February 28, 2013

Identity: Completion

How many of you have been sidetracked by procrastination?

It seems to get everyone at one time or another. If you have ADD like me...you start working on something and notice something else that needs to be done, that leads to something else...and pretty soon you have spent an hour or more looking at funny cat pictures online or ready inane status updates on Facebook.

It is simply amazing the human race with its ability to procrastinate has accomplished anything! But it is nice to know we serve a God who has promised to get us across the finish line of the faith; a God who has promised to help us bring to completion all the character and sin issues in our lives and lead us to a place where we enjoy the fullness of the Gospel life He has laid out in front of us.

We are looking at one verse today, Philippians 1:6. It is a phrase in a very long sentence. The Apostle Paul was often gifted in his use of the Greek...but sometimes he liked run on sentences that go on for ever and include several different things. So right in the middle of a sentence expressing his thankfulness for the way the Philippians have worked for the Gospel...Paul takes a quick break to express a thought about the personal salvation of the Philippians.

Philippians 1:6 says,
 “being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
I believe Paul would say the same thing to many of us...and many us need to hear this...

We are in a message series on Identity and have been looking at what it means to gain our identity and self-worth from God. We looked at what it means to be made in the Image of God, and how that Image through the Fall of Genesis 3 has been marred by sin. It is easy, because it seems so natural, to only think of ourselves in light of Genesis 3. We are familiar with all the pain and evil in our world. We are painfully aware of our faults and sins and how we fall short of what God intended in our world.

Sometimes...we are tempted to believe that this is all there is. That my life with all of its sins and screw-ups will always be full of the faults and struggles I now have. I will always struggle with this. We need so desperately to hear that God has promised to not only forgive those faults and sins, but to work in our lives to root them out and bring healing and freedom from all the sins and struggles that hold us back.

Paul is able to pray with joy because he is confident that God will finish the work of the Gospel in their lives, and, by extension, the work of the Gospel in our lives. For Paul, like it should for us, all discussions about the Christian life and what it means for our identity begins and ends with a discussion of God and his character.

The only way to know who we are and where we are headed is to reevaluate how we view God.

Our Understanding of God is Important.
When we have a faulty understanding of who God is and what He is like it gets in the way of our spiritual growth.

If I believe God is only loving and grace-filled...I can end  up with a big squishy God who simply pats us on the head when we sin, and says stuff like, “Boys will be boys!” We know what that kind of parenting does to children, and we know what that thinking does to our spiritual development.

If we view God only through the lens of holiness and justice...we can end up with a vengeful God who has this impossibly high standard we can never attain, and is looking for us to mess up at every turn. Our view of God affects our thinking.

Many of us, because of repeated failures to overcome a particular sin in our lives simply envision a God looking down on us shaking his head, turning his back and walking away. A God who acts very much like we would when we are disappointed in someone.

Paul says we serve and follow a God who is intent on making the fullness of the Gospel a reality in our lives. To free us from our sins, release us from our guilt, heal our woundedness, and restore life within us...and so many of us need to hear that...and not just hear it, but we need to believe it!

We serve a God who is not going to give up on us. In fact, many would describe Him as a pursuing God. Malcolm Muggeridge said, “I had a notion that somehow, besides questing, I was being pursued. Footsteps padding behind me; a following shadow, a Hound of Heaven, so near that I could feel the warm breath on my neck. . . . I was in flight. Chasing and being chased; the pursuing and the pursued...”

This is God at work, challenging, convicting, healing, forgiving, disciplining, and calling us forward so He can bring our salvation to completion.

So often we are like Adam and Eve in the Garden. We have sinned. We know we have sinned. So we run and hide and attempt to cover our nakedness with leaves. God was not surprised by their sin. He is not surprised by our sin either.

God knows we are incomplete.
This God who began a good work in us will bring it to completion...this means He is fully aware that I’m not perfect...that you are not perfect. He knows we are not getting everything right. We do not surprise him with our sin. There is never a time when we mess up that God goes, “I didn’t see that one coming!” He is guiding and shaping and transforming us toward a goal, but He knows we don’t get it right, and I find this comforting.

