Faithful to Finish His Work in You
June 20, 1999
“The life of a Christian is a series of miracles.” So said Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great British preacher of the 19th century. If he is correct, why don’t we ever talk about those miracles? When a friend asked me that question several years ago, I asked several friends to tell me about the miracles they had personally experienced. All of the stories were inspiring, and some were very instructive. Here is one man’s story:
Tonight I read with interest your comments about miracles. I believe God is still in the miracle business. And the answers are still spectacular. But most of the answers don’t seem to me to be instantaneous.
We really are the immediate gratification generation. I think we read the New Testament and wonder why we don’t see God performing instantaneous, spectacular answers to prayer framed within peals of thunder and bolts of lightning. I think He does give spectacular answers, only in His time. I base this on my own experience. If I had asked a close friend 16 years ago to write down a description of me and then done the same today, here is the conclusion you would come to once you read them: These are two distinctly different people with very little in common.
What happened? Nothing short of a miracle!! I won’t go into all the circumstances, but 16 years ago I was at the end of my emotional and spiritual rope. One day I got down on my knees and told God to either change me or take me home because I didn’t want to live another minute if my life was going to be the same as it had been. That’s when I started to hear the faint sounds of hammering and sawing inside.
To jump to the end of the story, over the last 16 years God has created a whole new person inside this one. That’s not visible to most folks. And it wasn’t in the twinkling of an eye. But it is a miracle! It is spectacular! And it isn’t over yet! What God has done in my life is more miraculous than if He had grown a new arm or leg to replace an amputated one—because He has grown a whole new person. He still does miracles! They are spectacular! They are in His time! To God Be The Glory!!
Miracles All Around
As I read his story the thought occurred to me that there are miracles all around us if only we had eyes to see them. Our problem is that we look for outward, spectacular results when God’s work, like the tiny mustard seed, begins in a hidden place inside the human heart. As wonderful as reports of physical healing are—and I thank God that he still heals in answer to prayer today—the greater miracle is the transformation of a sinner into a saint by the grace of God.
I love one particular sentence in the last testimony: “That’s when I started to hear the faint sounds of hammering and sawing inside.” If you have been a believer for any length of time, you already know about that hammering and sawing inside your own life. Theologians have a big word for it. They call it “sanctification.” It’s the work God does inside the heart of a believer in order to make him into a brand-new person.
Here are five fast facts you need to know about sanctification:
It is the work of God.
It is a lifetime process.
It is never complete in this life.
God won’t stop until the job is done.
God uses everything that happens to us—the good and the bad—to make us like Jesus.
With this sermon I am coming near the end of the series called “The God You Can Trust.” Next week is the final message and then I will be on sabbatical for two months, a gift from the elders to mark my 10th anniversary as pastor of Calvary Memorial Church. I plan to say more about that next week, but for the moment I would simply remark that in these final two Sundays, I want to talk about some themes that have been important to me over the last ten years. If what I have to say sounds familiar, it’s because the promise of God to finish his work in us has become a precious theme in my heart. I believe it much more today than I did 10 years ago.
As a place to hang our thoughts, let’s take a quick look at four passages that speak of God’s determination to finish his work in us.
I. He starts the work in us.
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.
Note three things from this famous verse. First, God takes the initiative in starting his work in you. He is the one who “begins a good work” in us. Salvation always begins with God. He makes the first move, and if he didn’t make the first move, we would make no move at all. Perhaps you’ve heard of the country preacher who was being examined for ordination to the ministry. When asked how he had become a Christian, the preacher replied, “I did my part and God did his.” That sounded questionable, so the learned brethren on the council asked the preacher to explain “his part in salvation.” “My part was to run from God as fast as I could,” the preacher answered. “God’s part was to run after me and catch me and bring me into his family.” That’s a perfectly biblical answer because all of us were born running from God, and unless God took the initiative to find us, we would still be running away from him.
Second, God takes personal responsibility for completing his work in you. I find this a most comforting thought. God has a “good work” that he intends to accomplish in your life and in mine. God intends that all his children be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, and he will not rest until that “good work” is finally finished.
Perhaps you’ve seen those buttons that read PBPGIFWMY. Those cryptic letters stand for a most important truth: “Please be patient. God isn’t finished with me yet.” Thank God, it’s true. I may not look like much—but God isn’t finished with me yet. And when you look in the mirror—and even deeper into your own soul, you may not like what you see, but no matter. God isn’t finished with you yet.
