And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. – Philippians 1:6 (NLT)
This is what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippian (Greek) church in the first few lines of his letter to them. What does this well-known verse say about Paul’s beliefs about God?
What stands out to me is that God is at work, here in our world and, more particularly, here in us. In you and me. Paul’s God was not Richard Dawkins’ blind watchmaker, the genius who sets the world in motion and then can’t remember where he laid it. Paul’s God is at work in his creation and at work in the lives of his created people.
But at work how? At work on what?
I think of myself as God’s improvement project. I need radical renovation. I really need re-engineering. If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that my foundations are cracked and sinking, my joists are rotted and nearing collapse, and a good wind just might bring down the whole mess on my head. I really need work, and God, who created me, knows just where my life needs the most help.
I’m going through a long process of becoming more and more aware of my shortcomings and my sinful inclinations. I’m reluctantly surrendering more of myself to the Holy Spirit so that I can become somewhat more like Jesus in the ways that I relate to others, in my attitudes and values and beliefs, and in my understanding of my purposes in life.
I suppose this talk about surrendering what I am to Christ must sound strange. It isn’t about losing who I am but learning to live into and love the me that I could be if I weren’t so hampered by my own sinful inclinations and habits. Jesus was always looking outward at the needs of the people he lived with. My natural posture is to focus almost exclusively on my own needs or desires or demands or lusts – and, to deny that I’m in need of anyone’s renovation work. I’m a narcissist by nature; I believe narcissism is our go-to posture in life. My ego wants to be satisfied and only looks to benefit others when it’s in my own best interests.
I don’t want to live like that. Jesus showed that it’s possible to live with a focus on serving others, loving others, sacrificing, and setting aside ourselves for the sake of what’s best for others. This process we call sanctification moves us in that direction. I admit to myself that I’m broken by sin and have been since birth, and that God offers to show me a better way to live than what I might choose if left to my own desires.
Paul says that this work God is doing is “good work.” It has value. It is excellent. It is redemptive. It is beneficial to both the individual and the community we live in. Elsewhere, Paul talks about this “good work” a bit differently:
For we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)
We are the handiwork of God (the NLT says “we are God’s masterpiece”), and Paul goes further in this verse to say that we ourselves were created for the purpose of joining with God’s in the good works he’s doing in his creation. We are beneficiaries of God’s handiwork, and we are laborers in God’s vineyard, making use of our lives and our gifts to transform the world’s brokenness through acts of love, acts of goodness.
The good work that our Father is doing in us he will do until he has finished, Paul says to the Philippians. God is not a quitter. God does not make half-way commitments. God’s work never shuts down for lack of funding. His Spirit will work out this sanctification within us until the day we die, or Christ returns. Which means, I think, that it’s as important how we live, and how we allow God to correct and shape us as we live, as it is how we die, and how we allow God to show his goodness and love to us and through us up to the moment we take our final breaths.
(As an aside, this is why I oppose suicide and/or euthanasia. Whatever our circumstances, our heartaches, our heavy burdens, God is at work in us and beside us – beside us! – and we are able to be vessels of his love and goodness no matter what our limitations, right up to the moment we stop breathing. To deliberately cut life short means that we will leave important things undone, and that’s a great tragedy for us and for the world.)
God is doing a good work in you. That’s his promise. That should be a source of great hope, great joy. God loves you and me so much that he isn’t willing to cast us aside, no matter what our faults, but is ready to roll up his sleeves and transform us into something good, something valuable, something that will leave an eternal mark of love on this broken world.
What is God doing today in you?