Salvation is all of grace at conversion, all through the Christian life, and at glorification too.
When people become Christians, does that mean that they will be Christians for life?
Does that mean that they will finish the Christian race and receive the crown?
Or to put it another way, it is possible to be a Christian one day, but to lose our faith sometime in the future?
If becoming a Christian is something that can be undone, then this would rob us of Christian peace and joy, because we’d never know with certainty if God was going to let us into Heaven or not.
The good news is this: God always completes what he begins. This is something which Paul is confident about and which gives him great joy: ‘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.’ (Philippians 1:6)
1. God begins the work
Every single time someone becomes a Christian, this is ultimately a work of God … he who began a good work in you…
Paul is writing to Christians in Philippi, and we read about their first converts in Acts chapter 16. There was a wealthy business woman called Lydia who had gathered by the riverside to pray. Was Paul able to make her a Christian? No! All he could do was share the gospel. ‘The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.’ (Acts 16:14)
When Paul came across the demon-possessed slave girl, was he able to cast out the demon in his own power? Or could he take away her heart of stone and give her a heart of flesh? No!
Nor could Paul ‘convert’ the Roman jailer, probably an ex-soldier, who was, from a human point of view, and unlikely candidate to be one of the first members of this church plant. But God could convert them. And God did convert them. With the jailer, God was orchestrating events, moving heaven and earth literally (remember the earthquake) and working in this man’s life to such an extent that he cries out, ‘What must I do to be saved?’
‘So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.’ (1 Corinthians 3:7)
More personally, who opened your heart, so that you began to trust in Christ? It was a work of God.
Ultimately, you did not choose him, but he chose you.
He loved you before you loved him.
How should we respond to this teaching today? It ought to make us both humble and prayerful.
Humble – as it reminds us of the fact that we are Christians today as a result of God’s grace alone.
Prayerful – this clear Biblical teaching ought to encourage us to get on our knees more and more.
We all have people we long to see become Christians, and yes we all have a responsibility to share the Christian message with them, and to live holy lives before them, but is a huge part of our work as a church is to pray for God to be at work, acknowledging before him that we cannot change hearts, and pleading with him to do so.
2. God carries the work on to completion
God’s work of renovation within us begins with his grace, but it also continues through his grace. … he who began a good work in you will carry it on…
This means that we have a wonderful promise here: once God lights a fire in the human heart, nothing and no one can extinguish that fire. God will keep in burning.
God is not in the business of giving up on people. Sometimes we give up on people, but he doesn’t. There’s the national monument on Calton Hill in Edinburgh, sometimes called ‘Edinburgh’s shame’. Building started in 1826, but it was left unfinished in 1829, unfinished due to lack of funds. However, God never runs out of resources.
We might start learning a new language and quickly give up.
We might start a DIY job around the house and leave it unfinished.
God is not like us in that respect!
‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.’ (John 10:27-29)
‘Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.’ (Luke 22:31-32)
Why will our faith in Christ now fail? Because Jesus prays for us and his grace keeps us.
‘We may fall on the deck of the ship, but we may never fall overboard.’ C H Spurgeon
We must be balanced. There are some people who think that they are Christians, but have never really been converted. They might even be members of a church. The parable of the sower underlines this truth for us, as there we see seed which appears at first to grow, but does not bear any fruit – that which falls on the rocky or the weedy soil.
If you are someone who feels that you’ve never really experienced being given a new heart from God, then what should you do? You need to pray to God, asking that he will begin a good work in you, and asking that he will show you that our hope of forgiveness can only be found in the cross of Christ.
3. Completion will come on the day of Christ Jesus
What a tremendous hope we have as Christians. To go back to the analogy of redecorating a house, when we become Christians, the house comes under new ownership, and new gas and electric are installed, and much changes. However, there is much decorating still to be done. And this happens all through our lives. The finishing touches are still taking place – our sanctification.
But one day, the house will be finished. It will be perfect. On the day of Christ Jesus, we he returns, all of God’s people shall receive their new bodies. And so, they will be perfect in both body and sin, with all of our doubts, fears, and struggles removed. In the meantime, we live in a world filled with pain, mystery, problems and mistakes.
Like Peter, we might fail, deny Christ, sink into the depth, be proud, self-reliant and forgetful. But like Peter, God will keep on transforming us, until all of Simon is gone, and all that is left is Peter, the rock. Let’s look forward to that day- our glorification. This too will be a work of God’s grace. What a destiny!