There is good news and bad news in this truth. The good news is that since God isn’t finished yet, we have great hope for the future. The bad news is that since God isn’t finished yet, he won’t let us stay as we are today. He’s going to keep chipping away at us until we are conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Most of us have a long way to go—and some of us have an enormous distance to travel. But it doesn’t matter. If you find yourself in the muck and mire of personal defeat, be encouraged. Child of God, he’s not finished with you yet. Rise and walk, my Christian friend. God is not finished with you yet. If you’ve been sent to the bench for a personal foul, learn the lesson God has for you and then get back in the game.
Third, God guarantees the outcome of his work in you. Not only does God start the process, and continue the process, he also guarantees its ultimate outcome. He will “carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” This means that God won’t be turned aside by difficulties of any kind. He is so determined to make you like Jesus that even your own backsliding won’t ultimately hinder the accomplishment of his purpose. Someday you and I will stand before Jesus Christ as redeemed children of God—holy, blameless, and complete in every way. We’re a far sight from that today. But a better day is coming for the people of God. What is incomplete will be made complete. What is unfinished will be finished. What is lacking will be made full. What is partial will be made whole. What is less than enough will be far more than adequate. What is broken will be fixed. What is hurt will be healed. What is weak will be made strong. What is temporary will be made permanent.
God has promised to do it and he cannot lie. Has God begun a good work in your life? Do you feel incomplete and unfinished? Fear not, child of God. He will complete his work in you.
II. He keeps us from falling.
To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—
First, there is the power of God: “To him who is able to keep you from falling.”
Second, there is the purpose of God: “To present you before his glorious presence.”
Third, there is the promise of God: “Without fault and with great joy.”
God has ordained that those whom he calls to salvation will be so preserved that though they stumble along the way, they will not utterly fall away. He guards his children by his Spirit and with the holy angels to insure that none are lost during their earthly pilgrimage. I love the way J. Vernon McGee used to put it. As many as God calls, that many will he one day receive in heaven. Dr. McGee pictured the Lord in heaven counting his sheep as they come into the fold: “…94…95…96…97…98…99…McGee, where’s McGee? I can’t find him!” No, he would say, it’s not like that. All of God’s sheep will make it. Not one will be lost in the process.
Jack Wyrtzen loved to put it this way: “I’m as sure of heaven as if I’d already been there 10,000 years.” How can a Christian say that? Because it doesn’t rest on me or you. It rests on the word of the eternal God. If God has said he’s going to do it, he will do it. You can take it to the bank. What God says he will do, he will do.
Jude says that God’s purpose is to present us before the Lord without a single blemish. The Greek word for “without fault” comes from the temple sacrifices. It describes a lamb that is free from all defects. No cuts, no broken bones, no spots, no diseases of any kind. God said, “Bring me a lamb without spot or don’t bring one at all.” He rejects defective sacrifice as unworthy of his holiness.
But if that is true, how then will any of us stand before the Lord? We all have spots, blemishes, secret faults, hidden sins, wrong attitudes, bad habits, and sin that hangs around our necks like a heavy weight. We’re all struggling to make it from one day to the next, and many of us live with a guilty conscience and a keen sense of our own failure.
It is precisely at this point that the words of Jude 24 become so important. God intends to present us before his own throne faultless, spotless, free from everything that in this life drags us down. In that great day the angels will hush their singing as one by one the saints of God are introduced to our Heavenly Father. I picture the Lord Jesus saying, “Father, this is Stan Utigard. He has just come from a hard struggle on the earth. By virtue of my blood, I present him to you perfect, spotless, and without any blemish.” And the Father will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of the Lord.”
So it shall be for all of us. But what about our sins? They are covered by the blood of Jesus and judged at the Cross. All the failures of this life will be left far behind. All the undone work of a lifetime will be but a dim memory—if we remember it at all. In that great day we will be completely delivered from sin and all its devastation.
Don’t skip over the little phrase “with great joy.” In Greek it means something like “with unbridled exultation.” When the saints go marching in, it will be like one of those noisy parades in New Orleans (only without the bad stuff). We will enter heaven not with downcast eyes and somber faces, but singing and laughing and with shouts of eternal joy. “Hallelujah, by the grace of God, we made it.”
Last Friday night my dear friend Bob Briner passed through the eternal gates. His struggles are forever over, his day of rejoicing has come at last. He is now before the Father, without spot or blemish, healed and made complete forever.
When sin torments you this week, let this thought encourage you. Better days are coming. Days of victory. Days of rejoicing are not far away. Your present failure won’t last forever. One day the battle will be over and you will stand in God’s presence whole and complete, free from everything that drags you down in this life. You will enter heaven with a song on your lips. God has willed it so.
III. He equips us to do his will.
May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen
The word “equip” means to restore to proper working condition. It was used for getting an army ready for battle or sewing up a hole in a fishing net or setting an arm that was broken. You equip something when you prepare it to be used for its proper purpose.
