for the Day of Jesus without it. Are you resting in this truth?
Finally, the certainty of this grand work is encouraging. The outcome is guaranteed. The only way it could fail would be if God ceased to be God. God is working on schedule and the Day of Jesus Christ is fixed in the Father’s diary. Alec Motyer writes, “It is if He is under contract to Himself and to His Son. The day will come and everything and everyone will be ready in time for it. There will be no last-minute rush, no botching up, nothing that will ‘do for now’; strikes will not delay it nor carelessness mar it. The Father has weighed up the merits of His Son and the proper response to His work at Calvary, and nothing will suffice but that He should bring His Son out from the invisible glories of heaven and show Him publicly to a wondering and worshiping world. For His own glory, the Father must one day see every knee bowed to Jesus and hear every tongue acknowledge His Lordship. And our salvation is as assured as the coming of that day! For it is we, the saints, the believers, the objects of the good work, who must be made ready for His coming ‘on that day to be glorified in His saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:10). Our salvation can no more be forfeited than the Father can break His promised word to glorify His Son. The perseverance of the saints rest upon God’s preservation and perseverance with the saints. God is at work. Believe that is how we are to approach the new year.
Resting in it,