Do you need to change?
Most people don't believe that Christian perfection is a possibility this side of glory, therefore most people, especially the humble, recognise that there is a need for change in their life. In particular, disciples, who are always striving in the power of the Holy Spirit, to become more and more like Jesus ... disciples are always aware of the need for change. Paul puts it like this in 2 Corinthians 3:18
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
The Christian life, and in particular, the life of discipleship, is a journey. A journey which begins at our conversion and continues until we die. Nelson Mandela, describing the reality in South Africa after the first democratic elections said:
“The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.”
With a few changes to his words, I think they describe what happens at our conversion and then continues in our lives of discipleship:
“The truth is that, at our conversion, we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom in Christ to be free, the right not to be oppressed by sin any longer. At our conversion, we have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the teaching of Jesus. The true test of our devotion to Him and the discipleship He calls us to, is just beginning.”
And so my text verse for today is from Philippians 2:12-13:
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.
And my suggested New Year's resolution for us all as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ is:
... continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling ...
How does that sound, bearing in mind these words are from the Scriptures, which we believe to be God's inspired Word for us. We can hardly say: "Actually, I refuse to continue to work out my salvation with fear and trembling!"
That would make us sound like our cartoon:
Now, we're going to "take a break" and listen to reports from our Community Worker, Youth Worker and Family Worker. As elders, we were very disappointed that in our recent Fellowship Meetings, we couldn't (for good reason) listen to these reports, so we decided to hear them at this year end service, as a celebration of what God has done through their ministries in 2017, and in anticipation of what God is yet to do in their ministries in 2018.
In a sense, these reports reflect something of the way they have continued to, and will continue to, work out their salvation in the context of their ministries. (They're coming up in alphabetical order)
So, what does it mean for you to work out your salvation with fear and trembling in 2018?
Can I give you some pointers?
It is unique for each one of us. God knows the plans He has for you, and the plans He has for you are different to the plans He has for the person next to you. One of the things we evangelicals stress is that our salvation is personal, so there is no general one size fits all. Work out your salvation is the command.
Remember the rest of the text, namely "for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose." He does this work in you by His Holy Spirit ... but only inasmuch as you let Him do this work in you. Remember, we are free to obey or disobey Him, to listen to Him or not listen to Him, free to work out our salvation and free to decide not to work out our salvation. When we choose obedience to His many commands (not in order to be saved but because we are saved) ... when we choose obedience He promises the strength to "do all things in Him who strengthens us."
Notwithstanding the fact that it is unique for each one of us, there are some common disciplines which help us to work out our salvation
Read your Bible: Commit yourself to a regular Bible reading programme in 2018. Perhaps follow a Bible in a Year programme; or a Gospel a month; or a page of the Bible a day. And, when you read, ask the Lord to reveal to you what the reading might reveal about what it means regarding how to work out your salvation. Do this in prayer, which leads to the next point
Have a committed prayer life and pray prayers that go beyond yourself, beyond your needs, beyond your friends, your church, your family. Let your Bible reading influence your prayers, let the news influence your prayers. Pray prayers that go beyond yourself. Something that helps me to do this is to pray prayers written by others. Try googling "Prayer for the Day."
Practice the Presence of God: we've been reminded over and over that He is Emmanuel, God with us. Try and remember, always and everywhere, whether you are washing the dishes, at work or at play ... practice remembering that God is with you
I'm going to close with the first prayer that came up when I googled "Prayer of the Day" on Friday when I prepared this.
Let us pray:
Jesus, first and last:
inspirer and initiator, completer and finisher,
thank you for all you begin and all you fulfil in our lives.
Just as for your people long ago,
when they journeyed from captivity to the promised land,
it’s the in-the-middle places that can test our faith the most.
How rare the signposts can be
and how large the roadblocks can loom.
Too easily we lose heart,
doubt our steps and wistfully look back.
Lord, in these times reassure us
of your company and give us confidence.
Keep us bold and strong,
trusting in the consistency of your love,
as revealed in your faithful journey
from cross through death to resurrection life. Amen. (Sourced here)