God is willing to equip us to do everything he wants us to do. Let me flip that over. God will never call us to do something without also and at the same time equipping us to do it. Never. He simply will not do it.
I know many people who today face difficult situations. You may be out of money. Some of you are out of a job. Some of you are facing surgery very soon. Others face debilitating illness. Some of you have very hard decisions you need to make this week and you don’t know what to do.
Take this word of cheer. Whatever you have to do this week, God will equip you to do it. No matter how hard the road ahead, God has already started mending your nets and arming you for battle. You don’t even have to ask him; he just does it because that’s the kind of God he is. He never, never, never calls you to any hard task without giving you what you need to get the job done.
Notice how he does it. He works in us from the inside out. “May he work in us what is pleasing to him.” If we need courage, he works that in us. If we need compassion, he gives it to us. If we need integrity, he builds it in. If we need wisdom, he imparts the wisdom we need. If we need common sense, he finds a way to give it to us.
So many of us look at a difficult situation and pray, “Lord, change my situation.” That’s not usually God’s will. Much more often the difficult situation has come as a means of making us grow spiritually. God often brings difficulty into our lives to deepen our total dependence on him. When that happens, we ought to pray, “Lord, change me so that I can face this situation.” That’s a prayer God is pleased to answer.
IV. He promises to complete his work in us.
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.
When Jesus returns, two great things will happen for the believer:
A. Our character will be revealed.
B. Our perfection will be complete.
We are so far from this now. We seem to make such slow progress. Do you ever get discouraged about your own life? I do. Do you ever stand in front of a mirror and say “What’s wrong with you? Why aren’t you getting better?” Sometimes it seems as if the Christian life is three steps forward and two steps back.
I’m aware that spiritual growth can be very discouraging at times. It’s like climbing Mount Everest, the closer you get to the top, the farther away it seems. But God has a reason for all this. He wants us to depend on him for everything. He designed life so that it works only when he is in total charge of everything. When we try to run the show—which we often do—things begin to fall apart.
“The one who calls you is faithful.” This little phrase is all-important. It is the foundation for the doctrine of eternal security. We like to say that those who are saved are saved forever. How do we know this is true? We know it because God is faithful to keep his promises. Our entire hope—both in this life and in the life to come—rests on the faithfulness of God. His faithfulness bears the entire weight of our puny efforts.
What makes us think that God will ever finish the job? In my mind’s eye, I picture God as a sculptor working with a rough piece of marble. He’s working on a big chunk named “Ray Pritchard.” It’s a hard job because the chunk is badly marred, misshapen, discolored, and cracked in odd places. It’s about the worst piece of marble a sculptor could ever find. But God is undeterred and he’s working patiently at his job, chipping away the bad parts, chiseling an image into the hard stone, stopping occasionally to polish here and there. One day he finally finishes one section of the statue. The next morning when he returns to the studio that section is messed up. “I thought I finished that yesterday,” he says, “Who’s been messing with my statue?” With a guilty grin, I raise my hand. It turns out that I’m the culprit. I’m my own worst enemy. What I thought would improve things has only messed them up. But God is faithful. He patiently picks up his chisel and goes back to work. He won’t quit half-way through a project.
He Will Do It
Note the last four words of verse 24: “He will do it.” They are simple and direct. No qualification, no hesitation, no doubt of any kind. Just four simple words: He will do it. Not “He may do it” or “He might do it” or “He could do it” or “He will do it if he feels like it.” Not even “He will do it if we do our part.” Just a simple declarative statement that God will do it. Unqualified by even the slightest reference to anything on our part. When it’s all said and done, what matters is not my strong hold on God, but his strong hold on me.
Sometimes when I ask someone, How are you? the reply comes, “I’m doing all right.” That’s a conversational nicety, but it’s not accurate. If the truth be told, we’re not “all right.” Some of us feel “all right” and most of us feel “partly right and partly wrong.” But none of us are completely “all right” in every area of life. For the moment, we’re not “all right” but by God’s grace we’re moving in that direction and in the end, all God’s children are going to be “all right’ when we stand in his presence.
In that day we will be whole and complete. Perfect, pure, perfected. No more hammering, no more sawing, no more finish work. Why? Because God finishes what he starts.
Place Yourself in God’s Hands
We may chafe, doubt and despair of any progress at all. We may be angry and give up. But God does not change. He is faithful and he will do it.
What is left for us? Simply to place ourselves in God’s hands. To cooperate with the Master Designer as he shapes us into the image of Jesus. To say, “Lord, here am I. Make me what you want me to be.”
Take heart. God is at work in your life. He will not stop until the job is done.