We can lay all my baggage out in front of Him, and know He loves me with all my stuff. Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

You see we didn’t have to clean up before we came to Christ. We didn’t have to get everything lined up and straightened out in our life before He would consider doing anything for us. He knew that if He didn’t do something to bring about our salvation it was never going to happen because there was and is nothing we can do to save ourselves.

And we know that coming into the faith, but sometimes we grow to think He is surprised when we mess it up...that He loves us less when we mess it up...or that we have to do it all ourselves now that we inside the faith.

We also face the issue that none of us really likes to be the beginner. We want to come in and have it all together. We want to be good at praying. We want to be good being good. We want to have it all together. We forget that all of that baggage, the years of nurturing the sinful habits of our lives and the hold our sinful nature has on us, doesn’t just vanish. It takes time. Somethings God heals right away, and other things God heals as we work it because only through the hard work of trying and failing will we actually learn to get over our issue.

We are unfinished. We are not perfect. But we must make a little side note to remind ourselves that

God doesn’t do it alone.
Just as God doesn’t override our will and force us to follow Him...He will not do something in us that we do not allow. He will not force us to grow spiritually. He will not grow us into better people if we resist Him. He still expects us to cooperate.

God’s good work in us requires a response from us, and we have to take responsibility for our actions.

Paul reminds the Philippians in 1:27, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

In Philippians 2:12-13 he says, “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.”

You see it seems contradictory to say, but our spiritual growth is a dance between us and God. God moving and us responding. We cannot earn our salvation, but we are expected to respond to God’s work in our lives.

So the expectation that is laid on us is

We must keep moving forward.
There are things we can do now, and we look forward to the completion of God’s work in our lives on the Day of Christ Jesus.

There is an infatuation in the church with the Rapture and the End Times and Revelation. There seem to be so many ideas about how this whole thing ends that some have simply thrown up their hands and given up on the whole thing. You have what Kirk Cameron and the Left Behind people say on one side, and then you have what the Bible actually says on the other side. It can get confusing.

Paul is reminding us that we are people of the Future. We believe that God is working in our world to bring about a restoration of how things should function, and that we are moving toward a Day when Jesus will return and set everything right.

I found this great quote in one of the commentaries I used to study this passage. It says,
"Believers in Christ are people of the future, a sure future that has already begun in the present. [We] are "citizens of heaven", who live the life of heaven, the life of the future, in the present in whatever circumstances [we] find [ourselves]. To lose this future orientation, and especially to lose the sense of "straining toward what is ahead, toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward," is to lose too much...even in the midst of present difficulties, God has in Christ both guaranteed [our] future and blessed [our] present situation."

We could spend so much time just unpacking this quote. But it boils down to the idea that God has started the power and presence of His Kingdom in our lives right now, and we push toward and live into that day when we and the rest of the world will get to experience the Kingdom in its fullness. Our responsibility is to keep pushing and pressing toward the future.

As Paul says in Philippians 3:12-14, “12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Maybe you have given up or been tempted to give up. You have struggled with a particular sin or character fault for a long time. Maybe you have been tempted to believe God couldn’t possible forgive you one more time. The only thing that keeps God from working in our life is if we decide to give up and walk away.

If can be difficult when it seems to be going so slowly. When it seems like we are having too many problems there are several things that may be at work.
He may be working, but not as fast or as visibly as we would like...and we are just impatient. So we say things like “God isn’t doing anything to help me!”

  1. Sometimes the deepest levels of change happen when we have to work the hardest to overcome something.
  2. We may not be using all of God’s resources
    • Prayer-we may need to get over ourselves and receive prayer from someone else
    • Confession-we may not actually have confessed it or really felt sorrow for our sin
    • Community-small groups, accountability partnerships, etc
  3. Unwillingness to change. We have not made the necessary choices in our lives to see a change.
  4. God is using our struggle in one area to grow another.
  5. He may be building trust in us.

We can rest in the fact that God is at work. He is doing a good work in our lives that will He will ultimately bring to completion.

Psalm 138:8, “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
    your love, O Lord, endures forever—
    do not abandon the works of your hands.”

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