Monday, January 03, 2011

Guaranteed to Succeed

being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; (Philippians 1:06, NKJV).
"Christians aren't perfect - just forgiven!" Have you seen a bumper sticker like that? It's trite but true. But there is way more to it, as well.

Have you ever felt totally disqualified to name the name of Christ? Have you back-slid so far that you can't ever imagine reascending that slippery slope? Do you think you are a reproach to Christ by your attitudes and behavior? By even asking yourself these painful questions, you can be assured of at least two things: you are not guilty of thinking too highly of yourself; and you are not alone.

Even two millennia ago, Christians in the early church faced these same issues. We know, because much of the New Testament is either corrective, exhortative or encouraging in nature. Indeed, the New Testament was written by men inspired by the Spirit of Christ precisely for the purposes of teaching, correction, rebuke, exhortation, and encouragement. That is what the Word of God is designed to do, for "[all] Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16, 17, NKJV).
Yet, it is very easy, given the war between our old and new natures, to feel beaten down and "unfinishable" as Children of God. But that is exactly how we must not feel. No sin, or habitual pattern of sin, is a surprise to Christ. He knows what is in man. Quite frequently in the gospels, we see Him discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart of His disciples and questioners, and He often responded to the underlying, hidden truth in the many dialogues recorded between sinner and Savior.

But He did not save you to see you fail. He did not die for your sins so that you can, through your own negligence or lack of will, slip back into eternal perdition. He saved you to succeed in attaining eternal life, and I believe, firmly, that once you are His, you are His forever. There is nothing you or anyone else can do to snatch you out of His hands. This is, of course, no license to continue in sin, untroubled by your actions and presuming on His grace. As Paul explains, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Romans 6:1, 2, NKJV). And that's the point, if you are truly His, and not just pretending to be His, you have died to sin, and you CANNOT rest or have peace while deliberately living a life of conscious, willful sin. If you are not troubled to your core about it, then you need to "[examine] yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?--unless indeed you are disqualified." (2 Corinthians 13:5, NKJV). And mark this, the Bible speaks of only one disqualification for salvation: unbelief.

So if you are practicing sin and NOT miserable, question your salvation. You may not be who you think you are. But what about those of us who know we fall far short of the glory of God? Who know that we are weak, and prone to fall again and again? There are so many ways in which to stumble that the remarkable thing is that we remain on our feet at all for more than a few moments at a time. Christ is not surprised at our weakness, and He, in fact, will perform whatever is necessary in us and through us to present us corporately as His spotless Bride, without blemish or wrinkle. We can certainly make our ultimate transformation much harder by quenching or resisting or grieving the Spirit, but He will succeed. There is no question.

That is what Paul is reminding his audience in the verse above. No matter how often or how far you fall, if you are truly His servant, He will complete your transformation into His image. You may feel like that flawed clay vessel on the Potter's Wheel, squeezed and slapped and painfully reshaped in the process, but in the end you are guaranteed to be His masterpiece. Paul is reminding of this very thing so we do not make the opposite mistake of, rather than presuming on His grace, concluding that His grace is insufficient to secure us, "who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." (1 Peter 1:5, NKJV).

We did not save ourselves and we cannot keep ourselves saved, He does. So rather than be discouraged and anemic as witnesses to His grace and mercy, when we fall, by that same grace, we can know that He will pick us back up and set us on solid ground again. We are not to be paralyzed, or self-condemning. We are to repent and move on.

That is the message Paul is taking such pains to convey in this opening portion of this marvelous letter. Be assured, beloved of God, that He will complete you and bring you to the place He has prepared.